Live lives worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.1 Thessalonians 2: 12
Hymn 510 Jesus calls us here to meet him
You are the bringer of life
At your word all that is came into existence
from you came the mystery of life
by your will and care
all things continue and life renews and changes
Your Word took flesh and came among us
revealed you to us
showed us how you want us to live
and by his death and rising again
he defeated death and brought new life
By the gift of the Spirit
you have shared his new life with us
By the gift of the Spirit
you are constantly working to renew and bring new life
to your hurting world
We come here today with many thoughts, worries,
joys, hopes and fears
we come bringing thanks and praise
we come asking for healing
we come seeking forgiveness
we come needing comforted
we come needing challenged
we come to find new life
Speak to us, touch us, feed us, fill us
and send us out to serve you
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
Weddings. There haven’t been all that many over the last couple of years because of Covid restrictions, and such as there have been have tended to be scaled-back events. But we probably all have memories of weddings we have shared in: some, maybe many, are full of happy memories; but there may be the odd one that is remembered for the unusual thing that happened. I hope we don’t have any where we shudder when we think about it.
As a minister, it is a privilege to share with couples and families at a special time in their lives, but I suspect all ministers have a few weddings that stick out in the memory. There are the ones where all went well, but something was unusual about it: like the bride who arrived on a horse, the bridegroom who came in a lorry, or the bridegroom who was being photographed framed in the church doorway and was splattered by a seagull overhead. Then there were some others, like the bride who wanted her pet Chihuahua in the bridal party, complete with matching ruff; or the one where one side of the church was in Rangers tartan, and the other side in Celtic tartan.
Sometimes I or we were invited to the reception. Some were really enjoyable, some were memorable for other reasons: like the one where I ended up between the couple’s baby and the 4-year-old flower girl – pushing the pram with one hand and feeding the wee girl with the other; or the one where friends of the bridegroom lit sparklers, set off the fire alarm, and the fire engine came; or the one where we got to the hotel about 3.30ish, and the meal was served about 8 because of the length of time the photos took, and you can imagine what the guests were like after 4 hours of so drinking on empty stomachs; or the one where the bride sat down and said, ’but that’s not the menu I ordered!’ There was one where I wasn’t at the reception, but someone I knew who was there said, ‘I left when I saw the bridegroom’s father pinning someone to the wall and about to thump him.
Jesus grew up in a village, in a country where extended family were important, so it is likely that he was invited to many weddings, and many other family occasions. We only hear about one of them, one where something went wrong. It could have been so humiliating for the family concerned, but Jesus intervened to help. Jesus is someone who never wants to humiliate someone, or make fun of them. He wants us to follow his example too.
Hymn JP50 Give me oil in my lamp
John 2: 1-11
‘This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.’ Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us about Jesus beginning his ministry by healing people or driving out evil spirits (which in those days was regarded as much the same thing). John, on the other hand, recounts what at first sight seems more like a magic folk-tale about turning water into wine at a friend or relative’s wedding. Why should that be a revelation of God’s glory? Why would it encourage the disciples to put their trust in him? It even seems to clash with the rationale for resisting the temptation in the wilderness to turn the stones into bread.
As we have noted before with John’s Gospel, though you can read it at face-value, with easily visualised images and stories, every word and phrase has layers and layers of meaning under it, as the author and editors reworked and reworked it to address issues raised by different groups of critics of the church. Many of the words and phrases used would resonate with their audience, whatever kind of background they came from. We usually hear a small section of the Gospel read to us, which can give the impression that it is a collection of random, disconnected sayings and stories, but it is actually a carefully crafted whole. The overall theme is the revelation of Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promise to his people, but a very different kind of fulfilment to what many were expecting – the old ways are superseded, the way forward is faith in him. In the previous chapter John the Baptist has anticipated the arrival of the One sent by God. After the story of the wedding we hear of Jesus cleansing the Temple, and then engaging in discussion with Nicodemus (a Jewish leader) highlighting both the leader’s lack of understanding of what God is doing, and the new way forward.
There are a number of key words and phrases in the story of the wedding that indicate that this is not simply a ‘nice wee story’ nor a folktale with a bit of magic. On their own we might think it stretching a point a bit much to look for ‘hidden meaning’ in a word or phrase, but there are so many, that they cannot be ignored:
- it begins, ‘on the third day’. For Christians hearing this story it was a phrase regularly used in anticipation of the Resurrection, of the clearest sign of God’s power at work
- the setting is a wedding. Jewish tradition often drew the analogy between a marriage and the relationship between God and his people (it occurs again in the Book of Revelation). Jesus used the image in a number of his parables. Technically Jesus was at the wedding as a guest, but in a sense he is also the True Bridegroom
- the water jars have obviously been used for ritual washing, but that role from the old way of doing things is now superseded when they are used for the new wine
- Jewish tradition usually grouped things in 3s, 7s or 12s. Anything less was seen as not quite perfect. 6 is not quite 7
- Jesus’ reply to his mother is interesting – particularly the phrase translated ‘why do you involve me’. Maybe it’s wishful thinking that he is saying, ‘Mother, will you stop interfering’, but it is an unusual phrase, that has OT echoes, in particular with the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. She was a Canaanite woman who, in the middle of a terrible drought and famine provided Elijah with food, and in return God blessed her with a flour jar and jug of oil that did not run out. All very magic folktale like, but then her only son takes ill and is on the point of death if he does not actually die, and in her grief and anger she uses an almost identical phrase, there translated as ‘what do you have against me?’
- Jesus says that his hour has not yet come, a phrase that John repeats several times in the Gospel until, in the last part of the prayer in the Upper Room he says, ‘Father, the time has come.’
- Mary isn’t referred to by name. Some commentators wonder whether, as the one through whom Jesus inherited his humanity, she is being used in this incident as a symbol of the Jewish tradition which he received through her, but through the divine nature he shares with his heavenly Father he will create a new covenant with humanity based on faith in him
- once again in John’s Gospel water is a key component of the story. At the beginning John the Baptist was baptising with water. When speaking to Nicodemus Jesus talks about the need to be born of water and the Spirit. He then has a long discussion with the woman at the well about water, and refers to himself as the living water
- the miracle begins with water, the element used in baptism, and ends with wine, the symbol in communion for the new covenant sealed in Christ’s blood
- through the miracle Jesus is described as revealing his ‘glory’. It is a term used in the OT to describe the presence and power of God revealed on earth as in heaven. The Prologue – that we usually associate with Christmas – contains the line, ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’. It is like a ray of light shining into the darkness heralding the dawn of a new day – a bit like what would happen in the garden at Easter.
As well as telling the story of God’s amazing work in Jesus, the Gospel is designed to encourage its original audience, who were probably feeling low and challenged, and to enable them to feel more confident in addressing the difficulties they faced.
Many of us are feeling ‘low and challenged’ after two years of Covid-related restrictions. Not being able to see people, to go places, to do what we usually do, has had an impact on us. Some of us have become very cautious about mixing, some have lost interest in things that used to keep us involved and active, some have sort-of aged more than two years. Involvement in church life has also been affected for many. Then there were all those facts and figures we thought about last week: the challenges created by vacancy, the format of the new Presbytery Plan, financial and human resource shortfalls, the vast scale of need on our doorstep and the lack of awareness of who Jesus is and what we are about. It could all be very depressing, and make us feel like giving up.
But the story of the wedding at Cana reminds us that in Jesus the ‘glory’ of God – the living presence and power of God – was revealed. It didn’t go away when he ascended, but remained with the church through the Spirit. God’s glory, his presence and power, is with us here and now – wherever we are. God is alive and active in the world. He is ready to lift us up, to equip us for his work, to inspire and empower us. The glory of God is with us wherever we go.
Hymn 530 One more step along the world I go
Prayers for others
The Prophet Isaiah wrote:
The LORD is the everlasting God
he created the world
He never grows tired or weary.
No one understands his thoughts.
He strengthens those who are weak and tired.
Even those who are young grow weak;
young people can fall exhausted.
But those who trust in the LORD for help
will find their strength renewed.
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not be weary;
they will walk and not grow weak.
After nearly two years of living with Covid restrictions
so many people are weary
and so many are wary
so many have drawn into themselves
don’t want to mix with others
don’t want to do things that they used to do and enjoy
these two years have also seen divisions grow
within families, between friends, across communities
over issues like wearing face-coverings,
observing social distancing or receiving vaccinations
we pray that your Spirit will refresh and revive us
inspire us to keep helping and supporting others
and work to bring healing in our communities
we ask for you blessing on all who are in a special relationship with someone else
particularly where they are going through difficult times
and for those who are not in such a relationship
or where it has come to an end and they feel alone
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 336 Christ is our light!
Blessing (3-fold Amen)
May the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ
shine in your hearts,
transform your lives,
and brighten the world
and the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
rest and remain with you
today, and every day, and for ever