The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s169g10 Epiphany 2 17/1/2010
'you have kept the good wine until now'. John 2.10
Jesus was certainly no wowser. Six jars holding at least 20 gallons (540 litres) is well over 700 bottles of the best wine and it could have been as much as 1000! And it was wine, not grape juice. We are told that people got drunk at weddings, and if this one was any different we would certainly be told, rather than have the comment that this was 'the good wine'.
Jesus' coming was like that good wine. What went before was wine, but Jesus was the 'good' wine. People were invited to realise that there was little point in drinking the less good tipple which had been on offer, when there was something new and better in which to imbibe.
So not everything that is new is necessarily inferior. Certainly there were people who revelled in all things historic. No doubt in Jesus' day there were people who looked backwards in time towards past certainties just as there are today. But people who are always looking backwards towards past certainties are not actually preparing themselves to face the present or the future.
Sadly the church makes it a tenet of the faith that we look backwards. We look backwards to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, either witnessed by scripture or tradition. We place ourselves under the discipline of these. But as I say again and again, that scripture testifies, again and again, God lifts people to their feet when they have cringed before the Almighty. God seeks to restore our primal dignity, to stand before the Almighty and to use our brains. We are not to be subjugated to anything, even to the Lord.
Certainly there is a place for scripture and tradition, but they are to inform us, not to make us conform. Scripture and tradition encourage us to be connected with all sorts of help around us. Scripture and tradition are the ponderings of pious people of ancient times, but there are plenty of people whom God puts around us right here and right now, who are there to help us as well. We do not have to go it alone, but we are not expected to be the compliant subjects of either ancient or modern fellow travellers. The commandment says 'honour your father and mother' not do everything they say. St Peter tells us 'honour everyone' (1 Peter 2.17) and the widening of this commandment is significant, but that does not mean that we have to do everything that everyone else tells us to do. Jesus came as a slave of all, but that was all about honouring everyone not just the high and mighty not fulfilling everyone's wish list.
And for me this 'honouring all' is precisely the new wine Jesus offers. The old wine of division and discrimination is past. I do not want to go back even to the halcyon days of the 1950's when churches were full, for lots of others were not honoured, through divisions and discrimination.
Honouring another is a mark of true love. Child molesters might pretend they love young people, but this really hides a loathing for themselves and for the other.
And we don't honour young people when we believe that they should 'be seen and not heard', when we allow them to do a Christmass play (really to relieve us of listening to another sermon) or a presentation on a fifth Sunday 'family' service (which is not really a 'proper' service anyway!)
But I take some personal good news from this saying about the new wine. Sometimes, when I'm being particularly masochistic, I look back at a previous sermon I've written. It might be because I'm short of time and wonder if I might post an old one .. My present congregation won't know any different anyway :-)! But if truth be told, I often cringe at my words. I have moved on theologically. My sermon preparation is one way I grow in my own faith. Of course it is not the only way. The 'slings and arrows' of parish life have also been particularly determinative. My joy at ministering among the sick and suffering, the poor and disabled, has also helped me grow.
That the good wine is kept till later relives me of those inevitable feelings of guilt; that I didn't know then what I know now. That the good wine is kept till later assures me that I am growing, rather than ever looking backward and static. That the good wine is kept till later assures me that I have a real ministry to contribute to the perception of the good news, rather than just being a compliant parrot, someone whose only task in life is to not 'blot my copy-book'.
That the good wine has been kept till now invites me to enjoy it NOW. It invites me to live in the present, not to hark back to 'the good old days' or to endlessly fantasize about a possible future. In my work in hospitals, most are anxious to get well and be discharged as soon as possible. I can well understand this, for few of us live so closely to other people, in a place where technology abounds, with so little privacy. But we don't have to prepare our meals, clean up the dishes or make our beds. How we would like not to have these chores to do each day! It is good to look forward to health and discharge, but it is also good to enjoy the attention, which for some of us, particularly those of the female gender, traditionally has happened very rarely!
That the good wine has been kept till now, also invites me to stop trying to fix the world myself. No doubt there will be more and better wine for the future. For all the inspiration that comes as I sit before my keyboard, God is inspiring others just as much as me, and who express the good news in ways that will touch others in a way I can't and won't. I don't have to do it all before I die, for the new wine I have enjoyed will be old and stale for subsequent generations, and there will be new wine specially for them. That the good wine has been kept till now invites us into hope for the future, not a mere endless repetition of past verities.
It seems to me that the turning of the water into wine is a paradigm of Christian engagement with the world. It demonstrates that we are to be incarnated into society as it really is, using that which is provided by the world to enhance celebration one with another. It is about as polar-opposite to suicide bombings as you can get! We are incarnated into society, not to criticise society or to make it 'better', but to enjoy it as it is. The miracle is that we can enjoy one another's company. We don't have to convert, cajole or challenge others!
And honouring everyone is far easier than being doormats for everyone else who wants to wipe their dirty feet on us!
And that the good wine has been kept till now encourages me as I embark on a journey of love and remarriage. Love you, Mary :-)!
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