Sunday, January 24th, 2021 (Epiphany 3)
(Stephen Hamer - Diocesan Reader)
The Generosity of God
Lessons from Psalm 113 and the miracle at Cana.
(Related Bible readings can be found here)
May I speak in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen
In the last 12 months there have been 18 weeks when we have been unable to worship normally in our churches. That’s a lot better than our Christian brothers and sisters in the UK.
There’s a mutual comfort and benefit in us being able to join together by Zoom,
and that about 50 of us can worship together in this manner.
About half our congregation at Michael aren’t on the internet, and of those that are might struggle with more than mail. But - all are covered by prayer as the prayer warriors have been given lists of church members and friends to not only pray for but to phone them so they don’t feel forgotten.
In John 10:14 Jesus said
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.
Jesus sets the standard and we try our best to emulate him. Pastoral care takes time and effort whether in ‘Lockdown’ or not.
In Psalm 113 that Canon Burrow read to us, the psalmist reminds us that God cares for all
– the poor, the needy, those wishing they had children, etc.
The first and last verses say ‘Praise the Lord’ which in Hebrew is ‘Hallelu Yah’.
It is actually a two-word phrase, not one word.
The first word hallel in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song. The second part, Yah, is a shortened form of YHWH (Yahweh), the name for God the creator.
So – what does Psalm 113 tell us apart from joining in this joyful chorus of praise ?
Like a number of places in scripture it includes words that are not now in common use.
In v4 is says that the Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory is above the heavens.
To exalt means to raise to the highest of heights.
To exalt God is to raise God to the highest place in our lives.
To give Him first place in every thought, word and deed.
I know that I fall short every week and is why I need to join in the confession
at the beginning of the service on a Sunday !
The psalmist states that he is a bountiful God – one who is generous.
It says that he lifts up the poor and needy and those unable to have children – but where to ?
In v8 the psalm says ‘to sit with princes of his people’ – that is, the righteous.
Unlike many human beings, he doesn’t look down on them but treats them as equal in his sight.
At the time of Christ, society was divided and with huge differences between those in poverty and the well off. Not a lot different today where the top 1% own 90% of the wealth.
Social hierarchy still prevails.
The New Testament read by Revd Ruth was from the gospel of John 2:1-11.
It’s a well known passage about a wedding at Cana in Galilee. As there was more than one Cana, the ‘in Galilee’ bit places the location. The Bible is often very specific with locations and family names so that the details can be checked by those that read it – and still can.
One needs to look at the previous chapter of John to place this event in a timescale.
Jesus was then aged about 30 years old and about two weeks earlier had been baptised
by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Scripture records that the Spirit of God descended as a dove and was now upon him.
Now back north in the Galilee - Jesus, Mary and the disciples go as guests to a wedding at Cana.
It must have been a lavish affair with wine flowing quite freely – it always does at a free bar at a wedding! Jewish weddings are steeped in tradition and ritual and the master of the banquet is in charge of food and drink – a bit like our Master of Ceremonies today.
Along with prayers, the bride and groom drink the first of seven cups of wine to acknowledge that God created the world in seven days. At the start the best wine would be served and compliments made to the master about its excellent quality. In the heat of the day the soporific effect of the alcohol takes effect and cheaper wine is served without anyone particularly noticing.
But horrors – even the cheaper wine runs out!
In those days wine wasn’t sold in convenient 75cl bottles at the local off-licence – it was a time consuming process of stamping on the grapes in a wine press to start off the fermentation process. Fermentation requires two things: sugars and yeasts. A ripe organic grape is full of natural sugars and there are wild yeasts living on its skin. As soon as the skin of the grape is broken, fermentation starts. It normally takes between two to three weeks for grapes to fully ferment into wine after being crushed and certainly not drunk for at least two months.
Back to the Bible - when the wine runs out his mother says to Jesus
“they have no more wine”.
Maybe a simple observation, but Jesus sees it as a belief by Mary in him being able to do a miracle and save the day. What was Jesus’s response ? In v4
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
Two things to notice here – firstly the salutation ‘woman’ was not a derogatory term.
In modern English, Jesus' response to his mother comes across as blunt, even rude.
This is a quirk of translating from one language to another.
In the original Greek, his reply was formal but polite.
Secondly a more puzzling statement – ‘my hour has not yet come’.
Jesus is constantly aware that he is on a divine schedule, and everything needs to happen at the right time. Since toasts by guests were common at celebrations like this, it's also possible that Jesus literally meant that it was not yet His turn to offer a toast.
Nearby stood six stone water jars, each holding about 20 - 30 gallons.
If you go to Cana in the basement of one of the churches are such jars found during excavations. They are indeed large – you couldn’t carry one.
Jesus asks the servants to fill the jars to the brim with water.
When full he asks them to draw off some of the liquid and take it to the Master of the Banquet.
The Master didn’t know where it had come from - albeit the servants knew.
After tasting it he called the bridegroom to one side believing that the groom had hidden the best wine until now. There is no scientific explanation of what had happened – it was a miracle, and produced a huge amount of wine. In fact, it was the first recorded miracle by Jesus, a miracle of nature, and through it revealed his glory to the disciples.
In the Gospel of John are recorded many miraculous signs that characterise the ministry of Jesus. It starts with changing water into wine at the start
and ends by raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.
So, to end with, have you spotted the link between the Psalm and the Gospel reading ?
I can assure you that there are many times that those who preach struggle to find a link between the set Lectionary readings.
In this case may I suggest that it’s the bountiful generosity of God
– not because we deserve it, but he wants to bless us, it’s his nature.