22nd January 2012, Epiphany 3, St Mary Magdalene, morning

Sermon on John 2: 1-11

Those of you of maturer
years may remember Chou En-lai. He was a Chinese statesman for many years after
the Communists took control of the Chinese mainland in 1949. At a meeting in
the early seventies he was apparently asked how significant he thought the
French Revolution was and he famously replied, a mere 180 years or so after the
event: ‘It’s too early to say’.

And this has often been
cited as an example of how the fiendishly clever Chinese take the long view of
history. Unfortunately, it now appears that it was all a linguistic
misunderstanding. Chou En-lai was actually asked about the riots in France in 1968,
which were a big thing in their day, and indeed a sort of revolution. But they
were recent events in the early seventies, so Chou En-lai’s remark becomes
slightly more run of the mill.

But perhaps there was some
truth in the misunderstanding. Perhaps it is still too soon to assess the
significance of the French Revolution.
Perhaps it’s too soon to say what the full significance of the Norman Conquest
is. History is a very long process. The repercussions of even a single small event
can be felt for thousands of years.

As with Jesus’ first
miracle at a wedding celebration in deepest, darkest Galilee.
Mysteriously, and it seems instantaneously, water is transformed into wine, and
nothing – not just the water – will ever be the same again. Two thousand years
later we are still talking about Jesus and debating his significance.

People will have differing
views about whether the water actually became wine, about whether the
miraculous is possible. Personally, I’m much less sceptical than I used to be
but I don’t think the actual historicity of the miracle is the most important
thing. You could take either view and it wouldn’t alter what Jesus was about.

And what Jesus was about
was and is transformation. That was what he came to accomplish. He came to
transform those who are alienated from God into friends of God, to transform
the injustice of society into the kingdom

Some of us here will have
been Christians for many years, some for not very long. Some of you may be
wondering what the Christian faith is all about. But all, of us, I dare say,
look within ourselves from time to time and think: ‘what a mess’.

We look at the way we are
and, frankly, we don’t feel transformed and we don’t see much prospect of
transformation in the future. We see the same old egotism, the same old lack of
concern for others, the same old cowardice and fear – whatever failing it is there
within us – and we wonder whether it can ever change. Well, speaking for

But even to know we are in
need of transformation is already a big step towards it.

It’s not good to become overly
despondent about ourselves, if we see little improvement in the way we are.

For one thing we often don’t
perceive improvement when there is some. And that’s probably just as well, or
we might start preening ourselves, which might land us back at square one.

Secondly, we are rough
diamonds in need of a lot of polishing and of whatever else it is that
jewellers do to precious stones but we are diamonds nonetheless, every last one
of us.

And lastly, like some
mythical and infinitely wise Chinese statesman, God takes the long view. He
wants to make us worthy to stand in his presence and he wants a thorough job done
of it. But he has all eternity to work in. And as Jesus says: ‘Nothing is
impossible with God’.

The temptation is that we
use God’s patience as an excuse not to change. There’s plenty of time, we may
think to ourselves, so why should I bother changing now. Everything will be OK
in the end.

But the fact is, we can
hardly claim to be followers of Jesus if we do not desire our own
transformation. God values us so highly that he wants us to be the best that we
can be. And there’s no time like the present. And, in one sense, the present is
the only time there is.

The heavens tell the glory
of God. And all people, just by virtue of being people and whatever their
failings, declare the glory of God also. We are told that the human brain is
the most complex entity in the universe – at least that we know of. As the
psalm says: we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

But we are more than just
complex physical entities. All human beings are capable of love and that fact alone
declares the glory of God even more profoundly because it means we are capable
of being like God in some essential way, capable of being one with God.

St Augustineonce put the following words of encouragement into
the mouth of God: ‘You wouldn’t be looking for me unless you had already found
me’. A variation on ‘seek and you shall find’.

And something similar’s
going on with our inner transformation. We wouldn’t desire our own inner transformation
if we hadn’t already been transformed. The guarantee that we are undergoing inner
transformation is our desire to be transformed. Once we have that desire, God
will do the rest in his own good time.

In that context we need never
succumb to despondency when we fall short, as we undoubtedly will. Falling short
is not the end of the story.

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