Fr. John Allison
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
January 16, 2022
Christ Church, Hudson
As I was preparing for the sermon this week I came across a remembrance in a commentary from years ago when Johnny Carson was still the host of the Tonight Show. He had invited onto the show as a guest an eight-year-old boy who had rescued two other boys from a coal mine in West Virginia, where he lived. As Johnny was talking to the boy it became apparent that he was a Christian and Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school. When he said that he did, Johnny asked what he’d been learning.
“Last week,” the boy said, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.” The audience was charmed by the boy’s seriousness and laughed as he said this, and Johnny was also clearly amused by him but was trying to remain serious himself and he asked, “What did you learn from that story?” The boy squirmed a bit in his chair and put his head down. He didn’t seem to have thought about this and after a moment of thinking he lifted his head and answered, “ If you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!”
Indeed! This familiar story from John’s Gospel is one that transcends the religious affiliation, so familiar that common references are made in secular culture as well as church culture. Sometimes, more often than not I’m guessing, the focus is on the miraculous nature of the story. But the real value, the importance of this story, is not just in the miracle. All too often we become so invested in miracles that we forget what the miracle points to. Miracles such as Jesus turning water into wine are not just tricks to amaze us, which is often how they are portrayed in secular culture, but signs that point us to something greater, some greater truth, usually signs that point us to the revelation of God’s love for us.
In this particular case, God is with us and knows our needs. We celebrated at Christmas the Incarnation, God with us, Emmanuel, and now, in this season after the Epiphany our Gospel readings are all about the many ways in which God’s love is revealed in Christ. It’s about how God continues to be with us and how we are to be awake to the presence of the Holy in our lives.
When John told this story it was part of his larger message that the God who promised salvation for Israel is now among the people, in the flesh. Israel thought of God as good and loving and caring, and, historically, God provided food, sustenance in the wilderness for a suffering people. In this story, he provided even more, not just basic need but wine, abundant wine—somewhere between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and eighty gallons says John. We have a particular understanding of wine in the context of our Eucharistic celebration and it’s not too much of a stretch to see this miracle as pointing to the future event of the last supper but in that understanding it’s easy to miss a much simpler and foundational truth. Wine, in the ancient world, as in our own is associated with having a party. Even today, when invited to someone’s home for dinner it’s common to bring a bottle of wine and in the context of this story we see that the abundance of the best wine shows that God is not only infinitely generous, but that his greatest gift was made known in that moment: the Son of God has come among us. Like the best wine which only came after a long period of waiting, after their own reserves were exhausted, so came Jesus in the history of Israel. God is generous and loving and wine is a fitting image of his care, but his greatest generosity is in sending His Son among us. It’s in this gift of Christ that we think about the generosity of the Father every time we come to this table, every time we gather for the Eucharistic feast.
Just like the miracle of changing water into wine is a sign that points us to God’s love among us, the Eucharist is a sign that reveals for us an experience of that same love. That’s essentially how we define a sacrament—an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. These sacraments are expressions of God’s love for us, of God’s gift to us.
Our other gifts from God, the spiritual gifts that Paul discusses in his letter to the Corinthians, for example, are all built on our acknowledgment and acceptance of his greatest gift of all in Jesus. Writing to a very diverse group of Jesus’ followers—Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, men and women, rich and poor—Paul shows the unity they share in their confession of Christ. Just like any community, just like us, people need to be reminded of what unites them. For the Corinthians conflict was brewing between these different groups as some began to see themselves as superior because of some abilities being more highly thought of than others. What Paul seeks to teach them, teach us, however, is that as the gathered Body of Christ, we comprise many members each a reflection of God’s love. “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” He goes through a long list of spiritual gifts, not privileging any one over another. The point is that all are unique manifestations of God’s love as expressed through us. I sometimes like to think of us, of our individual selves, as crystals that each refract God’s light in slightly different ways but that all give expression of God’s love. This seems an especially appropriate reminder as we come together today for our annual meeting, a time when we conduct the business of the parish, but, more importantly a time when we recognize the many and diverse gifts that make up this gathering. It’s a time when we acknowledge how we have been the Body of Christ over the last year and how we will be the Body of Christ in the coming year. May we remember that all that we do, all that we are, grows from our common confession of God’s love for us in Christ. Amen.