Well, we had a busy old service on Sunday as we celebrated St David’s Uniting Church’s 17th Anniversary. Alongside ordinations and unity bowls, Love Hearts and Communion, Phil shared the following –
Reading: John 2:1-11
Christmas just gone, I was very lucky – I got a lot of nice cards, presents and messages. And there was one present that my friend Suzanne gave me that came to mind when planning today. She took a photograph of me before opening the present…
and here’s me after! Yes, Suzanne and family, gave me this heart so that even I’d have someone to hug…and the label on the present read:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.
You may or may not recognize those words from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (4:9-10) and a couple of years back my Orpington friends had a run of weddings which included this reading which inspired a lot of mock sympathy and humour from my friends. Poor Phil – no one to pick him up! Of course, whilst the reading pops up at a lot of weddings, the words don’t have to refer to romantic relationships for whether we’re talking about friendships, churches, communities or even pan-national political bodies, there is truth in the fact that two or more are stronger than one; that unity is better than division; that we are…as we said in our 2016 intercultural project…Stronger Together. After all, individuals don’t single-handedly change the world – but groups can. When asked how he helped bring down apartheid in South Africa, for example, Desmond Tutu replied it was the result of the small actions of millions of people. Two or more are stronger than one.
Some might say this is obvious but we don’t have too far back in church history, at the narcissistic realm of social media or in present day politics to see that unity is not always lauded. In fact, in a world in which we’re so often encouraged to retreat into our own little silos, hiding from those who are different, demonizing those who think, vote or believe otherwise to us, for three church communities to stand up and say – ‘we believe we are stronger together; we want to celebrate our diversity and our unity; we want to take seriously the hope of Jesus, who prayed ‘that those who believe in me may be one’ is radical and non-conformist and pretty blooming brilliant. And the fact that we didn’t stop there but rather went on welcoming other Christians and church communities to join us as we continue our journey of uniting; as we welcome different ethnicities, nationalities and sexualities into the place where all are welcome is definitely something to celebrate today – particularly in this week of prayer for Christian Unity.
So I don’t mind those Ecclesiastes verses read out at weddings for they speak of a wider truth of the power of coming together. Who knows, perhaps those words were even read at the wedding Jesus attended in Cana and if they were, perhaps Jesus’ smug coupled up friends joked with him about it! Who knows…but what we are told is that a miracle of abundance was witnessed there. And I wonder what the servants who witnessed the miracle would have thought about it all. Well, in the spirit of ecumenism, we have a guest preacher here today to offer his thoughts…
Rowan Atkinson there demonstrating the danger of getting side-tracked in the how of the miracle…for it’s not really the miracle in itself that’s most significant in the passage but what it might tell us about Jesus and the kingdom of God. Those who first heard of this event would have known that wine was a symbol for joy and blessing and abundance. “The mountains shall drip sweet wine,” it says in the book of Amos, “and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel…they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.” What happened at that Cana wedding was a glimpse of God’s grace and goodness; it was a reminder that the day would come when all would laugh and dance and share in a great feast. Jesus arrived on the scene and paradise stepped a lot closer.
Today, as a church, there is a lot we could get depressed about. Crumbling buildings and overworked leaders; falling numbers and ageing congregations…at times, like that wedding in Cana, it looks as though the wine is running out and the party is going to come to an early end. And these are things that we must face up to as a church with honesty, prayer and imagination…and I pray that we truly shall. But we cannot let our fears of decline or change or scarcity become our story. For, just as at that wedding feast, our is a story of good news and blessing and of grace in overabundance. Ours is the story of Jesus arriving on the scene, of love coming to town, of paradise coming close. Ours is the story that says come join the party, come drink God’s wine, come get a glimpse of the joy to come when all we be invited from east and west, north and south, to sing and dance, to eat, drink and delight in God’s eternal banquet.
And, in this community, we get glimpses of God’s abundant blessing today. Just this past week, God’s abundant blessing was told through stories of wise men at kids’ club and howls of laughter at ladies guild; God’s good news was heard in the teaching of English to former refugees on Monday and words of resurrection hope to a grieving family on Friday; and God’s amazing grace was felt in consoling hands, warm mugs of tea, congratulatory hugs and in all sorts of loving acts great and small. That’s what this church anniversary, the Canaan wedding, Alma’s funeral and all we do comes down to in the end. Divine, dangerous love. A love that saw God take on our flesh, live our life, die our death and rise again. A love that saw three church communities put egos to one side as they focused instead on the good news they had to share together. A love which calls us on, to grow, to change, to work out – with one another – how we might best partner with God to transform this hurting world into a kingdom of justice and joy. It might sound fanciful. It might feel overwhelming. But God is for us and together we are strong for I have voice, you have a voice and when we sing together a line is drawn and hope reborn. This is the song of kingdom come.