Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Why Jesus couldn't do many miracles in Nazareth - a suggestion.

Mark 6.1-6

We are told that Jesus 'could do no deeds of power' in his home town.
Why could he do no 'deeds of power' there?

Forgive me; this is a little bit speculative.

There is a film in the UK that was shown on British television on 21 June 1969, and subsequently banned (although clips were shown from 2011). It is a documentary about the Royal Family, filming their everyday life, and it shows them living life in a way that is remarkably similar to every other family. It was banned, because it was felt that it stripped mystique away from the Royal Family, it made them too ordinary. If people see them living just like us, then people may start to question why we do, in fact, treat them differently.

That, I think, is the opposite of what is going on here.
Jesus comes to his home town, and the film of his life shows that he is far from ordinary. They are astounded by his teaching, and they have heard of the wonderful things that he has done. But even though he is far from ordinary, people are trapped in their little world, with its boundaries and boxes, and they are blinded by their pride, identity insecurity, envy and jealousy.
And they cannot begin to conceive that Jesus really is different. 

They think he must have gone somewhere - a first century Hogwarts where he could learn all these special powers - because they ask, 'Where did this man get all this?'
They want to know, because then it all makes sense, and they can send their children there, and they in turn will be able to do the sort of things that Jesus can.
They simply cannot accept that Jesus is different.

We know, as people who have read the gospel of Mark, that the reason that Jesus could teach like this and do the wonders he did is because he is different.
The demons and aliens recognise that he is the 'Son of David', that is language to describe the Messiah, and that he is the Son of God.
But his own people could not accept that he was any different to them.
And I think that is the reason Jesus 'could do no deed of power there'.

It was not from lack of power or compassion - that is clearly not the case, because he does cure some sick people.
Rather, he 'could not' do them because there was no point in doing them.

Given that they were refusing to believe that he came from God, if he did such works then all it would do is wow them - and then make them more hostile to him. Why won't he tell us where he got all this?
And Jesus was never driven simply by the compassion of the moment.
If he had just healed all the people who came to him who were suffering, then it would have taken up every minute of his day, been very localised and limited, and inevitably been temporary. Those people who had been healed, would have fallen ill again, would suffer again, and would die.
No, Jesus was driven by a much deeper purpose and a greater compassion: he had come to set free all who put their trust in him as Messiah and Son of God - to set us free ultimately from all suffering, from sin and death.
That is why, before he goes to the cross, Jesus' main focus is not on healing, but on teaching.
We see that in the second half of verse 6: 'Jesus went about the villages teaching'.
The answer to unbelief was not to wow them, but to teach them.

So Jesus 'could not' do such 'deeds of power' in his home town of Nazareth, because it would have been pointless. The deeds were meant to point to who he was, that he is the Messiah bringing in the Kingdom of God, and if people are point blank refusing to even consider that he is the Son of God, then why do the signs?

We do need to be careful that we are not blinded by the little boxes in our minds which tell us what is possible. And we need to be careful that we are not blinded by our pride, envy and jealousy - of a Royal family who live just like us, or of 'one of us' who is different.
It is that pride, identity insecurity, envy and jealousy which ultimately blinds us to seeing who Jesus is.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

The presentation of Jesus. Getting the centre - right!



Today is known as the feast of the presentation.
Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus into the temple.

The temple was at the very heart of the Israelite community.
It was the geographical focal point of the nation: a bit like the Kremlin here.

And the temple was the heart of the nation. It was where God said that he would have his dwelling place.

That is why the destruction of the temple – first by the Babylonians in 586 BC and then by the Romans in 70 AD – were two of the most traumatic events in the history of the Jewish people

Today. Well this is a picture of temple area now – with the Al-Aqsa mosque.
Only part remaining of Herod’s great temple is the wailing wall
But this is how it might have looked at the time of Jesus

Well today, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple.

And what we read in these verses is the temple operating as God intended: the heart was beating right.

In Luke 2 we see a picture of what the temple should be.
                                                       
The temple was a place for purification
Luke combines two events here: the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. The sacrifice offered was the sacrifice that was offered on the 40th day after the birth for the mother, who had become ritually unclean because having a baby involves a little bit of blood. And interestingly, the passage speaks of the sacrifice being made for both Joseph and Mary. Normally it would just be for the mother, but I wonder if – in the rather unusual circumstances of Jesus’ birth – Joseph might have been more immediately involved than would have been expected for a husband, and so become ritually unclean.

But the temple clearly was a place for purification, where sacrifice was offered for those things which ritually defiled a person, such as blood, and for those things that morally defiled a person.
And purification, cleansing was needed because a person could not come into the presence of God while were unclean.

It was a place of presentation, of offering
Mary and Joseph have also come to present Jesus to God. They are offering their son to God.
They recognise that he is a gift from God, that his life belongs to God, and that he belongs to God.

From very early on, the law stated that all firstborn belonged to God.
The firstborn of the flock were to be brought to to the temple, or to its early equivalent, to be sacrificed
And the firstborn child, the child who ‘opened the womb’, was not to be sacrificed, but was to be redeemed by a 5 shekel payment

It reminds us of the very earliest memories of the people
-          When Abel offers the firstborn of the flock to God
-          When Abraham was called to sacrifice his first-born son Isaac. He is prepared to do it, even though he has waited 70 or more years for the gift of this child, and he takes his son Isaac to Mount Moriah with every intention of sacrificing him. But at the very last moment, even as the knife was raised, God again intervenes, and a lamb is slain in place of Isaac
-          When Hannah prays for a child and promises that her first born will be dedicated to God. And when Samuel is born, and when he gets to the age when he does not need his mother, she keeps to her word and sends him to the boarding school for prophet training at the temple.

So here, Joseph and Mary bring their baby to the temple in recognition that he belongs to God.

It was a way of saying, “God, we realise that he belongs to you, and we will bring him up for you and not for us”.

And for them that was very real:
Only a few verses but 12 years later, when they lose Jesus on their way home and have to return to Jerusalem to look for him, they search for 3 days. And where do they find him? In the temple. And 12-year-old Jesus says to them, “Why were you looking for me. Did not you realise I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Later, we are told about another incident when Mary and Jesus’ brothers are seriously worried about him, and they want to take him away. Someone tells Jesus, ‘Your mother and brother are outside calling you’. And Jesus answers, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around those who are with him, he says, ‘here are my mother and my brothers and sisters’. That is quite a hard lesson for Mary to learn – but she has offered him to God.

Here the temple is a place of proclamation, of hearing the Word of God
In this case, it was both Simeon and Anna, two people who were probably quite old (we’re told that Anna was 84, and Simeon prays that God will now let him die – so we assume that he is also getting on a bit).
Simeon speaks of the child: using words that are known to some of us as the Nunc Dimittis, which is a staple part of evening prayer. He proclaims that this child is the salvation God has promised, and that the child will bring glory to Israel by being the one who will reveal God’s purposes, ways, heart to the Gentiles, to non-Jews. And Anna speaks of the ‘redemption of Israel’

The temple is a place of blessing
Simeon blesses the couple, but it is a strange blessing.
Normally we would think of blessing in terms of wishing someone health, многие леты, prosperity, peace, prosperity, fulfilment, joy – all those things that are often spoken at weddings or birthdays.

But the blessing here is about how Jesus, their son, will impact on their lives and the lives of many.
He is destined for the falling and rising of many.
I had always taken that as meaning that he would cause some to fall and some to rise.
But one of the commentaries says that Simeon may be speaking of the same people. You can only rise, and the word used is a word that is used of the Resurrection, until you have fallen. You can only meet with God when you admit your need, sinfulness and brokenness before God.
But this child is also destined to divide people.
Some will receive him, many will reject him.
I think about the philosopher Nietzsche: he rejected Christ, because he said that Christ stood for all that was weak and deserved to die. Jesus stood against survival of the fittest. He stood beside the weak and the vulnerable and the broken. Indeed, he said you had to be broken to come to him. And so Nietzsche called Christianity the religion of slave people.
I think about the Soviet authorities who called anybody who believed in Jesus mad, because they could not cope with a vision of reality that was different to their vision. If you could not see that life was as they proclaimed it, and if you believed in an unseen God, then you must be mad.
I think of one of my sociology tutors at Durham, who said that he was not prepared to be a Christian because he was not prepared to let anyone else tell him how to live his life.
And Simeon blesses them by telling them that a sword will pierce Mary’s soul: speaking either of how his words would penetrate her heart and convict her, or of how she would know such grief as she watches him die at the cross or, in all likelihood, of both.

The temple here is a place of prayer
Anna is constantly in the temple, worshipping with prayer and fasting.
When Solomon – about 800 years earlier - built the first temple, he prays a prayer of dedication. ‘O God’, he says, ‘this is where you have said that you will live on earth. So please, hear and answer the prayer of anyone who turns towards this temple and who prays’.
Fundamentally, the temple was to be a place of prayer.
It was to be the meeting point between men and women and God.

And Anna?
Well, I think we can guess what she is praying and fasting for. It is what she speaks to the people about: the redemption of Israel.
Here is a woman who is holding onto the promises of God in the past, and prays that he will act, that he will send the Messiah, his ruler, the descendant of David, who will bring about God’s kingdom of justice and right-ness and peace.
And Anna is very blessed. Many people had prayed that prayer in the past, but they had not lived to see their prayer answered. Anna prays that prayer, and on that morning when Mary brings her baby into the temple, she sees the answer.

And I notice too that the temple is a place of praise.
Both Simeon and Anna praise God.
They praise him for being faithful to his word, for answering their prayers, for sending Jesus.

This was how the temple should have operated:
as a place of presentation, of purification, of proclamation, of blessing, of prayer and of praise.

But we know that it did not work like that.
Later, when this child grows up, he visits the temple again. Only this time he goes into it with a whip made from cords, and he turns over the tables and drives out the money changers. You have made this place, he says, which is meant to be a place of prayer, a den of thieves.

JESUS THE NEW TEMPLE
And because of that, Jesus has come to bring in a new covenant, a new era in our relationship with God. And in this new era, we do not now need the temple, because – says Jesus – he is the new temple. He is the new one who is at the heart of our community. He is the new meeting place with God.

And so for us, it is when we come to Jesus – whether that is when we come to church, or stand in front of an icon of Christ, or come forward to receive communion, or read the bible, or put aside time in the day to pray – it is then that we

Come to Jesus for purification.
As citizens of the new era, we do not need to worry about ritual uncleanness. Jesus is much more concerned about what is going on in here. We come to him to confess our sin.
And in this new era we do not need to make sacrifices. He has made the once and for all sacrifice for us.
Please do not ask me to explain what is going on at communion – it is a mystery that is quite beyond me – but I do know this. We are not re-sacrificing Christ here. We are receiving the benefits of his once and for all time sacrifice, as the book of Hebrews and the BCP make so clear.
And please in our devotions we must do nothing that takes away from the absolute completion of that event. You are forgiven, you are going to heaven not because of anything you did, nor because of anything I do, but because Jesus died on the cross for you. All you need to do is to believe it.

We come to offer ourselves: we recognise that our life is gift, that we do not belong to ourselves but to God, that we are first slaves of God.

Archbishop Bill Burnett writes of a significant moment in his ministry when he went into his chapel – one of the privileges of being an Archbishop is that you have your own chapel – and, having read the passage in Romans 12 about offering your bodies to God, went through each part of his body, beginning with the toes on his feet and ending with the hair on his head, dedicating it to God.
I’m not quite sure how my hair can be used in the service of God, but I’ll leave that up to him!

And we come to Jesus to hear his word: he speaks: through his word, through his people, and sometimes very directly.

And we come to Jesus for blessing: and we need to remember the blessing that Simeon pronounced on Mary and Joseph.
God’s blessing is not that things will go well for us here. It is much richer than that.
Things certainly did not go well for Mary. She watched her own son being crucified.
And we hear such dreadful stories of tragedy – and please don’t tell me that those who suffered were never blessed by God.
No, the blessing of God is that tragedy may well come, that we will fall – but that Jesus is the key to it all, that he will reveal our innermost thoughts, and if we are prepared to fall, to allow his word to penetrate into our souls then we will rise.

And we come to Jesus to pray. We pray to him, because he is praying for us.
I know that some traditions pray to the Saints, but the Anglican Church has always made it clear that we pray with the saints, but always to Jesus. And to be honest I do wonder why, when people pray, we don’t go directly to the top man. He knows you and he loves you. He is your temple.
And what do we pray for: well yes, our daily bread – the things that we long for or worry about – but we also, like Anna, pray for ‘the redemption of Israel, of the people of God’: we pray that God’s Kingdom will finally be revealed in all its fullness on earth

And we come to Jesus to praise.
This is the one I find difficult. In some areas I am dreadfully sceptic and a bit of a pessimist. So when something good happens, I think, ‘it would have happened anyway’ or ‘yes, but something bad will happen tomorrow’.
But there is an answer to scepticism and pessimism, and that is praise.
God thank you for this gift you have given me today, for that little answer to prayer (not being sick on plane). And yes, I know I may well get sick tomorrow, but I know you will be there to get me through. Thank you for being there, thank you for your faithfulness and thank you that you rose from the dead and in the very end I’m on the winning side!

We do need to get the centre right
Sometimes, by the grace of God, they got the temple right; but most of the time it went horribly wrong.
We need to get our centre right. We need to come to Jesus and by the grace of God, to receive his forgiveness, offer ourselves afresh in our service to God, hear his word, receive his blessing, seek him in prayer and respond in praise.
Which is, basically, what we try to do each time we come together.


Saturday, 20 January 2018

Standing at the back of the wardrobe



In the bible study after the service last week, Jenna was telling us that when she was small she would sometimes go into her wardrobe and see if the back opened into a magical land.

She had been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis, and if you haven’t read it, or the other books in the series, then it is an absolute must. The children in the story enter Narnia, this magical other land, this parallel universe, by walking into and through a large wardrobe.

Pullman, in his Northern Lights series, envisages alternative parallel universes – and there are certain places where the border between that world and this world is very thin, and it can be cut by a special knife. Now I know that he was trying to write an anti-religious book – to do, he claimed, a CS Lewis for atheism – but actually the idea of an alternative world that is just there, but invisible – is one which Jesus touches on in todays reading.

He says to Nathaniel, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’.

In the Old Testament, one of the earliest people who we are introduced to is a young man called Jacob. Jacob is the son of Isaac, and he has a twin brother, Esau. They are very different. Esau loved doing outdoor manly stuff, playing Rugby or ice hockey, while Jacob – he is the more sensitive type - was more than happy to stay at home and spend time on the computer. Well he would have done, if they had had computers then!
And Esau and Jacob don’t really get on. The problem for Jacob is that big manly hairy Esau is a few minutes older than him, and that means he has all the advantages. He will inherit from his father, and to him belongs the special family blessing.
So Jacob, with his mums support – because dad prefers Esau and mum prefers Jacob – relationships were mildly dysfunctional in this family – sets out to deceive his father, and swindle Esau of his inheritance and the all important family blessing. It’s a great story, and you can read it in Genesis 27

But now Esau is mad. And Jacob has to run for his life. His mum gives him a packed lunch and sends him off to visit uncle Laban, who lives a very long way away.

But on the way to Laban, Jacob comes to a place where he falls asleep. And as he sleeps he dreams that he sees a ladder reaching up to heaven, and angels were going up and down that ladder. And in the dream, God speaks to Jacob. In the morning, when Jacob wakes up, he ‘was afraid’. He says, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’ (Gen 28.17). And he named it Bethel, which means ‘the house of God’.

God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and he became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. And from that moment on, there were particular special places in the history of the people of Israel where God met with his people.
There was the tabernacle, the tent which came with the people of Israel when they were in the wilderness.
There was the sanctuary at Shiloh (that is where Samuel was when he heard the voice of God),
and then there was the Temple in Jerusalem.  

They were back of the wardrobe places, places where the temporal visible world met the eternal invisible world. They were places where the angels ascended and descended between heaven and earth

So when Jesus says to Nathaniel, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’, he is making a staggering claim.
He is saying that he is now the wardrobe, he is now the knife, he is now the gateway into the eternal world.
If you want to hear heaven speaking to you, you listen to him.
If you want to glimpse what earth looks like from the heaven perspective, you look at what it looked like to him.
If you want to see what it would be like if heaven lived on earth, you look at him.
If you wish to glimpse the peace or the glory of heaven here on earth, then you go to him.

That is why when Jesus is around, water turns into wine.
It is why loaves and fishes become a banquet for 5000 people.
It is why a man blind from birth is enabled to see.
It is why Lazarus was raised from the dead.
With Jesus around, those angels are busy, going up and down, doing overtime.
You can imagine them saying to Jesus, ‘Lord, please give us a break’ – except that they delight in that work.

And because Jesus is the gateway from earth to heaven, if you want someone to take you from here to there, you go to him.

Jesus is not, by the way, saying that there are no longer special places.
There are special places which, by God’s blessing, seem to be places where the barrier between this world and that world is very thin.
They are places which free us to think or wonder or where we encounter peace or something that is ‘other’.
But what Jesus is saying is that if you want to go through the barrier, then you don’t need to go to those places. But, even if you are in those places, you do need to come to him.

Jesus came to earth to be that door, that gateway.
He came to invite people to come through that door

That is what he does here. He calls Philip

We often speak of finding faith, finding Jesus.

There is a cartoon of an evangelist who is standing outside somebody’s open front door. He is saying to the occupant, ‘Have you found Jesus?’  And inside the house, if you look a bit closer, you notice a pair of sandaled feet appearing underneath one of the long curtains. Jesus is hiding!

But here I note that Philip doesn’t find Jesus; Jesus finds him. In fact, Jesus seems to go out of his way to find Philip.
‘The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” don’t find Jesus, but Jesus finds them.

That was quite unusual for the time.
The Rabbi did not find the disciple. The disciple found the Rabbi. They would go to him and say, ‘Can I be your disciple’. It was a bit like choosing a university or college. You do the tour and then you put in your bid.

But with Jesus it doesn’t seem to work like that.
On one occasion someone came and said to him, ‘let me be your follower’, and Jesus puts him off.
On another occasion when a crowd wanted to make him their leader, he went and hid.
Instead it was Jesus who went up to people and who said to them, ‘Follow me’.
That is why he later says to his followers, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’ (John 15.16).

Christianity is an exclusive club. Before you become a member you need to hear the invitation – from Jesus or from one of his followers. You need to hear his voice. You need to be called.

With Nathaniel it is even more clear: Jesus ‘sees’ Nathaniel even while Nathaniel is being sniffy about Jesus because of where he comes from: ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’. He implies that Nazareth was a bit of a – and you can probably imagine the word that one international senior politician might have used. But when it says that Jesus ‘saw’ Nathaniel, and describes him as being a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit, what we are being told is that Jesus saw Nathaniel and knew Nathaniel. He saw into Nathaniel’s heart. And he knew that Nathaniel would be one of his disciples, followers.
This was not Nathaniel’s initiative.
This was not Nathaniel finding Jesus, but Jesus finding Nathaniel.

Perhaps listening to this, you worry. Have I been invited? Have I received an invitation? Does Jesus know me? Has he called me?

I suggest that because you are here – whoever you are, and for whatever reason you have come: even if it is just to practise your English – if you have ‘heard’ this: heard it with your inner ear – then you have heard the invitation of Jesus. You have been invited. You have been called.

But like Philip and Nathaniel you need to respond.

This is the invitation to come to the back of the wardrobe, to meet Jesus, to put your trust in him and to live as a back of the wardrobe person, with one foot on earth and the other foot in heaven.

I’ve just been reading a very helpful book on prayer, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. It is about how we live as back of the wardrobe people. It speaks of how we can come as children people to our heavenly Father. It speaks of overcoming cynicism and reminds us that God wants us to ask. And it is about learning to see the pattern of God’s work in your life, to see how God is writing his story on the story of your life.
Of course, that story is not finished here on earth, and so his last chapter is about those prayers and desires that remain unanswered here on earth.
What makes the book very helpful is the fact that he is the father of a severely mentally disabled daughter, Kim. For 25 years he and his wife were praying that she would speak. Those prayers were answered, and she now speaks with an artificial voice through a computer. Sometimes Kim accompanies her father when he speaks, and she says something herself.
On one occasion, when Kim came with her father on such an event, Paul writes, ‘a little girl came up to Kim as we were finishing dinner and asked, “Why don’t you speak?” Kim leaned over her speech computer, which was propped on the table, and typed, “I will have a beautiful voice in heaven”.  

That is what it means to live between heaven and earth.

But I think that this passage teaches us that there is another dimension living at the back of the wardrobe.
When Jesus calls Philip, Philip spontaneously goes and calls Nathaniel.

And when you have responded to the call of Jesus, and come to the person on whom angels ascend and descend, and when you are standing with one foot on earth and one foot in heaven, you will – naturally and spontaneously – want to do what Philip did.
You may not know how to do it. It is interesting that later, when some Greeks come to Philip and say that they want to see Jesus (in John 12), he doesn’t know what to do. He goes and asks Andrew, ‘What do we do?’ And Andrew goes to tell Jesus.
So you may not know what to say, but if you are there, at the back of the wardrobe, as someone who has glimpsed Narnia, heaven or the hope of heaven, you really will want to say to people, ‘Come and see – come and see the one who is the doorway between earth and heaven, the one on whom the angels ascend and descend’.


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Notes on John 2.1-11 Jesus turns water into wine



Well known story told of the Irishman – I don’t know why Irish – who had visited the Catholic shrine at Lourdes. He was going through ‘the nothing to declare’ gate at customs, when he was stopped and the official picked up a bottle he was taking through. ‘What is this?’ ‘Oh’, said the man, ‘that is a bottle of holy water from Lourdes’. The official looked at it and said, ‘funny colour holy water’. He opened the top and smelt, ‘funny smelling holy water’. He took a little sip and said, ‘funny tasting holy water. This tastes of whisky’. To which our hero responded, ‘Praise the Lord, another miracle!’

Those who looked at our website, or at our facebook page, will be aware that the Archdeacon picked up on the fact that I’m preaching from the wrong text from the lectionary today. There will be times when we won’t use the lectionary, but on this occasion I have simply switched Sundays – because of course the story of Jesus turning water into wine is very appropriate for a service which includes the blessing of a wedding.

It is a great story, and thank you to those who did make comments on our facebook page. Yes thank you! They were so helpful that they meant I had to rewrite this talk!

There is so much in this story, and I’m almost tempted to come back and revisit it next week.

It is very significant, because John tells us that it is the first of the signs that Jesus did.

And the fact that it happens at a wedding is important.

It was not just an affirmation of marriage, as many of the Church fathers write, but more than that. 
It happens 'on the third day'. What does that remind us of?
It is a glimpse into the future

John finishes the book of Revelation, the last book of the bible, telling us about a wedding: not any old wedding, but our wedding: the wedding of the people of God, made holy, with the glorified eternal Son of God. (Revelation 21.2). 

Jesus is a guest now. He will be the bridegroom then. And it will really be the best then.

But it is also a sign because it tells us about Jesus: who he is and what he came to do.

1.      This is a story about God’s provision

Wine was essential to a wedding!

To run out of wine is a disaster. The people organising the wedding would have been embarrassed. The family would have been embarrassed. The couple would have been embarrassed.

And yet Jesus miraculously provides for them. The one who was in the beginning, with God, the word of God – who spoke and creation exploded into being – takes water and turns it into wine.

And he doesn’t just provide a few bottles of wine. Jesus was not stingy.
He produced 180 gallons of the stuff.
Jesus is like the Moscow city authorities at Christmas with their lights. They don’t say, we need some festive lights, so we will put a light here and a light there. They plaster the place with lights.

And Jesus did it for a local girl and a local boy at their wedding.

God cares for us, each one of us, even if we know that we are not important.
And he does provide for us – maybe not as dramatically as this – but he gives us what we need.
No, more than that, he gives us far more than we need, he gives us an abundance of joy.

I hope that you can think of times when God has provided for you:

And I’m meaning more than in providing us with this world, with life, with each other, with the gifts of laughter and happiness and music and beauty.
As believers he has given his forgiveness, his presence, the promise of his Holy Spirit,  promise that we will be with him and that we will be transformed into the image of Jesus. He has given us new desires that go along with the old desires, and the new desires – if we let them – start to subvert and transform the old desires.

But here he provides wine – it is very solid and material.
And God does provide for us.
He gives us our 'daily bread'
And he provides for our material needs. Let me give just one personal illustration. In the early 90’s, Alison and myself were exploring the possibility of doing Christian work here in Russia. We contacted a number of organisations and nobody really knew of any openings. And then we had a phone call from someone asking if we could come to a conference in Riga in 2 weeks time. We didn’t have the money, but we felt it right to accept. I would like to say we prayed, but I’m not even sure we did that, but out of the blue, without us saying anything, someone from the church offered to pay for us.

And today, we are thinking about a wedding.
God has provided Olga with Simeon. And he has provided Simeon with Olga.

As a 27-year-old I had never had a girlfriend. It was a not a case of sweet 16 and never been kissed. It was a case of not so sweet 27 and never been kissed! And I was, as you sort of overdramatically do, resigning myself to the thought that I will never be married, and that I would be single and celibate for the rest of my life. And then God provided Alison, who was actually the person that I needed – and who I pray needed me.

I’m very aware that talking like this raises many questions.
What about those of you who are single now – whether by choice or by circumstances – and who would dearly love to meet someone, but it hasn’t yet happened?
Does that mean that God has not provided for you?
Far from it.
First of all, let God be in charge of the timing. Here, as Giles pointed out, he kept the best till last.
But the problem is that we are often blind to what God is providing for us. We have our own agendas and we don’t look to see what he is actually giving us.
For instance, our world tells us that we need to have sex if we are to be fully human.
That is rubbish.
But because of that lie we downplay so much the importance of platonic friendships.
And we treat people who don’t have a partner as if they are somehow lacking something, when actually the bible speaks of singleness as a precious gift, possibly more precious than marriage.

John Stott, who was a Christian writer, and single all his life, writes: ‘We shall not become a bundle of frustrations and inhibitions if we embrace God’s standard, but only if we rebel against it. Christ’s yoke is easy, provided that we submit to it. It is possible for human sexual energy to be redirected (‘sublimated’ would be the Freudian word) both into affectionate relationships with friends of both sexes and into the loving service of others. Multitudes of Christian singles, both men and women, can testify to this. Alongside a natural loneliness, accompanied sometimes by acute pain, we can find joyful self-fulfilment in the self-giving service of God and other people.’’

One of the interesting things about this wedding at Cana is that most of the guests would not have known that a miracle had taken place. They had one sort of wine, and then the servants brought some different wine. Yes, it was good wine, very good wine, but probably all they said is ‘Where can you get this from?’ They just took it for granted, assumed it was life, after all, wine is served at weddings. And they were blind to the provision of God.

Look again, not at what you don’t have, but at what you do have – and I think you may begin to see the abundant, joy giving, provision of God.

2.      It is a story about God’s transformation

Jesus turns water into wine.

At a theological level Jesus is saying, I have come to take purification water, Pharisaic Judaism with its law and its rituals, its do’s and its don’ts, and I have come to transform it into utter joy

Jesus does that: he takes the ordinary (good) and makes it extraordinary.

He turns five stones beside a brook into giant killers, which set a people free from slavery.
He turns five loaves of bread and 2 fish into a meal that feeds 5000 famished people
And even today he turns the bread we break into, to use Paul’s words, a participation in the body of Christ.
  
He transforms gifts, so that they take on a completely new dimension.
Someone with an ability to play music begins to see that it is a gift of God, and they offer it to him to be used for his service, and it is transformed.
Someone with the gift of hospitality – they’re always inviting people around or taking them out for meals – begins to realise that their love of people is a gift from God, and so they offer it to him to be used in his service, and they discover that God opens up completely new areas of ministry

He transforms circumstances.
Olga, on facebook, wrote how Jesus has turned her salt tears into sweet ‘wine’.
Jesus can take our pain, our mixed up relationships, our grief and despair and emptiness and lonliness and he can transform them into that which brings joy
Paul writes, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God’ (2 Cor 1.3)

And Jesus, and I think this is what it really is all about, transforms people.
He takes ordinary men and women and and transforms us into sons and daughters of God.

We see that: people who are transformed. I can think of at least 4 people in this church who I know have been met by Jesus and have begun to be transformed in the last year or so.

3.      It is a story of God’s blessing.
Jesus blesses a young couple at their marriage.

He not only saves them from embarrassment,
but he makes their wedding an event that
a)      brings great joy to the guests,
b)      has been spoken about for 2000 years,
c)      points to who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Olga and Simeon, forgive me for saying this, but I suspect that people will not be speaking about your wedding in 2000 years’ time. Wouldn’t it be great if I had got that wrong.
What we do pray though is that by the blessing of God, your marriage will bring not only joy to both of you, but also joy to many other people – your family and friends, those who you meet, and those among whom you live, work and minister.
And we pray, that by God’s blessing, your marriage will be one that always points to who Jesus is and to what he came to do.

And how did all this happen?
Why did this wedding become so special?

Very simply, it was because two, maybe three, people listened to Mary and did what Jesus said.
Mary says to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’, and they – even though he told them to do something that was simple, but utter madness and guaranteed ridicule and instant dismissal – did exactly what he said.

They’re the heroes of this story. We’re not told their names. We’re not told what happened to them after this. But they stepped out in faith and put their trust in Jesus’ word.

We really cannot overestimate the significance of even just one or two believers taking God at his word and doing what he says, especially if it seems foolish or counter intuitive and if it means stepping out in faith.

It might be something big – like moving countries, or beginning a new work, or making the decision to get married.
Or it might be something small: like praying for someone who we don’t like, speaking the truth when we have been lying, or simple daily costly obedience.

But when we do that, God will be honoured, people will be blessed and we will know joy.