The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r169.htm
s169g98 Somerton Park 18/1/98 Epiphany 2
The chief steward "said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." John 2:10.
It seems an odd coincidence that this, my favourite miracle story, should occur on the first Sunday back after my sick leave, after I have been restricted to 2.2 standard glasses of claret a day! The brussel sprouts and the skim milk I can cope with, but just 2.2 glasses ... 275 ml of claret. 180 gallons of wine is 818 litres. It would take me 2975 days to get through that, over 8 years!
I always link the miracle of the turning of the 180 gallons of water into wine with the passage from the Book of Common Prayer 1662 set for the epistle for today, from Romans chapter 12 "he that sheweth mercy - with cheerfulness" (vs 8) I make the point that the word is a little more than cheerfulness - it is hilarity. One can be grudgingly cheerful, but one cannot treat something with hilarity and be grudging at the same time.
If we are bidden to be merciful and be merciful with hilarity, then God must be a past master at this. While I have no difficulty with the beauty of the Angus Dei - the "Lord have mercy" - particularly in the old language sung to Nicholson in C, it is well to remember that God shows mercy with hilarity. He doesn't show mercy because we can sing well, or begrudgingly, but with hilarity. I take myself too seriously, and I guess I am not alone in that. God is enjoying the creation - a sentiment echoed in our reading from Isaiah today: "You shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married ... as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:4-5). If we take ourselves too seriously, holy scripture is clear who we should blame - and it is not God.
There are however two other thoughts from this passage that I want to bring to you this morning. The first is that God's blessings are present and real even if we don't believe in them, and secondly that there is more and more blessings to be had.
I observe that the chief steward congratulated the wrong person for the very lovely wine he had just been presented with and tasted. He congratulated the bridegroom - not Jesus. The wine was not real because he believed, it was real despite his complete ignorance of where it had come from or who was responsible for it. Indeed if he thought there was anything unusual, it was only that the bridegroom had left it until later to bring out the good stuff. That was hardly miraculous, or even remarkable. If anything, it was decidedly strange behaviour - quite out of the ordinary. No reason is given for this behaviour, and the guests are not made aware of the true source of the wine. His disciples, we are told, gained some belief in him - presumably his mother already did.
Now for me this has particular ramifications as to how we look at the Holy Communion. I am a simple priest and have no particular head for the subtleties of Aristotelian metaphysics. I have little idea of the heavenly status of the doctrine of Transubstantiation. However I would want to affirm that God's blessings are real and present, even if we don't believe in them or mistake their source. Certainly we are meant to take and eat, but they are taken and eaten by all, as we perceive and as we believe, but they are real and present or even if we don't. They are present and real, for blessing for all - not blessing for some and disapproval for others. God's blessings are real and for all. They are not fleeting, only visible to the true believer or the suitably penitent. Any doctrine which makes the sacrament more efficacious for the true believer is contrary to the spirit of this passage.
But the strange thing is of course the best wine comes later. As I have always thought about it (I suppose never being especially affluent, and rather liking my cask "Patritti Dry Red") I've always thought of the 180 gallons as like that. A good, honest, quaffing red. I've never focused on the "good" until now. Perhaps "good" for me is quantity rather than quality. However this is good wine, and indeed it is rather more overflowing than the poorer quality served before. 180 gallons is a lot of wine even if it is "Patritti's". But I was lead to consider 180 gallons of Grange Hermitage. That is truly awesome!
(I am sorry that the comparison might be obscure to some - it is the difference between a Mini Moke and a Rolls Royce. I thoroughly enjoyed my Mini Moke once - I will never afford a Rolls!)
180 gallons of Grange Hermitage! It would make even the wine maker tremble! I have never even tasted Grange Hermitage.
I was lead to reflect during my holidays (turned sick leave) how I had thought when I was leaving Kapunda to come to Somerton Park parish, how much I had learned during my time at Kapunda. As I looked back at how I had become more confident in my faith and what I had begun to consider important, I even wondered (briefly) if there was anything more to learn! As I look back now, I can't even identify those things I learned in that parish which I felt were so important I would never forget them!
Of course they have not been overturned or contradicted - but I have learned so much more in the last seven years too.
And it is not less of the good quality, but overflowingly more of the good quality!
God's blessings are real, not fleeting, and for all, not just for the initiates, and overflowing not stingy.
I've forgotten where I first heard the old saying about the authority in the Catholic Church being the Pope, in the Protestant Churches being the Bible and in the Anglican Church - what the last Rector used to do! I guess the essential nature of the third of these - is ever looking backwards ... The miracle of the water turned into wine is the transformation of the past into a new and quite more wonderful present and future.
The simple example of the practice one needs to put into the learning of a musical instrument or the playing of a particular sport, is but one human example of the joy and transformation through perseverance and dedication. Wonderful things happen, and at our hands.
I started this sermon with the picture of the joy God has in the creation and the picture of the mercy of God given with hilarity. The second part of the sermon is about these things being true, whether we believe them or not. The final picture of the good wine, is that perception of the overflowing goodness of God for one and for all, which will slowly but surely allow us to embrace the present, and those around us, and the future and all that has in store for us. This good wine will never run out, so it is nothing to be hoarded, it is there to be shared with one and with all.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.