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Sermon 12 Jan 2016 | Barn Church Kew

2nd Sunday of Epiphany 2016 “Follow the money” was the advice given to Woodward and Bernstein by their inside source at the White House, as they investigated the Watergate Affair. It’s not quite as dramatic as that for us this morning, but our own covert source, otherwise known as the Boys Own Big Book of John’s Gospel mutters, “Follow the bridegroom.” But I hear you say, “The bridegroom only appears at the end, during a conversation about the quality of the wine.” And you would be right, so what is going on? Maybe the bridegroom is someone else. There is a constant reference in all the Old Testament to the image of Israel as God’s bride, the nation being married to their God. At times of breakdown, it is like a divorce. Hosea’s prophecy hangs on him marrying an unfaithful wife, so that his very life talks about Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. When the relationship is good, then images of bridegrooms and brides abound, with feasting, extravagance and delight. Is it any wonder, then, that John situates his first story of the miraculous powers of Christ (his first sign) at a wedding? And it is at a wedding where things are going wrong. The wine has run out, the water for ritual purification is low, even Mary, Jesus’s mother, is getting a little anxious. And Jesus transforms the means of legalistic righteousness – the water in the six stone jars – into the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Water for external washing is replaced with the wine of heaven; water for outdated rituals is replaced by the new wine of sacrament. What before was necessary externally is now a joy-bringer, internally, in a shared experience of worship. The initial bridegroom had not provided enough wine for the feast. The real bridegroom provides sufficient, and then some, and of the very best quality. If Jesus is the new bridegroom, who then is the bride? The bride in Cana doesn’t get a mention in John’s story – the only woman with a speaking part is Mary, and she is portrayed in an ambiguous light. Is she pushing her son in a direction he is not ready for, or is she just trying to deal with an embarrassing situation? And why does she imagine that Jesus can do anything about the lack of wine at a wedding? And does that make her the bride, to Jesus’s bridegroom? Absolutely not, she remains his mother, even in the spiritual dimension into which we have strayed. No, but she has an essential part to play, later on. If the nation was the bride of God, then the new bridegroom, God in human form, needs a new nation. And who might that be? At the end of the passage, there seems to be a fairly prosaic summing up of the story, but it is far from that. “..and his disciples believed in him” tells us everything we need to know about this new bride. The disciples and Jesus’s mother, are the ones who believe that in Jesus they have found the Messiah, that they are in the very presence of God himself. They come to this faith position after seeing this first public sign of Jesus, and they will take that forward, right through their lives, as they give birth to the new people of God that is the Church. That is the foundation of the Church, according to John the Evangelist. That is what it took, a gracious miracle to save the blushes of the bridegroom and his family, to set in motion the process by which we now exist. But I want to stop all the theorising there, and look instead at our liturgical context today. We are in the second Sunday of Epiphany, and our theme remains the revelation of God to the world, this time by the actions of Jesus Christ. In those actions, turning water into wine at a wedding feast, we see revealed the love of God, the grace of God, the timing of God and the inclusivity of God. Jesus’s time had not come, as he reminds his mother – the cross is a long way away – but in the meantime, Jesus still has much to do. He has to show God to the world, so that the world can understand what God is doing on the cross. We are the Church, today, in this place. Our task remains the same as it ever was, to reveal Christ to the world, to share God’s love with the world, and to worship together as Christ commanded us – united, around bread and wine. When the world looks at us, is that what they see? Do they see a united church, demonstrating God’s love, worshipping together, or do they see the fragmentation of the Church as portrayed on an almost daily basis in the press? I sincerely hope that when visitors come to this building, and meet with this group of people, they find the love of God, a unity of purpose and a deep, shared worship together. One step outside, however, and they can point to the existence of multiple denominations, a fractured Anglican Communion that is constantly tearing itself apart, and a wider religious backdrop that appears to be the driver of violence and hatred across the world. This grieves the heart of God so much, and was not the intended outcome of the miracle of the wine at Cana. As Anglicans, we ought to be able to live with each other, you would have thought, but we cannot. Having had all sorts of issues over women priests that threatened the breakup of the Anglican Communion, we have ridden that one out only for the issue of homosexuality to come charging in behind it. We have stuck to our guns on women priests and bishops, let us stick to our guns on the welcome, the love and the inclusion we give to everybody, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. It is not ours to judge other people, whatever we might believe and whatever we might believe what the Bible says – because we can be pretty sure that someone else believes quite the opposite after reading that same passage. It is ours to welcome and to worship together, nothing more, nothing less. We want everyone from the parish to feel welcome here, to be part of us; and for that to happen we have to leave judgement to God, and get on with the love, the welcome and the worship together. There is much more to be said on this, but during this coming week, we shall be praying together as Christians to enable us to get past our denominational differences and to worship and witness to God as one body. Those times of prayer – Monday evening at St Anne’s, Tuesday lunchtime at St Luke’s, Wednesday lunchtime at the Barn, Thursday afternoon at Raleigh Road and Friday morning at St Winefride’s – must be treasured, enjoyed, hallowed, for out of them will come a deeper unity than we can ever voice and that denominational structures could ever express. And we welcome, and love, and welcome, and love, day by day, for in that we shall reveal truly the love of God expressed in the person