notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
John 2 - Intemperate Christianity: the Good News
Good Shepherd Morning Prayer 14/1/2007
2 Kings 6.8-23, John 2.1-11
When I was growing up there were a few things about Christianity that confused me. A few things that seemed to contradict each other. It was always called Good News, the Christian way of life. But a lot of the time the Christian way of life seemed to be about earnestness, abstinence, self-denial, sobriety - things which to a young man didn't seem like very good news at all.
Older people I knew and respected in the church - and who I still give thanks for today though they are well established in glory now - would encourage me to read the leaflets they passed on from the Temperance movement who wanted to encourage people like me into teetotalism.
Sometimes I would also be encouraged to understand that as a believer I ought to be abstaining from such wicked things as dances or the cinema ... advice which obviously affected me, as to this day I still have two left feet and a dislike of popcorn...
The Christian way of life was meant to be Good News but it looked like pretty bad news to a young man like me. What was said to be life in all its fullness seemed pretty empty of enjoyment. What was said to be abundant life looked, by contrast, to be very meagre.
But the gospels seemed to be telling me a different story about the Christian life. And I suppose it was by spending more time with the gospels that I began to realise that there was some Good News in Christianity after all.
The gospels told me, for one thing, that the first thing that happened in Christianity happened not in a church but at a party. It told me, for another thing, that Jesus wasn't the soberest of characters, nor was he bothered whether the people around him were sober or not.
John's gospel story of Jesus' first ever miracle seems to paint a picture of our Lord as someone not so much close to the church as close to the brewery.
This story carries a vital meaning. Last week we heard the Epiphany, in which Jesus was revealed as the gift of God given for the salvation of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.
This week we look at the wedding at Cana in Galilee where John tells us that the purpose of what Jesus did was to reveal his glory to the world. The consequence was that his disciples put their faith in him.
What did Jesus first do to reveal his glory to the world? Perform a wonderful healing? - No. Preach a stunning sermon? No. Stop people enjoying themselves? No! He went round the back of the bar at a wedding and boosted the stocks of best wine - by very generous proportions.
Now if you're anxious about fine wine and partygoing you'll find this miracle quite disconcerting. But if you're looking for some real good news in Christianity then you might be quite encouraged. Why did Jesus choose to reveal his glory to the world in this way? This morning I'd like to try to tease out some answers to that question.
You might wonder why Jesus would be at a wedding in the first place. Wouldn't he be too busy being holy, playing God somewhere else, to mix with ordinary folks at a social event?
In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus learned how to be holy precisely by mixing with ordinary folks - and he taught ordinary folks how to be holy by socialising with them.
We can assume that Jesus was at the wedding because he was invited. A single man of thirty years old is just the sort of person you'd expect to be invited to a wedding, and you can bet, in the close-knit community he belonged to, there would be a young bridesmaid or friend of the bride who would be watching him closely, with interest, hoping he might notice her.
Was Jesus a good dancer? We don't know but we can assume this - he wanted to be at the wedding because weddings are where people are. He wanted to be there to share the joy and the fun of the occasion with his family and friends. Jesus wasn't an abstainer.
It's only what you'd expect - that God who took such delight in creating the world and all its people, would delight to be with them on a day of celebration; that God whose whole being is wrapped up totally in love, would want to share the wonder of a young couple's love by joining in their wedding party.
There is another side to this which is also good news in a different sort of way. Because we know from our own experience that weddings aren't all joy. If we were able to see the wedding party through Jesus' eyes then we would know that that dancing bridesmaid was abandoned by her partner only weeks before and is hurting deep inside; we would know that the father buying drinks for everyone at the bar is disguising his financial problems by getting himself further into debt.
Jesus knows just as we do that weddings bring out family tensions as much as family blessings; Jesus knows just as we do that at weddings some people aren't there to celebrate stable long-term relationships, they'd settle for a one-night stand; Jesus knows just as we do that for all the joy of weddings they can also bring out regrets, loneliness and pain.
And Jesus wanted to be there at that wedding fully aware of all those things. So that he could share in those meaningful little conversations over a drink where people pay attention to each other for once, and are raw and real about themselves. So that he could put his arm around a sad person, kiss a worried person, dance with a lonely person. Spread his love around. Isn't that precisely why he came down to earth from heaven in the first place?
Now the wine - the wine is something else which tells us Jesus wanted to be there and that he understood the people's needs. When he quietly snuck behind the bar and somehow transformed ordinary water into finest quality wine, three lots of people benefited.
The partygoers benefited, obviously, although they didn't even know what had gone on behind the scenes;
The hosts of the party benefited: it saved them so much embarrassment, there were no such things as off-licences to bail them out in those days;
I also like to think that Jesus performed this miracle for the sake of the bar staff, the caterers. It may have been their fault stocks ran so low; whatever, they would have got the blame and took the shame when the wine ran out. Jesus saved them from all that. Jesus is one for the workers, the ones who get few thanks and lots of grief from employers and customers alike. I like to think the miracle was for them, especially.
The last thing I'd like to draw from this story is the abundance of wine. Jesus didn't just produce any old wine - Jesus' wine was the very best quality, sending the toastmaster into confusion, making the drinkers feel this was some do they were at; they were involved in something special here.
And Jesus didn't spend any time carefully calculating precisely how much wine was needed to keep the party going to a certain time. No: he got all the empty containers they could find and filled them right up to the brim. That should do it, imagine him saying, with a smile, to the gobsmacked bar staff.
This was more than enough. This wasn't just generous. This was a scandalously generous gesture. Which is precisely what Jesus intended it to be. Because after all, isn't the whole thing about God coming to earth scandalously generous?
Jesus chose to reveal his glory not to a temple-full of pompous priests or pent-up puritans but to a party full of all sorts - isn't that scandalous?
Jesus chose to offer everyone, whoever they were and whatever they were up to, the same sort of new life as he'd injected into that party with that new wine - isn't that generous?
The disciples saw his glory - and believed. One great thing about this story is that it holds true today. That was just the beginning - the extravagant glory of Jesus is still coming to light in the world today - you might have seen it in your own life or someone else's.
The toastmaster said, "You have kept the good wine until now". Another great thing about this story is that it helps us see that in our lives, the life of the community or the world, Jesus can replace the 'inferior wine' with 'good wine'. In the days and years ahead, through Jesus, the hurting bridesmaid can be healed, the debt-ridden father find financial stability, the regretful can overcome their regrets, the lost and the lonely can find identity in community.
A final great thing about this story is that it invites us to see how Jesus needs us to help share his extravagant glory with others. He didn't do the miracle on his own. He needed his mother to prompt him to do it in the first place. He needed the workers to prepare it all for him. And at the end he had disciples putting their faith in him so that his glorious, generous work of love could carry on, spread and grow, through them.
We are their successors. And that's why Jesus gives us the Spirit. So we can help share his extravagant glory with others. Jesus gave everyone at that wedding something good. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says that everyone who comes to Jesus will be given something good, through the Spirit, to help them serve God in their lives, day by day. Spiritual gifts, of all varieties, offered freely by Jesus to us. We're not called to be party-poopers. We're called to join Jesus at the party. We're not called to stop others enjoying themselves. We're called to join Jesus in filling their glasses to the full with the very best wine.
You know, God loves a wedding. Because he loves people, loves to spread joy. Think of the deep love of a couple embracing on their wedding day. That's precisely the sort of love God longs to share with you. It's not temperate at all. And that is very Good News indeed.
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
Those words from Isaiah 62 become ours when we open ourselves to God's embrace.
 This is a reworking of another Wedding at Cana sermon, God's scandalous generosity, St Luke's Crosby 18/01/04