SERMON PREACHED AT St MARY’S, Nth OAMARU
SECOND SUNDAY of the EPIPHANY (January 16th) 2022
Isaiah 62: 1-5
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11
John 2: 1-11
Although in my priestly career I have never had the mixed blessing of oversight of one of those churches that brides choose for their photogenic attraction, I have nevertheless taken quite a lot of weddings in my day. Some were memorable for all the wrong reasons – the disinterest particularly of the groom and party being a recurrent theme – and some (especially that some years ago of my niece) because they were full of love and joy and the fullness of life’s possibilities, or the amazing moment when a determined paraplegic bride shocked all present by walking, unassisted, some of the steps up the aisle to be married to her loved one.
I could keep you for far too long by telling the tales, but a recurrent element amongst most of these events was my turning to the Fourth Gospel and John’s telling of a miracle at Cana, in Galilee. And about once every three years it comes up in a context where we gather with various shades of enthusiasm because we actually want to encounter and to worship the risen Lord of wine and water.
It’s such a vivid story. Most of us have been to a wedding or two, most of us have known a bit of grog to flow. At the risk of one more wedding tale I recall almost my first wedding, when the groom and his support crew turned up half cut already. It is possibly the only time in my career I have given anyone a bollocking. They had fifteen minutes until the bride arrived, and I assured them that if they couldn’t convince me in that time that they were sober enough to sign a legal document then the wedding was off. The transformation was impressive.
The story John tells is rich at so many levels. A Middle Eastern wedding was no abstemious affair, and the shame of a host running out of wine was no trivial matter. Possibly that is a point John wants us to notice: Mary the Mother of Jesus is deeply concerned because deep shame has come upon the household of someone she seemingly knows well enough to be invited to co-celebrate a mountaintop event. Admittedly vast networks of guests would be invited to such an event, but belonging to such a network was no trivial element: kinship, even friendship are deep entanglements in a traditional society. Mary was troubled. Jesus’ response to his mother is less harsh than it seems when we encounter it, but it was nevertheless quite formal, dispassionate. Like storms on a lake, this was within his grasp. What do they say in sports circles? Trust your plan. Hye had a plan, God has a plan, nervousness in the face of potential chaos was not a part of that plan. We might hold to that as we count down to the arrival of the Omicron Variant, as we await with bated breath the chaos that may soon be upon us.
It’s worth noting. too, the vast overkill of the event. This may be a whole-of-village party, but there has been no shortage of the good things of God’s earth flowing already. The guests were, as the New Jerusalem gloriously puts it, well wined. Let’s not think about contemporary concerns about drink driving or other deleterious outcomes of a too generous uptake of alcohol. This is about celebration, overkill of joy, and these guests have already celebrated and overkilled, but the overflow of joy in the lives of those who are visited by Christlight is not going to be restricted: flow, overflow, and overflow some more with the good things of God.
I often tell the story of the priest who was my vicar when first I moved to Australia in the early ’80s. At baptisms Fr Alan would fill the font with water, fill it some more, overflow it, overflow it some more: this, he would say, is the overflowing of God’s goodness and grace. I’ll admit that that wild, manic, God-filled priest never over-poured the wine – so much waste would be wrong – but his complex life never ceased to overflow with divine goodness and joy.
The guests are well-wined, and, John tells us, Jesus ensures they are wined immeasurably more. The steward looks for rational explanations to this over-pouring abundance, but the limitations of rationality will not ever serve the gospel. The resurrection will flow out of the restrictions of a tomb. John wants us to know this over and again: love will conquer both hate and nonchalance, light will overcome greyness and darkness, God will break through the limitations of our science.
Sometimes even this side of the grave we get glances of this. The glories of a sunset, the magnificent terror of waves driven by a far-off cyclone (as they are off that Other Island’s east coast as we speak), the tenderness of a loved one’s touch: these are the overkill of divine goodness that can from time to time invade our lives. On this day of a dried up wedding feast the overflow of the goodness of God’s joy will permit no limitation, and the goodness of 180 gallons of the finest wine flows and flows and flows.
Need I say more? This experience will not grip us every day. Yet as we open ourselves, sometimes through great struggle, as we surrender to God’s invasion, the overflow of grace can pour into and through and even out of us. May God flow thus in our lives as chaos builds around us, as uncertainties pulse, even when the storm clouds build. The wine of God’s love, against all odds, will not dry up.