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John 2: 1-11
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
I love weddings. I enjoy taking weddings almost more than any other part of my ministry. Weddings are such positive occasions, full of happiness and hope. I know that sometimes there are family tensions and the stresses of a big occasion, but everyone wants things to go well and to have a really good time to celebrate the coming together of the bride and groom.
Jesus clearly loved a good wedding too. In his day a wedding involved the whole village, and it was a matter of local pride and honour that things should go well. So it was a social disaster when the wine began to run out. More than that, it was a disgrace for the family. Jesus' concern was for the family, but also for everyone at the wedding. He wanted them to have a good time. So he quietly takes charge, and gets the staff to fill six large jars with water. When the chief steward tastes it he discovers that it is not only turned into wine, but very good wine. The best kept until last. Amazing! Everyone is happy, and the wedding party carries on.
We conduct quite a lot of weddings at St Bride's and we take a lot of trouble over them. In fact we pride ourselves on doing them rather well. I hope those who have been married at St Bride's agree. Weddings are very much part of the public face of this church, and it is vitally important that from the first moment of contact we get it right.
I was talking to the newly appointed Archdeacon of Northolt this week, Duncan Green. Five years ago Duncan was appointed the Church of England's National Olympic Co-ordinator, responsible for delivering chaplaincy provision during the Olympic Games. He did a great job, but he was telling me that it was also a rather sobering experience. He worked and was based at LOCOG's HQ, a tall office building in Canary Wharf, along with the other 12,000 people. Most of them were young, and most of them had had little or no contact with the Church. Their impression of the church would be of a curious, old-fashioned institution that had little relevance to their lives. Duncan became 'Chaplain' to the LOCOG workforce and was able to break down many prejudices and misconceptions. But he wasn't helped by the sometimes appalling behaviour of local churches. One couple came to talk to him about getting married, and he asked if they had been to see their local church where they lived. Yes, they said. They had knocked at the vicarage door and told the clergyman about their desire to get married. 'Why on earth don't you just go to the Register Office' he said, 'you've never darkened my door so far.' Neither very helpful nor welcoming, nor indeed, very Christian.
And Duncan told me of other people he met who had had an off-putting experience of church. One LOCOG employee said 'Duncan, I went to church for the first time last Sunday.' His daughter was singing in a youth choir in church, 'good, how did you get on' asked Duncan. 'It was awful', came the reply. 'No-one greeted us, we had to sit at the side and our other children were told to be quiet. We didn't understand what was going on, and although there must have been about 100 parents there, the service didn't take account of us at all. I shan't be going again.'
Duncan told me that his time at LOCOG had been a salutary reminder that a) the Church is marginal to many people's lives and b) how easy it is to get things wrong rather than right.
For those of a certain age the key difference between the Britain of the Fifties and the Britain of today is the decline in passive identification with Christianity. About 70 percent of infants were baptised in the post war years, reflecting an almost subconscious association between national and religious identity. You were born British, so you were born Christian - and you were taught what that meant in schools. Faith permeated society to the degree that it shaped attitudes towards personal morality and even the opening hours of shops. It affected politics, too.
Now we have to compete with other religions and with the spread of Secularism. We don't any longer enjoy privileged status, we are trying to make our voice heard in the market-place and we have to sharpen up our act. We have to start from where people are, and not where we would like or expect them to be. We have to be really professional, engaged, with a can do attitude.
I hope at St Bride's we achieve those things, at least some of the time. I think we do, but there is always room for improvement and for doing things better - whether it is our Sunday worship, baptisms, weddings, memorials etc.
Why is this so important? Let's go back to where we started, the wedding at Cana in Galilee. This incident was remembered because an ordinary family, village event, full of love and laughter, was transformed into a foretaste of heaven and a sign of God's presence in the midst of human life. Water transformed into wine: God transforming lives. Jesus, the divine presence in our midst. A key moment in two lives revealing a more hidden dimension of existence which points to God himself.
What we do here in and through Church, if we get it right, can point people to God: or it can turn them off. If we are faithful, and loving and open, sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who come through our doors, church can be a truly transformational and life changing experience.
The Psalmist says that wine makes glad the heart of man. It is a symbol of the spiritual joy which people can experience in their lives. Pray God that through the ministry of this place that joy is shared with all those who come to St Bride's.