s169g01 Somerton Park Epiphany 2 14/1/2001
"Jesus ... revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." John 2:11
I wonder if you are of that generation who sat for mathematics type exams where the question was prefaced by the words "Showing all working ..." And one would have to include even the incredibly obvious, all the while wondering just how much detail was necessary. One would answer the question, all the while asking oneself: "Am I including enough detail? or am I showing that I think that the marker is just an ever so slightly "simple" and I might be marked down ..."
So I wonder if, in the miracle of the changing of the water into the wine at the marriage feast of Cana, we haven't seen the obvious, because the narrator has assumed the words written would convey that.
To illustrate the point, may I take you back to your Christmass (or New Year's) celebration of a couple of weeks ago ...
We've done the right thing, we've been to church. The presents have been opened, the kids are playing on their "Playstation 2" or whatever - what a wonderful thing these machines are to keep them occupied! The turkey has been cooked and between our chosen friends and relations, half eaten. The champagne has been drunk - that's all gone. It is time to put up one's feet - to bring out the cigar or the pipe, if such is one's habits. If we are at home we might well be thinking about having forty winks. Another celebration is almost over!
And I am not being at all critical. "My" time was "over" when we gathered as a family on "Boxing Day" when we could relax and enjoy ourselves. The day doesn't matter, the scene is the important thing.
We might have even been contemplating a "snifter" of whisky, a "Drambuie" or a "Benedictine", just to finish it off, but no, we succumb to lethargy rather than indulge further ...
And I wonder what our reaction would be, just about the time we were about to nod off, there was a knock on the door and on answering it, we found, not (as we expected) a caller looking for a handout or some other pastoral emergency, but six dozen cases of bottles of red wine on our doorstep! For those who are beer drinkers, you can substitute the equivalent number of stubbies. 864 bottles of good red wine. You, like me, would be overwhelmed :-)
But what would you do? Now I suppose I certainly would be planning to put a case or two away; but what I really would do would be to get on the 'blower' and invite some people around. My friends and relations are of course already here, all ready for a quiet session of synchronised snoring :-) No, I would call the neighbours over - making sure they bring some glasses ... Let the party resume! Nay, let the party begin!
I'm sure some of you are thinking - forget the sermon, just deliver the red!
We take a break from our narration of the christmass story, and, remember the story according to John, of Jesus' first sign - the turning of the 180 gallons of water into the wine ... And the scene which I described first off, of our beginning to relax was probably the same as those guests. The formalities were over, the wedding feast was enjoyed, the chosen friends and relations are suitably replete. Sure, the wine was running out, that was just a sure sign that the party was over, the guests could start to think about returning home. Everyone had done reasonably well. Perhaps a few extra bottles might have been better, but one can't have everything. And I have no doubt that this was what was in Mary's mind, to get Jesus to supply just that little bit extra, to mix a metaphor, to put the icing on the cake for the chosen friends and relations amongst whom they are ... But while that might have been his mother's intention, Jesus does something totally different. Someone realises that 6 stone jars full of water actually have wine in them. Well that's different. Let the real party begin ....
I can well imagine in a small town like Cana, the word would get around pretty quickly. How quickly would the lecture theatres at the University of Adelaide empty if the "Unibar" put on free grog? The people already at the marriage feast really already had had enough, perhaps a glass or two extra. The 180 gallons were for others, and no doubt they appeared :-) It might have well wrecked the final stages of the marriage feast, but I suppose the couple who had been married could slip away quietly - they had other things they could suitably occupy themselves with :-)
I mean I think that this is all pretty obvious and St. John didn't need to describe the celebration which followed as word got round and people, all sorts of people, gathered for the celebration ... John doesn't treat us like dunces, he doesn't spell it out in any detail at all.
But once we realise what actually happened, the nature of Christianity becomes more clear.
There is of course nothing wrong with marriage celebrations amongst chosen friends and family, but the Christian celebration goes beyond this completely. It is joy and inclusion for all, and the force of this action of Jesus become obvious. This joy and inclusion for all could not be foreseen or predicted ... or could it?
I suspect it is quite significant that this post-wedding free-for-all is immediately followed by ... the cleansing of the Temple ... where those who regulated and restricted access to the Almighty are cleared away.
We too can let our lack of imagination blind us to the reality of the overflowing grace of God for others. We look for our "icing on the cake" when God's reality is concerned with others, and providing the wherewithal for them to share in joy like us.
And I suspect that this is what lies behind Jesus' rather brusque reply to Mary: "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." (John 2:4). It is of no concern to Jesus to provide the "icing on the cake" for people who have already eaten and drunk, been a part of a celebration and fellowship, to their hearts' content. His concern, as is God's concern, is ever for those outside, those who missed out, those who weren't initially invited ...
In a masterly stroke of understatement John concludes his story by saying: "Jesus ... revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." All the people, all the wine, all the celebration ... believed? Overwhelmed more likely!
And Jesus' glory is not that water is changed into wine, but that others are included, all others ...
It springs to mind that wherever this marriage feast was being held, it was a particularly devout venue. If it was in a private residence, then the owners were obviously devout in their religious observances. If it were a public venue, the argument about the crowds joining in would be even more appropriate.
But I suppose if it happened to be a private home, what would have happened if the hosts decided to keep this wine for themselves, to not share it with others, as I have earlier suggested it was appropriate to do? It would take a long time to empty 6 stone flagons each holding 20 or 30 gallons of wine, to enable them to return to the jars to their intended use, ritual purification. At some stage, surely down the track, after the first jar or two, someone would have twigged that there was something better here than endless ritual purification :-)
At this stage of my typing this sermon my mind was turned, as it often is, to the conclusion to the parable of the Prodigal Father, where he pleads with the older son to join in the celebration, and the son's reply. "'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends." (Luke 15:29). We can safely assume that the son is not lying. If our Christian life has the character of "working like a slave", "never disobeying", never being able to celebrate with our friends, what have we made Christianity into? Not only do those outside miss out on the celebrations, we too have lost what is the essence of our faith.
We are told by John that this was Jesus' first sign, and it is vitally important that we get the message of this first sign correct, otherwise we will miss what God through Jesus is ever trying to show us.
The love and grace of God are meant to overflow freely for everyone. When this is done, people come running ...
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