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Wine and parties - Rector's sermon for Epiphany 2

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wine and Parties.

I cannot be the only preacher in the land to have looked heavenwards

as the Gospel and the newspapers lay side by side on my desk this week,

With their almost parallel themes on wine and parties.

Preachers often quote the theologian Karl Barth as having said

‘Preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other’

When his actual words said “Take your Bible and take your newspaper,

and read both, but interpret the newspapers through your Bible.”

Wine and parties.

I share the frustration of so many this weekat learning that some people felt that they were so exempt, so privileged, and so especially hard-working, that they were able to disregard the rules; the rules that they had written, the rules that they had put in place, the rules that you, I and the majority of the others, had followed at great sacrifice, at great loss, and at great impact.

That some were being guided to ‘let their hair down’ when others couldn’t get their hair cut. Buying a fridge to chill the wine and prosecco from Tescos,

when volunteers were still running shopping services, phone lines to support the lonely and locked down.

Given that we were in the depths of the pandemic, regardless of any party politics, parties at number ten were premature and presumptive and that’s why it has prickled so much over these past few weeks.

I don’t want to stoke the fires of public ire, but if we are to take the bible and the newspaper, then we do have to name the problem…. and the problem this week is not so much wine and parties but a clear disregard for the rules, a disregard for the relationship of trust between power and people, and a disregard for the impact of such things on the emotions and morale of a community.

Which means that our bible and newspaper parallels share more than just the theme of wine and parties this week, this Gospel from John is itself all about a regard for the rules, a regard for the relationships involved, and a regard the impact of such things on the emotions and morale of a community.

The Jewish process of getting married, at the time when the Gospels were written, was a long and difficult process. It required diplomacy, negotiation, requiring rules and customs to be carefully observed by both sides of the family. The process was all about the negotiation of the covenant, how two families, two people, two households were to be united. How honour would be ensured, how the marriage would be successful. It was a careful conversation, with intermediaries, great care and concern, and great caution. Which then led to the marriage, which itself was governed with careful observance of rules, customs, rituals over a number of days. Then the consummation of the marriage, and then the wedding feast.

Given the long process of betrothal and negotiation, it should be no surprise that the wedding feast was itself a lengthy affair. Not just an afternoon or an evening, but seven days at least to which the entire town would be invited, the great and the good, the families, the staff, the neighbours. The steward would look after the celebrations, holding a pivotal role in the proceedings and acting on behalf of the two families, to communicate and rejoice in the successful union, and making of a covenant.

The final act of becoming marriage in first century Jewish-Palestine, was this public declaration and public celebration. Because the covenant which essentially began with two people, was also for the benefit of all the people. If the wine had run out, it would have been a tragedy bringing shame on both families and the covenant would have been undermined; after all those careful months of planning and compromising. The covenant would not have been broken, but deeply tarnished, and so the rescue at the hands of Jesus, with the turning of water into wine, is, in effect, the rescue of their covenant.

Because promises matter, relationships - whether political or personal - need the community to be behind them, and where human’s fail, God will prevail. Because God thinks that we are worth it.

The danger with our newspaper headlines at this present time is the risk they run of normalising behaviours which were once considered unthinkable. They run the risk of shrugging off double standards as being unimportant. They run the risk of us no longer thinking we can hold our leaders accountable to us, or expect a moral standard or trust to be upheld. The covenant between people and state is being diminished, as if the wine has run out and we will just happily drink the water instead.

The keeping of promises is important, and our Gospel shows us the standard that we are given for our faith, that shame, dishonour, and the breaking of rules are not the norms for a society, but that covenants and promises must be worked at, retained, and kept at all costs.

But that if we are to use the scriptures to interpret the newspapers, then we find an example given to us that our communal relationships, our social fabric, our shared standards of decency are important and require honesty, and shouldn’t be disregarded, Because we are given a standard in Christ which is far higher than the standard we are being sold in public life at this moment.

Preached by The Reverend Arwen Folkes

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Although there are important issues at stake with party gate, surely the gospel message is so much more vital and powerful to be applied to ALL of us - our need of a loving saviour who was the only one who didn’t fall short of God’s standard. He died for our sin and conquered death so that we could be reconciled with him. Everyone of us needs to realise our own personal shortfall and confess our sin. I got to the end of this and wondered ‘so what?’ - to truly impact lives, the challenge needs to be directed at each of us to answer our shortcomings in our own life. That’s of far bigger concern than calling out the…

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