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Water into wine

Here is tomorrow’s Gospel reading…. its one of my favourite biblical passages.

Gospel Reading  John 2: 1-11

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.


I’ve written a little homily around the gospel reading and I will  post some of it, missing out the more topical references which I’ll keep for the parish at which I am a guest preacher in the morning. The rural dean cometh…..

I will start with a joke:

There was a young man who was besotten with two very pretty and eligible young ladies and he couldn’t make up his mind which one to propose to.  One was called Maria and one was called Christine. So he went into a church (probably of the more Anglo-catholic tradition) and knelt to pray, offering his dilemma to God and asking for a sign. Who should he marry….. Maria or Christine?

Through bleary eyes full of tears at such a struggle, he saw ahead of him a statue, a vision of a woman with a child in her arms. At the bottom of the statue it read “ Ave Maria”.

We all look for signs, for direction in our lives.  You as a church community are looking now for signs about your future. Who will come? What should you be doing in the meantime. What sort of person should you be seeking? How can you best use these interregnum months?

Sign posts are all around us in our daily lives. They tell us something important, something we need to take note of.

In the NT reading today from John’s gospel, we read about Jesus performing a miracle – his first miracle as recorded in John – a miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

At the end of the account we read:

“ This deed at Canaan in Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his Glory and led the disciples to believe in him”.

Jesus reveals His glory – God’s glory – not in a dazzling great light which cannot be looked at directly but in the simple act of caring- ensuring there is enough wine available for a wedding breakfast.

This wasn’t to be the only time he performs as Acts has it  “ mighty works, wonders and signs “ which reveal God’s glory shining through Jesus” .


Here was a breakthrough – ordinary people could directly experience God’s power and grace – his healing love – his light,  in Jesus and the signs he worked.

In his miracles Jesus was revealing – showing forth- the wonder of God’s saving love. Whether through  loaves and fishes so people were fed or healing those who were ill in body, mind or spirit. The almost unknowable God of the Old Testament was now being directly met in the person of Jesus.

At Cana he takes charge of what could have been a very embarrassing situation for the steward of the feast. He starts with what they have – water. With the minimum of fuss and no attention seeking he carries out the miracle. 6 jars are filled with water and he turns the water into wine. He demonstrates his power to transform and change. We read that his disciples  believed;deep down this miracle enabled them to see that Jesus  was acting in the power of God to change lives and situations.

Where can we look today for signs of God’s glory? Of God changing lives?  Of God transforming situations?

How can we talk with any integrity about God’s glory and his love  in a word full of injustice, where natural disasters claim thousands of lives. Where is God’s glory and his light to be seen where- to use traditional language of theology  – sin  seems to block its shining?

 This is where we draw on faith and hope.

I believe that God is intimately involved in the activity of humankind in this world – in the life of every individual which is and has been on earth.

The Good News is that God overcame human darkness and sin when Jesus broke into human darkness on the first Easter Day – bringing the ever present possibility of healing, new life out of every situation of darkness. I believe the promise of his glory is always there in every seemingly hopeless situation.

Through the eyes of faith, we can see God’s glory not necessarily in spectacular healings or in great crowds in evangelistic missions – but perhaps most importantly in every day stories of kindness, laughter, healing and courage and perseverance.


In the Gospel reading , God revealed his glory – his life changing presence – at a seemingly ordinary event like a wedding.  And it is in our homes, in our communities in the places where we work and worship that we may look for the signs of his glory.

I wonder what it would be like if Jesus walked through the door of this church now?

We believe his spirit is with us of course. The Lord is here: His spirit is with us we exclaim in our service of Holy Communion.

But if we actually saw the Jesus who walked this earth  now, walking through that door, what would he say to you and me?

What would he want to say about this church building, what would he say about the future of  your  parish?

Rather than attempt to answer that question, I’m going to finish with some words from the Jesuit priest and writer Gerard Hughes. They make me think. Hopefully they will do the same for you. The passage talks of Jesus coming to someone’s home and the effect he has on them. It describes what happens when he goes to a local church.

Gerard Hughes recommends that we use the following scenes for prayerful reflection.

(They are found in his book: ‘Oh God Why? A journey through Lent for bruised pilgrims’  1993 BRF. ISBN 0 7459 2525 1.)

“So imagine a ring at the doorbell one evening and on answering you discover the visitor is the risen Lord himself.  How do you react, what do you do and say? Presumably you welcome him in, summon everyone in the house, and find yourself saying to the Lord of all creation ‘Do make yourself at home and stay as long as you like. Everything is yours.’

Now take a fortnight’s leap ahead in your imagination. Jesus has accepted your invitation and is still with you. How are things at home now?

You remember that disturbing passage in the Gospel where Jesus says, ‘I have not come to bring peace, but the sword, to set daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, son against father.

Maybe there’s been a bit of friction over family meals in the last two weeks, some members leaving the table, possibly the front door never to return.

You invited Jesus to make himself at home, so he’s begun inviting friends to your house. You remember what people said of his friends in the Gospel, how he dined with sinners.

What kind of people do you now see coming to your house, what are the neighbours saying, and what’s happening to the local property values? Then you decide that you must not keep Jesus all to yourself, so you arrange for him to give a talk at the local church.

You remember that scene in the Gospel where he addresses the Pharisees and chief priests and assures them that criminals and prostitutes will get in to the kingdom of God before they do. He gives the same message to a gathering of men and women in the parish and there’s uproar, the parish losing its principal benefactors.

You return home with Jesus, your saviour, who has now become your problem. What are you to do? You cannot throw out the Lord of all creation. So you find a suitable cupboard, clear it out, decorate it, sparing no expense, get a good strong lock on it – and put Jesus inside. Outside you can have a lamp and flowers, and each time you pass, bow reverently, so you now have Jesus and he does not interfere any more.”

Gerard Hughes says that the Scriptures – and especially  Lenten readings – are full of warnings against what he calls ‘split spirituality’, or what we sometimes call ‘compartmentalizing our faith’ – and we all do it – like God is to be tamed and rendered harmless. How wrong, he asks, can we be?!

Take a leap of two years ahead in your imaginations. How would you like this church to be both in terms of what happens inside and in your connections with the world beyond its doors. What signs do you see of Jesus already transforming things here, what signs do you see  of his life giving power and love nudging you to be brave and explore new ventures and ways of being Christ’s body here in this place.

And so, as his disciples did all those years ago, may we begin to hear him teaching us now – gently, lovingly – that this adventure of living and being church is risky and can have a cost.

May we be open to the transforming power of his love in our lives as he moves us on to a deeper understanding of what he’s about and what he wants us to be about.


* With thanks to the web-site of Rev Dr I.Davies at St Barnabas, Waunarlwydd


Its a super website and well worth a visit. The last few thoughts are based on one of his sermons.







January 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Anyone looking for a screwdriver?



Persons unknown decided to remove lead from Little Paxton Church roof last night and cause a lot of damage to slate tiles in the process. It appeared that in the persuit of their aims they were disturbed and ran off but left a screwdriver behind. So if anyone needs it back contact me through the blog and we can have a nice chat over a cuppa.
I wonder what it feels like damaging an ancient building whose sole purpose is to promote fellowship and goodwill and comfort? I wonder what it feels like to trample over a burial ground where people have been laid to rest? What does it feel like to steal maybe £30.00 worth of lead and yet cause many more hundreds of pounds of damage.
Id love to understand these peoples thinking…..and then maybe I’d give them back their screwdriver. But as I guess they probably dont think about the consequences of their actions I doubt if I would understand where they come from.
Be rest assured should you be reading this. The village is aware of your labours at church and probably elsewhere…..I dont advise coming back.

January 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Just before I go and immerse myself in  ” Sherlock” on BBC1 I will post todays sermon offering.

I have edited the opening paragraphs as theyreferred to more personal situations in the Benefice, but I hope you get the drift of my ” wanted” theme.

The gospel reading today was John 1 v 43-51. I left the Revelation passage well alone, preferring the intriguing meeting between Jesus and Nathaniel.

 Sermon on John 1 v 43.

Recently I have been  a member of  interview panels involved in selecting two new people to serve in different roles in our Benefice.

During the interviews  I found myself looking back to  April 2006 when I was interviewed for this post and am grateful that those involved were very kind to me!

So… why were the choices made that were made? If you have ever been involved in interviewing, I wonder what it is you look for in a person? We kept being reminded by one of the interviewers for one of the appointments that the  process wasnt a personality contest.

But that was very hard because inevitably when we meet someone we are either drawn to them or not. We perhaps immediately feel we could work with a person or feel luke warm about having them in our  lives. When it is a competitive interview and there are several candidates each with different strengths and weaknesses it can be very hard to reach a decision.

With both appointments, the interviewing panels were unanimous but we could see strengths in all the candidates and qualities that would contribute well to our organizations. It’s really sad to have to disappoint someone who has applied for a job but I always hope that unsuccessful candidates gain confidence and self insight from the experience. It might simply be of course that the person isn’t the right person for a particular organization at that time. The Paxton Benefice interview was the third one I had had in a few weeks  and looking back I wouldn’t have been right for the first two settings.

Usually the right candidate matches up to a person specification. Those interviewing hopefully know instinctively what sort of person their organization needs at that time.

Maybe someone who is a good manager or a good organizer. Maybe someone who can enthuse and encourage others to think outside the box and go for growth.

Maybe someone with good person skills is needed who will enable everyone in the organization to feel affirmed in the part they play.  They might simply need to be someone who will carry out important tasks efficiently and effectively. Whatever their role, I rate commitment very highly and when this comes across in a candidate I sit up and take note.

I’m sure we all wish those newly appointed well and it’s good to be mindful too of those who are without employment and who struggle with interview situations – or who indeed find it hard to get an interview at all in these days of high unemployment.

So, wanted: 12 highly committed,.motivated and loyal disciples.

Apply: To Jesus of Nazareth. Interviews to be held near to the Sea of Galillee.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that was it?  The creation of a group of 12 disciples  certainly goes back to the historical Jesus. We learn from a very ancient text, that of 1 Corinthians, that Jesus appeared after the resurrection to 12 disciples, the number symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus disciples were to be the new people of God, the new Israel.

Maybe the 12 had heard about him or even seen him before he called them. Here was this  enigmatic figure proclaiming the kingdom of God. Proclaiming  that God’s spirit had come among them, that people should turn their lives around and repent.

Maybe they had heard about him before, but what we do know is that so compelling was his call to them, so irresistible his invitation to follow and leave everything behind, that they just did it. No short listing or interviewing. No questioning of Jesus as to what he was about. Then and there they gave their total commitment.

It’s true all four gospels give a different account of their calling.

In Mark’s Gospel, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John Sons of Zebedee, all four of whom were fishermen, were called first. Later, a full quota of 12 is given.

In John’s Gospel as we heard today, the first 4 were Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, Philip and Nathaniel.

But whatever order they were called in there seemed to be an instant response to the calling of Jesus.

Only with Nathaniel things were a bit different. We read how at first he was not at all sure about Jesus.

The call of Nathaniel

Priory Church St Mary Magdalene

St Clears, Carmarthenshire.

His friend Philip brings him to Jesus in the first instance. Philip has already caught the vision. He believes that Jesus was the one whom all scripture had pointed to. Maybe he was so enthusiastic about Jesus that he wanted his best friend to meet him too.

Now Jesus was  from Nazareth  and we read in Acts 24 v 5 that Nazareth was not a highly rated place at all. The folk from neighbouring village Cana thought very little of  Nazarenes. Nathaniel came from Cana, so he would have had fixed ideas about this man Jesus from the outset, rather as we might ( erroneously) have fixed ideas about people who come from certain areas.

True to form, we find that at first Nathaniel rejects Jesus. How could the Messiah ever come from a place like that?

But when he actually meets Jesus. When he encounters him face to face, a light switches on. Jesus speaks to him. We don’t know what he says exactly, but we do know he tells Nathaniel things about himself  in such a way that  he has a profound effect on the man from Cana and he responds with a confession of faith. Nathaniel is convinced he is the Messiah. Nathaniel is convinced this is the man he wants to follow

Jesus tells Nathanael that what he has seen of Jesus so far is only the beginning and Jesus uses the imagery of Genesis 28:12, the vision of Jacob’s ladder. It is important to remember the story of Jacob and what happened in order to appreciate why Jesus refers to this incident.

Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca  and he was very important.

His children were the ancestors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. You will remember that Isaac and Rebecca had  twin boys : Esau the eldest and Jacob the younger twin.

As the younger twin of Esau, Jacob tricked his brother out of his birthright and the blessing from his father which he should have received as the firstborn. It is appropriate that later in his life Jacob himself is tricked by his own sons who are jealous of their favoured brother Joseph.

Jacob had to flee from his brother, the hunter Esau, when his twin tried to kill him (Genesis 25-28). Destitute he goes to his uncle Laban, but on the way he has a dream at Bethel. He sees a ladder o which stretched up to the sky, with angels going up and down on it.  In the dream he receives a blessing from God and a promise that he would  return to the land and God would be with him. This eventually took place.

It is important to remember this story because Jesus clearly knew about its significance.

When he tells Nathanael that he will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ Jesus is placing himself in the same position as Jacob.

Every Jew knew that Jacob was the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel; now Jesus is assuming such importance onto himself.  Jesus is the new Israel !

God will no longer reveal himself at Bethel, God is present in the person of Jesus and it is Jesus who will link heaven and earth, not Jacob’s ladder.

Nathaniel must have engaged with Jesus on all levels in this encounter: with his mind and with his heart. Above all this man   Jesus inspired him as he inspired the other 11 disciples. From then on he was a wanted man.  Wanted by Jesus to fulfill a crucial mission.

Wanted: men and women and children in 2012  to continue to spread the infectious good news of Jesus Christ. Thank God there are no CVs s to write, interviews to attend and presentations to prepare. It’s simple.

We bring ourselves just as we are. We may or may not be good at a particular task. We might not have many skills but we might simply be kind and loving Christian people ready to lead others to Jesus just as Philip did. More people come to Christ through the invitation of a friend than by any other way.

Wanted: Christian communities to spread that infectious Good News that the risen Jesus Christ is out and about in our world, in our villages and in our hearts.  We don’t have to be in a church to be about the work of mission. We just have to be committed and often in the words of St Francis “ preach the gospel always, use words when absolutely necessary”

If you ever wonder if you are wanted… the answer is simply YES.

January 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Some times the only way out is through…

Fallen tree in Great Paxton churchyard

January 12th 2012.

Shadows and sunshine.

Impossible to have one without the other.

Great Paxton Church January 12th 2012

Poplar tree trunk base in Church Lane Great Paxton.

Patterns in destruction.

New habitats in abundance.

January 12th 2012

January 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thoughts on the Baptism of Jesus

Sunday January 8th recalls the Baptism of Jesus ( although many churches might be referring back to the Epiphany remembered on January 6th)

I shall base my sermon on it tomorrow as the church community at Little Paxton worship for the first time in Little Paxton School at 9.15am , the church now closed for major re-ordering. The magnificent new bells, however, will still be ringing out from 8.45am onwards.

The Baptism of Jesus

I am sure that all of us will have photographs which have been taken at an infant’s baptism – very likely it will be a posed shot with the Vicar holding the baby and the parents and godparents standing around the font after the event.

I wonder, though, if you may have a photograph taken actually at the moment of baptism?

I am ambivalent about pictures being taken at the point of baptism  as it can detract from the great significance of the moment although  such a photograph could be quite revealing.

The expression on the child’s face, and the faces of family and friends gathered around. Surprise, happiness, laughter, concern, indifference – all sorts of emotions would be picked up. People’s expressions, posture and body language would indicate, in some way, what they were thinking about and experiencing at that most special and precious moment of grace.

Imagine a photograph taken at the baptism of Jesus – of course we don’t have one – but who would you imagine in the scene and what do you imagine is happening?

We don’t have a photograph but we do have a written account. We have 3 in fact written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark & Luke.

I will just mention at this point John’s account of Jesus’ baptism. In truth he fails to mention the baptism at all. But he is deeply concerned with the signs which point towards Jesus as the divine one, so he reports the words of John the Baptist :

“ I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and it remained upon him….he who sent me to baptize with water said to me “ The man on whom you see the spirit descend and remain is the one who is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit” .

But, strangely, no mention at all of John the Baptists part in baptizing Jesus.

The reason may have been that baptism was seen as a Jewish ritual for the washing away of sin – and as early Christians believed Jesus to be without sin, why would he have needed to be baptised? To avoid answering that difficult question, John may have left the actual moment of Jesus’ baptism out of his account, replacing it with John The Baptist’s words about the Holy Spirit anointing Jesus.

That mentioned, let us focus on the accounts of Matthew, Mark and  Luke  – and based on these written accounts we have many paintings which depict each particular artist’s imagination of the scene.

One very famous painting by Piero della Francesca dating from around 1445 forms part of an altar piece panel at the Priory of St. John the Baptist in Umbria, Italy.

An art critic describes the piece of work as possessing a “majestic stillness”. You know sometimes how something happens and for a brief moment it is as if time has stopped because a particular event or experience somehow has such great significance.

As you look at it you are drawn into the fact that something of tremendous importance is taking place here. As I look at it I  notice that the painting seems to be in two halves with Christ in the centre. Jesus stands with his hands together in an attitude of prayer. John the Baptist stands on his right with his arm lifted above Jesus’ head in the action of pouring the water of baptism. In the background we can see the pool of water and people gathered around watching.

There is even one person getting undressed preparing for his own baptism – his clothing over his head and completely oblivious to what is going on. This manifestation of the glory of God is taking place right in front of his nose yet he seems intent on his own business.  How true this to the reality of life – so often we fail to recognise the action of God  and are too preoccupied with our own thoughts and concerns.

This is, if you like, the earthly part of the scene

But on the left of Jesus we see three figures – if you look closely you will notice that they are not human but in fact angels – inhabitants of the heavenly realm but very much part of this profound spiritual act. They are sheltering (as is Jesus) under a huge tree –  reminding us of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden – symbolizing  the precious gift of life lived with God and  offered by Him to Adam and Eve which was rejected by their disobedience.

Yet  in the picture there is the hope of atonement, of human beings becoming “at one” again with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which will all be acted out in the next three years of Jesus’ public ministry: His baptism, his anointing by the Holy Spirit,  signals the beginning of that ministry.

The sign of this anointing of the Holy Spirit is the hovering of a dove with outspread wings above the head of Jesus. Here, in the person of Jesus Christ is the meeting of earth and heaven the two halves of the picture are seamlessly woven into one.

I am reminded here of the Transfiguration which we will consider in few weeks time on the Sunday before Lent. On the mountain top, Peter, James and John are immersed in an intense spiritual experience seeing Jesus in a completely new and glorious way – his clothes dazzling white and in conversation with Moses and Elijah.

The Baptism of Jesus too is such a timeless spiritual moment.

Within the majestic stillness of this painting there seems to be something missing. Where is the voice of God? How do you paint the sound of a voice? Well, of course, you can’t!

But the voice of God is recorded in the gospels:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”

Here is the moment of truth. The stillness of the painting draws our attention to ponder upon the wonder of God’s glory being revealed in Christ – but the voice disturbs us from the comfort of dwelling for too long upon this moment of grace.

The voice acknowledges the truth of Christ’s anointing but it is also a commissioning for ministry – now get on with it!

In all of the 3 accounts we are not told that anyone else hears the “theophany” (voice) at the Baptism of Jesus – these words are personal to him – they mark the beginning of his ministry.

At the Transfiguration, however, we are told that the voice of God is heard by the disciples:

This is my beloved Son – listen to him!

In this event, it is his disciples who are being commissioned. Once again the voice marked the end of the timeless moment for these disciples who wanted to make tents and stay on the mountain to bask in the glory of Christ. The glimpse of glory was to be sufficient – it was time to move on. Time to return to the every day plains of life and grapple with the tough issues of life and death, of love and hate  and  joy and sorrow.

I wonder if you have experienced timeless moments of spiritual depth  in your own lives ? They may not happen very often and we may not recognize their significance when they do happen. Sometimes we only recognize their importance many years after the event. But they are experiences which are can shape our personal faith and mould us into the people God would have us be.

I’m still processing an experience I had on Friday night.  I was present at a Taize service in Hatley St George Church near to Gamlingay. There were only a handful of us there in a medieval church lit by candles flickering in the drafts of air. When we came to a period of silence, the sound of owls scurrying amongst the clouds outside pervaded the stillness. This strangely melodic screeching was unsought and to me evocative of the way God comes to us when we least expect it. We were only together for 30 minutes or so. The experience of the profound quietness has lingered on somewhere deep in my memory. It is something about God saying be prepared for the unexpected. Listen out for my voice.

Today you might like to reflect on moments in your life that have informed your understanding of Gods movement in your life and who you are called to be in his grace.

Moments which have given you a new impetus to try something new and adventurous in his name. Or even to stop, slow down and let God speak to you.

As we start out on a new year give let us give thanks for precious moments of anointing and strengthening through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May we recognize these moments as great gifts, moments when God touches our lives, affirms us and sends us out to be his hands and feet on earth.

May God give us all the wisdom, courage and energy to think broadly about how we use our time in the best possible way whilst we meet here at school and as we prepare to return to church in the summer months.


Blessed are you, Lord our God,

You have created the heavens and earth.

Blessed are you, Jesus Christ,

You came among us and were baptized of John.

Blessed are you, holy and life-giving Spirit,

You descend as the dove and you fill us with life.

Blessed are you, Holy Three.

In you we live and move and have our being. Amen.

January 6, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Santa spotted in Little Paxton on Christmas Day

I knew it was true, as he called on me on Christmas Day and I’m only sorry I wasnt in a fit state to ask him in so early in the morning.

Now, you might need a magnifying glass but he is there at the top of the picture. Click on it and it should appear bigger.

And he was also seen with an Elf Helper….. truly he was the real thing!

Again, click on the pic and you will see them a bit more clearly.

Thanks Santa and Elf for coming all this way and raising some money for CHUFT as well.

Thank you to Santa spotter for the pictures!

January 1, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment