Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wedding Wine

I am meeting as many of 2012‘s wedding couples as I can this week to do some initial preparation with them for their weddings. As I meet with them, I will very much have this morning’s Gospel reading in mind.

All too often the church tells the loving couple how their wedding services should happen - you have this music or that. You have to have this or that and so on. I can see the rationale - the church is an expert in providing worship, and a wedding is worship, and so that being the case, we’ll tell you how it should be and what we will or will not allow in the worship to celebrate your wedding in the sight of a God who loves you.  Yes this morning’s Gospel reading flips this totally on it’s head - Jesus is not invited to this wedding at Cana to officiate at it. Jesus is an invited as a guest.

Just as answering the question -  what makes a good wedding - will provide as many and as as varied answers as there are people, so there are many ways to understand this well known story of Jesus’ first miracle.

Firstly, we can read of a God who transforms the ordinariness of water into the specialness of wine, paralleling his transformation of people from sinners needing him, into citizens of the Kingdom of God and introducing the enhanced, improved, better, more full life that God has pomised since the prophets first opened their mouths and spoke.

Secondly we could focus on the transformation of the water in the water jars used for rites of purification called for by the Old Testament Law, into wine; the new wine of the Kingdom. first drunk by Jesus at the last Supper and referred to again in Revelation, implying the replacing of the old Law of Moses with the new, brought in by Christ.

Thirdly, another way of understanding this story centres on the the waiter’s ‘joke’ about saving the best wine till last (unheard of at a Jewish wedding clearly!), perhaps we are to understand that God has done a surprising thing by saving his best up till last - his very best gift to Israel and the world was not Moses and the Law, but his Son Jesus.

Fourthly then, there is the volume of what Jesus produces, in his later tradition of loaves and fish and the parable of the sower.  Jesus transforms 6 stone water jars holding gallons and gallons of water.  In so doing we rediscover the extravegant grace and generosity in love God shows his world - more than we will ever ever need.

Finally, in Jesus’ words to Mary, ‘My hour has not yet come’ there is a reference not to his unwillingness to provide for people’s physical need in great abundance, but that his greatest hour, the crucifixion and resurrection, has not yet come.  He will only act when God wills it not when she wants. 

Whatever you have taken away from this story in past sermons or your own reading and understanding is all almost certainly good, true and life-giving.  Whichever interpretation works for you, there is always an element of God celebrating, of rejoicing like at a wedding, of all that Jesus is doing or will do to forge a new relationship between him and people.

So it is with our worship.  It is is our worship of God. It is all to easy for our worship, especially as Anglicans, to be prescribed - for us to offer what our tradition or what the Vicar tells us. But it is our worship - individually and together - and what we offer must not only be our best but also be what and where and when suits us the best together enabling us to forge a new relationship with Jesus Christ present as a guest with us veiled in bread and wine.

This is the central message of the Church - that God celebrates all that Jesus is doing to forge a new relationship between him and people, revealed supremely, but by no means exclusively in our worship.

We are not asked by Christ, following tsunami and famine to go and debate whether the God of philosophy exists; we are not called to just be the compassionate or even the good people in society; we are certainly not called to retreat behind the safety of closed doors and carry on in private.

The Danish philosopher of the 19th centuray Soren Kierkegaard said ‘Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something more difficult, it has turned wine into water...’  It is, if you excuse the pun, a very sobering thought.  Have we, by the things we say, the way that we live, the way that we worship, reversed this miracle so much that when people come to church or come into contact with us as Christians they taste, not  the best wine (good worship done to the best of our ability, love between us as people, the presence of God himself), but water which is either flavourless and dull or at worst stagnant which has to be thrown away.  Have we made the message we have been sent to tell the people of our community in our day, once so full of rich and sweet flavour, now so flavourless so as to be not just unappealing but pointless?

The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is ekklesia, literally, called out.  We have been called out of family relationships into a new relationship with God and with each other as disciples - HERE.  Here in the security of this room we learn and worship together, here we get to know one another.  BUT, from the safety of a room, God empowered the first disciples with the Holy Spirit and sent them out with is same message.  He has does the same with us.

From Cana’s water in wine to Calvary’s blood and water, in this sweep we see Jesus’ whole life as one miraculous event, an invitation into an eternal relationship of love.  I believe that in this Gospel my friends, God is offering us a challenge to be his Epiphany people again which begins with our worship. It is a challenge that calls us to share the sweet and rich wine of the Gospel with our community through some new things that we will do together this year - to work and worship ever closer as a parish; to make sure we communicate with the local communicate as effectively as we can whether via a website, posters, or personal invitations; or through the warmth of the welcome that people receive we they worship with us.  God calls us to prove Kierkegarrd wrong.  Amen.

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