Epiphany 2 – The Intemperance of God

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee;
…. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

In this season of Epiphany – Jesus, in all His glory, is being revealed to us Sunday by Sunday. Last Sunday he was revealed as the Wisdom of God, sitting in the Temple with the doctors in the Church, asking questions, and all were amazed at his answers and understanding – at the age of twelve.

Today and in the next Sundays we see Jesus revealed by the manifestation of his power, in miracles, each of which reveals something about who he is and the implications of that manifestation for us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples have been called to a wedding. When the wine runs out, Mary intercedes with Jesus: They have no wine. Jesus responds by transforming clay jars filled with water into clay jars with the best wine 120 to 180 gallons (we’re talking about 600 to 900 bottles of wine!). The overwhelming hospitality of God!

Everything Jesus does, his words, his acts, especially his miracles, are meant to point us to eternal truths. This miracle is not just about saving the hosts from embarrassment, what is it about?

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Foremost, this miracle is a sign that the longed for Messianic Age has begun. What is the Messianic Age?

In the Old Covenant, there are many preparations for us to understand this [e.g. Song of Solomon, Hosea, Wisdom 7-8] – God desires a marriage covenant with his people – where every person comes to know God intimately.  God says through the prophet Jeremiah, “No longer shall each man teach his neighbor…saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”.  In the Bible – “to know” another is a way of describing the consummation of marriage.

In the New Covenant, the longed for Messianic Age, a deep union between God and humanity is made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus reveals, by this first miracle at the marriage at Cana, that He is the Messiah and that the Messianic Age is upon us – that the time has come for the marriage union of our souls with God. John the Baptism refers to himself as the best man, rejoicing in the bridegroom’s, that’s Jesus’, presence. Jesus confirms this throughout his ministry by speaking parables about a King who made a marriage feast for his Son and inviting us to the feast, or in the parable of the 10 virgins and warning them to be ready for when the bridegroom comes.  [In the light of Christ, St Paul can say that the passages about marriage in Genesis 2 – a man shall leave his father and mother and join his wife, and the two become one flesh – are about Christ and his bride the Church [Eph 5]. St John will affirm this in the final book of the Bible – Revelation – with his vision of the culmination of history being the church adorned as a bride made ready for the marriage with the Lamb.[Rev 21])

The Messianic Age is upon us now. No longer do we call upon God only when we are afraid, or only in hard times, but we long to be with God, as the marriage service says, when we are better or worse, in sickness and in health, when we are rich or poor. And God promises to stick by us and to love and cherish us all the days of our life. And unlike human marriage that ends in this life, our union with God in marriage is eternal.

God desires that we be joined to Him in a mystical marriage, that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us – and God brings this about through our baptism and faith in Jesus Christ.

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This miracle of water being turned into wine is a sign of something else – it also says something about what happens when our souls are joined with God in a marriage union.

In earthly marriage, the union of a man and a woman brings forth fruit – children if it may be – and, with or without children, a flowering of love that contributes to the building up of the wider community of faith and society beyond the Church. The spiritual marriage of our soul with God through Christ – results in our growth in virtue, of our improvement in every way, and it brings forth spiritual children, spiritual fruit.

In this morning’s Epistle, St Paul says…

Having gifts, [because of this union] that differ according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them – whatever they are – …if prophesy, in proportion to our faith: if service, in our service; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

We are to nurture the spiritual children that come about through that union with God – let us use the grace that is given us, for the good of all.

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Jonathan Fink-Jensen, our Student Ministry Coordinator, had the idea that the Student Bible Study should look at the virtues – they looked Faith, Hope and Charity or Love – last Autumn; and they are looking now at the cardinal virtues – prudence, temperance, courage and justice. And we are following this theme in our Saturday night Prayer and Praise services.

The readings in Epiphany season, seem to relate to the cardinal virtues, but looking at them in the light of Christ – Last Sunday – Christ the Wisdom of God fits with Prudence – and this Sunday connects with the virtue of Temperance or Moderation (Epiphany 3 – courage; Epiphany 4 – justice).

How is that?  Well in the Gospel we have this miracle of changing water into wine and there is a statement about how the world does things and compared with how Jesus does things:

Everyone (that is, the worldly way of thinking) serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, (in other words, when they are a little drunk, and can’t tell anymore), then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now.

When it comes to spiritual gifts, we cannot get saturated or drunk so that we care less, as in an overindulgence in any worldly good such as alcohol – actually, in the case of spiritual gifts, they lead to a greater and greater enjoyment of God. In fact God is waiting for our readiness to receive more and more – in one sense there is no moderation in God’s gift giving – 600 or 900 bottles for a wedding party! There is more than enough waiting for us, and we will not get intoxicated with His Spirit – or His intoxication does not harm or make us less clear minded, but ever more so.

And Paul says, we are to use the spiritual gifts given to us and not to hold back– use it for its purposes, Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints… show hospitality…Bless those who persecute you…Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…live in harmony with one another… nothing is to inhibit or stop the flow of the spiritual gifts God would pour out on us.

In our marriage with God, He wants to see our flourishing – the taking of the natural talents we have, and adorning them with a spiritual power to a divine acting out in the world. The kingdom of God has come and our lives become an expression of its power and grace.

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As many of you will know, from our articles in the Newsletters over the past couple of months and on the internet and if you have been discussing things with members of council, we are having an important meeting on Wednesday to decide whether or not it is God’s will that we set up a new Anglican church in Amersfoort.

The purpose of any church plant is to give visible expression in a portion of God’s vineyard to His Kingdom by the establishment of a worshipping community.  The intension is that a kind of zeal and excitement is released to really reach out and build up the body of Christ in that place. Our hope would be foremost to bring in those who are not currently attending any church.

The concern with not acting would be that in having a church that is already pretty full on Sundays, we might become complacent in the use of our spiritual gifts because they are not really needed – someone else doing this or that, we’re just visitors.

A decision to plant a church in Amersfoort would have a big impact on everyone – both those who are leaving here to build up the new church – it will require much more of them to see it come about – and it will require more of those who stay here who are not fully engaged now (I recognize that there are some who are tremendously engaged already), to take on the tasks of those who would leave, and to rebuild our church congregation here.  And not just taking on new tasks, but being very conscious about inviting others to build up the congregation again.

Regardless of whether we conclude to have a new church in Amerfoort or not, those who are not fully engaged in the use of their gifts for God’s glory are being called upon today to be so blessed in using them.

Maybe it is helpful for us to hold before our minds those six stone water jars holding twenty or thirty gallons a piece – an overabundance of wine for that marriage feast – imagine what God is holding aside waiting for us to use, even immoderately!

This is a huge decision and Council members have been praying and I hope all of you are praying for Council on Wednesday that we might take the right decision.

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The host of the wedding recognizes that the best wine has been saved until the last. It describes the superiority of God’s New Covenant of grace to the Old Covenant under the Law of Moses.

But the good wine being saved for the last is also true for every one of us in our life with Christ.  Just as in the best marriages, the friendship between the couple grows over a lifetime together, they come to love one another in a more spiritual and perfect way.  Even more so in our union with Christ, while God does not change, our response to Him does – as we deepen our union with Christ, we are made perfect.  The spiritual gifts poured out on us and revealed in us become better and higher.

Even when our bodies are giving away in old age, and our energy is diminishing, God’s promise of the joys and grace and love in the eternal kingdom and the eternal life to come is still far greater than our experience of it here even in the so-called “prime of our lives”.

Truly God has been saving the best wine until now and he promises much more!

Let us prepare ourselves for Holy Communion, to drink deeply of that best wine that Jesus has saved until now, and to use our gifts from this marriage union to His glory.

Amen.

The Wedding in Cana, Nicolas Correa, 1693 (Mexico)
The Wedding in Cana, Nicolas Correa, 1693 (Mexico)