The Second Sunday after the Epiphany


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Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things…
Romans 12:6-16b
John 2:1-11

A wedding without wine was a disaster because it was only drunk on special occasions. The top table were in serious danger of disgrace and Mary, acutely conscious of the impending catastrophe, asked Jesus to help. Notwithstanding his reluctance to perform miracles on request, the answer to His mother was rather harsh; but he soon made up for this by saving the occasion. This is the first miracle in John and it is simple and domestic, without drama or pathos, public but discreet. No doubt word got round that the wonderful replenishment was attributable to Jesus but the actual deed was done downstairs near the door rather than upstairs in full view of the guests.

The way in which Jesus bore witness to the Father varied according to time and place. This is a theme which Paul takes up vigorously in the later part of Romans. Clearly there was a good deal of competition within the emergent Church. We can feel from the time of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was almost viscerally active but this caused some friction. All kinds of people were anxious to exercise their newly found gifts but there was a deal of grandstanding. Paul needed to calm people down. In a passage very similar to 1 Corinthians 12 except that there seems not to be a ‘problem’ of people speaking in tongues, he starts by reminding everybody that their gifts come from God, a message which, given our propensity to show off, cannot be repeated often enough. He then commends individual spiritual gifts, qualifying their use with temperate advice, before going on, in an echo of Ecclesiastes 3, to list a series of virtues and activities, again commending each.

Because the messages from the Readings are only indirectly connected and reasonably obvious, it is difficult to find something new or arresting to say but we might begin by thinking about individual gifts and asking ourselves how much we know about the gifts of our congregation. We know which rotas people are on (sometimes entrapped by tradition and inertia for decades) and we might know what people do or have done for a living; but what else do we know? How have they been visited by the Holy Spirit? How often do we ask people, given a clean sheet, what they would like to do?

As a related issue, what might we prevent people from doing by failing to delegate? In spite of decades of modern management theory there are still far more half-demented, workaholic clergy than comfortable team leaders. There is here a serious issue of trust; we must not mistrust the gifts which are given by the Spirit to those around us. One reason why we might is the exuberance which Paul is seeking to check. Leadership can be both intoxicating and addictive and so its exercise, as Paul points out, should be temperate. That is, however, not to say that enthusiasm should be dampened, it simply needs to be channelled.

A further thought on gifts is triggered by looking again at the wedding. Nobody in the room except for Mary knew that Jesus had special gifts and she had to be somewhat discreet in the way that she dropped a hint to the waiters. Out of despair or deference, they took the hint and obeyed Jesus’ somewhat unlikely request to fill the water pots. From the perspective of the top table, he was nothing special, the son of a builder with a bit of a reputation for Scriptural exegesis in the neighbouring town and yet he saved the day. We must always be careful to leave ourselves open to the flowering of previously unknown or unseen gifts.

This is, to an extent, a matter of temperament. Some people think that highly gifted people, such as musicians, are relatively rare. The work of Gustavo Dudamel in Caracas (Orchestral Manoeuvres) who handed out musical instruments to slum children who have recently recorded Beethoven and Mahler symphonies is only one more piece of evidence confirming my belief that humanity has been much more richly endowed by the Spirit than most of us know but that the exercise of arbitrary or simply blinkered power represses a massive variety of talent.

Which brings us, finally, to a consideration of power. It might be argued that the exercise of earthly power is necessary for the maintenance of good order but that in itself speaks of flawed humanity because in essence power is the opposite of love. Where love creates space, power closes it down. We must therefore always be careful, as Paul notes, to be as temperate as we can in the exercise of power, to keep it to an absolute minimum. Perhaps Jesus’ reluctance to exercise His own powers explains His somewhat graceless remark to Mary. The Jews knew a great deal about power, both spiritual and temporal, stemming respectively from their Scriptural studies (Moses, Samuel and Daniel spring to mind) and from the reality of Roman occupation. Jesus was to confront ‘the powers that be’ (an ominously conservative phrase) and Paul himself had been the victim of both religious and civil persecution but his claim to discuss these issues is greater because he had also been a persecutor, exercising the kind of power from which he later suffered. We need a considerable degree of social imagination to understand what it is to be subjected if we are to be temperate.

Starting Points for Sermons or Discussions:

  1. How would you reply to someone saying that the consumption of alcohol is wicked and/or maintains that they were drinking grape juice at Cana?
  2. How would you conduct a skills audit of your Parish Electoral Roll?
  3. Is reluctance to delegate charitable or uncharitable?
  4. Is it significant that Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding and/or is it a pre-figurement of the Eucharist?
  5. Why is the Cana miracle remembered at the Epiphany in some Christian traditions?

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