Sunday 21 January
I once saw a painting in a gallery in New York. It was called The Birth of the World and it was by Jean Miro. The painting is an abstract work. It has a dark grey background with all sorts of small bright shapes and lines scattered about the canvas. The reason why the painting has stuck in my mind is that it could be the birth of the world as viewed through a microscope or a telescope! The painting could either be depicting atoms or stars, molecules or planets. The painting could be depicting a miniscule corner of a petri dish or vast swathes of the Universe! The painting had a big impact on me and set off lots of interesting thoughts and ideas.
I thought of this painting when I began to ponder on today’s gospel. Today we heard how Jesus saved the day at the wedding feast. The wine ran out, Jesus ordered the huge water jars to be filled with water and, so the story goes, a miracle happened and the water became wine – not just any old plonk – but good wine.
Now we could spend the few minutes we have this morning wondering about if and how the miracle actually happened. I don’t propose to do that. I want us to think about what the story means, what it signifies. As St John says at the end of this story – this was the first sign that Jesus did. What was it a sign of?
This story shows that with Jesus something ordinary, water, can become something special, wine. It shows that Jesus is the catalyst of transformation. Using the scientific word ‘catalyst’ brings us back to Miro’s painting. Remember what I said about the painting being either a picture of a tiny corner of a petri dish or of vast swathes of the Universe. I think this miracle is similar. By telling us this story is John showing us something through a microscope or a telescope? Is this Jesus fooling around, in a divine way of course, to help out the host of a wedding feast or is this Jesus exhibiting the true power he has to transform because he is the second person of the trinity, the creative Word of God who transformed nothing into something and chaos into order at the beginning of creation? The answer, of course, is both! In this story we see the work of Jesus through both a microscope and a telescope.
The role of Jesus is to transform, to make the ordinary special. Jesus took ordinary fishermen and made them into healers and leaders. He took sinners and transformed them into saints. He took Saul the belligerent, aggressive hater of the followers of Jesus and made him into the most influential examiner, interpreter and teacher of Christianity. He took a small boys packed lunch and transformed into a feast for 5,000 people. He took water and turned it into wine. Jesus transforms ….!
The reason why we are followers of Jesus is that we want him to do the water into wine thing with us. We want him to take us, ordinary and selfish as we are and transform us into special people who love God and share with God in the work of creation. But we do not want this just to satisfy our own selfish needs and desires but also because we want his transformative power to work in our church, in our wider community, in our nation, in our world. We want to be the subject of Jesus’ work in the petri dish and we also want to be fellow catalysts with him in the big things, in the building of his kingdom in the whole of creation.
Our place in Jesus’ work of transformation is as subjects of that transformation ourselves but also agents of that transformation in the world. We come to church week by week to offer ourselves up for transformation. We confess our sins, listen to scripture, to say our prayers. Through fellowship, scripture and sacrament we are sustained and encouraged as we seek transformation to become the people God has called us to be. At the end of our service we are sent out in the name God to share in God’s transforming work in the world. This means offering ourselves each day to God, all that we are and all that we have, so that the miracle of turning the ordinary into the special can continue. This involves making ourselves, all that we are and all that we have, vulnerable to God’s transforming presence, but what does that actually mean, what does that actually look like? As we are in the process of thinking about Generous Giving here at York Minster in these weeks of January (there will be a letter for everyone on the Community Roll about this available next week) let’s think about money. We expect banks to be safe and secure and now that many of us do most of our banking online, we expect their websites to be completely secure – why? Because they have got our money, that’s why – we have given it to them to look after for us, it’s ours so they better be careful. With all that in mind, imagine giving your pin code to God, making your bank account vulnerable to God. We might have a lot of money or we might not have very much, that is not the point, the point is, do we have the courage to sometimes make our bank accounts vulnerable to God by bringing them with us when we pray. In our prayers we should be asking ourselves if what we give to charity, to our church, the minster, to other good causes enough simply to salve our conscience that we are doing something or could I, should I be more generous? It could be that we cannot give more money and that we concentrate on sharing in God’s transformative work in some other way, but it may be that we realise that we could be more generous in what we give so that in addition to whatever else we give of ourselves to share in the transforming work of God, we are giving more of what we like to think of as our money, to the communal effort to share in God’s transforming work.
Remember that Jesus turned the water into wine at a feast. Wine is associated with enjoying life, with having fun, with sharing with family and friends, with celebrations of life. We shouldn’t be praying about what we can contribute to the transforming work of God with a grim determination to do the right religious thing, we should be doing it joyfully and hopefully. Our eyes are fixed on the future and this process of transformation should be suffused with joy, it should be life enhancing for all involved. As John says at the end of chapter ten, ‘Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly’. In Cana he transformed about eight and a half gallons of water into wine – some party! That surely is a sign of his power and generosity – it’s a sign of the kind of joyful and abundant life to which we are called. Let us all make sure we are contributing what we can to this work from all the resources we have, including our bank accounts!