Epiphany 2 (2007) Year C RCL Principal Service
Feasts & wonders
As you will know by now, in me you have a very human Vicar! In the past three years rural ministry has presented me with a very steep learning curve, and I’m still learning (and still making mistakes!) – but that’s all part of what it means to be a human being.
And being human is an important part of being a Christian. That may seem a strange, or obvious thing to say, but I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of doing or saying something that has had the reaction from other people ‘and you call yourself a Christian’. As if being a Christian meant that we didn’t feel angry, or hurt, or confused, or have a sense of humour. As if being a Christian made us into ‘religious robots’ who all think and act in a certain way.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
Being a Christian is about being human, indeed it is about becoming human. It is about becoming the people God wants us to be. It is about discovering the truth about ourselves, about our world, and about that which is beyond this world.
And the reason I say that being a Christian is about being and becoming truly human is that by the very name we take – Christian – we dedicate ourselves to following the one who called himself the son of man – or the human one as it says in some translations.
And in the story we have today, the very well known story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee we are given, at this the start of Jesus earthly ministry, a glimpse of the one who shows us the example of being human, and who shows us what God looks like when God becomes man.
Whilst preparing this sermon I found some notes from John Wesley’s commentary on John’s Gospel, and concerning this theme he writes
From Wesley's Notes
"Christ does not take away human society, but sanctifies it. Water might have quenched thirst; yet our Lord allows wine; especially at a festival solemnity. Such was his facility in drawing his disciples at first, who were afterward to go through rougher ways."Jesus celebrates what it means to be human, by encouraging the celebration to continue. Not only did he allow the celebration to continue, he improved it with the best wine in vast quantities (someone who is much more mathematically minded than myself once told me that the six stone water jars represent about 1200 bottles of wine in our measures) In a way it seems to be God’s seal of approval on something that is rather everyday, a marriage – it offers a blessing to human life and human society that reflects the value God gives to human beings.
Of course the greatest sign of how important God believes us to be is to be found in the next chapter of St John’s Gospel – Ch 3 v 16, I expect you all know by heart.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”Yet it is amazing how many people see Christians as something less than human. As if we don’t know how to enjoy ourselves, as if we aren’t affected by the trials of this world in the same way as them, as if we are distanced or separate from this world by virtue of our hope for the next world.
I have to say that I think some Christians don’t do the Christian Faith any favours by presenting a front of ‘being saved’ in a way that won’t let them admit to being disturbed or hurt by the world around them. In my own experience the best and worst adverts for Christianity are Christians themselves.
Another commentary I read on this passage, by someone called Jerry Goebel, said that Jesus didn’t stage this event, he was called on to act, and did so somewhat reluctantly – but he took the situation and turned it around. It seems to me that this is very good description of what it means to be human.
I don’t believe that Jesus knew in advance what was going to happen to him – as if everything in his life were mapped out and he just had to fit into the plan. Though I know a number of people who are quite shocked when I say that. Some people cannot believe that Jesus didn’t know what was going to happen – because he was God and God knows everything.
Well I don’t disagree with the statement that Jesus was God (I’d certainly be in the wrong job if that were the case) – but the Bible is absolutely clear that Jesus was completely human, like we are but without sin – as the letter to the Hebrews puts it.
To be like us Jesus had to deal with life as it appeared, hence the response to his mother ‘woman, what concern is that of mine, my time has not yet come’. Jesus was discovering his own mission and ministry – believing that there was still something to happen before he started on his public work. It turns out that this sign, the changing of water into wine, was going to be the beginning of his work – and through which his disciples had their faith strengthened and believed all the more. It turns out that Jesus learns along the way, and that his time had come and he acted.
Of course, in reflecting the nature of God in human form Jesus acted in a way that mirrored God’s extreme generosity and love of humanity, putting into a very human format the infinite love that God is. This abundance of wine is like the abundance of grace God lavishes upon each one of us, like the gift of the spirit that is promised to everyone who believes.
Still this is a very human story, the ordinariness of a wedding, the eating and drinking, the way that Jesus and his friends are sharing in the celebration, even Jesus’ reactions all seem to reflect very human experiences.
And the great sign of water being changed into wine, points towards God’s grace and also gives a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. In the same way that God through his grace and love, gives us a glimpse of the celebration which we will all share in at the end of time here, today, in this Eucharist!
In Christ God draws us to himself. Through the life, death and resurrection we are also drawn into being who God truly wants us to be – we are drawn to being fully human – saved, sanctified, renewed and filled with God’s grace. That calling should draw us into a fuller appreciation of all that God has given us here on earth, and should also inspire us to draw others to share in that fuller humanity which God offers to each one of us. And we should celebrate! I want to finish on a lighter note with something I found on a biblical scholars website whilst I was researching some more ideas for this sermon – it is a paraphrase:
Mother! Here you go messing in my business again. They don't need any more wine. After all, they have been drinking over a week. This is precisely the kind of occasion for which God made grape juice. After all, this scene must look very proper, because the stories will be here to preserve it as an icon for Christian marriage. Now leave me alone.-- Jesus did not say this at Cana