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This reading from John’s Gospel – the turning of water into wine – is one of the best known in the Bible. And we are so familiar with it that perhaps we have got comfortable with the story and don’t often struggle to find the inner meaning within it.
But it is a crucial story in the life of Jesus: as John tells us in verse 11, this is the first of the signs that Jesus gave us to reveal his glory; the first moment that the greatness and the glory of Jesus is revealed in public.
Over the last two weeks, we have been thinking about early moments in Jesus’ ministry. Two weeks ago, we thought about his reading from the scroll in Isaiah in the Temple on the first day of his public ministry, and last week, we thought about his early weeks in ministry and the calling of the first disciples. Today, we are still at the early part of Jesus’ ministry, thinking about the moment his glory is first revealed.
But for a first revealing of his glory, it seems such an odd miracle to perform, doesn’t it? Why couldn’t he have done something a bit more worthwhile? Why couldn’t he have put an end to war? Why couldn’t he have fed the poor or healed all the sick? If God was going to reveal his glory on earth, why choose to do it at a small-town, back street wedding in some remote part of the Middle East?
And Cana really was a tiny village. Cana was small and inconspicuous and pretty ordinary and we would think that if the Son of God had come to earth, he would have announced him presence among us in a more dramatic way. It doesn’t compute. It doesn’t make sense.
Or so it would seem at first glance… but maybe there is a deeper meaning to this story that is very easy to miss at first glance.
Perhaps this story is actually revealing the most glorious truth about God; that his chief concern is for individual people and their happiness and that, actually, we can meet with God most powerfully in the ordinary things of life: the ordinary things we do, the ordinary places we go. As I say so often, our God comes to meet us in the ordinariness of our lives, not in some dramatic spiritual showground. Perhaps the wonderful truth – the most glorious truth about our God – is that he wants us to know happiness in abundance and that abundant happiness is found in a rediscovery, a reassessment, of the ordinary.
Jesus says in John 10:10: “I have come so that you may have life, and have it in abundance”. God doesn’t call us out of ordinary lives to find abundance. Instead, he comes into our ordinary lives, he dwells here with us, and transforms the mundane into the extraordinary. Everyday life becomes abundant when we meet with God there.
And that, of course, is the message behind the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Jesus comes into an ordinary event and mingles with ordinary people – and yet transforms the ordinariness of that occasion into a sign of his glory. The ordinary becomes extraordinary because of the presence of Jesus in their midst and as a result, the ordinary becomes abundant.
Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life, and have it in abundance”.
But the word ‘abundance’ is a difficult word, isn’t it? What does an abundant life look like? Are we talking about abundant happiness or abundant possessions? Or both? How much is ‘abundant’? How much is ‘enough’?
This is a critical question for us as Christians – and as a Mission-Shaped Church – particularly because our 5th mark of mission is to treasure God’s creation and live abundant lives within the boundaries of what is necessary for us and yet also caring for the world. It’s easy to internalise and spiritualise this aspect of Jesus’ teaching as if abundance is just to do with our own happiness; which it is in part. But it is also an economic matter, a political matter, because we are called to care for God’s world too and not be greedy with resources. As Christians in a global society, we really do need to address regularly what ‘abundance’ means in our world today.
As a spiritual concept, I think abundance is to do with the flourishing of life, and that can happen in two primary ways.
The first is to do with encouraging sustainability.
The wedding party in Cana at Galilee had a problem with sustainability: the wine had run out. The hosts were not able to sustain the level of usage and the wine ran out.
At our most recent Mark 5 Reference Group meeting, we were discussing how we, as a church, can encourage ecological sustainability as part of the Mission-Life of St. Andrew’s. Let me tell you about an initiative that we are now starting in 2017 and beyond.
There is a national award scheme called ‘Eco-Church’ that encourages local churches to look at their own approach to environmental issues and work out ways in which to improve in matters of carbon-footprint use of Fairtrade goods, recycling, energy saving, use of land for ecological purposes and so on. Churches engaged with this can gain a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award as an eco-church. At St. Andrew’s, our aim during 2017 is to qualify for a Bronze Award as a major step towards our 5th Mark of Mission – ‘Treasuring God’s Creation’. There will be more news about this over the coming weeks and it something that will be at the forefront of our communications but, in the meantime, you can talk to Chris Whetstone about it. It’s a really exciting new initiative for us at St. Andrew’s and I’m sure that we can have a profound impact on this aspect of mission as the months and years roll by.
So sustainability has a great deal to do with abundant living because we need to ensure that we think about the issue on a broader canvas than just our own personal needs and desires. Abundance for the world, sustainability for God’s creation is a key aspect of both mission and everyday Christian living.
But, secondly, abundant living also has to do with inclusion and readjusting our idea of personal abundance.
The wedding at Cana ran out of wine: we know that. But we don’t know why it ran out of wine. Perhaps the hosts had miscalculated and hadn’t ordered enough for the guests. But that is a little unlikely because Cana was a tiny village and weddings were commonplace and so every host would have known roughly how much wine would be needed.
It’s more likely that they ran out of wine either because they opened the doors wide and let everyone come in even if they hadn’t received an official invitation, or the party was becoming such a good time for everyone that people were staying on beyond the period when it would normally have finished and the hosts were being so hospitable that they didn’t want anyone to leave.
Why did they run out of wine? Probably because this was an event being hallmarked by inclusion and hospitality.
At St. Andrew’s, we want to be fully inclusive and we want to be a place of hospitality; hallmarked by kindness, compassion and mutual respect for one another. We want everyone who comes to feel loved and welcome and valued.
But, as we increasingly ‘share’ our church, ‘share’ our God with others, there is a knock-on effect because we need to be increasingly generous with our space, increasingly generous in embracing new ideas, increasingly generous in embracing difference. Sometimes, that increasing generosity involves personal cost because things are not always how we would like them to be. There is a cost in which a sense of personal abundance must be sacrificed for the sake of community abundance. And that is hard.
That’s exactly what was happening to Jesus in this passage. He had come to the wedding to relax and enjoy himself and then Mary points out to him the lack of wine and you can sense the slight irritation in his voice in verse 4: “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come”. Jesus wanted to chill out and relax and yet here he was being asked to sort the situation out. Jesus had to sacrifice a personal abundance for the sake of community abundance. He had to lay aside his own desire for rest so that the community could carry on enjoying itself and celebrating. There was a cost for Jesus so that community abundance could continue.
It is for each one of us, I think, to put our own desire for personal abundance into the wider context of the community and be prepared to see where those two things intersect. And, when there is a divergence between the two, for us to consider forsaking personal abundance for the sake of the community.
Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life in abundance”. But that is a tough issue, that means more than just personal happiness.
It is a theme throughout Scripture that God wants his people to enjoy his blessings in abundance. In Moses’ last speech, Deuteronomy 30, he says that, if his people follow God, they will be prosperous and have abundance. The Psalmists often draw our minds back to the abundant blessings and love of God. Our God is a generous God. Jesus is a generous Saviour. So, when the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana, it’s not surprising that Jesus should respond as he did by supplying wine in abundance – because he is a generous and loving Saviour.
But for us to experience the abundant love of God, and to share that with others, we need to go beyond a personalised, internalised sense of abundance – as if it just means personal happiness. It is about that – but it is about far more than that…
Abundant spirituality is about caring for, and protecting, and sustaining the abundance of God’s good creation.
Abundant spirituality is about inclusion and hospitality – and having the willingness to share our abundance with others so that they can know abundance in their own lives, even when that comes at some cost to ourselves.
In Ephesians 3: 20, Paul says this: “God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”. That is the Christian experience throughout the ages. That is our experience too.
So, this morning, as we come to meet with Christ in our worship, each one of us is encouraged to bring ourselves to God and lay before him at the foot of the Cross. And, as we do so, we ask God to fill our lives abundantly: to transform the ordinariness of our lives with his extraordinary, abundant presence.
But we also offer back to God the abundance of our lives, the abundance of this church, and we ask him to take all that we are, and all that we have, and use all that to abundantly bless others so that his name is glorified.
Our God is a generous God – abundantly generous. And God wants us to be abundantly generous with our own lives and as a community. And our prayer is that each one of us here today, and those who have not yet entered the St. Andrew’s community, will know the abundant peace and love of God in our lives this day and for evermore.