Sunday 24th January – 3rd Sunday of Epiphany
The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
After Abram’s return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.
There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Post Communion Prayer
whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world:
may your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed
to the ends of the earth;
for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
Sermon – 3rd Sunday of Epiphany
You know what it’s like at a crowded wedding reception. You try to figure out who’s related to whom, while you make polite chit-chat with strangers. Yet afterwards, someone else who was there may ask you, “Did you have a chance to talk to so-and-so, that Nobel Prize winning scientist? And did you recognize that famous author who was there? But you hadn’t noticed either of them. You’d been stuck in a corner with a tiresome person who’d regaled you with details of his collection of car numberplates.
If any of us had been at the wedding at Cana, we probably wouldn’t have noticed Jesus. He didn’t want to be noticed. At first he refused to help when the wine ran out. “My hour has not yet come.” This description of a wedding is odd: we’re told when and where it took place, but not who the bride and groom were. The bride and groom are usually the most important people. This story is not primarily about a wedding, or even about Jesus turning water into wine. The real meaning of this story is how Jesus revealed his glory, the divine in his nature, and his disciples recognised his power and they believed in him.
This account of a wedding ends with, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs….” Notice that John uses the word “signs”, rather than “miracles”, to describe Jesus’ actions. A sign is more than a miracle. A sign points to something greater than itself. Signs occur throughout this season of Christmas and Epiphany. The word, “epiphany” means “to reveal”, literally, “to show forth”. The angels told the shepherds how to recognise the new-born Messiah, “And this shall be a sign unto you: you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” For the Wise Men, their sign to recognise the new king was the guiding star that stopped over the stable at Bethlehem. John the Baptist recognised Jesus by a heavenly sign. He declared, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” John the Baptist saw this sign, recognised Jesus as the Messiah, and proclaimed this to all. Here is the process in all these Epiphany events. A sign leads to recognition of Jesus’ divine powers, which leads his followers to become witnesses of the good news. Sign – recognition – witness.
Yet while Jesus “revealed his glory” at the wedding at Cana, he did not reveal his true power to everyone. Jesus’ first sign, turning water into wine, was not performed as a flamboyant party trick. His transformation just happened in a quiet, unseen way.
Jesus mistrusted belief based only on miracles, or only on signs. In his day, there were a number of wandering conjurers and wonder-workers. When people pestered Jesus to prove his power by giving them a sign, he refused. “Why does this generation ask for a sign?” “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” There is a problem with belief based merely on signs. Some people see only the sign and not the revelation it points to. They see the means, but not the end. They see the wine, but not Jesus, whose divine power transformed the water into wine. A sign is only the first step on the road to belief. The real meaning of the story of the wedding at Cana is not the miraculous wine, but the transformation of wine as a sign that revealed Jesus’ glory. His disciples recognised Jesus’ divine power and they proclaimed this to the world. The sign appears, his followers recognise Jesus’ glory, and they become witnesses to his power. Sign – recognition – witness.
In his own time Jesus was not immediately recognised by everyone as the Messiah. Even John the Baptist had second thoughts and questioned, “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” After his resurrection, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise Jesus, even after spending several hours in his company. Then Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. This sign led them to recognise Jesus and they rushed to tell the others. Because of the disciples’ testimony, today we remember Jesus’ sign of the breaking of the bread in Holy Communion.
Today some people say, “Jesus’ miracles are not rationally possible, therefore I do not believe Jesus is the Son of God.” Do we have to believe in miracles that are scientifically impossible in order to believe in Jesus’ power? Jesus himself was suspicious of belief based only on miracles. When miracles are recorded in the gospels, it is not because miracles are in themselves sufficient grounds for faith. Miracles are signs pointing to Jesus’ divine power. In his gospel, John states his purpose, “These [signs] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John describes these signs, not because they’re amazing, but to show us that they indicate something even more amazing: the power of Jesus. John invites us to recognise the true meaning of these signs and their consequences for our lives. The real transformation at Cana was not the water becoming wine, but the change within the disciples. They recognised Jesus’ glory, and they believed in him. Coming to believe in Jesus is often a gradual process, not a sudden revelation. Coming to believe is a silent, unseen change, like Jesus’ transformation of the water into wine. By doing God’s will, like the servants at Cana, we will come to recognise and to believe in God’s power.