My first time preaching this morning. A wonderful two services. It was a delight to find that so many friends who aren’t members of my Church came along to join the family for the day, to support me and to share God’s love. I found that I wasn’t at all nervous… it was after all where I was meant to be. The day’s readings and a transcript of my sermon can be found below the photograph taken of me whilst I was wearing my alb…
First Reading: Revelation 19:6-10
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure’— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’
Gospel Reading: John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
We would expect the first public miracle of Jesus to be something amazing, something life-changing, something of wonder. So a miraculous healing perhaps, or the ability to bring food into existence by the click of fingers. But the Gospel of John tells us that the first miracle performed by Jesus is the transformation of water into wine.
Is Jesus’ first act one which gives us permission to go out for a few drinks on a Friday night? Well maybe… but that isn’t the central point he’s making.
It is Mary, his mother, who tells him that the wedding party have run out of wine. “Woman” he says, frustrated, “what concern is that to you and me?” It seems Jesus in a bit of a mood. But Mary doesn’t respond to him. Instead, she turns to the workers and says, “do whatever he tells you.” Do whatever Jesus tells you to do. And then she just walks off and leaves him to it.
I think Jesus was in a mood because, as he says “my hour has not yet come”, he is realising that actually, it has come. It’s time for him to respond to his Father’s calling. To God’s calling. With our callings, vocations, aspirations, what we want to do, to be in our lives, we’ve learnt how hard it can be to respond. With me for example, it took me quite a long time and a lot of courage to step out of the norm and come here to Church, when few of my relatives or student friends were Christians. It would have been easier in a way to remain as I was, blending in, conforming to society. But I came, eventually, because I knew it was the right thing to do. Here is where God wanted me to be. Where I wanted me to be. Many of you have responded to a calling that I haven’t, at least not yet anyway. That is the calling of giving up quite a lot of your freedom, to be a parent. And we know that certainly isn’t a walk in the park. I remember once sneaking into my mother’s make-up draw out of curiosity when I was much younger, and finding something called mascara. Without a clue what it was, I painted my eyebrows with it. Yes I looked interesting to say the least. Responding to a calling isn’t always an easy thing to do.
Mary, called to be the parent of a son who would change everything, was a strong woman wasn’t she? In Cana Mary just gave Jesus ‘that look’, and told the workers to do what Jesus told them to. And Jesus knew he had to respond. It was time. And what I find is at the heart of this transformation, is what he chooses to use to hold the wine. Jesus uses the stone jars which are meant for the Jewish rites of purification. Is Jesus dismissing the purification rites by using these jars? Yes… but he’s not doing it in an aggressive way. Replacing the Jewish purification rites with his wine, he is showing the Jewish people, that all we need to do to be “purified”, is to understand his love, trusting it and sharing it, celebrating with it. Jesus is telling the people that religion, belief in a God, in Love, in the Source of Life, should be more about relationship and less about archetypal religion.
The wine which Jesus gave, the chief steward says in the passage, was the best of all. This is communion. Communion comes not simply in drinking the wine that Jesus gave to us, but the relationship he shows us. Jesus’ first miracle, God’s vision here, was not to shazzam water into wine and make himself look brilliant, but instead to carry his gift in the stone jars, telling us that “purity” is not about cleanliness or remembering to say Grace before a meal or praying however many times a day. It’s not about that. Being “pure”, being beautiful in God’s eyes, comes through the sharing of blessings. Through relationship, not through archetypal – strict, oppressive – religion. You don’t need to be purified, you don’t need to say any special prayer, you are all beautiful human beings. Take my wine Jesus is saying. Take my gift, share it, and love yourselves. When God tells us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, he does not just mean treat others as you wish to be treated. He, She, is saying, if we flip the words around a bit, love yourself as you love your neighbours. From the day that you were born, you have had beauty in you.
When I got here for my first service, July 12th 2009, it was a day in which Fr Simon got the whole congregation to stand, and to join hands in a circle. “We are the family of this Church” he said. My friends, I’ve been here in St Michaels now for 2 and a half years. And the beauty in each of you, has showed me who God is.
God gives us love, gives us what we need. And whatever your individual callings are, one is primary. Love yourself, and love your neighbours. God is not a wrathful being who punishes and predestines people to go to Hell. God is not that being. What God is, is love. God draws us into him, to her, through communion wine, through communion conversations, through communion hugs, through the communion of life. And what God in Jesus is saying in our passage today is, believe in the beauty of yourself. Whatever race, age, sexuality, creed, you are all equal in my eyes. You don’t need purifying guys. You are loved.
So actually, a very wonderful, meaningful first act of Jesus then eh?
The Lord be with you