Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Epiphany – Year B

GOSPEL: John 2:1-11

When I first moved to Somerset I kept seeing signs warning people about PORLOCK HILL and indicating an alternative route to avoid it. The signs worried me – what was this PORLOCK HILL?

Inevitably the time came when some friends and I headed in the direction of Porlock and PORLOCK HILL. I was apprehensive by now. You reach a point in Porlock where you have to make a decision. You can turn round, go back and spend the day in Minehead; you can go straight on into Porlock and travel an easier road or you can turn left and tackle the HILL!

Minehead suddenly seemed quite attractive but my friends had other ideas and up we went. We got safely to the top but I’d seen the escape routes for cars travelling downwards, I spent the rest of the day hoping we wouldn’t have to use one of them.

What has Porlock Hill got to do with a wedding feast in a small village in Palestine 2000 years ago?

Well, John tells us that when Jesus changed water into wine he gave the first of his signs and revealed his glory.

Signs exist to draw our attention to something else, a steep hill, a narrow or low bridge that sort of thing.

So if turning water into wine is this sort of sign then the important message of this story is not the miracle itself but what that miracle reveals about the one who performed it.

John tells us that the sign reveals the glory of Jesus and it reveals the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

I believe my preaching colleagues will understand me when I say that in preparing to preach the message we receive is always given to us for ourselves first; we have to apply it to ourselves and that can be extremely uncomfortable as we realise that we have some way to go before we live out the message we’re going to be giving. So as I think about this story as a sign I feel very uncomfortable about the words I receive.

This sign reveals the glory of God in Christ Jesus. But what’s the nature of that glory and what does it tell us about the sort of God Jesus reveals to us?

God cares about individuals:
He has a whole universe to maintain so how can he also be concerned about one couple celebrating their wedding in a small village. But Jesus does care. In spite of his rather brusque response to his mother (and one modern version has Jesus saying “mother, stop telling me what to do”) he makes sure the family doesn’t run out of wine and he does it in such a way that it doesn’t draw attention from the couple at the centre of the celebrations.

We have a caring God who is alongside us, a breath away, offering to be involved in our day to day lives and to share in our worries and concerns, our sorrows and our joys. It’s us up to us to chose the risk of living that closely to God and sharing our lives with him.

God is indiscriminately and recklessly generous
Jesus doesn’t say to the servants, draw off a little bit of water at a time just to have enough to go round. He doesn’t tell them to give more wine to the favoured guests, close family, important people in the village. He doesn’t tell them not to waste it on people who’ve already had a lot to drink, or to be over generous with people they d don’t like.

Jesus just gives wine in unlimited quantities to everyone who wants it with no thought of rationing, no judgment about who deserves to benefit and absolutely no conditions attached about people knowing where the wine has come from and showering Jesus with praise, wonder and gratitude.

It’s up to us to chose whether or not to accept the generous gifts of God, offered to us whether or not we deserve them, whether or not we think we can pay for what are blessings freely and gladly given to us.

God wants only the very best for his creation and for his people
The wine that Jesus provides is not just wine – it’s not even just Marks & Spencer’s wine, it’s the best wine that anyone there had ever tasted, an unexpectedly extravagant wine whose taste stayed with them long after the party was over.

It’s up to us to chose whether or not to accept and enjoy the best things that God wants to give us. God doesn’t want us to settle for an easy option that may not be top quality but will do. God wants us to have the best that he can give us. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and may have it in all its fullness”.

Revealed by Jesus, we have a God who cares, a God who’s generous beyond measure, a God who wants only the best for us.

But there is an uncomfortable aspect.

It’s not easy to have the grace and humility to accept from God the gifts which we can’t earn or deserve. He is caring, generous and nurturing because that’s who he is, not because we’ve done anything to earn those things.

We may have to overcome feelings of unworthiness, of not being lovable, of shame and guilt about things we’ve said, thought or done and receive with open hearts and minds God’s forgiveness and his help in starting again with a clean slate.

Revealed by Jesus, we have a God who cares, a God who’s generous beyond measure, a God who wants only the best for us.

And that demands a response.

If Jesus cares for the people at a village wedding then he wants us to care about the people around us, to be involved in their concerns, to help where we can and not to ignore their problems, worries and needs.

If Jesus gives generously without keeping records and presenting a bill then he wants us to give generously without counting the cost. He wants us to give of ourselves and our time, to share our homes and the gifts and talents that have been entrusted to us. And he wants us to be generous in our judgments of others – thinking the best of them, not the worst

If Jesus gives only the best wine then he wants us to give the best we can offer. We can’t be perfect – that’s work in progress – but we can do, say or preach the best that we are capable of at the time and I believe that’s enough to please God.

Once you commit yourself to tackling Porlock Hill you have to engage fully with the challenges it presents, believing that if your car is up to it and you follow advice about low gear and speed you will reach the top.

Once we’ve committed ourselves to believing in Jesus we have to engage fully with the challenges that presents.

If we believe that in accepting God’s caring, his generosity and his guidance in the ways that are best for us then we will be travelling in the right direction.

And if we look around us we will see that we are with many other travellers and God’s caring, generosity and guidance within that travelling community will be signs for others revealing to them the glory of God.