A Better Booze-Up (A Sermon on John 2.1-11)

20 01 2013

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany

John 2.1-11

We are supposed to wonder what they saw… the people at the wedding at Cana where Jesus got involved and things started to change in unexpected and yet profoundly positive ways.

The steward – we know that he was a bit affronted. This crowd had clearly got the wedding wrong. And as the master of the house he didn’t like that. He had worked hard to get the reputation as a properly traditional place.  He saw the danger if word got out: this is the place where tradition is stood on its head. You can’t market weddings on that basis. Nor religions. Topy-turvy spirituality is always going to be a tough sell. When it comes to things of the spirit we need to rely on order to keep it safe. For the steward there was threat in the sign of new wine. And the chief steward was probably right.

Then there are the servants. We don’t know anything of their response.  They are silent. But they are also ‘knowing’. The story tells us that they knew something that the chief steward did not know.   That’s an interesting thought: the nameless and voiceless ones being the knowing ones. This is a another angle on the Christian idea that it is the little ones, the poor, the vulnerable, the nobodies who are God’s insiders.

We could think too about the other guests, among them Jesus disciples.  There is nothing to suggest that they have a clue what is going on. They want to be close, they are trying to follow, they have enlisted in Jesus’ eternal-life coaching course but they are distant, ignorant spectators in this the first sign. Maybe this is where we are doomed to be – those of us who opt into the Christian thing – at a frustrating arm’s length from the action which Jesus shares with those whom he loves and for whom he came – the lowest of the low.

Then there is his mother. She not only knew what was going on but was ahead of the action and initiated it. It seems that Mary was woman of real intuitive power, as well as of considerable inner strength and courage.  She calls her son to step up to the plate. She knows that his time has come before he does.  That’s often the way with spiritual vocation – those who have known us a long time and attend to us closely can see where it going better than we can ourselves. Not even Jesus was the master of his own vocation, his calling, his timing. That’s a lesson to the rest of us.  We are not all control-freaks of course. But we are all would-be control freaks when it comes to the story of our lives – wishing we could write an admirable autobiography by making the right decisions at the right time. Except that we can’t – because when we look back over our lives we realise how little our own opinion, our own motivation, our own desire to control outcomes had to do with what ended up happening.

And what of Jesus’ perspective? Is he really the play-maker here – or is he – as I am suggesting, making a difference by being obedient rather than by making a decision and delivering a plan.  He took the nod from his mother – after a brief, if spirited, protest – and then just did as he was asked. And it was transformational.  Then, at the end of his story, when the steward challenged the groom … we hear nothing of his answer  and nor did Jesus step in.  It seems that he said nothing. As he did when Pilate got round to asking what he thought was his killer question: ‘what is truth?’. I love Jesus’ silence at this point. I imagine a knowing shrug.  There is no answer to the question because the crudeness of the question corrupts the language so much that to continue the argument is pointless. I see this too in the rebuke of the steward.  ‘Too bad’, thinks Jesus. The new wine is here. You might want to argue the toss with me but, well. there’s no point. You might as well just enjoy a glass – or two. We seem to have about 1,400 pints to go at.

Jesus turns water into wine and inaugurates a new celebration, a new way of looking at things, a new reality.  The jargon word for that newness is ‘kingdom’. It’s become a very much more important word in Christian preaching and teaching over the last generation or so.  That’s unfortunate in some ways, as it is impossible to rid the word of its tinge of worldliness, patriarchy and its hierarchical and royalist associations. It seems to suggest something traditional but given a modest twist.  But the story of the wedding of Cana blows all of this away: the kingdom of God is a better booze up. When Jesus answers the call and begins to act then tradition goes out of the window, the stuffed-shirts get affronted and the nobodies suddenly find themselves very close to the action – the outsiders become the insiders and water becomes wine. The ordinary becomes extraordinary, the mundane the very special.

We are used to calling this a miracle. It’s certainly quite a stunt. But John calls it a sign. We need to read this sign, or maybe even allow it to read us – to challenge and impinge on us deeply. We need to let it get under our skin, into our minds and hearts, to slip surreptitiously into our soul. We need to let it inform our actions and our attitudes, to let it shape our mind-set.

The sign of Cana is a sign of transformation, a sign of newness, a sign that God’s agenda subverts and transcends the world’s agenda, just as it subverts and attends our own personal agenda, our personal expectations, our personal hopes.

There lies the challenge for us. Not that we should seek to emulate the actions of Jesus, but that we should, like him, try to be obedient to the call to serve the purpose of God: the purpose of working with the ordinary stuff of reality, and the people who are in touch with it, to make a sign and give a foretaste of the eternal celebration of generous newness which is God’s plan and destiny.

Fundamentally, the story of the wedding at Cana is one of transformation initiated by Jesus obedience to God’s call as articulated by his mother.

So here’s a question:  What is God calling you to do?  And who is he using as his messenger?

If you don’t know – listen more carefully to others.

If you do know – obey!




3 responses

24 01 2013
Intimacy Between Mother and Son | Catholic Alcoholic

[…] A Better Booze-Up (A Sermon on John 2.1-11) (preachersfriend.wordpress.com) […]

22 01 2013
Stephen Cherry

I think we are seeing the same joyful reality. S

21 01 2013
Gareth Lloyd

Fine sermon, Stephen.

In my thinking about this passage I was also taken by the notion of fun — a God of joyful celebration, whose provision is ridiculously generous, and who looks not only to our survival but to us enjoying life abundantly.


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