Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5 John 2:1-11
We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
With thanks to the Rev Dr Sarah Mitchell from a sermon in 2013
Speak the word marriage into our conversation in the 21st century and the complexities of understanding would surprise Isaiah, and Mary. Today a surprising number of reactions pop up, depending on your experiences and view points – which range from a waste of space to 60+ years of trust and love to ‘just a piece of paper’ to gay marriage to the reasons for and numbers of divorces.
So we don’t always immediately connect with some of the intended symbology of the bible as intuitively as the writers of scripture might have expected - and here especially the metaphor of marriage heard today in the reading from Isaiah is particularly contentious for its demeaning implications for women.
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.
While of course we can see behind the metaphor to the point being made, it does still grate.
And the imagery of the wedding at Cana has the potential also to offend our sensibilities – to have the success of a wedding depend on how much wine is flowing in a day when we battle alcoholism and binge drinking doesn’t exactly resonate these days.
Yet from these two readings, if we can move through and behind the chosen imagery, we come to a really crucial, core message of God’s extravagant abundance to us and through us in our times of greatest need.
It continues the theme of last Sunday’s readings on the baptism of Jesus: that from baptism comes affirmation that will carry us wherever we go, an affirmation we can lose sight of in our despair.
Isaiah offers us language and symbology celebrating the extravagant abundant love of God found in restored relationship with the people of Israel.
In the same way the wedding at Cana, found only in John’s gospel, gifts us with an act of extravagant abundance as all the water is turned into the best wine that can be offered.
In terms of literal accuracy, the miracle of the wedding at Cana is nothing short of spectacular! For, if the numbers are correct, this report of Jesus action describes how more than 300 litres of water are turned into wine – and not just any old wine but the very best, top quality, ‘sending your palate to heaven’ variety. So say a 100 guests – that is 3 litres per person – or 300 guests – 1 litre each - and it wasn’t the first drink of the night. We could accuse Jesus of not taking seriously the concerns of over indulgence, of not being responsible in his generosity. Or do you think that John is wanting to point us to something more, something that we, with our logical reasoning and cautious approach to responsibility, might just not pick up on our own. For it is certainly an extravagant outcome, especially after a somewhat reluctant response to his mother’s observation that the wine was running out.
The Gospels are full of stories of God’s extravagant, generous, overflowing gifts, love and mercy: the open-armed welcome for the prodigal child, a catch of fish so great that it overwhelms the boats, the feeding of a multitude of people, with so much leftover; signs of abundance and celebration. We can almost hear Jesus saying “what part of abundant life don’t you understand?”
Because we do seem to struggle with stories like this – extravagance is often associated with waste, with envy; the delight of extravagance at odds with our world view of despair and doubt, of careful management and future proofing. And of course we are used to living in a world of shortages, of thinking that there is only so much to go around and if others get more then we must get less.
Signs of overflowing generosity just aren’t the way of the world, we say. They make us uncomfortable.
And, actually, that is so right; the way of the gospel is not the way of the world. The signs to which John calls our attention point to the way of the Gospel, which is about over-the-top, extravagant love. In God, there are always surpluses. Ernest Hess puts it this way: the text suggests that our three- dimensional understanding of life in this world, with its painful limitations, has been unpredictably invaded by grace and that when this happens, we are left sideswiped, unsure how to respond.
So it may be worth asking ourselves: are we thinking too small? Are we doling out the wine by the teaspoon, while Jesus is pouring it out by the 50 litre flagon?
And I wonder if we see that discrepancy the most in our joy for living – in our ability (or lack thereof) to celebrate the delight of being loved by God, in the often tepid way we express our hope in the vision God puts before us because we are exercising our right to caution? Does our laughter ring loud and clear, our voices be raised in song – and just saying wasn’t the singing the last two Sundays where we shared our worship with our brothers and sisters of the PIC church, wasn’t it amazing! I think we can learn something there about exuberance in the Lord?
And yet we have, especially in our European, and dare it say Scottish based religious life tried our very best to be sober, upright, in fact almost completely separating out Sunday personae from the ‘real’ life of the rest of the week.
Is that what Jesus wants us to be and to do? Does he want our faith to be morose, our response to the joy of living in Christ to be muted and rationed? I don’t think so!
Throughout his life and his ministry Jesus celebrated people – people getting married, people being healed, people enjoying meals together, people indulging in uncontainable laughter – he carried a spirit of celebration with him wherever he went as he proclaimed a God of mercy and peace and joy.
This joyous feast at Cana is still a sign to the church that we are to rejoice in the people of God and to toast the world with the amazing good news of grace and love gifted to us in Jesus. 
David Steele refers to this spirit of celebration as ‘Cana-Grace’. Our joy flows from knowing our God and we need to do better at allowing that joy to flow into our lives, the lives of each other and all whom we know. Does anyone ever come up to you and say – you have look on your face that suggests you know something special and it makes you really happy? Now you can say – ah it is Cana-Grace!
And just as we finish – did any of you notice that it was Jesus mother that swung into action to keep the party going? And then trusted Jesus to do as his God required. Food for thought!
But what a way for Jesus to begin his public ministry in John’s Gospel! What a way for us to continue that ministry – brothers and sisters in Christ celebrating the extravagant abundance of the love of God for us in our everyday lives -including our Sundays.
I want to finish with the words of a hymn by Douglas Gay (CH4 242) – some of you may have remembered him as a visiting theologian from Glasgow who was here earlier last year. He was an exuberant speaker who celebrated the joy of ministry and knew the delight that God had in him and through him. These are his words from his heart to God and I think we should learn to sing it one day soon.
Is this the way you made the world from burned out stars and fields of light?
Is this the way you lit the fuse when death exploded into life?
Is this the way you spoke the word, that called the darkness to be light:
is this the way you wrote the code which shaped the fragile chain of life?
Are these the notes that you composed, are these the colours you designed,
are these the stars that sang for joy, are these the patterns of your mind?
Are these the lives that you inspired, are these the faces that you love;
is this the earth you will redeem, is this the world you came to save?
Then I will love the world you made and I will love the gift you gave, and I will drink its beauty in,
and I will make my home in it, and praise with joy the Maker.
 Isaiah 62: 5 NRSV
 Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1 by Ernest Hess p.265
 Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1 by Robert Brearly p. 262