Fr David's Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,”
Today’s gospel presents us with another Epiphany, or revelation of who Jesus is: as we read of Jesus’ first recorded miracle: turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana.
It’s an imaginable situation: a wedding, a traditionally large and lengthy wedding celebration, and they had run out of wine. It’s not just unfortunate, it is utterly embarrassing. Whether in 1st Century Palestine or 21st century England, not much has changed. A wedding celebration is far more than a celebration of the love and commitment of the newly married couple: it is a chance for the families involved to cement their status and to empress their friends with the lavishness of their hospitality. To run out of drink would have been a dire failure, and Mary, finding out, is horrified on behalf of her hosts. “They have no wine!” she says to Jesus, and Jesus not yet ready for his glory to be revealed says, basically, “that’s not our problem.” I’m sure there will be preachers up and down the country today, pointing out that Jesus, unlike some people, knew the difference between a party and a work event, and he didn’t want to turn one into the other,
But Mary refuses to be silenced. With complete faith in him, she tells the servants “Do whatever he tells you”. And we know the rest: six huge stone jars of water are turned into wine, the quality of which amazes those who taste it.
Now here is a boast in years to come: not only were the couple and their families honoured to have Jesus and his mother at the wedding, their wedding was the one where Jesus performed his first miracle! Imagine the tweets and Instagram posts there would have been had such things existed then!
But would it have happened except for Mary’s persistence? Like many Gospel encounters we are left wondering what Jesus was thinking, what he knew in advance. We cannot know, but nevertheless Mary did persist, she wasn’t taking no for an answer. She was an invited guest, this was a special event for the newly wed couple and their families, and Mary wasn’t going to see them ridiculed and judged if she could do anything about it.
And so in the context of Mary’s compassion and determination, Jesus’ glory is revealed. For one who didn’t want to do anything, he certainly made an effort way beyond the bare minimum: he didn’t just provide enough wine, nor wine that was passible. He turned between 120 and 150 gallons of water (or 545-680 litres in new money) into the best wine the steward had tasted throughout the celebration. He points out that usually people serve the best wine first and that once everyone is tipsy they bring out the cheaper stuff. Not only are the families’ reputations rescued, they are significantly boosted. This party just keeps getting better and better! Jesus’ glory reveals the lavishness of God’s love and blessing: and neither are minimal. The love of God is lavish, rich and overflowing. There are no half-measures in the Kingdom of God. There is not just abundance for those who receive, but crucially there is enough for everyone, even those who might otherwise be judged, ridiculed, or excluded.
The Church’s job, our job as those who make up God’s church, is to let that love and blessing so flow into our lives that we cannot help but allow it to overflow to others. Yet so often Christians are so busy hanging on to their own insecurities that, not only do we begrudge sharing what we have with others, we actively seek to protect it by keeping others out. Sometimes we do it in obvious and clear ways, at other times more subtly.
The context of weddings gives one obvious example. While much of society has caught up with the need for equality and dignity for those who identify or are identified as LGBTQ+, much of the church, in particular our own Church of England, has dug in its heals and simply because of the sex of the two people concerned, refuses its blessing to relationships that honour and reflect the love of God. It allows people to be humiliated and embarrassed, denied the lavish blessing God longs us to bestow.
In the context of thinking about Jesus’ miracle in Cana, that’s an obvious example, but there are many others. You only need to speak to people of colour in our own congregation to see how the love of God has been tarnished and diminished by the way they have been treated by the church. Or talk to the women whose call to ministry was so long denied while the church sought to limit God’s choice of who to use as a blessing. Or those with disabilities, whose skills, knowledge and passions is so often overlooked. We like to patrol the boundaries. Keeping others out makes us feel more securely in, but as the Author and Minister Nadia Bolz-Weber quotes someone saying to her in a moment of realisation “Nadia, the thing that sucks is that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.” That’s true when we look down on someone for being too common or too posh, too poor or too rich, too high church or too evangelical, too liberal or too conservative, too right wing or too left wing. Whenever we try and exclude others, we risk finding ourselves on the opposite side to Christ.
God’s love for you is as lavish as the amount and quality of the wine Christ provided. There is no shortage. You do not need to grasp it, hang on to it or protect it from others.
There is more than enough for you, more than enough for you to share, more than enough for those by whom you feel threatened, more than enough for those you would rather stayed outside.
Yet the Gospel calls us to more than just not getting in the way of God’s love. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.”
Until all God’s people know the abundance of God’s love, and those who have been knocked down are lifted up, those who have been excluded are brought into the centre, we are called to speak up and not stay silent. God promises his people the dignity and rejoicing afforded to a new bride. Who are we to keep that to ourselves, to seek to exclude others from it? On whose behalf must we refuse to be silent? Every time we try and put boundaries on God’s lavish blessing, we risk excluding ourselves.
As his church, we are each, together, the Bride of Christ, his Beloved. The response called forth from us is to be so totally at home in God’s love and blessing that not only do we not fear it flowing out to others, we can’t help it. We cannot do that without speaking out for those our communities, our society and our church seeks to exclude. Whenever we are temped to draw a boundary between us and others, whenever we see others excluded and denied God’s blessing, may we be so aware of the lavishness and wonder of God’s love and blessing on us, that like Mary, like the very voice of God, we cannot keep silent, until those who are excluded are brought in, those whose voices are silenced are able to speak and be heard, those whose gifts are denied are enabled to use them to God’s glory, and those whom the Church refuses to bless, are given full access to the lavish, gracious, abundant love and blessing of our God.