Sermon by Mike Ford, 24th January 2021
Reading: John 2:1-11
The gospel passage is a lovely story. Jesus rescues the bridegroom from considerable embarrassment over inviting more guests than he has catered for. The story shows the quality of God’s miraculous provision. It wasn’t the expected third rate wine. It was really good. And plenty of it.
But this story can be bit awkward. I remember years ago hearing someone I like and respect speaking on this passage. I was fascinated by the delicate way in which he presented this story to a congregation from a number of churches, some of which did not touch alcohol at all. Indeed, I was so fascinated by the way he handled that sensitive issue that I have no idea as to what the main point of his sermon was.
I can see four things about this gospel story which might be a bit surprising.
First one is that it is so different. The gospels all contain healing miracles. There are two accounts of Jesus feeding a large crowd when there was no food available. So some people in the past, rather influential people some of them, have persuaded themselves that miracles can only be for healing or where there is real need and no way to meet it. This wasn’t an occasion like that. So the story must be fake.
My reply to that is Nonsense! It isn’t for me or anyone else to decide what is and is not fit to be in the Bible. It certainly is a miracle story in different circumstances where the need is social rather than physical need, but I am happy to be taught that God is interested in a wide range of human need.
Second thing is that we all know Jesus is the son of God. He has authority. But who was in charge on this occasion? It wasn’t Jesus. It was his mother. Jesus says, Its not the right time for me to do anything, Mum”…and Mum takes no notice. She drops him in it by telling the catering staff to do whatever Jesus says. That is not the way things happened further on in the gospels.
But, that does underline the point that Jesus came to earth in human form and experienced things from a human viewpoint. And being fully human included being obedient to his human parents, Joseph and Mary. Even, we hear in this story, to going along with being manipulated by his mother.
The third thing which is surprising is the amount of wine. John seems to have included this carefully in his gospel. Each jar was the size of a Greek amphora holding between two and three metretes. According to Wikipedia a metretes is 39 and a bit litres or just over 10 US gallons (which is why some translations refer to the jars holding between 20 and 30 gallons). There were six jars, so that is at least 480 litres. In the units we are familiar with, that is over 600 bottles for a village wedding.
How big was the village? Did the wedding banquet go on for more than one day? How many people had the bridegroom invited? I find it difficult to imaging a wedding party of as many as 300 people, let alone 600 adults. So I am thinking there might have been a lot of wine left over.
Looks like God was lavish in his provision. Certainly not stingy.
The fourth thing which might be surprising is something that is not in the story. It is conspicuous by its absence. The reason they ran out of wine is that someone had messed up. Did a wedding planner miscalculate or was the bridegroom trying to show off by inviting a really large number of people, without calculating the catering cost? Well, whatever it was, it was a mistake which would have been very embarrassing. Yet, there is not a hint of criticism or recrimination.
So what is this story saying about Jesus and his father’s kindness and generosity. Did anyone criticise the bridegroom or the catering manager and suggest that they didn’t deserve help. No. Quite the opposite, help was given in response to need, and given freely and very generously. Which I find rather comforting for times when I muck things up and ask God to get me out of a hole.
So there is a direct message from this story that God does not hold back on kindness and generosity.
There is more. John’s gospel uses symbolism and allegory. Theology lecturers talk about it at length.
When John was writing his gospel, he put this story at the beginning of the description of Jesus ministry. He calls it the first of seven signs which were evidence of who Jesus is. John is using this story as an allegory for the gospel message. Here are some of the similarities between this story and the gospel message.
At the wedding, God is generous in giving the miraculous wine. In the Gospel, God is generously giving his son for us.
Was God’s generosity deserved or earned? No, the provision of wine was a rescue from need. In the Gospel God gives his Son to rescue us.
At the wedding, what God gave was far more than the minimum needed. The good news in the gospel is more than the minimum: God allows us to become his children. That is in John chapter 1 at verse 12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
When I started to prepare this sermon, I prayed and the first thing which came into my head was the word “lavish”. I happened to have looked recently at 1 John 3:1 in a translation which refers to God lavishing his love on us. At the wedding , Gods lavish love of people came out as kindness and liberal generosity.
The message is that God is kind and generous as well as powerful. It has made me think of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20 about God being “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” and then add my own words “and be very kind and generous about it as well”.
I recorded this sermon, and (more by God’s help than my management) sent it off by the time and day it was needed. That evening was our weekly Zoom housegroup. In the course of conversation another member of the group mentioned people he had heard saying that they did not go to church because they were not good enough for God. That’s the idea that salvation must somehow be earned or deserved. What happened at the wedding in Galilee, with God’s generosity being given lavishly when it was not deserved, pulls the rug out from under that mistaken idea.