Monday, January 18, 2010

Sermon on Disaster and Cana

My sermon from last Sunday with Haiti much in the news but the following readings for the day:

Isaiah 62:1-5
62For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

John 2:1-11
2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

I must admit that approaching preaching this morning after all the news of the disaster in Haiti I was very slow to get going with what I might say to you this morning. It does happen. Then I turned again to the passages we were to have from the Bible and those opening words of Isaiah really spoke to me:
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give”
How could I be searching for words when silence about so terrible a disaster is just not possible?
When “natural disasters” which seem so Unnatural happen people have very different reactions to them in terms of their faith.
Some see it as yet more evidence that there is no God or, worse still, if God does exist, to quote Bruce Almighty:
God is a mean kid with a magnifying glass. And I’m the ant
Others who claim to be Christians see it as a sign that God is making a judgement on people. In this instance the google search reveals that the latest loony idea is that the nation of Haiti made a pact with the devil 200 years ago and this is the result. Now clearly these people have not read Luke chapter 13 where Jesussaysvery clearly that people who suffer such accidents are not receiving judgement. Talkingabout thosekilled in the tower of Shiloah. He says:
"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
This categorical I tell you NO is a rare phrase and clearly significant. Our God is not a God of vengeance.
Fortunately, still others respond to such a disaster in love, in generosity, in charity, in action and in prayer.
From where we are, there is very little we can physically do. We may respond financially and many have I’m sure. The sorrow is that the abundance of aid which there is cannot reach the vast numbers of people affected as the nation is in such great turmoil with the government buildings and infrastructure so utterly devastated.
Yet what we can do is pray. Pray for those who are trapped or injured, those who have lost loved ones, jobs and homes, those who have gone to help them. Now I’m no great theologian. I remember when I was training long debates about what happens when you pray William Temple said
'When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't pray, they don't.'
Martin Luther King (who America commemorates this week said:
'To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.'
I was reminded of a programme a few years ago called “The Search” there was a point where they were looking for an entire circle and there were part circles drawn all over this ruined abbey and only from ONE point could you see the complete circle. I think sometimes prayer is the process of getting into the right place to see things the way God wants you to see them. And from that point of prayer we can see where God truly is in Haiti. Though the cathedral and churches are destroyed the Anglican Bishop Duracin is among those who have set up a tent village on a football field,bringing a glimmer of hope in a dark place. God is there with them.
The Gospel we had to day we heard of a time when Jesus was present for people in a very ordinary part of life – a wedding- and he offers a surprising gift in the form of wine. And he was there with his mother. This story gives us a lovely insight into that relationship of mother and son. She points out that the wine has run out and even though his words seem to suggest he’s not going to do anything she tells the servants to “do as he tells you”. What a mother! Now some see this first miracle as somewhat frivolous. Perhaps that is its greatest feature. These people did not NEED wine like they needed food and shelter. Yet this gift made life better not just possible. Here we seeGod’s generosity: The creator working with his creation for the benefit of his creatures. At Cana the people saw an amazing abundance when everyone believed there was total scarcity. And it wasn’t just good enough wine. It was amazing. Better wine than they had had before- now that’s a great surprise. And God is a God of surprises. A God of the unexpected. I wonder when in your life water has been turned into wine for you. When what you needed was given but with such generosity that it was so much more? Now according to allkinds ofsociologists and psychologists, we have a certain hierarchy of needs- the things we need are at different levels. There are the basics like water, food and shelter, then the added things like security and safety and then the rather more luxury needs like family and friends. I think this whole idea rather misses the mark. Jesus’s ridiculous abundance of generosity is so very different. I’m sure that wedding couple would have been better served with something sensible like a house and yet the richness of the wine meant so much more. Those people in Haiti clearly need the basics and yet they also need hope. Victor frankl who was imprisoned in Auschwitz claimed that a man could live several days without food but not without hope.
As Christians we are the hope holders in our world. It is something not always valued by others over the more tangible things in life. Jesus is often called the water of life but he also offers us the wine of life .Not just that which we need but more and abundant gifts. Of course there are times when this abundance seems very far off indeed. There might be times when we need to be there when the wine runs out for others in their lives. And with very little we can be there as Jesus was with only water and yet offer them something so much greater than they expected.
  • When has water been turned into wine in your life?
  • How might we be present for others when the wine runs out?