SUNDAY 21 JANUARY 2018 – EPIPHANY 3
(St Mary’s Battersea, baptism of Florence Amelia Aiken and Charlie Keen)
Genesis 14: 17 – 20
Revelation 19: 6 – 10
John 2: 1 – 11
By Rev. Peter Wintgens
Firstly, can I say what a huge pleasure it is to be back here in this place, which holds so many memories of our time here. But in Woodbridge, at the Quay Street barber where I go to get my hair cut, there is often someone waiting in the queue with me who was baptised in this church and lived all his life in Battersea until about 20 years ago; so I can tank up on stories of this area which go back to the 1940s and feel I am back here for an hour or so. Part of Alison’s and my heart is still here, and all of you are the reason.
But enough of sentimentality: important things are to happen here later in this service, namely the baptism of two children, Florence and Charlie. Before that happens, we have just heard about an event which is a contributory factor to the reason for these baptisms today being requested.
The miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee is certainly one of the more well-known of the miracles performed by Jesus during his three years’ ministry, and it is the very first one. It almost takes him by surprise when Mary his mother asks him to do something about the wine supply having run out, so that all he says in effect is “so what – I’m not ready yet”. Nevertheless Mary is confident, being of course exclusively aware of where Jesus has come from. She initiates what happens next, perhaps because she has noticed that the arrival of Jesus and his friends could well have contributed to the wine running out. On Jesus’s instructions six enormous waterpots (which would already have been used for cleaning hands and vessels) are filled with water, which on being poured out is seen to be wine, and very fine wine it is too. The steward recognises the quality of it and congratulates the bridegroom, but of course only the servants Jesus spoke to know what has passed between Mary and her son. So the wedding party continues in good spirits, completely unaware of what has been going on in the background.
Our Gospel passage ends with the sentence “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”. For us, knowing the story of what later happened to Jesus, this miracle has (to use a popular word) iconic importance. Why ?
About 30 years ago a new church was founded in Woolwich, southeast London, and it decided to call itself New Wine Church. Its primary focus is to enable church leaders to communicate effectively the good news of God’s promises in this generation. It emphasises that being a Christian isn’t a life to be lived alone, but is a life to be lived within effective and loving family and other relationships. In giving their church the name New Wine, they are recognising the secondary meaning or meta-message of the sign which Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee two thousand years ago. This other meaning represents firstly the change brought about by the touch of Jesus Christ on our lives, and secondly it represents the reminder that there is always more and better still to come.
Most of us (including me) like to advertise what is best about ourselves. When we meet people for the first time, we come across as friendly, considerate and so on; but as they come to know us, and especially if they have to live with us, they have to put up with the less good, or even worse. But in the Christian life, in our dealings with God, it’s not like that. As we deepen our relationship with him, which is revealed to us through Jesus Christ, we find ourselves saying over and over again “Thank you, Lord. You have kept the good wine until now”.
This is what lies in store for Florence and Charlie, thanks to their parents who are bringing them to be baptised today. Their parents will be making commitments on their behalf, and the children will have an opportunity of firming that up at a later stage in their lives. There are some parents who decline to do this on the grounds that children should decide for themselves which way they want to go when they are old enough to understand. But the parents of Florence and Charlie know that being a Christian does not make you immune from negative experiences, but it is the knowledge that Jesus himself suffered on the cross for us and therefore knows what it is to suffer, that is the most comforting and most real aspect of the Christian life. In this knowledge we too will welcome Florence and Charlie into the Christian family and we pray God to open their hearts and minds in the years to come, to see just how good this new wine is.
So we pray today for these young children, and for their parents and godparents, to whom falls the duty and pleasure of helping Florence and Charlie to understand God’s loving purposes, even if those purposes sometimes seem obscure. God’s paramount purpose for us humans and indeed for all creation in sending himself to us in the form of a human being was to remind us of the way in which he always wanted us to live our lives, namely with love in our hearts at all times and in all places. I can’t think of a better or more loving gift that parents could give their children, because it is a gift for life: in fact it is the gift of life.
PBW – 15.1.2018