Sermon 17 January 2016

Epiphany 2 2016 Isaiah 62:1-8 1Cor 12:1-11 John 2:1-11

You may remember that the other week (Christmas Day) we looked at the beginning of St. John’s gospel and saw how he drew on the beginning of Genesis to make the point of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus as a new beginning, a new birth in the context of faith in a creator God.  He carries on with his scheme of things when he gets to chapter two announcing what his gospel, his good news is going to be about. He takes us to a wedding.  We have heard this a thousand times before with many interpretations.  One of the main points is that the stone water jars were there for the Jewish rites of purification and the water is changed, by the action of Jesus into wine. Wine is intoxicating and those who partake of it will lose their self-control and be swept up in the life of God. We might think of it as alcohol gives freedom to dream. They will have a vision of a world unclouded by what really goes on where they can see a perfect place where people root their lives in the worship and service of God and that spills over into the sort of transforming love we may look for but is elusive. Love will become reckless as it turns and matures.  Just like at a party, people will get to know each other more the more they drink.  I often joke that at church meetings, if you really want people to be honest and say what they think they need a glass of wine first.

The ritual of washing before worship is to become real, a sign that the soul is washed regularly. Not that God is not allowed to see the mucky bits but that we come before God having dealt with them. And it has come now. It was not there before. God had not, until now sent the Son, the Messiah to take part in human life and suffer the consequences of putting life and love before niceness and respectability and power and status.

This last week the Archbishop of Canterbury invited Primates from the Anglican Communion across the world to meet at Lambeth to discuss the two major issues threatening the unity of the Communion, the ordination to priesthood and bishop of women and homosexuality. In 2008 a conference was convened in Jerusalem of churches opposed to women in ordained ministry and the softening of attitudes to the matter of practicing Homosexuals being ordained priest and particularly bishop. The great degree of opposition to both came in particular from the African churches. The conference and its continuing membership took the name GAFCON an acronym for Global Anglican Future Conference.

To quote its website:
GAFCON works to guard and proclaim the unchanging, transforming Gospel through biblically faithful preaching and teaching that frees our churches to make disciples by a clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ in all the world.
And later:
The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel. This false gospel undermines the authority of God’s Word written and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the author of salvation from sin, death and judgement. …………. It promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony. In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship.
The GAFCON Primates have now traveled to be in Canterbury with Archbishop Justin Welby and the other Primates of the Anglican Communion. The Primates are gathering to seek to find a way to resolve the spiritual and moral crisis that has beset the Communion throughout the opening years of the twenty first century.
The GAFCON Primates are attending with the sincere hope that Archbishop Welby and the other Primates will join together with them to guard the gospel we love, and move forward together in a renewed and restored Communion convicted anew that we cannot rewrite God’s word to suit the spirit of a secular age.

What really upset people about Jesus was that he heavily criticized the empty practice of religion and those who did well out of it.  Immediately after the Cana wedding John writes up what we call ‘the cleansing of the Temple’, where Jesus throws out the traders and the money changers. What Jesus was throwing out was the practice of overcharging, of making people pay through the nose for using Temple money and for buying their animals for sacrifice. The background to that was the Prophets teaching that it was not necessary anyway as God demanded only that a person be honest and make the effort to be good, repent.

If we can put aside behavior which is important and sexual exploitation which is important and much more common than we might like to think, we can look at how people can be helped and encouraged to order their lives that they do not make power and status the be and end all and that is harder than we might like to think. Especially if we are among those who hold that they have dot it right where others have got it wrong. The Bible is helpful but it does not make much comment. The destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is often quoted but was about the practice of parents offering their children for the entertainment and comfort of their visitors, very different to enduring adult relationships.

We do have to consider the effects of colonialism and Victorian attitudes to ‘other’ people. Christian conquerors and missionaries took not only a gospel of love but a gospel of power and status too. We were, 30 years ago or so encouraged to espouse ‘Victorian values’. The more cynical of us asked about starvation, exploitation, workhouses, slavery etc. In the 18th and 19th centuries English parish churches often had chapels at a little distance for the poor to worship in.

The Cana wedding feast illustrates the doing away with religion.  There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus intended to found a religion and there is a lot to regret in having done that.  The rites of purification are no longer necessary, a new era has dawned where we are in direct relation with God who listens to us and may wag a finger and tell us not to do it again but welcomes us back every time we wander away.

Making a public commitment to relationship, whatever its nature, is brave and costly and we should rejoice over every such commitment made not just for the individuals concerned but for the good of a sound society built on such relationships.  As St. Paul comments it is the thing to do especially for those who do not have the gift of continence and not many do not. Homosexuality became synonymous with promiscuity because it had to be secret, not linked to publicly declared love and fidelity. Having wandered away from the jungle over the years we cover up not just to keep warm but to keep the people we are out of sight, but not, of course, out of God’s sight. Jesus revealed his glory and he would die for it. Honest faith was challenging religion and the established order.

Today popular culture allows people to be honest, not just with God but with themselves and the people around them. It seems to me that that is doing away with ritual and replacing religion with faith. And while we fiddle with it all the world burns. There are greater concerns which should fill our minds.

Can we get on with being a living community of people drawn to the service of our fellows by the love of God we have encountered and been changed by, having time and energy to deal with the big issues of the world whilst singing Alleluias for healing relationships.

© 2016 Frank Wright


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