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Sermon - 18 January 2004
Bible Verses: Isaiah 62:1-5 & John 2:1-11
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

The Best Wine

A number of years ago I spoke at a wedding on Christmas Eve, many of the guests were there from the big international hotel up the road as it was one of their food and beverages managers who was the groom. I wondered what to say to a group some of whom would never have been near a church. then I saw the reading - this one. What better for the food and catering manager. Who would cater for a wedding then run out of wine.?

Mind you this wedding went for a week, but they ran out of wine! Only the third day into a seven day celebration it looked like the party was over. "Without wine there is no joy." The ancient rabbis had said and to balance that also warned about drunkenness.
The joy had run out, not good for a wedding celebration. Was it time to go home? To leave the couple with the everlasting embarrassment of not being able to provide for the guests and all the recriminations and even legal action which would follow? Not to speak of the caterers.

I had their rapt attention because this story tells us about people celebrating. Most of them had never heard it before and most would not have believed the Bible tells us about God who celebrates and parties with us. That God has something to do with human celebrations and salvation is often pictured as a wedding feast with all the overtones of new beginnings. In the Hebrew scriptures an abundance of good wine is a sign of the joyous arrival of God's new age.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, (Is 25:6a) the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it (Amos 9:13cd) In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk (Joel 3:18a)

Then a new wine appeared, 600 litres of new wine, a huge gift for the bridegroom and the winetaster just about fell over with shock. "This is the best wine, most people serve this up first and use the other stuff later when nobody will notice but this is good."

On the guest list was Mary and her son Jesus and his disciples. That was the good news, although bridegroom didn?t know it then.
Mary saw the need and like a good Jewish mother, told her son to deal with it. Just like mother would and just like any son or daughter Jesus said "Its not your business or mine " "Its not the right time for me to do this"
Mary turns to the servants - "Do whatever he tells you"
Jesus says "fill the jars with water"
And the stone water jars that held the water for the Jewish purification rites are filled to the brim, all 600+ litres. "Now, take some of that to the winetaster".

The disciples knew, to them it revealed something of this Jesus, the servants knew, Mary knew, but as far as the story goes, the rest, including the couple, didn?t know at the time, that this enormous gift was from Jesus. The new wine came quietly into the wedding out of the containers for the old law and brought not cleanliness but joy.and the celebrations could continue. And it was the best wine!!

Jesus is more than a miraculous bartender, Jesus is shown as the one who can change us and the world. Isn't it true that the human body is mostly water? In Jesus there is a power - grace - that transforms us watery human beings into persons like Christ himself. How often have you seen others changed from ordinary water into extraordinary wine - persons - filled with joy and selfless love? emember old Zacchaeus? What a pot of stale water he was. But with a few words and loving acceptance from Jesus he was turned into a wine that brought love and caring to all those around him.

This story tells us that God is generous and celebrates with us and for us. And because we come from a church which has been strong in the temperance tradition and today in our society alcohol our biggest drug problem for all ages. I will tell another story. Its about a Christian man who was the object of his fellow workers' amusement. "You believe all that stuff," they asked him? Don't you know that all those stories about Jesus doing miracles aren't true? How could Jesus turn ordinary water into wine?"
"I don't know," he said. "But I do know that ever since I became a Christian he has turned my beer into some clothing for the children and some furniture for the house!" Jesus gives the best wine which sustains us and brings life.

The wine ran out and when the wine ran out, the party was over, Post Christmas we may feel like that after all the celebrating and family get to gethers -and when you find you can't pay the American Express with the Mastercard.
"They have no more wine." The same could be said many times about Christians. One speaker criticised the Church saying, "We have all the right words to have a party, but we haven't learned how to pull it off, yet." Seldom do our worship services feel like wedding celebrations -- where 600 litres of wine would be served during a week-long celebration.
It's not surprising that many people believe that Christians have no wine. In any of a thousand churches a visitor comes to Sunday worship, hears one person grumble and talk about another, and the visitor goes home thinking, "They have no more wine." Not here of course? We wouldn't do that would we?

There are times when our own lives seem to dry up, and if we could hear it our own soul would cry out, "I have no more wine", when we begin to wonder why we continue on this journey.
No one is immune. We all face the risk of running out of wine.
Madeleine L'Engle, tells of such a time in her own life. It was the middle of the night. It had been her habit every day for years to go to sleep and to wake up with words of prayer on her lips. But tonight it was different. There was no more wine. Bitter thoughts filled her mind. "Why on earth I am saying these meaningless and empty words? They mean nothing. God is just an illusion. My faith is a lie."
She lay in her bed, filled with a deep despair. Nothingness surrounded her. It was at that moment of complete darkness, that Madeleine flung herself into the words of her prayer like a drowning person clutching at a rope thrown into the sea. She prayed with all her strength, and slowly she was pulled from the waters which had been sucking her under. she was pulled from the dark into the light.
But it was a slow recovery. Each day the fever subsided a little bit. Each day the wine was replenished a little more. And it is very important that L'Engle recognized that she was not immune or exempt from further attacks. She also knows that the darkness cannot put out the light, and that the wine never need run out.

So often we give up. We decide that God's care has finally run out. We come to believe that God's grace and mercy has its limits. Oh well, it was good while it lasted, but now I've exhausted God's mercy and grace and love. This person will never forgive me. I will never feel God in my life again. I will never find another who will love me as I love them. When our children all leave home, our old friends move away or die, we feel we have no purpose. We think that the wine has run out. We resign ourselves to drinking water. But then it comes - the unexpected. There's a gleam in the cup, the water's been changed and our mouths are filled with the sudden sweet taste of wine. God has not changed after all. God still delights in us. There is always more wine. And its new again - the best is yet to come, for its Jesus wine. Spirit wine, which comes unbidden and changes us.
And its God's wine.
God we thank you for Jesus, who changes the water life into the wine of love. And in doing so reveals your joy. Renew our tiredness and refresh us where we are stale and give us the hope of knowing that the best is yet to come for us and for this world and for whatever is beyond this world. Give us in this parish the wine which transforms just existing into living that we might be able to serve you fully in the name of Jesus

With thanks to Will Humes and others on PRCL discussion.

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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