Reading John 2: 1-11
Preacher The Revd Alan Sykes
Back in May Fee and I were on holiday in Arizona. Now, I find it difficult to keep track of exactly what I’ve said before in my sermons, so forgive me if I’ve mentioned it before and if I seem obsessed with my own holidays. I haven’t brought any holiday snaps to show you, so you’re at least spared those – expertly taken though they were.
Anyway, since we were over there, we thought, well, we’re in the vicinity, we might as well go and see the Grand Canyon. You know, tick it off the list, buy a postcard or two. So we ended up going almost out of a sense of duty. If you’re on holiday in northern Arizona, it’s what you do. So we did.
Well, my first sight of the Grand Canyon knocked me sideways and took my breath away, so you can assume I was impressed. And it is simply staggering. You may think I’m exaggerating but I assure you I’m not.
At the risk of sounding like the Arizona Tourist Board, if you’ve never been and if you ever have the chance, take a look for yourself. It’s one of those experiences after which you’re never quite the same again. It sort of scars you for life.
Not content with the Canyon, we then drove over to Southern California and spent a few nights in a place called Borrego Springs in the Anza-Borrego Desert, one of California’s lesser known deserts.
Now, Borrego Springs is a Dark Sky community. Lighting in the town – it’s a small town and very spread out – is designed to allow the night sky to be viewed in all its splendour. On a cloudless night in a dark location the sky is another awe-inspiring sight. It also helps that you’re not shivering in an overcoat as you’re contemplating it.
If you’ve been looking at the night sky in the last few days, you’ll have seen the crescent moon – the horned moon, as our first hymn put it. But in London you don’t see many of her spangled sisters bright, i.e. the stars – and planets, as also mentioned in that verse.
If it wasn’t a complete misuse of the word, I’d say it was tragic that in a place like London you can see only, say, ten stars in the night sky. In my view that’s a great loss to how we see God’s creation. It’s as if, with all our light pollution, we’ve put a veil over reality. Putting a veil over reality, that’s what much of modern life seems to be about. Perhaps it was ever thus.
Be that as it may, we experienced some true marvels of creation on our holiday, the unadulterated night sky and the Grand Canyon – two broad hints of the divine. Not to mention the other parts of California and Arizona, which are actually quite nice as well.
But, really, you don’t need to go the Grand Canyon, or to some desert miles from anywhere, or travel thousands of miles, to find hints of the divine. Those hints are all around us, in large things and in small things, if we but had a good pair of spiritual spectacles to see them with.
Our gospel reading today tells the story of Jesus, his disciples and his mother attending a wedding. We don’t know why he was invited but we have no reason to think that this was a wedding in any way out of the ordinary – apart from Jesus being there, that is.
Of course all weddings are special events to those involved. So they are special events full stop. But they’re not unusual. Even in our society, where couples don’t always get married, they’re not exactly unknown. Weddings are ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
Jesus is blessing by his presence the wedding itself – including by implication the years of marriage that will follow – and by his actions he’s blessing the celebration of the marriage. He seems to be blessing the ordinary situation of our lives – our homes, our family ties, our friendships, our celebrations.
We don’t need to travel to exotic and far-flung locations to find hints of the divine. In a way those things can divert us and deceive us into thinking that ordinary, modest lives lived out without fuss – though maybe with the odd celebration thrown in – cannot be vehicles of God’s grace and joy. They can.
Of course there is really no such thing as the ordinary or mundane. The ordinary and mundane and the humdrum are simply amazing things that we’ve got used to, that we’ve come to take for granted.
Think of your body and what a marvel it is. Think of matter itself and the immensely intricate, subtle yet fruitful way in which it has been designed. Think of why anything should exist. Think of anything around your home – however small – and be amazed that it should exist at all.
There is nothing so small or apparently insignificant that it cannot reflect the glory of God in all its fullness. It doesn’t have to be massive to reflect God’s glory. It doesn’t have to attract hoards of tourists.
Ultimately, the mundane, the things around us and the practical stuff we do, it’s all spiritual and it can help us on our journey towards union with God. The material is spiritual.
There’s no escape from the spiritual, although of course we often run from it, hide from it – as if we were shielding our eyes from the night sky.
The grace of God is offered to us at all times and in all places. All we need to do is to perceive it, to be open. We don’t have to do anything, we simply need to be open and receptive – tune ourselves to the divine wavelength.
Now, I’m not trying to put you off going on holiday. We’re already planning our next trip to Arizona and we just can’t wait. Holidays can be vehicles of grace just like anything else can. But let’s not emphasise our holidays so much that we underestimate the potential of the bits in between.