from St Faith's
Wedding at Cana
John 14 –
‘Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do
even greater things than these’.
Jesus promised that if we have faith in him we will be able to do what
he did, and will perhaps even do greater things than him. And ever
since the birth of the church, Christians have taken those words
seriously and apparently been able to perform all sorts of miracles. We
often hear of healing services in which lame people have walked, or
someone has recovered from cancer as a result of being prayed over.
Some have taken the gospel words even more literally in some strange
churches in America and at each service handle snakes in accordance
with the words in Mark’s gospel; they will pick up snakes with their
hands and not be harmed.’
But as far as I know, Christians have never claimed to be able to turn
water into wine. It’s a pity, because it would be a winner wouldn’t it!
We’d all be able to bring some jars full of water along to church and
go home with some fine Pinot Noir or whatever was our fancy!
But seriously, perhaps Christians haven’t attempted to turn water into
wine because the story of the Wedding at Cana is not one that we are
supposed to take literally. In common with so many pictures and stories
in John’s gospel we soon realise that so often in this gospel we are
dealing with symbolism – symbolism about who Jesus is. Picture after
picture. So Jesus is:
- the Bread of Life
- the Light of the World
- the Gate
- the Good Shepherd
- the Resurrection and the Life
- the Way, the Truth and the Life
- the Vine
And this morning in our reading from the second chapter of John’s
gospel – the first of Jesus’ signs in the gospel, and the one that
perhaps colours all the others – the picture we are given is of Jesus
as the new wine. The one who replaces big jars of water set aside for
washing, with the finest vintage wine. The one who offers the life
abundant, pressed down, shaken together, and running over (Luke 6.38).
If we accept this symbolism of Jesus as the new wine, we also have to
recognise that the wedding which acts as the setting for this story of
abundant life is not just an ordinary one. Its not really about the
joining in matrimony of man and woman at all, instead it signifies the
coming together of something else. The story of the wedding at Cana is
a story about the marriage heaven and earth – through Jesus. It’s a
symbolic story about the ways in which – through faith in Christ - we
are connected to God, and about the role of religion, the role of the
church in that process - and of how it is possible for faith to become
Jesus is the abundant provider of real religion, symbolised by this
special and wonderful wine. But if that is true, what was the water
that was on offer previously? What is Jesus replacing?
In Jesus’ time, the religion that was on offer was that of the Jewish
Temple. And there were two parts to it:
- the first part was a complex system of ritual behaviour in worship
through the Temple cult. It was very prescriptive, with extraordinary
detail about what you should sacrifice on the altar, how much blood
should be sprinkle around, and what the priests should wear in worship.
In other words it was a very rigid, fixed idea of what people should do
in church. And this system was managed and controlled by a powerful
governing class of clergy, called the Pharisees – bit like the
- secondly, there was an equally elaborate system of requirements for
daily living. What you should and shouldn’t eat. What you should or
shouldn’t do on the Sabbath. How you should wash your pots. All sorts
of purity laws about relationships between people. And this system was
managed and controlled by a similarly powerful group of lay people
known as the Sadducees.
Again and again in all 4 gospels it is made clear by what Jesus said
and did that this system of prescriptive religion sold people short. It
excluded lots of people – particularly those who were poor and on the
edge of things, those on the margins of society. It had become a system
in which people were serving religion rather than the other way around.
Jesus offered a radical and controversial alternative to this
prescriptive way of trying to be the people of God. And what we read in
the pages of the New Testament about Jesus’ life and teaching tell us
what that alternative is. Real religion, true faith, real membership of
the people of God means this:
- firstly - trusting God’s will to heal and forgive
- next, becoming a people, a community, whose bonds – through faith -
are stronger than any other bonds between people
- next, being indiscriminately hospitable - no-one left out, no-one
excluded, all welcomed in, no-one too bad to be admitted
- next, a new power to see human relations as about service and nurture
others, not about power and mutual threat
- next, a people who believe that their meetings with each other,
particularly around the altar, are meetings with Jesus: at the
eucharist, when we share bread and wine in faith, Christ rises again in
us and in this community!
- And finally, true faith is companionship with the living Jesus
through the Spirit he gives us – the breath of God that is breathed
into us, filled with that Spirit of love who knows what we need before
These are marks of religion that is real. In the New Testament, that is
what we are told real religion is like: nothing less and nothing more.
So how do you think we measure up? Do you think that list that I have
just run through sums us up? Does that sound like us as a church?
The trouble is that the cost of realising that sort of spirituality,
that sort of communion with God is very high. Jesus paid a very high
price for it. Because what this sort of spirituality means is a refusal
to live by the systems with which this world is managed. It is
counter-cultural. It lives by other values. And so it is a challenge
and a threat to those who do live by the world’s values and systems.
The heart of the gospel is the account of how Jesus paid the ultimate
price for that sort of radical and controversial way of living the
faith. A way of living to which he calls each one of us. Real religion
is about being truly converted. And conversion means – literally –
living as if in a new world, living with our whole mental and
imaginative horizons changed.
And that’s why it is so difficult to achieve. It asks us to really
change. To shift our centre of gravity from what we know and are
comfortable with, to one in which every moment is a response to a
living and loving God – ever open to what is new and not reliant on
habit or custom or our own particular likes and dislikes.
Today, many people in our society are searching for some new wine in
their lives. They want spirituality. They want to find God. But when
they come to our churches they don’t always feel that it’s what they’re
getting. They feel as if they are getting short-changed: that their
glass is being filled with water and not with the new wine of abundant
life that they know – somehow - is possible.
We are living in a time when in much of our religion in the western
world the wine has run dry. And that means we are failing people -
letting them down.
We rush around fretting about what we can do. We try and tweak this or
that in our liturgies. We try and be ever-so-nice to new people who
appear. Or else we convince ourselves that as long as we do what we’re
doing as well as we can, somehow or other people are going to return to
the pews. Well, it ain’t gonna happen.
Whether we want to hear it or not, the churches which are attracting
people today are those in which a real and lively faith is evident.
Churches where people have been converted: where they have a whole new
mind set. Where it is obvious that their faith makes a difference to
who they are and how they live together as the body of Christ.
Now a lot of those churches probably have ways of doing things which
are pretty uncomfortable to us. They don’t work for us. We don’t like
the theology or the music or the hand-clapping or whatever. Well
perhaps that’s good news. Because that means that there are probably a
whole lot of other people out there who think the same as us, and would
love to discover a church which perhaps has an approach like ours. So
the battle is perhaps half won.
But the second half is about us. We need to be converted. We need to
have our whole mental and imaginative perspectives changed. We need to
become people who no longer live by the systems of this world, but make
clear by how we live that we do have another centre of gravity. People
who by the strength of what they share together through faith are
clearly a group of people who have something very special to offer
others. People who are unconditionally accepting of other people.
People who know that they have been forgiven, people who show signs of
having been healed.
So how do you think we are doing? How do we measure up? It’s a very
hard challenge isn’t it?
Good churches do turn water into wine. By the levels of their trust in
God, by the quality of their relationships, by a real belief that God
is here with us as we gather around the altar - people can sense when
all that is true.
But it has to start inside. Inside us, and inside our church. By the
quality of the attention we pay to each other in this Christian
community. By our stopping taking each other for granted. By our
willingness to be connected to each other – not just the people we like
or feel comfortable with, but everyone in this community of faith.
Everyone in our parish.
If the life of faith really is a marriage between heaven and earth,
then like any marriage it needs time. Time for our selves. Time
nurturing our relationships with each other. Time for God.
Don’t you sometimes get the feeling that perhaps we need to start doing a little
less as a church, and being a little
more. Sometimes it seems as if we have created so much that we have to
do in and for church, so many endless lists of activity, that there
isn’t really much room for God!
We are the body of Christ. How many times in our lives have we heard
those words. We are the body of Christ! An awesome responsibility and
an honour and privilege of which we are always unworthy. But its true.
That’s the heart of our faith. And perhaps if we could
really take it to heart and believe it, and begin living it together,
so many of the problems that we see our selves having as a church would
Water can be turned into wine. Every time we bring the bare water of
ourselves to this table, we become the vintage wine which brings new
life to the world. This was the first of the signs that Jesus did, and
revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
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