Anybody for Chardonnay?
Sermon for Epiphany 3 – Sunday 20 January 2019
St John the Baptist, Felixstowe.
When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ (John 2v3)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
In all of the gospels we only have one record of the words of his mother Mary to Jesus. They are, if you are someone convened for the well-being of your guests, the urgent, ‘They have no wine.’
Which is rather down to earth and practical of her and also suggests that she may have come from Essex…
Yesterday I was in conversation with Michael Weeder, the Dean of Cape Town, about the miracle at the wedding of Cana and he recounted this conversation with his mother;
There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee
And Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine.”
And Sheila, my mother, said to me, “Goetsoe, hullit genoeg gesuip.”
(Good! They’ve had enough to drink!)
They have no wine. Mind you after three days of wedding celebrations that is hardly surprising!
But why of all the signs of Jesus in John’s Gospel, does the evangelist begin with this miracle? What is so important about wine that it becomes the ‘first of his signs’ and why does it provoke belief in him by his disciples?
Wine is an important symbol for the Children of Israel, a symbol that John will return to later when Jesus says, ‘I am the vine’. When the wildernesses wandering Israelites first approached the land flowing with milk and honey their spies were amazed by the size of the bunches of grapes which were so large it took two people to carry one bunch on a pole between them (Numbers 13v23). This picture is the symbol for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to this day.
The children of Israel, the planting of the Lord, where supposed to be a fruitful vine. For Mary to say ‘They have no wine’ is a sign of a deeper malaise than a catering hiccup for the newly wed couple of Cana. The people are no longer fruitful, the feast lies unfinished, and instead of celebration there is despair and disappointment.
When Jesus turns water into wine, the washing-up water into Chardonnay, he is doing more than making a marriage celebration complete. He is restoring hope to a people, a land, and a world where hope had run out and all that was left was dregs.
Turning water into wine is a sign that God continues to hold out hope to his ancient people the Jews but also extends his grace and favour to others. Jesus, literally, refuses to throw out the past with the bath water, but instead takes the rituals of the old and transforms it into new wine, the best wine of a Gospel that has light, life and love as its hallmarks.
Little wonder that ‘this, the first of his signs, he did at a wedding.’ Is there any better place to proclaim a new beginning?
The words ‘they have no wine’ are not met with rejection (though If I spoke as Jesus did to his mother I may get a thick ear from her!) but instead transformation. ‘They have no wine’ is replaced by enough wine to put Adnams out of business and the promise of something good is replaced by something better.to proclaim a new beginning? Where else would God plight his troth to all people?
Why then, when we look at the history of Christianity, especially in recent centuries, (and perhaps even looking at our own faith), would the words ‘they have no wine’ seem to be an apt description?
We are, as the late Bishop Michael Perham used to say frequently, an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. But the joy of sharing new wine amongst us, the promise that the best is yet to come, is not always apparent.
Classically the Church has two parts. The Church Triumphant – those like our beloved Colly Bain, Ken and Eileen Barlow, and Bob Bingham who have got home ahead of us and are cheering us on- and the Church Militant – those of use still living in ‘this naughty world’ determined to ‘Fight the Good Fight!’ Why is it then that the church around us seems to be not so much the Church Militant as the Church Complacent, or even just the Complaining Church?
As I prepare for the next session of General Synod, and please do pray for those gathering in Westminster in a few weeks time, I am anxious that amongst all our legislations and litigations, our party spirit and our self-interest, there is very little of joy on the agenda.
They, no we, have no wine…
And it is not just the National Church or ‘The Diocese’ (which is really only our own parish writ large) that finds the bottle is empty before the feast is complete.
They have no wine. Well how can we be expected to have any? We’re old. We’ve never done it that way before. It’s not my job. Somebody must do something about it but don’t ask me, I’m too busy. Not only does it appear that there is a dearth of wine but even if it were provided it would be a challenge to gather up the enthusiasm to imbibe any of it.
They have no wine. We only have leftovers, this dishwater in which we will wash our hands and then wander home complaining of the paucity of the wedding banquet and a penny-pinching bridegroom.
Of course our bridegroom, the one who has betrothed himself to the Church goes to the cross to ensure that we not only have wine to drink but gives his own self for food and drink; present this morning at this service in the guise of bread and wine.
How are we to become people not only waiting to be the beloved Bride at the coming Wedding banquet of the Lamb, but also people who are so excited by God’s love for us that we want to give ourselves away to those around us.
Heaven knows the world needs some joy. ‘They have no wine’ applies to our everyday life as well as to the life of faith.
What was it that happened at Cana of Galilee to turn things around? How did it come to pass that dishwater was transformed into Chardonnay? Mary stands to the front again. She goes to the servants and says ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Simple really. Would your like your life to be more full of joy? Would you like to see more people coming to be with us at worship Sunday by Sunday? Who wouldn’t want our parish to be come a place of transformation for our town where our only worry about finance is deciding to whom we will give our surplus?
So Mary instructs us, ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Not next week, not tomorrow, today. I don’t know about you but I know I don’t need to spend too much time in serious prayer to discover what my ‘To Do List’ is from God. In fact I. like Jonah, seem to spend considerable amounts of time doing everything and anything except that which God wants me to do! Is that a familiar feeling for you friends?
‘They have no wine’, we have no wine, not because the wine has run out but because we are too often too frightened to be transformed and so hold back from doing God’s will instead of being poured out in his service. I am tired and fed up with being washing-up water, there is no future in it and my life can easily end up being poured down the plughole. I want to be Chardonnay, I want people to be comforted, excited and thankful for the good news of the Gospel that I can only be for them when I give myself away and learn to ‘Do whatever he tells me’.
How about you?
Copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019