Epiphany 2

16th January 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5

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.

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.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 

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.

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.

Psalm 36:5-10

5 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, *
and your faithfulness to the clouds.

6 Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; *
you save both man and beast, O Lord.

7 How priceless is your love, O God! *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

9 For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.

10 Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, *
and your favour to those who are true of heart.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 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 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.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflection 

Today’s gospel is one of my favourite stories as it about enjoying life and creating an abundance out of very little. It is on a par with the feeding of the 5000. And with the two, you have the Eucharist – a story which does not explicitly appear in John’s gospel.

The first reading from Isaiah begins with the voice of the prophet shouting out; not keeping silent. Sometimes we are reluctant to shout out either loud enough or often enough for those in need of salvation? For the people of Afghanistan? For those children in the UK who don’t have beds to sleep in? For people whose wages are so low, they have to rely on food banks? For those struggling with mental ill health because of the pandemic?

In Isaiah’s case there is a back story. Jerusalem had sinned, had erred and strayed from God and had suffered the consequences. Having learnt from their mistakes, the time had now come for the restoration of Jerusalem,  a returning to their union with God. The people had been physically exiled but now they were returning to their God, to their land, to their roots. 

We in the 21st century have strayed from God’s ways, have become separated from the land and are seeing around us the effects of that rift. As we accept that our lifestyles  are the prime cause of the climate crisis, and our greed the prime cause of world wide injustices, so we are able to repent, to make reparations and to seek restoration and reconciliation – with God, with the land and with each other. Isaiah uses the concept of marriage to describe the strength and  joy that comes from the  renewed relationship between and God and the people. It is a relationship that abounds with delight. 

The writer of psalm 36 echoes the same sentiments, extolling the strength and the abundance that come from a relationship built of love and faithfulness. Here is an abundance of good living that delights both humans and beasts. It is a relationship that grows through the gift of  light – or as we might say, wisdom.

Last Sunday we recalled the baptism of Jesus and the moment at which he was filled with the Holy Spirit, a gift that came from above. Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus  in Corinth reminds them of the gifts they have received through the Holy Spirit: gifts of wisdom and discernment, of healing and miracles, of prophesy and discernment. The gifts of the Spirit are a sign of their union with God; those who speak or live in way that separates them from that relationship, cannot speak well of Jesus and vice versa. It is the gifts of the Spirit that will enable us to live lives that restore the world.

Finally to the Gospel. This story of transformation and abundance, and it is also a story about the celebration of restoration. We are not given any details about the bride and groom, although in a later passage we will hear John referring to Jesus as the bridegroom. The idea of marriage is often used in  the Bible as a metaphor for the relationship between God and people. So we might imagine that this wedding celebrates the restoration of the relationship between God and humanity, manifested in the union between Jesus and the community of those who love him.  It is a celebration that ends up overflowing with wine: each stone jar is filled with upwards of 100 litres of the best wine!

Notice the role Jesus’s mother plays. It is she who points out to Jesus what is needed, and it is she who prompts the servants to play their part. As followers of Jesus we are not automatons, but have differing gifts that we expected to use. And for some of us they may be the gift of observation, of discerning what is needed, of prompting or inspiring  others to action. The good news is about action and  transformation. Here a new use is found for the water jars; their former use may have been for cleansing rituals (maybe outdated rituals) but now they have been upcycled as wine vats. There had been a tradition of serving the best wine first, but now there is a new one: saving the best till last! This wedding reveals the  glory of Jesus. It is a wedding that is not going to be forgotten: indeed it is a union which continues to be celebrated every time we share the Eucharist.

First Sunday of Epiphany

9th January 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7 

Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,

I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;

I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;

bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–

everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendour.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 8:14-17

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection 

Last week, Epiphany Sunday, we heard of the glory of God that rises above us when we are in darkness and which draws together the peoples of all nations along with the abundance that the earth has to offer. And we had the image of the star shining down over Bethlehem where God had become incarnate as a human child, attracting the attention and the worship of kings and the offering of gifts on such as scale as to unnerve the then Judean King, Herod. 

Today’s psalm looks to the natural world to describe the glory of God. This glory – this weightiness, this honourableness, this splendour, this abundance and dignity (recall how rich the Hebrew  word is) – is like the thunder of falling water, the breaking of cedar branches (think of the strength needed and the loud cracking noise), the liveliness of hills and calves, the energy of fire and storms! This description of glory sounds both energising and terrifying. Yet Isaiah also talks about the glory of God. He tells us that we humans are loved by God, that God knows us and calls us by name, and that he has made us for his glory! We should not underestimate how wonderful humanity can be, nor the the power of God’s presence. God knows how risky and dangerous and unpredictable life can be, and therefore God will always be there for us.

The ministry of John the Baptist was equally electrifying and terrifying. A figure standing out in the wilderness challenging people to reflect on the quality, the rightness of their lives, to be honest and own up to their failings, their greed, their apathy. His earnest desire was that they should not be going unprepared when the glory of God would appear in their midst. He doused those who were repentant with water to assure them that their past sins were expunged – but he also warned them of complacency. 

‘I may be washing your sins away, he said, but beware that  you do reform your lives, because there is one who is coming who will deal not in water but with fire! His will baptise with the Holy Spirit!’

The writer of the gospel then tells us of Jesus’s own baptism. The heavens break open and he is filled with the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven  You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

To be baptised with the Holy Spirit is to filled by – engulfed by – the glory of God. It is to experience that God know us and call us by name. It is to be empowered to live life as God’s children. 

The word Greek word translated as open also has the meaning of disclose which is a reminder to us that this is the season of Epiphany. Let us be willing this season to be open to the wonder – even the shock – of the glory of God that is being revealed to us. And to let that glory transform the way we respond both to God, to our neighbour and to the world around us.