1 Kings 17:8-16
I’ve trained my dog to bring me a glass of red wine.
It’s a Bordeaux collie.
Of course, not everyone knows very much about wine. As Basil Fawlty said, “the kind of people who come in here don’t know the difference between a Bordeaux and a claret”.
Martin Luther, one of the originators of the Reformation, said that, “Beer is made by men, wine by God”, and I don’t think he was talking about today’s gospel reading.
When you put a group of Ministers together, especially male Ministers, it’s often quite quick for conversation to funeral stories. It takes rather longer for wedding stories to come out. We’ve had some really good weddings in this church, of folk from our church family. However, we have had some rather interesting weddings from the community – one bride was eight and a half months pregnant, arrived over half an hour late, and then proceeded to go to the toilet, in the little toilet in the foyer. John and I were rather worried about our car park tickets running out. There was also that infamous Sunday wedding for the wealthy couple from London…let’s just say it led to a rule of No Sunday Weddings.
Actually, this gospel story of the water into wine is nothing to do with weddings at all. People often choose it as a Bible reading at weddings, especially in the Church of England, and people who visit any of the places claiming to be Cana of Galilee have marriages blessed there, but this story is all about who Jesus is and, and nothing to do with the event he happened to be at when it was supposed to have happened. To say this story is about weddings is rather like saying the story of Jesus healing the man lowered through the roof is about roofs, when it’s really about healing. This is not a wedding story, but a a story to tell us important things about Jesus.
This is why we also read another favourite story alongside it, the widow of Zarephath, which is making very similar points about God. God provides, it’s God who provides.
I’d like to use these stories to suggest to you three things they might have to say to us:
1. The best is yet to come.
The widow and her son thought they had enough food for just one more meal, but they met Elijah, and they found the flour and oil kept on coming. The folk at the wedding thought they had run out of wine, but not only did Jesus provide more wine, it was the best wine. The best is yet to come.
2. Anticipate the extraordinary.
The widow and her son were expecting to eat one last meal and die. When they met Elijah, something extraordinary happened that they hadn’t thought of, and the flour and oil just kept on growing and growing. The folk at the wedding thought the party was over, until Jesus got involved, and then they didn’t believe it until they tasted it themselves. Anticipate the extraordinary.
3. Leave room for God to act.
The widow and her son found their flour and oil kept on being renewed, and they could eat. It wasn’t a magic trick performed by Elijah. When the water became wine, it wasn’t a conjuring trick performed by Jesus. I think the difference between the widow and her son and Elijah was that Elijah left room for God to act. The difference between Jesus and everyone else at the wedding was that Jesus was God acting, and his mother Mary had made room for him to do that. Leave room for God to act.
The best is yet to come. Anticipate the extraordinary. Leave room for God to act. Keep hold of those ideas.
I’ve heard of one kind of description of certain churches as being “functionally atheist”. What that fancy term means is churches which live and act as if God will not act, as if it’s all about them and what they do, not about God and what God might do. It’s easy for us in the church, even more so for Ministers, to fall into the trap of believing it is all up to us. If we simply try to work harder, preach better, plan more effectively, visit more, develop excellent programs, and so on and so on; when we do all of that in our own strength and power, then we are actually as much an “atheist” as those who do not believe in God.
Perhaps you find this troubling. I did when I first heard it. Sometimes we in the church, especially Ministers, can fall into the trap of “doing it all” or “doing it on our own power”. One of the idols of our culture is busy-ness, and we often seem to give the impression that we believe that as long as we are working hard, spending long hours on some activity, hopefully one that looks religious, then we are doing our part to “bring in the Kingdom of God”. You can see this idol worship at work whenever a few people start to compare their calendars on their smart phones to find a date/time to meet. Somehow it’s acceptable and even admirable in our culture to stare at our calendars and to bemoan that we “just don’t have any windows”. If only we can be really, really busy, we seem to think, then we must be doing something important. The truth is, and this hurts me because it strikes home with me, that our being really, really busy – even doing so-called religious work – may be evidence that we are trying to depend upon ourselves, not God. After all, if it all depends upon us, then we really don’t even need God, do we?
Remember, though, the message from today’s readings: The best is yet to come. Anticipate the extraordinary. Leave room for God to act.
I think this is more important for our church community than at any other time in most of our adult lives, as we consider how we respond to the challenges of our buildings. I’ve heard from many people the very natural reaction, “how can do something like this?”, and “However can we raise all that money?”. These are very natural responses, but I want to challenge the word “we”. I don’t think that “we” can do these things, I don’t think that “we” can raise this money, but God can do these things, God can raise this money, working through us, if we let him.
The best is yet to come. Anticipate the extraordinary. Leave room for God to act.
Do we not need to remember the very basics of faith, which faith itself. God. God is, God is at the heart of our lives, as individuals and as a community.
Perhaps you don’t feel as close to God as you would like to? You could do a lot worse than order yourself a copy of our Lent Book, which is a fresh look at connecting with God, and even consider coming to one of the sessions to talk about the contents. I should make clear the discussion isn’t for people who think they have all the answers, but for people who are looking to share their journey.
Today, we gather at Christ’s table. You could do a lot worse than look for Christ’s presence with us, as we break bread and share wine, as god tries to feed our souls at a deeper level than mere words.
Our Bible readings remind us that the best is yet to come. Anticipate the extraordinary. Leave room for God to act. I urge you to try and think that might just be possible, as we consider the future of our church.
So, we pause for a moment of silence, not a routine, but a vital moment of space for God.