This Sermon was delivered at St Andrew’s South Lopham and St Remigius Royden on the 20th January 2019. Readings: John 2:1-11. This took place following significant votes on an EU deal in the House of Parliment and while the US Government was experiencing its longest ever shut down.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We live in uncertain times. The river of history continues to rumble along, floating our lives inexorably downstream toward currently unknown, undiscovered coasts. For life is a tapestry of unintended consequences. Choices made with a clear and defined purpose can unravel into not just their mirror opposites but even into unimagined new possibilities.
This seems to hold true at every scale. From the compliment which inadvertently insults, from actions which spiral into habits, to casting election or referendum votes in the polling stations, or even to the statements made by politicians and presidents which reverberate throughout nations and across the globe, it seems that our choices move pieces around an ever-shifting and inordinately complex chessboard.
I wonder how many of you play chess? Maybe you know the basics, which piece can move where? Maybe you’ve spent time reading about different openings or practising end game strategies, figuring out how best to place the opponent’s king into checkmate. Chess is in many ways an ideal game. A board of 64 squares, and 32 pieces with precise rules of how they can and cannot move. However, the first move marks a step into incomprehensible possibility. White’s first move opens up one of 20 possible options, and with Black’s first response there are 400 different combinations of positions, simply by each player moving one piece. With their next moves this rises to roughly 197,000 possible combinations. White’s third move takes this to nearly 5 million, while Black’s third move brings this to almost 112 million! Staggering!
Within moments, two players making three simple choices each have shrugged off millions of untold possibilities to establish a path which for them has become reality, and a reality which still has a staggering variety of possibilities ahead of them.
If this is the case in a game of chess, what happens when the number of players rises from 2 to 12-20, when the chessboard is changed from 64 squares to our church building, and our parish? Again there are rules and conventions which we follow, but unlike in chess some of these rules could be broken. Some positions may well be physical locations, but most of them are likely to be held in that intangible but serious realm of relationships; shaped by time, ideas, hard work, empathy, resources and opinions. This holds true for how we relate to one another within the church, but also for how we as the Church relate to those in our parish; whether they be friends, neighbours or the nameless faces we occasionally see getting in or out of cars by their houses. And the chessboard of life is greater than just our church or even our parish. We have family scattered around and about in Norfolk and Suffolk, maybe throughout the whole country or even around the world.
We live in a creation of possibilities and permutations beyond number. A creation in which our choices paradoxically make a very definite difference, because we could indeed have made many different choices, while at the same time are confronted by apparent limitations to the influence of our decisions.
Nowhere, perhaps, is this more apparent than in the action of voting. Whether that be casting a vote for this or against that, or even deciding not to cast a vote at all, we make concrete choices which are both real and significant, and yet which may not result in the difference we hoped for at the time. We have each had to make these kinds of choices in the last couple of years, and this week our representatives in parliament cast votes which are shaping the future of the nation in ways which as yet remain unclear.
Our lives are more than just choices though. We don’t tend to just pick randomly. Rather the choices we make convey a sense of who we are. Indeed, it is through the choices we make in our daily lives and in our interactions with one another that we make ourselves known, that we co-create the meaning of ourselves as individuals, as a community, and in Christ.
Jesus, like us, lives in this creation of possibility, and by so living continually makes choices which convey to us who he is. The meaning of Jesus is found in his choices, the way in which he conducts himself and by so doing reveals who he is.
Today’s Gospel reading presents us with a scene which encapsulates the complexity of all the different choices and possibilities at play in our lives.
There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, two people and their families had decided to be joined in marriage. Having recently got married myself, the sheer amount of decisions which have to be made are still fresh in my mind. When shall it be? Where? Who, and how many, should be invited? And what about the reception? What should we serve at the reception – and how much food and wine do we need?
Clearly, in this case, the answer was ‘more wine than anticipated’!
As the last of the wine is being served Mary tells Jesus it has run out, an implied request to do something about it. It is clear that he had not intended to do anything about it because ‘his time had not yet come’. A significant detail which shows us that Jesus is here with a purpose and a plan
Mary, however, creates an opportunity for Jesus to act by telling the servants to do whatever he tells them. Here, Jesus has a choice – and how he responds will reveal to us something of his character, of who he really is.
He steps up and quietly takes charge, giving the servants their instructions. They chose to obey him and presented the water which had become wine to the chief steward, who is amazed by its quality.
There’s a saying which I’ve heard many times:
“How you do one thing is how you do everything”.
“How you do one thing is how you do everything”
In this choice, Jesus shows us that he responds to the situation at hand. He has a plan, he has a purpose and he will achieve that purpose. But he, like us, lives in the real world and sometimes you simply have to respond to the situation you find yourself in. And in the way in which he did this one thing, he showed us his divine character which he came to reveal.
- He responds to those around him –
Mary brought the situation to his attention.
- He is generous –
those jars of water which became good wine were huge, 20-30 gallons!
- He has authority over all of creation –
he can change one thing into another thing.
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
The signs of Jesus, and indeed his entire life, are signs of the divine choice and desire to be known by us. We see this in the turning of water into wine. We see it in the choice of the incarnation, that moment when God stepped into his creation to become one of us so that we might know who he is by his life and deeds. We see this desire to know us in his death upon the Cross and bodily resurrection to eternal life.
In the choices of Jesus we encounter the reality that God chooses us; he has chosen us, he is choosing us, and he will always choose us – extending a hand in friendship to meet us where we are in our lives which have so so many possibilities, filled as they are with unintended consequences and the injuries of sin, and offers us the hope of eternal life.
In the choices of Jesus we see a glimpse of his glory and are confronted with a choice of our own: are we prepared to believe in him as his disciples believed in him? Will we dare to hope for a better life for ourselves, our friends and neighbours and those nameless faces we don’t yet know in our communities? Are we prepared for the possibility that God might turn our lives of water into lives of fine wine?
Because in these uncertain times, filled with untold possibilities which may daunt us or excite us, we should consider this choice carefully, as the way we respond to this one thing could change everything.