I want you to imagine the scene if you will. A wedding. Your son or daughter’s wedding. A wedding celebration full of your family and friends, neighbours and work colleagues. A celebration you had been planning ever since your child was young. The kind of celebration you had been to at other people’s invitation. A party so large and which would go on for so long that you needed to borrow some large stone water jars to ensure enough water for ceremonial washing during the days of feasting. Because it would go on for days. You would need around 240 gallons of water available. The music, laughter, food and drink would go on for days. .. or would it?
This long planned celebration with all your family and friends was about to be cut short. Someone had under ordered on the wine. How had this happened? What a disaster … the wine was almost gone and the party was in full swing. Someone any minute would ask for some more wine and the waiter would say .. sorry it has all gone. Try to imagine the scenario in the most real terms you can. Think of a time when such embarrassment or disaster happened or threatened to happen in your life. The squirming and worry and heartache. Despair perhaps!!
Maybe you feel a bit like this at the moment. After the events of Covid and lockdown and whatever you have faced during this times .. maybe you are facing despair. It might not be as big a crisis as a the wedding feast at Cana .. or maybe it seems much worse. It doesn’t matter about the relative nature of anxiety or worry or despair .. it is there and it is making you feel awful. Sick with worry or stress. What can I do you ask to avert this terror or calm this anxiety. So often we, like the wedding host, come to God desperate. And we even feel guilty for that sometimes. Sorry to bother you God .. sorry to involve you .. I know I’ve messed this up .. but could you help.
You know we are in good company when we come to God desperate. In fact almost all the encounters Jesus has with people occur when someone is so desperate they have nowhere else to go. The turning of water into wine is the first miracle Jesus does and sets the tone for the rest. The lame, the sick, the destitute, the hungry, the mourners, they were all desperate enough to seek and find Jesus .. and then to have him get involved.
I wonder perhaps whether desperation is a prerequisite of an encounter with God. Is it possible that God allows us to find ourselves in desperate situations because God knows in this situation we come to understand ourselves and our Creator better.
I was recently having a conversation with a friend about how much I dislike the writer and mystic Julian of Norwich and never really got on with her writing. He sent me a quote by her which he thought was actually quite good .. and I tend to agree with him so it goes to show how important it is to have an open mind .. she did actually write some good stuff. Anyway the quote is this …
‘Pray even if you feel nothing, or see nothing. For when you are dry, empty, sick or weak at such times is your prayer most pleasing to God, even though you may find little joy in it. This is true of all believing prayer.’
So the point is that sometimes it is only in desperation and distress that we really cry out to God and ask for help. Sometimes we need to be as desperate as the wedding host for an answer before prayer is all that it should be. Sometimes distress and despair is not to be avoided but embraced as the means by which we experience and encounter with God .. a miracle. And what a miracle .. a miracle of abundance and joy! The answer to the prayer of the wedding host is 240 gallons of the best wine that people had ever tasted. We should never forget that the desire of the Divine is never to leave us desperate or in despair but to pour an abundance of joy into the situation through our need.
So the message to us in Jesus first miracle is this. We all find ourselves in despair and desperation at some point in life .. this morning you might feel this deep need for something to avert a crisis. It is in these times that Jesus invites us to pray. To ask for help out of our emptiness, our shame, our concern. These feelings and situations are the basis on which an encounter with the Divine can begin. And in our prayers and cries for help we find the abundance of God and provision for celebration and joy. Perhaps a pandemic is exactly the situation which might provide such an experience for our world. But only if we turn to prayer even in the midst of despair. This is our invitation and our calling.
Isaiah 62:1-5 62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 62:4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 62:5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
John 2:1-11 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2:2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 2:3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 2:7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. :8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 2:9 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 2:10 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.” 2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.