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The Wedding in Cana – Sunday 24th January, Epiphany 3

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Sermon John 2 v 1-11

 

 

Here we are at the beginning of John’s gospel having set the scene with John the Baptist and the calling of the first disciples. Jesus is starting with his ministry and this is, according to John, the first miraculous sign and the disciples put their faith in him.

You don’t have to look far in the Gospels to find a miracle. Now I don’t know whether you find it easy and are excited by miracles or whether you are sceptical and relegate such things to the past and treat them as stories in the past and of no relevance.

If you are the former then these passages are inspirational a treasure trove of hope. However, you have to deal with one big problem: the hope that is stirred up in the gospel is almost always dashed in people’s lives today.

Think for a moment about some of the miracles; John chapter 6 Jesus feeds the five thousand or John chapter 9 Jesus healing a man born blind; John chapter 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. And this is only flicking on a few pages from our passage today.

But since those days how many people have prayed for food but none came. Many people will have prayed for healing but it did not come. Many will have grieved for people they have loved and lost without a miraculous ending. We are daily reminded of the pain, suffering and grieving that is going on around us in our country in the midst of this pandemic.

Doesn’t the possibility of miracles make the suffering worse because God could grant a miracle but doesn’t. Sometimes we in the church make it worse by suggesting there is a lack of faith.

If you are sceptical about miracles you avoid all these problems but you have another one equally as big because if you are not careful you reduce the world to something that is determined by laws and natural processes that cannot be changed or interfered with. You may judge the miracle stories as silly and childish or in Donald Trump terms “fake news”. But in banishing them and regarding them as superstition you may also be banishing meaning and hope. If you are closing yourself in then you are putting God into a small box and his existence doesn’t seem to make much difference.

Perhaps there is a third alternative that is open to us all believer and sceptic alike. Perhaps there is another way of looking at the question do miracles happen. We might ask ourselves a slightly different question; what happens to us when we imagine miracles happening? Is it not the case that the story is intended to do more than inform us about a supposed event that happened in the past? Is the story meant to shake up our normal assumptions, inspire our imagination about the present and the future and make it possible for us to see something we couldn’t see before?

If we have our imaginations stretched then can we not play our part in co-creating, being a catalyst for those we come into contact with and change their possibilities.

Let’s think a bit more about our gospel passage of today. The story begins. On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee; Jesus mother notices that the wedding host has run out of wine. So, she nudges Jesus to do something about it. Jesus resists, but Mary doubts his resistance. She tells the servants to get ready and do whatever he tells them.

Jesus points them towards some nearby stone containers – six of them used to hold water for ceremonial cleansing. They are huge containers 120 – 180 gallons so the servants get to work filling the containers and then Jesus instructs them to draw out a sample to give to the banquet master. He takes a taste and is amazed and he says you have saved the best wine until last. John says this was the first sign.

Now if we are applying and stretching our imaginations in the here and now. We might ask ourselves and reflect on the meaning of the sign.

  • Perhaps in our lives we might ask in what ways are we running out of wine, what are we running out of and why?
  • Is there something that needs transforming?
  • If we are to do as Jesus says what would that be?
  • What is it that perhaps needs cleansing?
  • What is empty and needs filling? If we were to be filled where would that lead us, what would we do?

I know for me at the moment, and probably like many others, that I am living in a kind of shadow world where day to day routine carries on but not fully. Relationships are possible but on line so full human contact is missing and because it is winter, I do not venture outside much and spend my days on my work laptop starting when it is dark and finishing when it is dark. Preparing this caused me to pause to hope and think about how I can be more courageous and better support family, friends and work colleagues.

If we look at questions like these, we are engaging with this miracle story and it is stirring us to think and imagine new ways of seeing, perhaps changing the way we act and leading us to new ways of being alive and living out our faith.

Even beyond this imagining and reflection on the miracle the story points beyond itself to the bigger story. John is starting to signpost, give clues to his readers of the things to come.  It is a real treasure trove and there are things to be explored both within the text and with the imagery.

There are hints about Jesus mission and ministry and a starting to tell us about the love and generosity of God and his plan for our salvation.

So, let’s change tack and briefly look at some of the clues contained in the passage.

I don’t know whether any of you have been involved in treasure hunts, I suspect some have. Before the pandemic and lockdown, it was a favourite thing to do in the office I work in. You would form up into teams and only be allowed a maximum of four or five in a team, you would pay your entrance fee to commit to it and you would get your clues and tasks and set off. You would not know your destination or even sometimes the route. You needed to follow the clues, answer questions and collect the objects along the way or complete the tasks. You needed to pay attention otherwise you might get lost. There was always the emergency mobile number if things got too sticky. I remember once some of the girls in the office getting very excited because they found out one of the tasks was to have your photo taken with a fireman. It didn’t do anything for me but we’ll not explore that.

Maybe we have lost some of the excitement or the wonder from this story because we know the end, we haven’t got the same perspective as the first disciples but it can still speak to us.

But let’s still go through some of the clues and maybe you might like to do your own exploring about the signs and clues over the coming week.

The first clue is right there in the first verse of the passage. Why did they come to the wedding on the third day? What is the significance of the third day? Sometimes it is always good to start your treasure hunt with a straight forward clue!

Second, why did Jesus address his mother in the way that he did? Where else do we hear Jesus use that phrase “Dear woman”. Within the gospels I believe there are only two other instances (John 19 v26 & John 20 v 15) and when you read them together it may put a different emphasis on the words used in this passage.

Jesus uses the phrase My time has not yet come. Some versions use my hour has not yet come. For us we will understand what Jesus is meaning but for the disciples they will not get the gravity of the statement neither perhaps will Jesus mother Mary. There is a lot bound up in these few words about waiting and timing and how much is shared with others and when.

Why was Jesus mother Mary to the fore and not the disciples? She was the one who told the servants “Do whatever he tells you”. Is it because Mary’s perspective was different to the disciples? It was only in the previous chapter that we hear that Jesus has called Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathaniel whereas Mary has spent 30 years with Jesus so is this why her faith is so much stronger?

Consider all the clues the sign posts she has seen over that time. Even the few recorded ones shed light and there must have been many more over the years. Think – Jesus presented at the temple (Luke 2 v 21-40 particularly v 33) – Mary marvelling at what was said about him. Or when she sought Jesus out and found him age 12 in the temple (Luke 2 v41 – 52 particularly v51) she treasured all these things in her heart.

So, Mary had joined the clues and better understood what was going on rather than the disciples who experiencing this for the first time.

As I mentioned, we have perhaps lost some of the sense of wonder of this story because we know the ending.  But we don’t know how our own stories and God moving within them will necessarily work out. Perhaps, we should take some time to think back and look at the clues and signs so far. Notice where there have been encounters what have they taught, which direction, what has been good, or bad and invite Jesus into that process to help us be more alive and live out our faith in a new way to affect both ourselves and those around us.

 

Richard Harwood

24.1.21