Daring to be generous – Second Sunday after the Epiphany 2016

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine”. (John 2:3)

There were so many possible things he could have said in return. Why didn’t they plan properly, and make sure they’d have enough? Do you not think they’ve had quite enough booze already? Oh all right, just one glass more, then. But instead: 20 to 30 gallons, maybe 240 pints, 20 cases of the best Chateau Cana. Loads and loads of deliciousness, the party just keeps on going, and probably no hangover if the wine is that good… Jesus responds with freely bestowed abundance. It’s not unlike the party in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The returning sinner could have met with many kinds of cold reception; but instead the father throws a lavish feast, fatted calf and all. Gracious abundance. My cup runneth over.

 

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

That word “revealed”, translated in the KJV as “manifested”, is related to the word epiphany, the manifestation, revealing, of Christ to the world. The sign – the abundant, overflowing joy – reveals Jesus’ glory – that is, in this, the Son makes the Father known.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known. (John 1: 14, 18)

Jesus reveals the abundant grace of God, and his disciples, those who came to him to see for themselves, dare to believe that this is the truth about the Father. God is known in joy, delight, love; in all that is enriching and life-giving and generous. The young couple get remembered for the excellence of the reception and not for the inadequate catering; the whole village community has a ball.

The stone water-pots were originally intended to hold water for purposes of ritual cleansing. Stone was favoured as a natural substance that was considered to be proof against ritual impurity. Any religion that is deeply concerned with purity and impurity must generate a certain amount of anxiety and concern about what is permissible and what must be avoided. Jesus transforms the water of ritual anxiety into a daring and generous openness to the whole created order. He talks and eats with Jews and Samaritans and men and women and righteous and sinners and overwhelms the whole lot of them with God’s overflowing goodness.

It may be that you are a little bit overwhelmed with all the wine flowing in our Gospel, so let’s try another reading. What if the water remains water, but with Jesus at hand it refreshes and satisfies and even inebriates like nothing else? At least part of the story is about how life is transformed when Jesus is present. The simplest and humblest of things are a feast of richness when we know ourselves loved abundantly by the gracious God, and when we try to share that generous love with our neighbour.

Today’s communique from the Anglican Primates meeting in Canterbury, in which The Episcopal Church is rebuked and punished for daring to extend marriage to same-sex couples, in which mention is made of processes which may be invoked should other provinces try anything similar, feels more at home with stagnant water than with the wine of rejoicing. It has been the experience of TEC that radical inclusion and daring generosity does in fact feel like gospel and the manifestation of God’s glory. It was clear from the Open Letter sent to the English Archbishops that there are many on this side of the pond who share this testimony of faith. Archbishop Welby’s apology for the hurt caused to LGBTQ people by the Church is a token response to that Letter but shows no sign that he or the Primates as a whole are prepared to listen to this particular experience of fellow Christians. We are still firmly in the world of purity and impurity, anxiety and exclusion.

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