Fom the start, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is placed in his cosmic setting as the Logos made flesh who reveals God and gives salvation to believers; John the Baptist, Andrew, and Nathanael bear witness to him as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, and the Christ.
Our story today comes from the first section of John which is sometimes called the Book of Signs. In these first chapters there are seven miracles, or "signs", - this story is the first sign.
The Wedding at Cana
2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4 And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6 Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
About 20 years ago, maybe 25 years, a man called John Mellars planted this tiny vineyard of Cabernet and Merlot grapes. The vineyard was up this steep hill on an outcrop of land at the end of Okupu Bay on Great Barrier Island.
In a way John lived a slightly reclusive life because to visit him you had to drive down to another bay, Blind Bay, and walk about 2 km along the foreshore until you got to his house.
Over the years John cleared this headland of Manuka. Tilled the hard soil. Carried everything in on his back. Has built a house which included this wonderful wine cellar built by local stone masons.
I remember visiting him first when his wine was barely known. He sees you coming, whoever you are, and he gets a bottle of his wine and greets you and invites you to sit down at the long outdoor wooden table. Under a pohutakawa tree of course.
He would chat away about Island life and gossip and history. For a time, he was on the local Community Board. Finally you get to taste his wine. It was almost like and afterthought.
You look around and see that every aspect of the wine production is done by hand. A device that you put the grapes into and turn and it spins and crushes the grapes and stalks. And the juice goes into these barrels and the skins that are left are pressed.
And the wine ferments in the barrels with the help of a bit of yeast. And then he siphoned the barrels into the bottles one at a time. About 1500 bottles a year. And then puts the corks in them. And labels them by hand.
I guess when I first met John he would have been his 50s. But he always had this restless dream of having a vineyard.
It’s great isn’t it when you talk to someone who is making their dreams reality. When you talk to someone who has a real passion and love for what they are doing. When you talk to someone who generously shares their enthusiasm and there experience. After sitting with us for an hour we said we'd like to buy a couple of bottles of his wine. And he would be almost hesitant to sell you a bottle.
And as you leave you take some wine but also we take away an insight into the ways that hopes can be made real about how one reality can be transformed into another. About how someone can look upon something and see what it could become. And about how that same person can infect the lives of those who he meets with a love, a passion, a hope for what can be. Who ten years ago would look at a remote dry hot outcrop of isolated land at a place that no one has either heard of or can drive to on an isolated island and imaging a vineyard, a home by a brook, a stone wine cellar under an old Pohutakawa tree.
Jesus turns up with his disciples at this wedding in Cana. Cana is in Galilee near Nazareth where Jesus grew up. So we can imagine that all those involved knew one another. It reminds me a bit of a wedding on Great Barrier. The son of a family who had lived there for a good number of years was getting married. The wedding invitation was simply a note put up in the window of the dairy. It invited everybody. In small communities you just have to. The bride wore a traditional white dress and gumboots. In Jesus day everyone would have got together for a big celebration after the legal formalities of the wedding. The couple in fact may well have been married the night before and so now things were really getting going. Dancing music a few goats to eat. People eating and drinking too much as they tend to at the best of times. Then the wine runs out. No Super Liquor store to ring up. Embarrassment, tension, maybe the whole celebration is at stake. Mary tells Jesus. Then Jesus turns these six jars of water in to wine. Probably the equivalent of around 600 litres of good wine. The equivalent of John Mellars total wine production for a year. The master of ceremonies discovers the new wine, takes the bridegroom aside and says to him everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.
There a whole lot of symbolic messages in this little story.
The story begins ‘on the third day’ there was a wedding at Cana. Could John be thinking here of the third day in the creation story we read at the beginning of Genesis. On the third day God created the vegetation and the plants. Is the wedding story telling us about some new event of creation? We know those other words. On the third day he rose from the dead. The words of resurrection. Is this party with the abundant wine and the celebration is it seem indication of the new life the great celebration that Christ’s resurrection might bring? Or maybe if you read in the book of Proverbs you will hear that the personification of wisdom prepares a banquet for people inviting them to eat of her bread and drink of her wine - it’s the act of accepting wisdoms message. Those who are wise listen to Jesus, feed on his words.
One thing we need to remember when we read stories like this is that we don’t believe that Jesus is the anointed one of God because he can do tricks. John speaks of this water into wine miracle as a sign. Even though it may seem subtle we don't believe in signs, we believe in what the sign might be pointing to. If we stop and stare at the sign we don't get anywhere.
We can argue about the sign but we have to keep moving. These are things that are part of this sign though that gives us a sense of where the journey may be heading. We have a sense of surprise in the story; there is a sense that expectations are overturned, even that old customs can be filled with new meaning. We have a sense in the story that something new is taking place and also that this newness is characterised by abundance. All that wine. These new events take place within the context of a celebration, a banquet, a wedding. The banquet, the new bride, wine for everybody . How do we follow Jesus and seek to speak from a place of abundance and generosity rather than a place of anxiety and shortage?
These signs or miracles happen. There is something more.
I remember going back to visit John’s vineyard two or three years after our first visit. By then his wine had been discovered and had tripled in price. Still only 1500 bottle a year, such a shortage, but now worth $40 or $50 a bottle. And we sat down on the same table. And this time what happened? Did John open a bottle of his now very expensive wine and share it so generously with our little group. Or did he just give us a tiny sip in one of those little plastic thimble sized tasting cups?
He was just the same. A generous glass each. The bottle emptied.
I said I’d like to buy a bottle and he said no you don’t need to no its hellishly expensive and you really don’t need to. But we thought it was all very special. And so we bought the wine. And we were kind of talking about thinking of a special future event at which it should be drunk. A wedding maybe. And John says to us just drink it any time and enjoy it. Don’t be so prissy - and so from visiting John Mellars vineyard we take away two bottles of some of the best red wine produced in New Zealand that year.
John, I’m pretty sure, would find it more than amusing to be compared with Jesus. But generosity is always generosity. And the kind of generosity we discover in the Gospel, the abundance of life, the tranformation in the midst of our experiences of shortage and anxiety, the love Jesus shows is always transforming.
Our scripture simply says God is love.
How do we see things? A scrub covered headland or a new vineyard. We look into our cup and it can too often seem like there’s nothing. It’s empty then we realise something Jesus is there. And this free wine and it’s the best wine and there is more than we or anyone could ever drink. Miracles or signs happen. Fear is overcome; We can do that this morning . Let’s welcome God’s transforming generous abundant love.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.