This morning we find ourselves back in the gospel according to John.
Here at the very start of the second chapter, we meet Jesus, his mother, and the disciples at a wedding feast.
The story reminds me of one of my favourite ‘go to’ movies — Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Perhaps you know it?
At a first glance, Four Weddings and a Funeral might seem like one of those frivolous, romantic comedies with a predictable ending.
At first glance, it might seem a story overflowing with stereotypical beautiful, wealthy, haplessly foolish young adults struggling to grow up.
Until, that is, you come to the latter part of the movie when this most privileged bunch gathers for a funeral celebrating the life of one of the film’s most foolhardy characters.
Who can deny the obvious depth of connection for all gathered as the dead man’s partner offers his own deeply personal rendition of the poem ‘Stop All the Clocks’ attributed to W.H. Auden?
For me, the film Four Weddings and a Funeral is one that speaks to each of us about coming of age and of taking relationships seriously.
It’s also a story about learning to live faithfully, accepting that new beginnings can and do emerge out of unavoidable endings.
In our end is our beginning, yes?
It seems to me that the story of the wedding at Cana Sharon read for us this morning is also a story about coming of age and about taking relationships seriously.
Both the film and the bible stories, ultimately, are about learning to live faithfully and to understand and accept that new beginnings can and do emerge out of unavoidable endings.
In the end is our beginning, yes?
This morning’s story from John’s gospel sets the scene for revealing the first of the seven signs regarding Jesus’ true identity.
We might say it’s the inaugural story of his ministry.
Starting with its words of foreshadowing, we are told “on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee”. (NRSV p.95)
Now the more biblically attuned listeners here, the phrase ‘on the third day’ reminds us of Jesus’ death on the cross and then his resurrection at Easter.
The phrase, ‘on the third day’ reminds us of how Jesus encountered Mary in the garden and how he came to the disciples hiding away behind locked doors.
Right out of the gate here in chapter two of John’s gospel, we have a story that reminds us of how all our beginnings herald endings and how all our endings give way to new beginnings.
To put it another way, we might say that our life’s chapters’ beginnings and endings always overlap and intertwine.
Moving along in the story, we next learn that Jesus’ mother has discovered a problem that she asks him to mend.
Here, we learn she has come upon a definite ‘no no’ that could dishonour the wedding party host.
Jesus’ mother has discovered that the wedding hosts are at risk of running out of wine at the wedding feast.
Not before time, she comes up with a quick solution to the problem.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine her doing her utmost to approach him discretely.
Jesus, however, seems much less inclined to discretion.
In a word, Jesus vehemently denies her request.
In keeping with the foreshadowing of his death on the cross, Jesus says:
“Woman, what concern is this lack of wine to me? My hour has not yet come.”
(NRSV p. 95)
Clearly Jesus and his mother are not on the same page as to his identity and role.
She wants him to fix the wine problem and he wants to refer to his own death on the cross. At least, that is the case here in John’s gospel.
In fact, it even seems Jesus has forgotten his relationship to this woman who is seeking his help.
Some biblical scholars say that when Jesus addresses his mother as ‘woman’ in this story, he is really speaking to all women.
Other scholars suggest that Jesus doesn’t address her as his mother because it would have been taboo in Jesus’ time for a man to respond to a woman’s request, even if she is his mother!
Do with that what you will!
In summary then, here, Jesus has said ‘no’ to his mother’s request to solve the diminishing wine problem.
Undaunted by his refusal, however, his mother continues to push the envelope.
Advising the servants to do whatever Jesus instructs them to do seems to have changed Jesus’ mind.
And so it is, what needs to be done is done.
Following Jesus’ instruction to fill up to the brim six stone water jars with water normally reserved for purification purposes, the most amazing thing happens.
Water turns into wine and its not Chianti or Blue Nun.
No, better to think more of a more expensive variety, possibly proseco or even champagne.
The chief steward is over the moon about this change of events.
Thinking this the bridegrooms doing, he is quick to offer his praise.
Though the bridegroom likely has no idea what’s going on here, he can certainly live with the good news.
What is this good news?
The best of the best wines is about to be lavished on everyone gathered at the wedding feast!
Though the party had gone well, now things will be even better.
The story concludes with the good news that this miraculous turning of water into wine is the first of Jesus’ signs revealing his glory.
From there, we are told ‘the disciples believed.’
What are we to do then, with this over the top extravagant story?
What are we to do with this sign of Jesus’ unique capacity to make the most ordinary experiences scintillating and sparkling?
I believe this is a story filled to the brim with the good news that when two or more are gathered, there is always more than enough.
And that ‘more than enough’ is not necessarily about wine at all.
I believe this is story also reminds us that in our endings, so also, are our beginnings.
That said, it’s important to hold this story some might call frivolous in contrast to the many challenges from which we, as a people of privilege and comfort are protected.
We could dismiss this story of turning water into wine as fanciful.
From my personal perspective, this story from John’s gospel provides us with a superb example of God’s economy of grace even in the midst of those myths of scarcity that pervade our own culture.
You know those myths of scarcity that tell us again and again and again that there can’t possibly be enough for all people to share the basics of housing and shelter.
In God’s economy of grace, however, there is room for all.
I believe this is a story about an extravagant God eager to lavish us with the grace of God’s presence.
I see signs of God’s abundantly gracious and sparkling presence, not only in this present moment, but in all the many holy conversations we have shared together this last year.
As we actively begin winding down our pastoral relationship and as we anticipate a change of clergy leadership, I see more and more signs of new life and new beginnings.
It seems to me that we have come of age together in a new way during this time of transitional ministry.
Together, we have come to discover how important it is to take your relationships with your pastor and with each other seriously.
I also believe, like the symbolic wine in the story, the best is yet to come
For all of this and more my fondest prayer is that it may it be so, amen.
Rev. Elizabeth Bowyer reserves all rights © 2019.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
Some of the impetus for this morning’s sermon comes from a number of resources including my own library of resources as well as some others including:
https://A sermon a day, This Week’s Sermon, January 20, 2019 C08: The Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (2019), Carla Pratt Keyes
www.working preacher.org, January 20, 2019, Sermon Brainwave Podcast, #644=Second Sunday after Epiphany; Dear Working Preacher, Abundance for All, by Karoline Lewis
Sermons attributed to:
The Rev. Dr. Jeff Seaton’s sermon ‘Overflowing Gifts’, January 17, 2016 at www.trinityvernon.ca
The Rev.Beth Hayward’s sermon, ‘Miracle Machine’, January 13, 2019 at www.canadianmemoral.org
Film “Four Weddings and Funeral”, 1994
Poem by W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues or (‘Stop All the Clocks’)