Sermons from St Faith's

The Wedding at Cana
Fr Mark Waters

‘Living the Faith’

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 real.

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 Anglo-Catholic mafia!

- 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 we ask
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 disappear.

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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