This is a sermon preached 6 years ago when I was first starting out as a Licensed Lay Minister/Reader.
There’s an old Jewish saying that goes, “Without wine there is no joy”, and I’m sure many people would say ”hear, hear” to that!
In today’s Gospel reading we heard the familiar story of the wedding at Cana – an occasion at which there was a lot of both joy and wine.
But part-way through, disaster strikes: the wine’s run out!
OK, this isn’t a disaster on the scale of earthquakes, famines and floods, but for a young couple just starting out on a new life, and wanting to gain standing in the community, it would be a major social embarrassment and humiliation.
So what to do now?
There’s a tradition in the Eastern church that Mary was related to the family, so perhaps it’s natural that she tries to sort things out.
And it seems even more natural that she should turn to Jesus.
But then Jesus speaks to her in a way that to our modern English ears seems terse and off-putting.
Mary comes to tell him that the wedding’s run out of wine, and Jesus replies, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?”.
Is Jesus being rude to his mother?
It was unusual for a son to call his mother “woman”, but it was a respectful way to address a lady in first-century Israel.
By calling her woman and asking his question maybe Jesus was gently pointing out that he was more than just her son.
He had a wider mission to fulfil and an agenda set by his Heavenly Father.
We could also translate his question as something closer to “Don’t worry, leave things to me, I’ll sort things out”.
Perhaps the clearest sign that Jesus wasn’t being harsh, though, can be seen in Mary’s reaction.
She’s undeterred by his answer, doesn’t tell him off for being rude to his mother, and goes off in confidence that Jesus will sort it out.
And Mary’s confidence is rewarded – Jesus produces somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of fine wine.
If wine brings joy there must’ve been a lot of ecstatic people in Cana!
I think this tells us a lot about the nature of God and I want to concentrate on 2 things in particular.
Firstly, Jesus is no killjoy.
He was invited to the wedding, he went and he joined in.
There’s no indication that he looked down on anyone for enjoying worldly pleasures, stood off by himself disapprovingly, or attempted to show anyone the error of their ways.
Instead, he helped them enjoy themselves even more.
It’s only what you’d expect – that the God who took such delight in creating the world and all its people would delight to be with them on a day of celebration.
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.
So I wonder why we who are Christians aren’t spreading more joy in the world.
In an episode of the Simpsons, Homer Simpson asks his fundamentalist neighbour Ned where he and his family have been on holiday.
They reply, ‘We were at Bible Camp- we were learning how to be more judgemental!’
Unfortunately, this is the image many people have of Christians: judgemental killjoys following a harsh God.
And even more unfortunately, there are some Christians who live up to this image.
I think of Ian Paisley, passionate but blinkered and bigoted.
Of Oliver Cromwell, who had Christmas and merriment banished,
Of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, picketing funerals in order to preach hatred.
What good do people like this achieve?
I’m not advocating an anything goes approach to life, but I wonder what kind of Christian will lead more people into the kingdom?
One who reflects God’s delight in his world and everyday human pleasures, or one who wears a scowl and beats people over the head with their shortcomings?
Do we really want to be known as people who can’t enjoy themselves and are suspicious of having a good time in case it leads to sin?
Or would we rather show the world that we believe everything good comes from God, whether it be a heavenly-sounding church anthem or the fun of building a snowman?
As the saying goes: ‘There are more flies caught with honey than vinegar’.
So firstly, God is no killjoy.
Secondly, there’s a wonderful extravagance in the heart of God.
Jesus doesn’t grudgingly work out exactly how much he thinks the guests need to finish the wedding.
Instead, he gives them more than they could hope to drink in an act of scandalous generosity.
Which is precisely what Jesus intended it to be.
Because, after all, isn’t the whole business of God coming to earth scandalously generous?
Our God overflows with love.
He gives us inexhaustible riches and inexplicable graciousness.
His generosity is wide and his welcome all-encompassing.
Jesus is showing us a sign of God’s grace in this miracle.
He’s showing us love and generosity without any sense of counting the cost or working out what people deserve.
There is enough. No, there is more than enough, for everyone.
The miracle here is not just that water was changed into wine.
The real miracle is that, regardless of what happens to us today or tomorrow,
regardless of what losses we suffer,
despite the hills we have to climb,
even with the hurts we have to just endure,
and even our failures –
the grace of God greets us and is inexhaustible.
A God this joyful and gracious is a God worth knowing.
He’s also a God worth following.
Just as at Cana Jesus’ act of generosity depended on the servants doing what he asked, his continuing work in the world depends on us doing what he asks.
It’s our turn to notice other people’s needs, bring them to God, and believe that he’ll help.
It’s our turn to do what God calls us to do to help others, even if it seems as mundane as pouring out water, and as unlikely to change the world.
We have the chance to give God what we’ve got, and who and what we are, and let him change them into something far better, richer and more life-giving than we could possibly imagine, for us and for everyone around us.
For we are children of a generous and loving God who comes with joy and offers far more than we can ask or imagine.
Let us pray:
Loving God, help us not be afraid to delight in life.
Help us give what we can with joyful and generous hearts.
Turn the water of our offerings into your glorious wine and use it for the good of the world.