F.L. Billows

A sermon preached in the English Church, Heidelberg.
SECOND SUNDAY after EPIPHANY, January 20th 1974.

1. The juxtaposition of the miracle at Cana in Galilee, of the water turned into wine, with the passage from Romans, about how we should apply and put together our various gifts, must be ancient. Whether accidental or not it can help us to see our positions as Christians, in whom a miracle can and must - if we are to be true to our calling - take place, and see it more clearly than yesterday or last week.

2. We can see the social applications of the passage from Romans, as a call to build up a co-operative society, in the light of the sayings of Jesus, as recorded in St John's Gospel, chapter fifteen: "Henceforward I call you not servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends", and again: "I am the vine, ye are the branches". This leads us on to the Illustration used by St Paul in the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Romans, in which he uses the grafting of olive trees - a familiar operation to his followers - to remind us of our dependence, and need to rely on the true source of our being, and on our reliance, acknowledged or not, on one another.

3. Today we are more dependent on one another than ever before, yet less conscious of our dependence. Our ancestors used to draw water from the same well as their neighbours, or share the same pump. In many countries they still do, but not here. I used to go to bed, as a child, with a candle which was bought at a shop where we met our neighbours, and often stopped for a chat. We used to get coal delivered, with clouds of black dust, some here still do, as I do, but most of us turn on the heating when we begin to shiver, just as we turn on the light. Our awareness of our neighbours and all those others we depend on for all kinds of Services is reduced to vanishing point.

4. In Uganda, if you met anyone on the high-road - in city streets the custom tends to be neglected - he would greet you with words which mean roughly "Thank you for your work". He takes it for granted that you are fulfilling your social function and recognizes his debt to you for your share in maintaining the social structure.

5. Taken in isolation, the miracle of Cana in Galilee seems to be nothing but a rather good-natured demonstration of the party spirit, a not otherwise significant conjuring trick. But if we remind ourselves that Jesus later invited us to drink wine with him, as a way of remembering and renewing our gratitude for the shedding of his blood for our redemption, the miracle takes on a grandiose character. But there's a further avenue of thought: when we reflect that the making of wine is, in any case, a miracle, turning the rain which falls on the otherwise unremarkable hill-slopes of Wiesloch or Dossenheim into a delicious and gladdening social cement, and if we remember what, in themselves nasty dirty substances such as coal and mineral oil, are turned into in our industrial society, we can see this miracle as a reminder of what some people are, and we ought to be, doing with their and our modest resources of gifts and opportunities.

6. To take an example from my own work, if I go into a lecture or a lesson in a school, vainglorious and confident in my power to sway and astonish an audience, all I produce is a rather insipid and watery brew, and no uplift or emotional release can be detected in the audience. But if I call on God to rid me of all self-seeking or secret desires for personal aggrandizement and pray, before I begin to teach or lecture, somehow like this: "I know nothing of any value, and my vanity, obtuseness and self-concern will inevitably prevent me from saying anything valuable, unless I am blessed and filled with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit," then I see in front of me a miracle unfold equivalent to the turning of water into wine. It seems to have nothing to do with me, but is convincing evidence, however astonishinq that "my life is hid with Christ in God".


Last updated 30.3.2007
Burkhard Leuschner