Sermon preached by Jan Betts
Stability and interruption
Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11
May I speak in the name of God, creator redeemer and lovemaker.
This is a sermon of two halves. One half is about stability and our relationships which give us that stability, relationships with each other and with God. It’s about the steady background to our lives, something which can’t be taken away from us.
The second is about how that stability can and will be disrupted.
Today’s Gospel reading is about the wedding at Cana. Now marriage and weddings are much in the news at present, and we in the church – and not just the Anglican church – are pondering and praying about what a marriage means. How do we give expression to the longing for a covenanted relationship before God between two parties? Jesus clearly gives his blessing to the wedding happening Cana, and confirms that such covenanted relationships are part of the Kingdom.
But the story of such relationships starts much earlier and finishes much later. In Genesis, the end of creation is about the setting up of a relationship which is of mutual support for each person within it and is blessed by God. All the way through the old testament the image of Israel as the bride can be found, and in today’s reading from Isaiah, God’s people were told: ‘as the bridegroom rejoices in the bride, so will your God rejoice in you’. Jesus tells other stories of weddings, of wise and foolish virgins attending a wedding, as well as others. Weddings are a big part of Jewish social life, as they are for us, whoever is declaring their love for another. And finally in Revelation the wonderful imagery is of the Lamb as the bridegroom of the church and the church as the bride of Christ. Wedding imagery is dear to God’s heart. But note that the bride is all of us, the church, the whole of creation which is welcoming to the Lamb, in love with the Lamb and wanting to be in a mutual relationship of great tenderness and sacrifice. We are not individual brides; it’s only together, all of us, who are the bride.
Jesus actually talks about two kinds of stable relationships, which underpin our relationships with each other and with God. One is this of the bride and the groom, the idea that God is committed to the church with the joy and the welcome and the longing of a partner for their beloved. God is always in love with the church and we are part of that – God is in love with the body of people who love God, and we remember Alan’s story of those who were asked if they loved God and confessed to it.
The second relationship is that of parent and child, not talked about in today’s readings but just as important. We are part of the stable family of the triune God. In our relationship with God we know both the joy of being beloved as spouses, and the security of being loved as children are properly loved, without conditions, and both of those relationships with God are unassailable because it is God who forms them. Our images of both these relationships are pretty marred on earth because we let all sorts of hideous things get in the way of being loving or allowing ourselves to be loved, and we learn ways of being self protective which God doesn’t need in our relationship with her. That’s a huge topic but it’s enough at the moment just to say this. We remember from last week Katharine talking about our baptismal relationship and the firmness of that sacrament, the immutability of it. We are dear children of God, and TOGETHER AS A CHURCH we are the loved bride of Christ.
Such stability. But today we have something else as well. Just why Jesus said to his mother ‘my hour is not yet come’ and she seems to have had serene confidence in him acting anyway, we don’t know. Maybe she knew his ministry and with a mother’s confidence decided he needed kick starting at age 33! Leave home, lad, it’s time. Whatever, Jesus does act, possibly against his wish to declare himself. His ‘mission’ began right there.
Now mission is also a word we are pondering on here. How will we do our mission in this area? How will we bring the love of God, see the love of God at work in this area? When I was a teenager, and at uni and after, we used to do ‘missions’. I went on a beach mission, and we sweated blood and tears organizing missions, both at uni and in my churches after that. They were often well organized and prayed over and they happened in our time and at our planning and they did the work of God, I am quite sure. Planned mission is important and the Gospels reflect how Jesus planned time to teach both his disciples and the crowds who followed him.
But it seems to me that this is not the way Jesus did mission all the time. Sure, he taught big crowds, but much more, he simply met people along the way and he was interrupted in his life all the time. It seems to me that mission as interruption is closer to the way Jesus worked than anything else.
So in today’s Gospel we have Jesus planning his life – maybe – and his mother interrupts it. His mum! The one who is supposed to give him a stable loving home tells him to get on with it. What a woman she was!
So he does, and in so doing begins all the ways of challenging which are to come. He fills the jars which are supposed, for his Jewish hosts, to be full of water for ritual cleansing, with wine. Is that a joke? Or is it a way of saying that the water which was about the law, about the way of being clean ritually, is being overthrown here, and new ways of rejoicing are being introduced. As Jesus’ ministry goes on he meets more and more interruptions: Nicodemus knocks on his door at an unexpected time, he meets a woman by a well in Samaria, back in Cana he meets a royal official with an ill son who just comes and says ‘help my son’. Read on in John’s Gospel and Jesus meets a man by the pool in Bethesda, and is sorry for him, and heals him. Over and over in the Gospels Jesus is just met by people in need and this is where his ministry lies – as well as in teaching his disciples, bringing them together as the start of his followers, the ones he gives thanks for, his brothers, who are also children of God and those who he knows are part of his church to come. Against the stability of these relationships, such as it was – and it was flawed, unlike the relationship with his father – Jesus goes on healing, talking, doing mission as he meets people along his way.
What do these thoughts mean for us? For me, they are comforting and awe-inspiring, to know that God loves me. But also they put the idea of mission into focus. We need to see all that happens to us along the way, every time we can in any way share the love of God, as mission. The love we receive is the love we offer, and we can offer it because it is always there for us. The interruptions to our day – the chance to do some washing for a neighbor, to make a phone call to someone lonely, to write a card, to express a protest, or whatever your way of relating is, these moments of interruption are what we are sent to do as the mission of God, as the expression of our identification and love for the One who is our bridegroom. In the words of Mother Theresa, we cannot do great things in this life, but we can do small things with great love.