Epiphany 2 • 17 Jan 2016

Isaiah 62:1-5
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Rev. Chris Udy

Sonja Lyubomirsky,
is Professor of Psychology
at the University of California.
She is also the author of a book,
called The Myths of Happiness,
that reports on new research
looking into happiness in marriage.
The research finds
the rosy glow of a marriage
lasts only about two years,
and after that,
people revert to their previous levels
of happiness - or unhappiness.
Professor Lyubomirsky says
that passion and infatuation
are even more short-lived,
and the key to keeping relationships alive
is to grow them into what she calls
“companionate love,
composed of deep affection,
connection and liking”.

John’s story of Jesus really begins,
not with a birth or a baptism,
as the other Gospels do,
but with a wedding.
John the Baptist gets a mention,
but you’d never know, from reading John,
that Jesus was baptised at all.
Instead, the first ‘sign’ in John’s gospel -
the first indication that Jesus was someone special -
is the one we read today,
and it begins when Jesus
and his mother and his disciples
were all invited to the celebration of a wedding
in the village of Cana, in Galilee.
Weddings were significant occasions.
They often lasted for days,
and during the celebrations
the bridegroom’s family was expected
to make sure all the guests were well supplied
with food and - significantly - with drink.
During the wedding feast
something miraculous had to happen:
strangers needed to become a family,
and individual persons, a man and a woman,
with all the things that made them different,
personality, history, family culture and gender,
would choose and promise to live together
in such love and trust
that they would become, no longer two, but one.

Those things are simply miraculous.
We human beings all too often
choose to hide behind and within our difference.
We divide and segregate and exclude,
focussing on whatever might divide us,
while ignoring the truth
that we are much, much, much more alike
than we are different.

So a wedding is a context for the miraculous,
and the miracle begins
with simple hospitality.
Professor Lyubomirsky calls it
“companionate love”
and at its heart is that word - “companion” -
which means ‘someone with whom we share bread’.

When we open a space beside us at a table,
and provide someone with nourishment,
both in food and conversation,
we become companions.
When we expand that space
to share our stories, and our concerns,
and our hopes and fears and joys,
and when we then take care and thought
to include each other
in our decisions and plans,
that’s when companionship grows into love
and the miracle -
the sign that reveals the presence of God -
the miracle occurs.

But at this wedding feast
something serious had happened -
something that threatened to derail the miracle:
they ran out of wine.
Mary picked it up first,
and she also saw its potential
to bring shame and judgement
on those who were hosting the meal.
Shame and judgement are toxic
to companionship and love -
so Mary quietly told Jesus,
and when Jesus said, effectively, “So what -
that’s not our problem”,
she also nudged him further into action,
telling the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”
Like most men blessed, as I am,
with the guidance and inspiration
of strong, wise and capable women
both at work and at home,
Jesus apparently lost that argument
without even getting started,
so he told the servants
to fill six stone jars,
each holding almost 100 litres,
with water.
Then he told them to draw some out
and take it to the steward - the MC -
who tasted it,
and called the bridegroom,
and said “Everyone serves the good wine first,
and then gets out chateau cardboard
once the guests can’t tell the difference.
But you have kept the good wine until now -
you’ve saved the best till last.”

This is a story
about transitions and transformations.
John calls it the first of the signs;
the first of seven miracles
that reveal the presence and character of God
in the life and work of Jesus -
and as we’ve come to expect with John’s gospel,
this is a story that turns things upside down.
Yes, it’s a story about beginnings:
about the start of a journey
that will take Jesus to the cross
and on to resurrection;
it’s his first step out of obscurity
and into the glare of public awareness …
but it’s also a kind of premonition,
a glimpse of heaven,
a foretaste of the celebration of God’s kingdom.

Jesus, in his parables,
constantly described the reign of God -
the goal for all his work -
as like a wedding feast,
when all those strangers and misfits
and warring factions are gathered in
and finally become one family, and one body.
He hinted that he was like the bridegroom,
and his people, the Church, like a bride,
in an echo of the passage we read from Isaiah:
“For 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.”

So the wedding feast
was both the beginning and the end,
the hope and the fulfilment -
and it was something more,
and this is the power of the miracle:
the feast - the shared meal -
was also the way - the method - that Jesus found
to get to the goal - to achieve the promise.

The way to the Kingdom of God;
the way to the fulfilment of God’s purpose
is to gather people together
in “companionate love”.
The way to our healing and peace
is through the kind of hospitality
that lets us move beyond our suspicions and fears
to discover that those with whom we share bread,
and those with whom we share life,
are more like us than we are different,
and are worthy and in need
of our trust and love.
The way to God’s fulfilment
is through communion -
through the sharing of bread and wine,
and conversation, and hopes and joys,
and plans and commitments.

In Cana, as the story goes,
when the wedding party
was at risk of failure and shame,
Jesus changed water into wine.
The water jars, we’re told,
were mainly used for purification -
for the washing of hands and faces and feet
that the purity codes of Israel demanded.
The purity codes began as simple rituals of cleansing,
but over time they developed
into something obsessive and damaging.
The codes first defined behaviours as good or bad,
a righteous act or a sin -
but they became oppressive and destructive
as persons who, for all kinds of different reasons,
failed or fell short of the purity code’s requirements
were also defined as good or bad,
and those judged by the code as bad
were rigidly excluded.

Jesus actively sought out,
and invited, and gathered in,
people who had been condemned and rejected.
They were the people
he would welcome to his table.
So Jesus turning the water
of exclusion and purification
into the wine of welcome and forgiveness
and communion,
was a sign of the way God works
to bring the kingdom.

In the Uniting Church,
and in this congregation
we continue what Jesus began.
We’re committed to – and we do our best
to embrace and encourage
guests and visitors and new people
into companionship.
Maybe because the Uniting Church –
and this congregation –
is, itself, a kind of wedded movement,
there’s always been a sense of significance
to our celebrations of communion.
When we gather around our communion table
we are a sign, like the wedding in Cana,
that reveals the presence of God in the world
and God’s essential character of compassion.

Communion is the reason the Church exists -
not in a narrow religious sense,
or simply as a ritual,
but in that kind of deep, meaningful connection
that turns strangers into family,
and builds us - even while we remain
unique, individual persons -
builds us together as members
into one body.
Communion is the goal - the ideal -
for the way we relate to God,
and to the earth,
and to all other people -
because it’s in communion
that we become who we’re meant to be -
and the best that we can be.

Professor Lyubomirsky says
that the way to happiness in a marriage
is to do things that loving, happy people do -
often very simple things -
like smiling, telling someone you love them,
paying attention when someone speaks,
sitting together for a meal,
sharing bread and wine.

We know the Church doesn’t always get it right.
We know that people have problems,
and happiness can be elusive -
but we celebrate communion,
because it’s in communion
that God transforms us
from strangers and outsiders
into God’s family, and the body of Christ.
It’s a deep joy,
and a sustaining privilege,
as well as, sometimes and appropriately,
a creative challenge,
to be in communion with other people;
to be part of a community
as we worship the God who welcomes and forgives.
This year we will continue to explore
the hospitality God calls us to,
and we can be sure that,
as we always find with God,
the good wine comes out at the end of the feast,
and the best is yet to come.