It seems that I’m getting to preach alcohol related sermons. My last sermon involved a bottle of champagne; today’s started with me making sloe gin and went on to feature terracotta pots! It was also the first that I can remember when I was using a passage I’ve preached on before, though a short 8am Morning Prayer sermon is very different from that for a summer Sunday family service.
This time I deliberately chose to look at a slightly less obvious element of story of Jesus’ first miracle – the Jewish ceremonial jars. I was told it was very thought provoking, which is why I’m posting it here. I’d be interested to know what you think?
Over the last few months I’ve been busy changing a crystal clear liquid into something that has the deep ruby red colour of a good wine. But before you worry, before you suspect me of having heretical notions above my station, what I’ve actually been doing is adding sloe’s from the hedgerow to some gin!
I had a quantity of gin to hand though tucked away being ignored, and last years heavy crop of all flowering fruit extended to our hedgerows. The two things were very easy to work with, and with a little help from some sugar the sloe’s have changed the gin quite dramatically in colour and taste.
This morning’s Gospel reminded me of the process: it takes three months in a darkened cupboard (and a certain amount of straining through fine material) to produce a good bottle of sloe gin. From stories I’ve heard about demi-john’s spectacularly popping their corks, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that making wine is far more tricky!
Jesus though, doesn’t worry about any of that. When the social crisis of running out of wine at a family wedding occurs, he’s not even nipping back to his own house to grab a few bottles out the cupboard – which is probably what you and I would do today if the off-license was closed!
No, Jesus was far more subtle than that. And what he did, even though it was somewhat against his initial judgement, has been found to be loaded with meaning ever since.
He asked the servants to fill some old jars with fresh water… That was all.
Big old jugs, sat in the corner not being used for the celebrations, and some nice cool, fresh water. That’s all…. Because you see, even Jesus, needed something to work with!
Jesus’s first recorded miracle was no magic trick that plucked something out of seemly thin air. It used what was available; the most suitable items to hand.
We’re told that this was “the first of the signs that revealed his glory”, that showed who Jesus really was, that unveiled God’s new creation. The old Jewish ceremonial jars filled with sparkling fresh water, turned into a distinctly superior wine, were of course to become signs of
- a new covenant replacing an old one that God had made with Israel, revealing his true glory;
- of the need to be filled with the living water of new life in Christ that was now starting to shine it’s light in the world;
- of the sacrifice of his own lifeblood that Jesus would ultimately make on the cross.
But Jesus needed the old jars, the fresh water AND the people to fill them, before he could show us any of that.
And I want to suggest this morning, s that Jesus still needs something to work with, to show the world what he’s come to do!… He’s got us to work with!!
Now, please don’t take offence, but I think we’re a bit like the old ceremonial jugs or jars that Jesus plucked out of obscurity for his first miracle.
Of course, we’ve been used before. There are probably innumerable times when in the past, we’ve each been filled with the water of enthusiasm for some new task, hopefully inspired by God, or our response to Jesus’s impact on our lives. In each case I’m sure we’ve been put to good use, hopefully revealed a little of his glory.
I don’t want to worry you, but it’s going to happen again! If the old water in the bottom of this “Rac” shaped jug is getting a bit stale then the chances are Jesus is going to get it filled back up with fresh water and put it to new use. Equally, it may be that what you’ve been doing in response to God feels like it’s ticking along quite nicely thank you and isn’t finished yet, but don’t bank on it!
When the water was turned to wine, the servants picked the old jars up and took them, filling them to the brim with fresh water at Jesus’s request. There was nothing the jars could do to stop it happening – they’re just big heavy earthenware pots after all; they could hardly run away! Our faith in Christ, means we’re not running anywhere either – we’re here ready for him to use.
There may well be a time coming soon, when someone is going to come to us, perhaps give us bit of a metaphorical cleaning out, and fill us up with some fresh idea or task. It might be the vicar or another church leader who sees us with fresh eyes, and envisions something new emerging for which we could be used. It could be a friend, who knows your hidden talents and suggests to you that they could be freshened up, and put to a new use. Whatever it is, if God’s got any part of it, we won’t have much choice – it WILL happen!
When the servants put fresh water in the old jars, it wasn’t to make the jars feel better! It was because Jesus had a task for that water; it was there to be changed, and the change in the water would change the jars themselves – they could never be used for their old purpose again!
Think about it – earthenware pottery, even if it’s glazed, tends to be slightly porous. If anything with a strong colour or taste is put in the pot, the flavour affects what it is made of in a way that changes it, even if only subtly. If we use a terra cotta pot as an example – fill it with water, and it will eventually dry out with no change, if emptied. Fill it with soil, and it’s never quite the same again – there’s always a bit of dirt or stain left, however hard you try and scrub it clean again afterwards!
Wine in a ceremonial earthenware jar would have a similar effect. Once the water in those jars was changed to wine, those jars would never quite lose the taste, and possibly the stain of that wine. They would never be quite the same again. If we are like the jars being filled with something fresh that God is going to use in this world, then we will be changed by God’s action in and through us – that is part of the work of the Holy Spirit. Again, there’s no point fighting it: if Jesus command’s us, we will be changed.
But of course, the wine, wasn’t in the jars for the benefit of the jars, or the servants who had filled them with water. It was designed
- to refresh the guests, several days into a lengthy wedding celebration;
- to reveal to those that were part of the miracle, that Jesus’ time of mission and ministry in the world was starting;
- as that first step in revealing God’s glory to the whole world, that we thought about earlier.
Although the gifts that Jesus fills us with will change us, they are not actually for our benefit! Jesus wants to use us, and may be take us out of what we’re doing and do something new, or differently, something exciting, something that will bring refreshment to people’s lives, and point back to him. It might not be today, or tomorrow, but we guarantee ourselves that it will happen.
As we take a few moments of silence now, let us consider our lives. In our minds eye, see Jesus directing someone to take us, and fill us with fresh water,… and then, watch as we are poured out,… revealing something that may be of surprise to others around us but which will refresh them,… and leave us changed for ever for God’s glory!
[Image notes: You can visit the fine workshops at Whichford Pottery and watch their huge terracotta pots being made.]