Third Sunday of Epiphany – 20th January 2019 – Rev’d Christopher Miles

1 Corinthians 12 vv 1 – 11   The gifts of the Spirit

John 2 vv 1 – 11    Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee

Theme:  God at work through Jesus and his Church

1.      Introduction.         “Thus Jesus revealed his glory” writes the Apostle John in recounting the first of seven miraculous signs that point to Jesus’ Messiahship, to his divine nature as Son of God.   A great reading for a wedding!   Jesus transforms the ordinary, the water, into the extraordinary, the wine.   In December I was preaching about John the Baptist.   What a contrast between these two men!   Yet they were both being obedient to the call of God.   John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah was instructed by the angel that his son was not to drink any wine or other fermented drink.   He had willingly pointed people to Jesus and here was Jesus right at the beginning of his public ministry providing an abundance of excellent wine for the guests at a wedding.   When I was Rector of the BART Group, the four parishes of Birling, Addington, Ryarsh and Trottiscliffe, I developed a good relationship with James, the pastor of the Ryarsh Strict Baptist Chapel.   We met about once a month for an hour of chat over a cup of tea, finishing with prayer.   On one occasion he was speaking about his wedding, many years before.   He had been brought up in the strict Baptist tradition.  His father made it clear that there was to be no alcohol at the wedding reception.   James said to me that he would have loved to say to his father but didn’t dare, “I suppose you would rather that Jesus had turned the wine into water at the Cana wedding!”  As Jesus said, “Wisdom is justified of all her children.” Or in a modern translation, “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”   This marvellous gospel reading from John chapter 2 has a much wider value than a reading at a modern wedding service.  Together with our reading from 1 Corinthians 12 we have two readings of great importance for the life of the whole Church today.

2.      The enablers         .        Although the focus is naturally on Jesus in the account of this miraculous sign, let us notice the role of what I will call, the enablers, without whom the event might never have occurred.   There are I suggest three individuals or groups of enablers.

         First there are the host and hostess who had invited the large group of 14 consisting of Mary, Jesus and his disciples, perhaps also Jesus’ brothers and sisters although they are not mentioned.   If Jesus had not been invited, then the whole incident might not have occurred.  They might even have had enough wine without the extra 14 or more guests.

         Secondly there is Jesus’ mother, Mary, who is the first person named as an invited guest, before John goes on to tell us that Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.   It is Mary who comes to her son asking him to do something about the embarrassing situation of the wine running out.   Bear in mind that this was in the very early days of Jesus’ public ministry.   She had perhaps never seen Jesus heal anyone.   I wonder what she thought Jesus would do.   They were 5 miles from home.   Perhaps there was a farmer in Cana, whom they knew and who would be willing to help out.   Perhaps she had no idea, but knowing her son’s wisdom from early years, just believed that he would come up with something.   Jesus’ response, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?   My time has not yet come.” is understandably, not very encouraging and seems rather strange.   Perhaps Jesus had in mind the devil’s temptation in the wilderness of the danger of dazzling people into belief.   Mary is not put off.   She was probably well known by the host family for she gives a general instruction to the servants to do anything that Jesus tells them to do.  Without this initiative and determined follow through there would have been no gospel account.   Guests would have gone home saying to one another, “Well I was glad to be there for the sake of the happy couple, but what a disaster, fancy running out of wine!  Not one of the best weddings that I have attended.”

         Next we have a group of enablers, the servants.  Jesus says to them, “Go and fill up these huge jars with water”.   I can imagine one of them saying, “Well of all the daft ideas I have heard, this takes the biscuit!   The guests will be delighted when we go round and say, ‘I am sorry there is no more wine but we do have a good line in water’”.   Another servant might perhaps have said, “I am not taking orders from anyone other that my master or mistress.”  Perhaps another might have said, I am a strict Baptist, I was baptised by John and like him, I don’t drink wine.  The guests have had enough wine anyhow so let’s fill up the water jars and offer them water!”   Whatever they said, one way or another they did obey Jesus’ instructions.   They were important enablers in this great sign.  Without their co-operation the miracle might never have occurred.

3.      The enabled.         Other than the enablers probably few people were aware of what was happening.   There were though people who in some way were influenced positively by the miracle – the enabled.   The most obvious group to be influenced were Jesus’ disciples.   At the end of our gospel reading, John writes, “His disciples believed in him.”   Of course they must already have had a degree of faith, some of them having been disciples of John the Baptist and believed in John’s testimony to Jesus as the Messiah.   Faith is or should be a progressive path in life, of growing trust in Jesus.

Most of the guests would not have realised what was happening.  They just went on enjoying themselves, perhaps appreciating the good quality of the wine.   Some though probably asked a question or so, or overheard conversations that made them realise that something exceptional had happened.   It may at a later stage have enabled them to come to faith in Jesus either during his earthly time or after the formation of the Church. 

Thirdly, the enablers were enabled.   I imagine that Mary was not only pleased but surprised at the way Jesus handled the emergency.   The miracle would have resulted in a growing understanding of her son, and faith in him, enabling her to have the courage three years later to be close to him at the foot of the cross.   The servants, whatever their views beforehand were no doubt deeply moved by the miracle.  

Fourthly there were people in a leading role who were taken by surprise, the chief steward and the bridegroom.

Rightly Jesus is the focus of the account as John begins his account of Jesus’ ministry and goes on to tell us of six other signs, concluding with Jesus’ resurrection, all with aim as John says, “That you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and through believing you may have life in his name”.

4.      The Church at Corinth.            Since the ascension of Jesus, he is revealed to the world chiefly through the Church.   Sadly, the Corinthian Church, at the time of the Ap Paul writing his first epistle, was far from reaching up to that ideal.   It was a divided Church, with problems such as serious sexual immorality and misuse of the gifts of the Spirit.   However, in the marvellous way in which God’s strength is made known in our weakness, we have in Paul’s writing some superb instruction including the great and deservedly popular passage on the supremacy of love as the gift of the Spirit in I Corinthians 13, beginning “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love it profiteth me nothing”.   I Corinthians 13 is the middle chapter of three chapters on the gifts of the Spirit in which Paul upbraids the Corinthian Christians for their overuse of the gift of tongues and encourages them rather to make use of those gifts that strengthen the church – preaching, teaching, healing, prophesy and administration.   This is not an exclusive list but rather a pointer in a different direction.   The whole thrust of 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 is to get the right balance, the right motivation.

5.      The Church today.          Not only in the 1st C but also in the 21st C, it is the responsibility of the Church to make the glory of Christ known to the world.  I feel privileged to belong to a Church here in Hadlow that is united rather than divided, that is co-operative with other churches, Roman Catholic and Methodist.    That is a good base from which the gifts and inspiration of the Spirit of God can operate.   Maybe you have a role as an enabler, to give someone a nudge, as Mary did to Jesus, “What are you going to do about this?” or like the servants who filled up the water jars, just getting on with what needs to be done.  Doing Church Watch may sometimes, especially in the winter, seem a rather unrewarding and perhaps chilly task.   Last Thursday, as well as writing some of my sermon for today, I was able take a couple from Sole Street near Cobham around the Church.  They had come to Hadlow to have their dog groomed, they had time to fill in, they had never been in Hadlow Church before.   I was able to talk to them about the language of the Bible and the liturgy of the Church as well as the historical aspects of the crusader crosses and the Coverdale chair.   Maybe by inviting someone to a Church event or service as the hosts had invited Mary, Jesus and his disciples you will be bringing someone not only into an ancient church building but into the presence of the living God, to meet with Jesus who can turn the water of that person’s ordinary hum drum life or maybe a troubled life, into the wine of an extra-ordinary life, lived with and for Jesus.  By being an enabler, you will find that you are also enabled, your faith will grow as did that of Jesus’ disciples who witnessed Jesus turning the water into wine.   In this service as we express our unity in sharing the peace, before partaking of the bread and wine the sacramental elements of Jesus’ saving death may we go out renewed in spirit to reveal Jesus’ glory to the people we meet this week.

1814 words                                                                                                        Christopher Miles