Divine Abundance - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

Divine Abundance

The story of the wedding at Cana has a special significance for me because Sandra and I were married during the parish Eucharist on a Sunday in Epiphany tide when this was the Gospel reading.  In the reading of this gospel and in the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ graced our wedding celebrations.  

The theme of the story that I wanted to reflect on this evening though is that of the overwhelming abundance of God's grace.  This seems to me to be very welcome given our frequent preoccupation today with scarcity, of unlimited wants and needs in a world of limited resources.  It is certainly a preoccupation I have often seen working in the NHS and in local government.

At Cana it seems that the night is still young when disaster strikes! The wine has run out.  Jesus instructs that the jars for the rituals of purification be filled with water. When these are turned to wine there is more than enough wine to drink, this is enough wine to bathe in!  This event is traditionally considered to be the first miracle recorded in the Gospels and in it God's abundant love for us is revealed in this excess.  

Of course there are other gospels stories that demonstrate the excesses of God's grace, think for example of the feeding of the five thousand or of the haul of fish that threatens to break the disciples' nets when after an unproductive days fishing they are instructed by Jesus to cast their nets one last time.  

We are assured then of God's abundance but if we accept that God has provided us with an abundant creation then how are we to respond to the severity of need that we see in the world today and to the scale and pace of environmental degradation?

The Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann has written of the myth of scarcity.  He looks to the story of the Israelites in Egypt and notes that in it Pharaoh is afraid that there aren't enough good things to go around so he must try to have them all.  When the crops fail the Israelites give up their land for food, the next year their cattle and in the third year, themselves, and they become slaves.  When they escaped from Egypt the Israelites were fed manna in the wilderness but they had learnt to believe in scarcity and started to hoard it.  

Bruggemann suggests that the story of scarcity is a tale of death in that it denies God's abundance and generosity and pits us against one another.  It leads to our efforts to secure our own safety and prestige rather than the welfare of others.  The conflict between the narratives of scarcity and abundance is a defining problem of our age and for our church - the question is whether our faith equips us to live in a way consistent with a belief in God's abundance and with his instruction to love our neighbors as ourselves or if we conform to the assumption that there isn't enough to go around and we'd better knuckle down and someone else will do so before us.

This has economic implications of course but the challenge is beyond any particular political views I think, it's much more fundamental because it is based on the belief that the creation is infused with the creator's generosity and that if we are to obedient to God's purposes for the world then how we live and the institutions that we create should not impede that generosity.  Recognising our dependence on God and the abundance of God's grace towards us helps us to see the futility of our efforts to secure our own safety and to trust in God's providence.

In a book titled 'Ponderings on God's abundant grace' there is a poem by Thomas Merton, the Trappist Monk and contemplative writer.  It's called Grace's House, inspired by a child's painting that Merton was sent.  It's a poem that expresses God's abundance in creation and our dependence on God and being inspired by a child's painting it seems to me to capture something of the child's response to the world which Jesus tells us we should seek to emulate.

It stands on a fair summit
Prepared by winds: and solid smoke
Rolls from the chimney like a snow cloud.
Grace's house is secure.

No blade of grass is not counted,
No blade of grass forgotten on this hill.
Twelve flowers make a token garden.
There is no path to the summit--
No path drawn
To Grace's house.

Between our world and hers
Runs a sweet river:
(No, it is not the road,
It is the uncrossed crystal
Water between our ignorance and her truth.)

O paradise, O child's world!
Where all the grass lives
And all the animals are aware!
The huge sun, bigger than the house
Stands and streams with life in the east
While in the west a thunder cloud
Moves away forever.

No blade of grass is not blessed
On this archetypal, cosmic hill,
This womb of mysteries.

The narrative of scarcity is one informed by a cynical mindset that may be world wise but is ignorant of the overwhelming abundance of God's grace.  May we, in that story of Christ's first miracle, share the revelation of God's abundant love towards us and in it find the inspiration and strength to live in a new way.  


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