19 January 2021
The Gospel of John is called the book of the seven signs. What is a sign? . If you are going on a journey to Hamilton, how do you know which way to turn? Look at the signs!. . When you see Hamilton. you don’t stop at the sign and say you’ve arrived, you don’t get out and examine the sign and see its made of paint and metal.... You read the message. So it is with the signs in the gospel of John, we. ask, “To what does this sign point.? To whom does it point?
The message is not so much the water into wine. The message of the sign is that Jesus took 180 gallons of Jewish laws, the rituals of purification, and transformed them. Jesus took 180 gallons of guilt, 180 gallons of laws, laws and more laws, 180 gallons of don’t do this and don’t do that, 180 gallons of laws that then numbered more than 600 regulations, and he transformed them into new meaning, new wine that would burst old wine skins. Jesus transformed the old religion into the new way. Only God can do that. The message is pointing that Jesus has come as the giver of new life. He is revealing God’s glory.
The story is often used at weddings. It’s easy to see why. It’s about a wedding and couples can identify with its picture of a disaster waiting to happen as the wine runs out. It’s something they dread too. “O no, we forgot how much Auntie Jean could put away when she’s having a good time…and who invited the Rugby club…?”
But we're not at a wedding today, this reading is here in Epiphany – the season of revelations which proclaim, “God is here, God is real, God is working among you.”
That’s something that people today are hungry to hear .. The world is full of spiritual seekers. They may not always come to church, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in anything beyond the immediate material things of life. They may not want to call themselves “religious”, but many people will be happy to say they are spiritual.
John Roughan, an agnostic, and often someone who is antichurch, in his column in the NZ Herald yesterday, told a story which expresses this. He writes “Many years ago on a guided tour of the Soviet Union I remarked on a cathedral in Riga. My guide immediately stopped the car and cheerfully asked if I would like to look inside. I followed him up the steps and through the doors where I stopped abruptly but he didn't.
There were people in the pews. There was a service going on. I did what I think the vast majority of people, religious or not, would do.
But he didn't. He swept up the aisle with the pleased air of a safari guide who has had the good luck to bring you to a water hole and find a harmless herd using it.
He was practically at the altar rail before he looked around. The beam on his face turned to blank surprise as it registered I was not at his shoulder.
He came back to tell me it was quite OK to walk about. And it was true, the people at prayer had not visibly stirred at the intrusion. Clearly they were used to it.
He made another foray forward and this time when he looked back to see me still rooted to the floor he realised it was no-go.
Returning to the car he was not at all embarrassed.
"I am a communist," he said as though I'd asked for an explanation. He said it with a trace of antagonism. He was simply telling me that whatever I had seen in there was totally invisible to him.
What I had seen, of course, was the human effort to connect with something more wondrous and magnificent than the human mind.
I do not know whether any such thing exists but I am in awe of the attempt to connect with it and respect the spirituality of the exercise.
People want their lives to mean something, to be for something. They want to feel that there is something bigger than themselves. They are looking for an epiphany too– for God and for meaning to show itself to them.
So what does today’s epiphany reveal– this water becoming wine? to us?
First, it reveals a God whose vision for us is far from narrow. Jesus takes this bare essential of life – water – and turns it into wine. Not just a bit of wine either. Each jar holds twenty or thirty gallons and there are six of them. That’s somewhere around 730 bottles of wine. Quite some party! And it was good wine too. “You’ve saved the best till last!” says the bewildered steward to the equally puzzled bridegroom.
God doesn’t want us to live watery lives, this story tells us. He wants us to live lives that are like wine – rich, satisfying, intoxicating.
. “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,” says the Psalm “your justice like the great deep…Your people…feast on the abundance of your house, you give them to drink from the river of your delights.”
Meanness and narrowness, life that is watered down, is not of
God, says the Bible. If you want to find God, it won’t be by making your life less than it is, squashing your individuality, pretending, playing safe, it will be by taking a risk, breaking out, growing, drinking from that river of delight.
That may all sound a bit dangerous and irresponsible for us moderate and restrained St johns people, but 730 bottles of wine, for guests who have already drunk the party dry? That’s not moderate or restrained either. Fullness of life is what we’re promised, and this story gives us a memorable picture of what that life looks like. Joyfulness, a joyful community is a sign of God at work, note not a superficial “happiness” but that joy holds on to us through pain and sorrow, in the dark places..
Secondly, Where are we to find this wine? How are we to find this wine? There is a detail in the story that is easy to miss.
All the guests are given the wine. But only a few people know where it came from.- Jesus, his mother and disciples, of course,- but who else? “The steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it had come from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)“
The servants were there to do a job, not to drink. And yet, in doing the job, giving the wine away, they actually become the richest people in the room. Everyone else has 730 bottles to share – plenty, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Those servants though, knew where it had come from – from Jesus, this extraordinary visitor.
“Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day”, says the proverb, “teach them how to fish and you feed them for the rest of their lives.” These servants have been shown the source of the miracle – they have been taught how to fish - and if Jesus can turn water into wine, what else can he do?
Often we have a taste of the love of God brought to us by someone else;. a special moment, a moment of consolation or encouragement, an experience we can’t explain.. People say how much the services at Christmas mean to them – how they feel close to God when they are there. But it is like the wine brought by those servants to the wedding guests. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and we are left looking at the empty cup, longing for it to be full again, but not knowing how to fill it.
We look for someone else to bring us some more, we revisit endlessly the special place,. We wait expectantly. And nothing happens. It was just a trick of the light, a delusion, wishful thinking,
But the servants who had drawn the water knew, says John. He is telling us if we want to find God in our lives, joy in our lives, meaning in our lives – not just for a moment, but forever - we have to start giving it away, being the ones who serve..
There was an interview with John Caudwell, a billionaire who made his money in mobile phones. For a while he lived a playboy lifestyle,. But then, for some reason, he had an about face – and he started giving his money away, founding a children’s charity.
In this interview he said something that sounded as if it had come as a surprise to him – that it was when he was giving his money away that he felt richest. He had become a servant, drawing up the water of his riches and finding that it had been transformed into truly life changing wine both for those who received it and for him as well.
You don’t have to be a billionaire to discover this.
It’s true with money. It’s true with time – because your time is being used for something that matters. It is true with love, because the love you give grows with the sharing. It’s true with faith; because it grows stronger and deeper as you let it shape the things you do and say rather than keeping it to yourself.
God gives to us. He gives to us abundantly, longing to make our hearts glad, just as he did to those wedding guests. But he calls us to more than a moment of joy, or an afternoon, or an odd week here and there. He calls us to joy that lasts and we shall only find that as we become servants, ready to give the gifts God gives us that others might find the source, the wine the new life of Christ for themselves.
Reference – with thanks to Ann Le Bas whose material has been used for this sermon
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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