Saturday, 28 January 2012

Stairway to Heaven

'Stairway to Heaven; water into wine' Sermon preached at St Peter’s Church Glascote Heath Tamworth B77 2HH on Sunday 22 January 2012
John 2: 1-11 The Wedding in Cana

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus: 'Pray...that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.' Do you pray for your ministers? Please do!

I read this week that following his first sermon those praying for a young minister grew in number from one elder to three, then fifty, then two hundred in his new Church. Eleven hundred people were saved and joined the church in the next three years. Pastor Wilbur Chapman said this 'It was the fruit of the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer. Church members have much more to do than go to church as curious, idle spectators to be amused and entertained. It is their business to pray mightily that the Holy Spirit will clothe the preacher with power and make their words like dynamite'
To Commence
Today I invite you to explore with me, or perhaps blow up with dynamite!, this well-known and well-loved passage from John's Gospel. Because in it as in the whole of his gospel St. John brings us to Jesus and the mystery of His love, and Jesus brings us home to his Father and to what we most desire, and the Father brings us to the reality of ourselves and gives us to each other.
Since my retirement I've had the opportunity to sometimes join with the other clergy of our Parish when we meet for lunch at each other’s home. During this time we look at the Gospel passage for the coming Sunday and discuss it and share our thoughts with each other... a bible study, which can often assist us with sermon preparation. We did this on Wednesday concerning today's passage entitled 'The Wedding in Cana' when we are told of the miracle of Jesus changing water into wine. There are many interpretations of its meaning and significance. Here's mine with the help of others and, I pray, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

To Continue
It's all Greek to me! The passage begins John's description of Jesus' public ministry written many years later. I'm no linguist but the Greek language is known to have many subtleties and can be interpreted at several levels. It can of course be understood from a human perspective as just a story or alternatively at a spiritual level as something perhaps beyond our human understanding. This is the story of how there begun on earth a new age, a new world order of Love, so what better symbol than marriage? 'On the third day there was a marriage’ the gospel passage begins.

A bride and bridegroom set out together on an adventure of love, as two separate people, but in a marriage that works effectively the two find themselves becoming one flesh, learning to trust each other, to see the truth in the depths of the other. They are transformed together and become one in the to and fro of love. Marriage is the symbol of the new world order of which Jesus is the centre, and in which the governing principle is ' to love one another'.

But it is a marriage on the third day. As we reach the climax of the story later in John's gospel we discover the third day is 'the day of life through death'. ‘On the third day’ we now know as Easter. This new age of love is going to emerge out of death. 'A marriage on the third day' is a symbol of the new age which is to come. This symbol of marriage takes place in a small mountain village, from where we are directed just like a 'sign post', towards somewhere beyond that time and place. From human beings growing in love together we journey towards the ultimate marriage we long for, the marriage of flesh and Spirit, the marriage of earth and heaven.

Prior to the wedding in Cana Jesus had called his disciples to follow him. And Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus' followers were starting to realise that he was something special, and they hadn't even seen any of his miraculous works yet! Jesus said to Nathaniel in reply “You will see greater things than that.” And He added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” A reference to Jacob's dream from Genesis 28:12.

So a few days later Jesus, his mother and disciples are all attending the wedding, and the ladder Jesus spoke of is in place. A ladder between heaven and earth, one end of the ladder is in Cana of Galilee, but the other end of the ladder reaches heaven. The angels, we can imagine, are going up the ladder, carrying to God the needs and hopes of all the people at the wedding reception, and the angels are coming down, bringing the transforming power of God into their village.

Water we know is a basic human need, without it life cannot exist. In the area of the world where Jesus walked and talked 2000 years ago, water was and is today a particularly valuable commodity. So when we came to the part in our story when Jesus instructed the servants to fill the 6 large stone water jars, it wasn’t a matter of just getting the hosepipe and connecting it to a tap, like we do when we want to water the garden or wash the car (or I fill our hot tub). No, not that easy at all. We are told in detail that the total amount held in them was in excess of 180 gallons, (that's over 800 litres) so it was no mean feat.

The servants would have been to-ing and fro-ing until they were full to the brim. Not miraculous yet but we're getting there. You know I think the task may have been made easier by God. I can imagine that each vessel of water going into the jars grew, just like the food during the feeding of the 5 thousand did. Now we have the water and of course the ladder. Don’t forget the ladder down which the transforming power of God is flowing! And when the water was passed out among the wedding guests it tasted like the best wine ever.

In verse eleven John culminates the story, 'What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.'

To Conclude
Jesus' response to Nathaniel's new faith is the promise that Jesus himself will be the "ladder which unites earth with heaven". And it can be a ‘first’ sign for us, directing us, perhaps with a new faith from the miraculous event at this particular wedding towards a new understanding, a new life, a new relationship with God. Jesus changed the water into wine. Jesus is the new wine. He is the door to heaven, the ladder to God. Jesus proclaims that he is the fulfillment of the promise made to Jacob and his descendants. Jesus is the true ladder and 'stairway to heaven'. In Jesus' incarnation, the divine Son of God taking on human flesh for our sake, we see the union, the coming together as in a marriage, a union of heaven and earth? God making his dwelling with us and bringing us into the heavenly reality of his kingdom.

Jesus' death on the cross where he defeated sin and won new life for us through his resurrection opens the way for each of us to come into a new relationship with God as his sons and daughters. And collectively we as his church represent the bride and Christ the groom. We are invited to join with him in unity with God. And so we celebrate today, as we climb a rung on the ladder, by taking a small human step, but more importantly ‘a giant step for mankind’ towards, no not the moon, but heaven, Jesus’ gift to us, as we share together in communion today, the wedding feast of bread and of wine.

And finally...

I'm a little teapot made of clay
Filled with refreshing liquid every day
Lord forgive the rubbish that I spout
Tip me up and pour it out
Fill me with your Spirit that I may be
An even more refreshing cup of tea
Poem written (and included with permission) by Marilyn Bloomfield

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bringing Hope

During the Instep Men's weekend at Cliff College, Calver (situated in the Peak District National Park and the area known as Hope Valley!) in October 2011 I collected these thoughts to reflect our discussions.

Bringing Hope

Whether we have need or greed
Whether we have gout or doubt 
we all need hope

Whether we know drugs or thugs 
Whether we are blind or kind
we all need hope

Whether we sing sweet or off beat
Whether we are old or bold
we all need hope

Whether we have health or ill-health
Whether we have wealth or fear death
we all need hope

Whether we seek work or work to seek
Whether we are retired or work tirelessly
we all need hope

Whether we are a prophet or a puppeteer
Whether we are disconnected or switched on
we all need hope

Whether we are a mentor or need mentoring
Whether we see a messy world or heaven on earth
we all need hope

Lord bring us hope
Spirit bring us strength 
God give us faith


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