Sunday, 17 January 2016

Epiphany 2: Abundant Love

“…and Jesus’ disciples believed in him”. Of course they did. Who wouldn’t? Someone who can produce somewhere between 120 and 150 gallons of wine out of nowhere is bound to be worth following.

It’s probably fairly easy to put ourselves into the shoes of the people who organised this wedding party. If we’ve ever thrown a social gathering ourselves, and I guess we all have, we are familiar with that dilemma of trying to work out how much food and drink to provide, and the quiet messages passed around of “family hold back” if it looks like they are running short. That's what happened on this occasion. Disaster loomed.  It would bring great shame on this family if they couldn’t provide for their guests, and this was a culture where loss of family honour was vital. But fortunately, Jesus was there, and quietly, discreetly, so that only the servants knew what had happened, he transformed water into wine and saved the day.  

John doesn’t just tell us this story to amaze us, though. He calls it a sign. Signs point to things, they convey messages. So what message does this one give us? There are many things we can draw from this story, but here are just two to ponder tonight.

The first is about scarcity and abundance. So often we live with the fear that we won’t have enough of what we need. We are born helpless and utterly dependent on others. If we are lucky our parents feed and care for us. But if they don’t there’s nothing we can do about it. We will starve. That’s why babies cry so desperately when they are hungry or left alone. How do they know that anyone will ever come to feed them again? If that neglect is persistent and extreme people often grow up anxious, driven to hoard and to grasp. The stories of people who survived concentration camps often reveal this very vividly.  
One article I read about orphans of the camps who came to Britain after the war is typical. It said this:

The new arrivals had suffered such hunger during the war that their survival instincts would take over and at meal times huge quantities of bread would disappear into children's mouths and pockets.

Minia [a helper] remembered: "They were saying, 'We are hungry, we are hungry,' all the time. 'We want to eat.'

"And whenever they brought the bread, there was never enough. The boys were putting it in their jackets. They thought they would never get any bread any more."

We don’t have to have been through extreme poverty, though, to feel that anxiety about whether we will have enough to meet our needs, and most of us to some extent stockpile and hoard, just in case there’s no more coming.

When Jesus turns the water into wine, though, he reminds us that whatever else we are short of, we can never exhaust God’s love and grace. That doesn’t mean that nothing bad will happen to us, but we have access to resources far greater and deeper than we think. “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hands of the Lord, “ said our first reading – that’s what God is thinking as he looks at us, however frail, feeble and poor we feel. When the apostle Paul was going through a hard time - as he often was - he heard God’s voice say to him  “My grace is sufficient” 2 Cor 12.9.
So our sense of scarcity may be real and frightening. We may feel we have run dry of energy, patience, hope, meaning, but God’s promise to meet our needs with his abundant grace is real too, something we can trust and draw on.

That’s the first message we might draw from tonight’s Gospel. The second might sound trite or flippant, but it’s not meant to be. It is that this story reminds us that, if you are having a party, you should always remember to invite Jesus.

Think about it. If he hadn’t have been there, he couldn’t have helped. It was only because someone had invited him, and at the vital moment turned to him, that the situation was saved.

If you’re having a party, remember to invite Jesus.  And by “party” I don’t just mean something involving balloons and cake, I mean any life event, any experience, any part of our day to day existence. If you are going to a tricky work meeting, remember to invite Jesus. If you are fretting about a family problem, remember to invite Jesus. If you are spending the day with your friends, or going for a walk on your own, or nipping to the supermarket, take him along with you. Be aware of him, listen for his voice, think about what he might be thinking. Only when we do that do we start to see our lives through his eyes, in the light of his abundant love. If we leave him locked up in church, only to be visited on a Sunday how can he possibly help when we run out of wine, or energy or hope or all those other things that feel scarce to us?

So, two messages to ponder from the Gospel reading. In Christ we see God’s abundant love, his grace, sufficient and more than sufficient for our needs. But if we want that love to pour into our own hearts and lives, we need to remember to invite him to the party.

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