Last week has been a challenging week- in politics and in individuals lives. A good friend passed away just under a week ago, Donald Trump made his mark as president, other folk I know have had a tough time for all sorts of reasons… and yet.
And yet outside my front door the first shoots of spring flowers continue to creep up, the angle of the sun across the window moves day by day… the kids play (or fight) and the sun and rain come and go.
And in the midst of change, constancy, joy and struggle, God is still present. Some things fluctuate, others remain; some things seem unpredictable, while others are certain.
Last Sunday morning we heard the passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus attends a wedding and they run out of wine… a fairly well known passage, with lots of drama… and here’s what I said- of course, you can also listen here on our website.
What are the chances? A phrase we use when really, the chances are slim… but we live in a world where things are topsy turvy- a year ago, certainly two, ‘what are the chances of Donald Trump taking office as the President of the US?… but it’s happened. What are the chances of the Berlin Wall falling was a question oft asked in the 40yr history of East Germany, of the Iron Curtain tumbling, or of Man making it to the moon? when you look at things through the lens of statistics and data, the chances shrink down- it can drive you to stop and give up. What are the chances of winning a competition? So small, you may feel, that there’s no point in entering… and yet someone has to. My Godmother always used to win competitions, or so it seemed to me as a young boy- however the truth is that my Godmother always used to enter lots of competitions, particularly ones that were free to enter and included a tie breaker- you know, complete the sentence in 20 words… she understood that someone has to win, and that if you don’t enter, you definitely won’t win… it also helped that she had made her living as a writer… and so she had carriage clock after carriage clock, and so on.
You can’t win, unless you enter. If you don’t try, the chance of success is zero.
Jesus is at a wedding, and they run out of wine- what are the chances? Its not a good start for the married life of the family, it won’t be one of those funny stories that are remembered with a smile… its not like people will switch to beer, or go for the apple juice… this is it- no wine, no drink for the rest of the feast.
When we look at this passage we often focus on the final verse- this was the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs, that pointed towards who he was, and his disciples put their faith in him. This morning I want to look just a few verses earlier- where Mary speaks to the servants- ‘Do whatever he tells you’- now, if you were a waiter at a party in this situation, and someone told you a guest could sort things out, phew, what a relief… ok what do we do? Where are the barrels of wine you’ve got stashed somewhere? At this point we don’t know how much the servants knew about Jesus- did they know that he was anyone other than a normal guest? His ministry has barely started, but John has already testified that he is the Son of God, and others have heard and responded to his teaching… Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip & Nathanael, John (and most likely James) are with him… are the servants just obedient, or do they know something?
Whatever the case, their response is that they do as they’re told…
We’re not like that. We’re just not. If someone asks you to do something, you want to know what will happen… you considering the likelihood of it, the ripples and repercussions, and so on (well, you might)… We want to know what the result will be before we take action. When you’re in a shop and they ask for your email- is that so you can send me mailing offers? Is the question on my lips… Except for those times when we are already in motion, have already committed- times when you’re in the flow- sailing, fishing, singing, playing sport, dancing… often there’s a mix between knowledge, experience, intuition and gut feeling… ‘this will work’… but you have to commit before the result becomes apparent. Several years ago someone tried to teach me to crew on a sailing boat with a trapeze- the basics are simple enough- it’s the application that is hard. And I got very wet, many times before I realised that you have to commit before the sail is full, otherwise its too late… The real pro will say it’s a step-wise thing between you and the sail- of filling and leaning… but done fast it looks as though the crew is leaping out of the boat… the feeling when you get it right, of the boat lifting out of the water and almost beginning to fly… but you have to act before the result is clear.
And because of their obedience, they witnessed, and were part of, a miracle. Their willingness to obey- their faith in the person giving them instructions, came before the miracle. Look again at the passage- they filled the jars with water, they drew some from them and took it to the master of the banquet… there’s no mention until that point that the water is anything but water… they acted in faith and obedience, but there was also a risk on their part. With faith there is always risk. Show me the risks you take and I’ll show you the faith you have. That faith can be misplaced, misguided, over-estimated- certainly when we put our faith in humans and human structures it is often the case, but if we never take those risks, then we never allow faith to grow, and those of us who have taken risks in faith, have acted on our faith in God, would say that he does not let us down.
Faith comes through action, yes, but it is shown in obedience. The servants had faith in Jesus, and they saw a miracle. If they had not been obedience and had faith, they would have witnessed nothing.
If we want to see our faith grow, then we must start with ourselves- yes, as we said last week… our own personal discipleship, our relationship with God, nurtured by our part in his Church and demonstrated in our live and our worship… but if we want to see our faith grow- if we want to see miracles of transformed lives around us, if we want our own lives to be transformed step by step, then the place to start is with our obedience to God. Sometimes that obedience will be a nudge to talk to someone… to call or visit when you could easily not. Sometimes it will be the mention of your faith, or that you pray in difficult times… sometimes it may be holding back when others around us are wading in with hard words against another… it may be speaking of what you believe when asked… it may be the practical helping hands reaching out in love…
He has shown us his love in this- that when we were still sinners God sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for us… and this is foolishness in the world, but is the wisdom and power of God- how can a dead man be the way to eternal life? But he is. And so we know this truth, that starts with a response to that love, and grows out of obedience- this relationship is not an intellectual assent or the outcome of an analysis (though it may include those things), but is the response of our hearts, that leads to our hands and feet.
You can’t see a miracle unless you act in faith. If you don’t, the chance is zero.
You may not see miracles every day, but you’ll see a whole lot more than none.