The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s169g16  Second Sunday after Epiphany 17/1/2016

‘My hour has not yet come.’  John 2:4

These words remind me that one of the classic tactics of bullies is to make others wait.   Perhaps Jesus was bullying his mother, or perhaps he was responding to some (real or perceived) coercion by Mary.

I note that sometimes scripture, a pulpit, clerical collar or pointy hat, exempts that person from using words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; ’s’il vous plaît’ and ‘merci beaucoup’ - those normal, everyday common courtesies that all people use when they actually want to have a continuing friendly relationship with the other.   Sometimes lay people want the clergy to use the pulpit to tell others to support their particular ministry rather than have their own relationship with those from whom they seek support.   I note that the words Mary uses: ‘They have no wine’ are not a request at all, but express dissatisfaction about the situation.   Was it Jesus’ fault the wine had run out?   Should the hosts be criticised - perhaps publicly?  If they were expressed publicly, what option did this give Jesus?   I wonder how often prayers are not actually requests but really complaints to God that we should have to remind him or her (yet again) of the inadequacies of the situation in which we are placed and in which God steadfastly refuses to ‘fix’.   I note that Mary says to the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ - which seem rather like an order to me!   How many ‘christians’ express their love for others by telling them to ‘do whatever’ Jesus says!

A NZ website on bullying in the workplace (1) lists the personal attacks bullies use:  Opinions marginalised .. excluding .. isolating .. attacking people’s beliefs .. threats of violence .. persistent criticism .. intruding on privacy .. encouraging to feel guilty ..

And I thought of the exclusive church which marginalises those who don’t follow Jesus their way .. excluding women .. attacking other people’s beliefs .. threats of eternal damnation .. intruding on the private lives of the congregation ..   I mean when the public worship service has everyone dutifully reciting: ‘we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table’ (2) and ‘mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa’ (3) we have to consider if we really want to be a part of such an abusive organisation.

The same website list the task-related ways bullies intimidate others:  Giving unachievable tasks .. setting up others to fail (by not providing adequate resources to achieve the goal or by withholding information) .. meaningless tasks .. belittling another person’s ability .. inappropriate monitoring .. reducing opportunities for expression ..

We begin to see that actually the exclusive church regularly uses these methods too.   When the only source of articulated wisdom is the person up front then any grass-roots revival of the church is inherently inadequately resourced, unachievable and belittles everyone else’s perspectives, efforts and ability.  When the hierarchy looks for new strategic directions but fails to put clear parameters in place, they should not be surprised when lay people become frustrated when their efforts to break through those barriers are rejected.   For instance, lay presidency of the Eucharist is a way of assuaging spiritual hunger in remote communities - but if this is off the table the church should be at least up-front about it.  

I was interested to read the job description of the Receiver General of Canterbury Cathedral advertised recently - they have 300 paid staff!  (4)   I’m sure the present congregation do not pay all these salaries!   I have reflected before that the churches in the colonies have had to fund the building of their own churches as well as pay the continuing stipends and allowances of their ministers without assistance from the Church Commissioners; all the while being made to feel inadequate that they are not able to immediately replicate the magnificent stone edifices that litter the old country earlier generations have built on the blood, sweat and tears of ill-treated labour.   So ‘the novelist Anthony Trollope visited (the early attempts to build a Cathedral in Christchurch NZ) in 1872 and referred to the "vain foundations" as a "huge record of failure”.’  (5)   Of course, had they built the Cathedral in wood rather than stone, as originally designed, it would probably still be standing.

I love the words: ’Those who can, do; those who can’t, bully.’  (6)

What a difference we have in our gospel for today!   180 gallons of water turned into wine - enough for the whole town to share!   Everyone is potentially included.   Jesus gives us enough to share with everyone, no one is excluded.   There is no need for marginalisation, alienation or bullying.

What a cause for celebration! .. completely overshadowing the nuptials of the couple who are not even named - and who most probably only have eyes for each other and would have been delighted the wine had run out so everyone would leave, and they could get away to do other, more enjoyable things ..   Hopefully they were able to slip away in the general astonishment as the ‘free for all’ began :-)

You see, it’s never Jesus’ hour - nor is it Mary’s 15 minutes of fame (7) — it is always other peoples’ hour - and here is one place the position of the apostrophe is significant.   It is not other people’s hour singular, it is other peoples’ hour plural.   It is not the hour when Jesus is revealed as a particularly gifted magician (eternally available through his compliant and faithful social secretary and mother, Mary), it is not the hour when the needs of the small family celebration are miraculously fixed; it is the hour when others are included. 

This is the wine which brings real joy to the whole world.   Finally the divine masterplan is made abundantly clear that it is others that are important, others that are included, others that are sacred - indeed that religion is always and ever about others and not about ourselves and our own personal relationship with Jesus and whether we will get to heaven or not.

We are bidden to share our consecrated wine, symbol of our personal welcome to others, our personal acceptance of others, our joy to be with others, with all people in the name of God who provides both the wine and its consecration for this in the first place!   And I have to ask, is this is what people perceive the church doing?   No, I suspect they see a church doing precisely the things that Jesus and James criticises. (8)

So the question is for us: ‘Is this Jesus’ hour? - the time when the church will finally be vindicated and proved right all along and we with her?’   At this hour will we be found faithfully singing ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, ‘cos the Bible tells me so’ in our little holy huddles.   Is this still Jesus’ hour when we can continue to avoid using common courtesies in congregations and in the community?  

Or is this the time when the church is seen to be including and welcoming by sharing their consecrated wine with others - asking politely rather than demanding - allowing others space to disagree?

As I concluded last week’s sermon: ‘And I have to ask if the exclusive church is an agent to deliver .. this .. inclusive and egalitarian society or to eternally filibuster and obfuscate?   Or perhaps even more damning, not yet realising the blessing we are withholding from others?  Again those words from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans seem especially appropriate: ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.   For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.’’  (9)   Has not God shown the church in quite unmistakeable terms in the miracle at Cana the divine eternal purpose for the church?

I repeat, it is never Jesus’ hour or Mary’s hour, it is always other peoples’ hour.   It is always life-giving both to others and the church, as we include, affirm and incorporate other people and their perceptions of the divine - it is eternal life - not for ourselves primarily but for all and for society as a whole.

From the 11-16th of January the Archbishop of Canterbury will be meeting with the Primates from the rest of the Anglican Communion to try to resolve the impasse over human sexuality bedevilling not just Anglicans but every church.  (10)  The question they will face is, is it Jesus’ hour, when the church and her traditional answers concerning intimacy will be restated from the highest pinnacle available to the Anglican Communion?   Or will it be other peoples’ hour?   Will the Anglican Communion keep the consecrated wine to herself and those compliant minions she deems worthy or will she find herself overwhelmed by the enormity of divine grace Cana prefigures?

I am interested that my weekly religious read, AnglicanOnline’s latest front page is about bullying in Church with reference to this Primates meeting.  (11) 

I began my sermon with the statement that the classic tactics of bullies is to make others wait, and those words of Martin Luther King come back to me: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ (12) - ‘love delayed is love denied.’  The imperative is urgent for those who claim the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!  The imperative is always to love.   Anything less is a denial of our faith.

8.  Luke 14:7, James 2:1-4
9.  Romans 1:18-19