Sermons from St Faith's   

'When heaven and earth intersect''

Revd Denise McDougall, , Sunday, 17th January,

As we move through this liturgical season of Epiphany we are already aware of occasions when Jesus revealed himself to those who were with him. We remember the initial focus on the Magi, symbolising that Christians belong to a world-wide fellowship where there shouldn’t be any barriers of gender, race or culture. Then last week we moved on to Jesus’ baptism which signalled an end to the long period of waiting in Nazareth and marked the beginning of his public ministry; a ministry which was accompanied by the sign of God’s presence and approval and we also had the opportunity to reflect on how our own baptism unites us as children of God and how it secures our identity as members of the Global Christian community.

Today the Gospel moves us on to Jesus’ first miracle, a very well-known Bible story which is familiar to young and old alike, the story of Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana to reveal God’s divine presence and which gives us insight of the great heavenly feast in store for God’s people. As Jesus leads us through his ministry he uses special signs, signs which present us with awesome moments when earth and heaven intersect with each other, when the divine and the human meet together.

I bet there isn’t anyone here who hasn’t at some time enjoyed a good wedding and it’s always a privilege to be asked to officiate at one. I do have to confess though that I find it mildly irritating when at least one guest at the reception seems to find it amusing when they ask if I can change water into wine. If only!! 

 Weddings of course are happy occasions, full of joy and love and an invitation is usually a cause for excitement. Today’s Gospel suggests that this wedding is no exception. Jesus and his disciples are there just days after his baptism in the river Jordan. He has only known the disciples for about three days but it is at this wedding feast that Jesus’ first miracle or inexplicable sign takes place; Jesus’ first public display of power in an act which highlights divine mystery. The chosen guests in Cana were present at the dawn of the messianic age, ordinary people at an ordinary Jewish family wedding, in a quiet backwater town in Galilee. 

The party would be expected to last several days with lots of guests present and the Jewish rites of purification would mean that everyone would wash their hands and feet as they went into the house. Hence the hundreds of litres of water in stone jars. These water jars used for Jewish purification rites were the sign that God is doing something new  …. but by using the old Jewish system, purification is coming to Israel and the world in a completely new way. 

We assume from the passage that all was going well and according to plan but then Mary, Jesus’ mother, who may have been at the wedding as a helper sees that the wine has run out, panic may even have set in because this would certainly spoil the fun as well as embarrassing the bride and bridegroom; actually it would mean social disaster and one which the neighbours wouldn’t forget in a hurry!

 Mary knows what she has to do and tells Jesus what has happened and although he initially appears reluctant to do anything; in fact he says almost sharply that his hour has not yet come, he goes on to show compassion; he responded to those in need, as he does so often and in all kinds of unexpected places and ways throughout his ministry and our own journeys of faith. 

It is in that moment at the wedding that we glimpse the full picture of Jesus and his mother; Mary is alongside him as he begins a new stage in his life; Mary was with her Son at the start of his ministry, just as she was there with him at the cross at the end of his life. Jesus has given a whole new dimension to an ordinary event just as he does in all our lives if only we let him. Jesus brings a new dimension to celebration, freedom and love.

So despite the initial apparent reluctance on Jesus’ part Mary has infinite faith and confidence in her son and she instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them and having filled the stone jars with water Jesus then transforms it into the very best wine.

In one sip true hospitality and unbounded generosity is revealed and the best has been saved until the last. And as Christian disciples we need to recognise with confidence and faith that this is also true of the Church. As we journey and grow together and work towards deeper communion with God and each other in our own place of worship, our community and the wider-world then we can look forward with hope. The best is yet to come!
Growing, transformation and change is at the heart of our faith and in this coming week of Prayer for Christian Unity we pray for the unity of the church, celebrating its great diversity without compromising traditions. We pray especially for our Churches in Waterloo with which we are so familiar and bound together and pray that everyone will take on board the changes needed to become better disciples of Christ. With words from St. Richard of Chichester’s prayer I believe transformation will lead us to know Christ more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly. This is an exciting vision but also a challenging one. And when we pray for this transforming unity amongst our Churches locally we are also praying for churches and change throughout the wider, fragmented Anglican Communion.

The abundance of excellent wine produced at the wedding was a sign that the Messianic time had arrived and Jesus used the faith of ordinary, humble people to do wonderful things. Through the Holy Spirit, God gives abundantly and wants to go on giving more and more, he is constantly and unendingly pouring out love and light to us. Just as with the water at the wedding, an ordinary commodity just as we are ordinary human beings, our lives can also change significantly for the better if only we allow Jesus to intervene. We may resemble the water jars but the potential we all carry is great. To accept Christ into our lives then the mundane and ordinary can and will be changed into exciting and extraordinary.

How blessed we will all be when in a few moments we gather around the altar to receive and be nourished by bread and wine and let us remember that through Christ we can be transformed, refreshed and renewed. It is then our Christian vocation to become like new wine which bubbles and ferments to uplift ordinary human hearts and bring peace and joy into the lives of others.  Jesus tells us, ‘I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.’ If only we allow him fully into our hearts and minds God’s glory will be revealed and in turn help to meet our drained resources with his generosity and power.

And as God’s glory continues to be revealed through the scriptures and through the sacraments may we like the servants at the wedding willing obey even if the instructions seems bizarre or even plain daft. Jesus will never give up on us but expects us to use our gifts, faith, courage and obedience wholeheartedly; without doing that we risk missing God’s glory revealed or being able to celebrate life on a much higher level, that awesome moment when earth and heaven intersect in our lives and when the divine and the human do meet each other.

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