When Andy and I got married money was a little, shall we say tight… and like many a bride I had great dreams of what my special day would look like. However, I was also given a very small budget. The kind of budget that means no DJ, no band, no spa day. One might as well have asked why bother with a big wedding at all? … just head off to the commissioners and be done with it.
In the end though we had, a fabulous if somewhat unorthodox wedding and it suited us to a tea. Part of my wedding clothes were borrowed, my hair and makeup were accomplished in my parent’s bathroom. The cake, flowers and centerpieces were all created by myself and my bridesmaids. The wine was made by my mother in law and the decorating was done by family. We had a cousin’s boyfriend run a playlist off their computer and we ate on a combination of tables, chairs and blankets spread out on a lawn.
It was not exactly the wedding of childhood dreams, it wasn’t exactly traditional, but boy was it fun! The joy and love that filled up that farm yard could never have been contained in a banquet hall and the many mishaps that occurred were laughed off and remembered. It allowed so many people to be a part of our wedding by sharing their gifts and talents in ways that would normally been simply bought or hired out.
And although it ended early and the best wine did run out, what we heard later on was that the people who were there truly felt a part of the family and that although they had never been to a reception quite like it before….it was one of the most fun receptions they’d been a part of…that being a part of the day had truly brought joy in a way that simply being a spectator would not. What the day lacked in perfection it made up for in joy.
A joy that initially seems lacking if you look at the context of our first testament reading today. The Israelites were just being permitted back to the land of Israel, back to Jerusalem, and the prophets God sent at that time were focused on the transition the people were facing.
The Jerusalem that people knew and loved had been destroyed, what had been was no more…Jerusalem the holy city was nicknamed “desolate” and “Forsaken”. People questioned if it was possible that things could be normal again? Everything they knew about their religion had changed… the buildings and temples gone, the people were scattered, the old ways no longer followed…did it mean that God had left them?
There was a dread and a fear that they … like the holy land, were alone, forsaken…that God didn’t travel with them any longer and… the culture around them agreed…it was said that the God of Israel was dead. It was at this desperate time that the Lord called upon the prophets like Isaiah to speak his word to his people.
And that word, defied everything which culture around the people seemed to proclaim. Instead of speaking of empty seats, old men and by gone eras…the prophets spoke of faith and hope and joy. Instead of the nicknames desolate and forsaken, the abandoned and destroyed….they said that the city of God would be crown with beauty and called God’s delight.
Instead of being abandoned, the land of Israel would become a bride…blossoming, loved, full of promise and never alone. God will care for the people and the city of Israel like a bridegroom for a bride…a new era will begin. One full of richness, abundance, fruitfulness and joy… the place that all called abandoned will be rejoiced over and decked out and no one will believe her forsaken or desolate again.
These words were spoken for a people who faced a time of great change and all the worries of seeing the glorious past behind them and an uncertain future ahead of them. It sounds familiar, especially when we look around our churches and remember the good ol’ days and think … this church looks desolate, forsaken… What happened to the church that was? Does God still walk with us? and if so…why do we struggle?
Yet, we too have been crowned with blessings and gifts and called to be the bride of Christ. We have been gifted with grace after grace…of many and varying kinds. And it is these that will help as we move through our times of change and trouble, just as they have all the troubled times of the church.
The church in ancient Corinth also faced a wide array of problems. There were struggles around equality and unity, within the different groups of the church, considering themselves better or more entitled than others. They fought over liturgical practices and how to run a meeting…they disagreed on who sat where and what to server at dinners.
In our epistle Paul writes to the church in Corinth to remind them that, as a church, they are already unified and that through the Spirit they have much in common then they know. Grace abounds even when it seems most lacking. Paul acknowledges that within the church there are many different people, but that in the Spirit they are brought together.
It is a message that speaks to our situation very clearly. There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit There are varieties of service, but the same Lord There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Especially relevant as we continue in the season of Epiphany, is Paul’s reminder that our differences and unique qualities either between persons or between parishes are ways that the Lord makes his presence known.
These differences are gifts….blessings…and meant to be shared. Because these gifts are not given for our own benefit or to distinguish us from others, but rather to bring us together and to bring us joy. Each gift given to us by the Spirit brings us closer to God…and the more that we make use of the gifts God has given us the more clearly we can see God at work within us and through us. Our strength is in our diversity, in the diversity of gifts among us … yet we are called to strive for even greater gifts…the greatest gifts.
Faith, hope and above all love.
These are the gifts that we are called to strive for and that God is eager to give. Because God is a God of love and of abundance…as the psalmist says all people feast on the abundance of your house and you give the peoples drink from the river of your delights. An abundance of feasting and drinking, an abundance of gifts and blessings….a wedding feast between the Lord and his people… a feast full of faith and hope and love…and full of Joy. Joy which overflows over all the people. And this is so vividly illustrated in our gospel reading.
In each of the gospels Jesus makes his entrance into ministry in a different way…with Matthew it’s the sermon on the mount, with Mark; an exorcism, with Luke; preaching in his home town….but with John…The gospel that focuses most keenly on Jesus as a divine presence…in John’s gospel Jesus begins his ministry by turning water into wine. It’s a miracle that is unlike any other and often gets a good laugh, Jesus providing wine for a crowd of drunks!
But in John the miracles are not mere spectacles…they are signs…they point beyond the obvious to something holy… and in this case I believe the sign points to God’s abundant grace and love and joy. There are many passages in the bible that speak of wine, of God’s joy and love being like a fine wine and of God being a vine dresser. Wine is used as a symbol of celebration, of abundance, of richness and of joy and we really get a taste of that joy in this passage.
Jesus is at a wedding, the epitome of a joyful celebration and one that in ancient Israel would have lasted a good week. But now the party is winding down and the wine has run out. It would seem that the time of feasting and celebration is over, that the time of Joy has come to an end. Yet, here in the midst of everyday life we find Jesus’ first miraculous sign in the gospel of John… Jesus turns water into wine…calculated out …over 600 litres of wine!
I would call that abundance, and I would guess that it brought a lot of joy to the wedding. Ours is not a God who scrimps and saves, but rather one who pours out grace in such abundance that it overflows and makes us giddy with joy.
Grace in life, grace in gifts, grace in blessings, grace in joy and grace in salvation. God and the church are joined together in marriage, so that the church needs never be alone, will always be cared for and can rejoice in the love of a relationship lived in abundance.
We are the fruit of that marriage, children of grace and blessing and we get to live in the abundance and outpouring of the Spirit that accompanies God’s joining. It may seem at times that times have changed and we’ve been forsaken, that those we are called to work with are different and hard to understand, that all our resources have run out. But it is at times like this when the prophets called out…called out to remind us of God’s love for his beloved, the gifts that have been poured out on each of us in such marvelous diversity and the abundance that is possible when we let Christ do his thing and transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Changing what seems to be the end into a new and joyous beginning. It may seem that all we have is water…but through God’s love, grace and abundant blessings…wine will flow. Let us prepare for the celebration of new life… amen