This sermon was given by our ALM Carol on Sunday 20 January 2019.
John 2. 1-11 ‘………. wherever Jesus went and whenever he came into lives it was like turning water into wine’
A bold statement you might say. Where do we start with a story like this?
It’s a happy story, who isn’t happy at a wedding – just look at any wedding photographs, everyone is smiling and seems to be having a good time. Our wedding in Cana is also a feelgood story and a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. But of course, it’s much more than that, because John tells us that here, in the relaxed surroundings of a simple country wedding, Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine.
If we just scratch the surface of this story, then we have a family occasion. Mary had been invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It’s possible that Mary was a relation as she had been asked to do some of the organizing, because it was she who started panicking about the lack of wine.
A few weeks ago, we heard about Jesus spending three days in the temple as a twelve-year-old coming to terms with his destiny. As we know he returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents, growing in wisdom and stature. He was learning a trade as a carpenter in his father’s workshop. He has been supporting his family until maybe his brothers and sisters were able to look after themselves. Now, in this story, he is older and with a real sense of his true purpose.
So, there’s our context for the story. A simple village wedding taking place one Wednesday afternoon as laid down in the Jewish Law. It certainly wasn’t like my wedding, and I guess it probably wasn’t like yours either because it went on for days. The actual wedding ceremony took place after the feast and at the height of the festivities. Then the happy couple would be escorted to their new home using the most tortuous route possible. They’d be illuminated by the light of flaming torches, so that everyone in the village could share in their happiness and presumably throw the 1st century equivalent of confetti. Mine, as I assume yours did, happened in the reverse – wedding ceremony then festivities, and all in one day.
It didn’t end there either, because there was no sneaking off for a honeymoon. Oh no, for the next week the newlyweds would have to hold open house, still dressed in bridal clothes and with crowns on their heads. They were treated like a King and Queen and for that glorious week their word was law. In a land where there was poverty and constant hard work to scrape a living from the soil, this was a week, not just one day, to remember for the rest of their lives.
Of course, for such a happy and memorable occasion it was vital that everything went like clockwork. Mary is scurrying around making sure everything’s going well. Jesus is also invited, but doesn’t come alone, he brings five disciples with him, five more mouths to feed and five more glasses to fill. Maybe that’s where the well laid plans started to go wrong, and Mary suddenly realized that there wasn’t going to be enough wine. “Without wine,” said the Rabbis, “there is no joy!”
The wine was such an important part of the festivities. Not that people got that tipsy, because that was considered a big disgrace, and anyway the wine was diluted 2 to 3 with water. What did Mary think Jesus could do? Or was she simply turning in desperation to her son for any suggestions he might have. What a spot Jesus finds himself in. What does he do? He’s in the middle of a happy family occasion, does he do nothing and watch the party dissolve into disappointment and humiliation, or does he reveal something of his true nature in that carnival atmosphere?
Maybe it’s God’s sense of fun. God certainly has a sense of humour. Look around at the world we share. It was not created by a God who is a killjoy, a God who wants his creation to go around looking glum. It was created by a God who wants his creation to enjoy this world, and in this story, we have Jesus in party mood. If he’d wanted to, he could have done nothing, end of story. He turns to Mary and says, “My time has not yet come”, but that didn’t stop him from acting. It didn’t stop Jesus from showing compassion, kindness, sympathy and understanding to ordinary people on an extraordinary day. It didn’t stop him from making a public demonstration of his power through the first of what would be many miraculous signs.
Mary turns to Jesus, and somehow knows that if he wants to, Jesus can do something. She tells the folk serving at the table to just do whatever he tells them to do. Mary had confidence in Jesus, confidence to know that whatever he did would be the right thing. Do we have the confidence to put our trust in Jesus even when our faith is not up to the task, when everything looks black, when we’re starting to panic and don’t know where to turn? Do we have the confidence in Jesus to know that whatever he will do for us is the right thing at that moment in time? How many times have you had in your life when all has seemed hopeless, when the wine has run out and there’s nowhere to turn? Look at Mary, she didn’t know what was going to happen, but she gave the problem to Jesus and left it there in his capable hands and got on with life, confident that all would turn out well.
But there’s more in this story. There were six stone water pots within which the water turned into wine. Now, if each of those water pots held between 20 and 30 gallons of water, as they might well have, then Jesus gave the party 180 gallons of wine. Now, I don’t think it’s very likely that when Mary worried about the lack of wine, she was thinking about a shortfall of 180 gallons, that’s a veritable wine lake. What I think John is trying to say here is that when the grace of God comes to us, you and me, there is not just an adequate supply, but an abundance, an overflowing of his grace and love.
But John also wants to tell us something else about Jesus. Not that he can turn six water pots of water into wine, but that whenever Jesus enters a person’s life, he can turn the imperfect perfect, bring a new quality into that life. It is like turning something ordinary such as water into something special like the finest wine. What John is talking about here is not just something that Jesus did in a small village in Galilee, one day at the start of his ministry on, but something that he continues to do today.
Remember that John would have written today’s gospel some years after Jesus had been crucified. He’d had a lot of time to meditate on the life of Jesus and the effect that it had had on the people around him. What he’s saying to us is simply this. That wherever Jesus went and whenever he came into lives it was like turning water into wine. Wherever lives were stale, flat, lifeless, he brought sparkle, colour, excitement. Into lives that were imperfect he breathed his perfection. For lives that were incomplete he brought wholeness and healing. Jesus continues to turn water into wine, but the water pots he transforms are our bodies and souls.
It’s a story that we need to keep reminding ourselves about. In those periods of our lives where we seem so far from God, when the everyday cares and worries of life seem to get on top of us and so easily distract our thoughts. Those are the moments that we need to remember what Mary did. She knew instinctively who to turn to, into whose hands to place that burden. She wasn’t too clear what the outcome might be but was confident enough to know that they were reliable hands at work, and whatever Jesus would do, it would be the right thing.
I wonder if even Mary was surprised at the result. But then that’s part of the excitement of the Christian faith – the unpredictability of our God. When we come to him with open hands and open hearts rather than a wish list, then his response may not always be the one that we expect, but it will always be the right one. But we must be honest enough to go to him, admit that maybe we’ve miscalculated, made mistakes, whatever the problem might be, trust Him completely just like Mary did. Only then can he take those stone pots and turn water into wine.
You may still ask, why 180 gallons of wine when far less than that would do? The Apostle John tells us why: “Jesus did the first of His signs at Cana in Galilee AND DISPLAYED HIS GLORY – and His Disciples believed on Him”. Jesus was showing truths about who He was. Truths about God and how He is to us. He was telling us that God loves us. He was telling us that God responds to our needs, and that if we come to a God and, simply, place our needs before Him, we will find miracles happening in our lives, generous miracles of love. For that is what our God is like. Remember that God loves us, we only have to trust in Him.
We Pray: Thank you, Lord, that you sent your only Son Jesus down to earth so that we might have life – meaningful life, purposeful life, life in all its abundance. This is what can happen to us if we listen to Jesus, heed his words and walk with him into the Kingdom of God. Dare we accept the invitation to this wedding and allow ourselves to be changed from water to wine, from the persons we think we are into the cherished children of God? Amen