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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

forever involved...

Friday, July 28, 2006

On Sunday I'm a 'guest preacher' at a Baptist church in Liverpool (slightly scary!) and have been asked to preach on John 2:1-11, the event of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. As I've been thinking about this passage and preparing for the sermon, a new take (for me at least) on the interpretation of the miracle has crossed my mind! It may not be revolutionary to some, but I thought I'd share it here in an extract from the sermon (as it currently stands!). I guess regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by this interpretation - it's all part of the 'God at Large' discussion...

Much has been written by theologians and biblical commentators about the significance of the water jars and wine; the point being that the new wine of the messianic kingdom made the prior Jewish religious ritualism obsolete and seem empty by comparison. A new thing was happening and Jesus was its source and its focus. In John 10:10 we get that famous saying of Jesus, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full", and here right at the beginning of John's gospel Jesus is demonstrating this new found freedom and abundant life, being at home in a party with freely flowing alcohol. This sign is itself a foretaste of the abundance of the heavenly banquet, the direct opposite of the rules-obsessed religion of the Pharisees.

That's the generally accepted interpretation of this miracle, and its one that I am persuaded by. However, I want to add another dimension - one that I think is often overlooked. When we strip back this deep symbolic theology and look at the wedding couple, what do you think they made of this event when they became aware of it? I think they would simply have felt blessed - helped by this man Jesus and spared a whole lot of embarrassment and shame. We don't know if they had acknowledged Jesus for who he is - it was so early in his ministry that it's highly unlikely that they had. But there he was, in the midst of their wedding celebration active in giving them, and anyone else who was open to receive, a taste of the kingdom of God. They didn't have to go looking for him; it didn't take a good Christian disciple to bring him to them; he was there of his own initiative involved in their lives.

And that's pretty much par the course for the rest of Jesus' ministry - he was to be found amongst people and in situations that the most religious people in his society would not have expected him to be. God was active outside of the boxes that religion had placed him in. Throughout his short public life, Jesus was plagued by the religious elite accusing him of hanging out with drunkards and being too comfortable in the presence of sinners. Why did he get this reputation? Because he was hanging out with drunkards and spending time with sinners!! He even gained a reputation of being a drunkard himself; such was the company he willingly kept.

I wonder if we, the church today, are in danger of falling back into the trap of boxing God up again. Are there places that we don't expect God to be or ways we don't expect him to act? Would we expect to find God in a club, for instance, or in a mosque or in a brothel? Can we expect to find signs of the kingdom in those places, as God takes it upon himself to be involved in people's lives at his own initiative? Or, does God hold back until people are in more 'Christian' environments?

Of course, it's pretty obvious what I think the answer is to those rhetorical questions - God is at large!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 4:02 PM

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