1 Corinthians 12.1-11; John 2.1-11
Imagine for a moment your wheelie bin, empty and clean of course. Now imagine it full of water, all 240 litres or 52 gallons of it. Now imagine 3 of those all full of water – that’s approximately 150 gallons or 720 litres, the amount the stone jars held. And finally imagine those bins full of wine. Far more than could be drunk at a wedding party, even one where the celebrations lasted a week, as was the custom in those times. I’m grateful to Hannah Barraclough for these figures. You may remember Hannah was on placement here just before the first lockdown.
For the gospel writer, this story is about far more than simply a wedding at a small village in Galilee. On one level of course that’s exactly what it is, but on a deeper level there is far more to it. There’s a crisis – the wine is running out and family honour is at stake. They would have been shamed in front of the whole village. Jesus is at first reluctant to get involved, but his mother has faith in him; she’s sure he will do something about the situation. He does, and the water becomes wine, and it is good quality wine, and what’s more, there are extremely generous quantities of it.
So, let’s look at this in another way. John never uses words without a purpose. He describes this event as a sign rather than a miracle. A sign points us to something else, something beyond the event described. This is another epiphany, another revelation of Jesus’ identity and power.
John writes ‘on the third day’, referring to Jesus’ activities on previous days, but it’s a pointer as we know that the resurrection took place on the third day. Jesus reminds Mary that his hour has not yet come, a phrase that occurs more than one in these early chapters, until before his trial and crucifixion he says my hour has come, meaning it’s now time to glorify God through his death.
A wedding banquet or any feast in the Old Testament refers to the heavenly banquet that awaits God’ people. We too have a foretaste of that heavenly banquet in the eucharist that we celebrate each week. What does a wedding symbolise? A new relationship, new life, joy. So the water becoming wine is a source of life and joy. Right at the beginning of the gospel, in the prologue, we read that in Jesus was life and that life was the light of all people. This new life is for everyone, not just the chosen few. Jesus promises abundant life as he says later.
This story is a sign of God’s generosity, of God’s generous love to all. It’s a gift. This is not something we can earn. In a nutshell this is the meaning of grace.
And gifts are the subject of our first reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth. Frustratingly we don’t know exactly what the concerns the Corinthians had brought to Paul in their correspondence with him. It seems some may have thought that speaking in tongues was the most important gift given by the Holy Spirit. No, says Paul, definitely not, there are many different gifts, and no single person possesses all of them. They are given by the same Holy Spirit to everyone. I’ll repeat that, they are given to everyone. Equally importantly they are to be shared in the service of everyone for the building up of the community. These gifts are complementary. And the Holy Spirit gives them to each one as she chooses. There are varieties of services and varieties of activities and God activates all of them in everyone.
The gifts listed here are not a complete list. Paul returns to the topic in other contexts. Let’s look at this list. First, the utterance of wisdom: these people speak of the wisdom of God hidden in mystery – they speak with insight that comes from a close relationship with God. To others is given the gift of knowledge, and it’s not easy to make a clear distinction between wisdom and knowledge. Others receive the gift of faith, which is more than simply saying I believe; it’s a charismatic, living faith. Healings and miracles are similar, but we must remember that God is the One who heals; it’s not us. Some have the gift of prophecy, some discernment; they speak out and discern where they see God at work. This has nothing to do with crystal balls and someone telling you that you will meet a tall, dark stranger in the near future. Some have the gift of speaking in tongues – glossolalia to give it it’s proper name; others have the complementary gift of interpreting what is spoken. A word of explanation here: some pray privately in tongues and it’s a way of expressing deep feeling. When people speak in tongues during public worship, as happens in some churches, there should be an interpretation of those words which in itself is a gift.
This is a very brief summary of this passage. And I would emphasise that last sentence: All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
So what about our own gifts? We all have gifts, things we can do well now. And things best avoided. Those of you who know me are well aware of my limitations when it comes to singing. That is best left to the those in the choir who share their gifts with us regularly.
Some of you are creative in other ways: painting; making baptism bears; arranging flowers; welcoming visitors, discerning when to approach someone and when to leave them alone, when to listen and when to speak, when to offer to pray with them; some enjoy working on fundraising challenges – the list is endless, and apologies for missing out so many aspects of our community life.
God is always calling us to do new things, and equipping us to do them, things we didn’t know were possible, until the Holy Spirit nudged us.
I’d like to invite you now to do two things as we reflect for a while on our gifts. First to think what gifts we are already using and thank God for them – no false modesty please! This is between you and God.
Then to consider what new gifts the Holy Spirit may be nudging you towards. You may already be in the process of doing this. And I invite you to continue this in the coming weeks. And if you would like to discuss the way forward, please talk to one of the ministry team or contact the office who will pass on your request.
Let us pray. Generous God we thank you for all your gifts to us. Direct each one of us through your Holy Spirit enable us to undertake new ways of serving you so that together this community may be built up.
The Rev Jackie Lock, Associate Priest