Transformed Empty Vessels

21 Jan

John 2:1-11

Today we turn to the story of Jesus as told in the Gospel of John. Here we encounter the first miracle Jesus apparently did – turning water into wine at a community wedding in Cana.

Jesus is invited to what was most likely a family wedding. Everybody in the community was there including his own mother and family and the disciples. Some where during the proceedings the unforgivable happens – they run out of wine.

Mary, obviously aware of the embarrassment mentions this blunder to Jesus and he responds in his customary way – it’s not about me yet – my time has not come. Perhaps there was also a perfectly human response of, “Really and that my problem? Tell them to go get more.”

We do not know what changes his mind. Did Mary castigate him and told him not to be a party pooper and help out or did he decide to relieve the host of his dilemma and embarrassment? We don’t know but John uses it to reflect upon the sovereignty of God as found in the man Jesus – God’s sovereignty over the created world.

This theme repeats itself throughout the Gospels. Jesus calms the waters, overcomes demons, revives the dead and heals the sick. Jesus is imbued with creative power of the Godhead and is apparently unlimited in his capacity to interrupt the natural flow of life as we know it.

In this passage we have an interesting take on this conflict of sovereignty. In the last two weeks we have discussed this in terms of worldly power and divine capacity. Today it is about the starting point for Jesus, he starts with empty pots, not clean pots because during the event these pots had been used for ritual cleaning. They had been emptied as people had dipped into them to wash feet, hands and various parts of their body as required by law. They had been full at the beginning but they were now empty.

Jesus takes what has little to offer other than the capacity of emptiness, an empty vessel, and gets others to fill them with water. This must have confused them because first they filled them up, then they emptied them out and now they were to fill them again. Why?

Mary says don’t you worry about that, he knows what he is doing. Did she really know or was she hopeful, remembering back to those things she had pondered about him and his birth and wanted some form of affirmation that what she thought was true was in fact true?

Whatever the reason she says what she says and they shrug their shoulders and do as they are told. They were probably slaves anyway, why would they argue? Yet do we always respond with out question to what the Godhead asks us to do? Are we completely in tune with the practice of the sermon on the mount for example or do we quibble, question, tarry and avoid, only acting when, like Jonah, there seems little choice?

Jesus does little in the miracle – there is no waving of a magic wand, no magical words, no abracadabra or budget surplus, simply when the chief steward takes a swig, low and behold they have a vintage to rival Grange Hermitage, new wine in empty vessels, vessels waiting for a purpose.

Are we vessels waiting for a purpose or have we filled ourselves up with stuff to such an extent that there is no room for the glory of God? In the period in which Jesus came, religious people were enslaved to ritual law and practice and the conflict between the occupiers and their long held traditions and stories. They were controlled by law, law designed to bring about a good and righteous life but instead produced a sterile and inert faith and religious practice. Has it been or is it any different in our recent history? Are we similar to all who have proceeded us?

Yes we are. Distrust of politicians has been high with even the Romans and philosophers such as Socrates and Plato expressing such. The 2017 Ipsos MORI Veracity Index politicians remain the least trusted profession in Britain while faith in priests is now 20 points lower than in 1983, when they were the most trusted profession. This year (2017) two thirds (65%) trust them to tell the truth, their lowest recorded level.”

It is so easy to fill ourselves with the stuff of being human, the need to be busy, the fear of missing out that we leave no room for the mystery at the centre of all.

We live on High Street. High Street is a busy street and it is rarely quiet. Despite the fact that we have double-glazed windows the traffic noise can be deafening especially the large semis who use their air-breaks going down the hill. What I have noticed is the silence, the deep and unbroken silence that remains long after the noise appears to drown it out. It is a deep silence that is un-impacted by the noise. If you empty yourself of the noise, your focus on the noise, you begin to realise that the silence is more powerful and present than anything else – the trucks, motorbikes, cars, ambulances, breaks and horns – of all this the empty silence remains. And it is this silence that gives life to life itself. Without that silence there would just be empty noise, unceasing empty noise.

Perhaps this is how the sovereignty of God is – despite the noise of human endeavour, sovereignty is the empty vessel holding all possibilities within itself. For all intent and purpose it seems to be empty, of no value, containing no thing; yet it contains and enlivens all things, it is the pot, vessel or container in which ordinary water, the ordinary stuff of everyday life becomes the very best wine, the exquisite ordinariness of one open to the possibilities of being filled.

As a result of this display of sovereignty and subtle power the disciples believed in him. Is this the first time they had? If so why were they there if they didn’t believe? What about the ordinary folk, did they believe in him or was this an elitist intuition, only open to those who spent time with him? Had they needed something spectacular (although on the scale of spectacular this about a 4) to confirm their intuitions or…

Sometimes we can hang around Jesus and his story, at the edge of the church and the mob milling around him and not really get it. Thomas was one of those, so was Jonah, until something happens, something as mundane as turning water into wine, and then we are filled and begin to get what its all about.

Are we able to sufficiently empty ourselves so that we place ourselves in the space to be filled or is there no room within for this divine silence to dwell? Amen

Additional Information:

Politicians remain the least trusted profession in Britain


The Ipsos MORI Veracity Index is the longest-running poll on trust in professions in Britain, having been asked consistently since 1983. The 2017 edition reveals the esteem the British public holds for a variety of professions, with some fresh additions in the form of weather forecasters and professional footballers. Key headlines include:

  • Nurses remain the most trusted profession in Britain. Ninety-four per cent trust them to tell the truth, just ahead of doctors (91%).
  • Government Ministers and politicians are again the least trusted; 19% trust Ministers and 17% trust politicians more generally. In a follow-up wave conducted after numerous sexual harassment cases in Parliament came to light, trust was at 22% and 20% – not significantly different to the scores beforehand.
  • Three quarters trust weather forecasters to tell the truth (76%), making them the seventh-most trusted profession.
  • Trust in the police is at its highest recorded level. At 74%, trust has risen by 13 percentage points since 1983.
  • Trust in professors has risen strongly since 2011, when this profession was last included. Eighty-five per cent trust these academics to tell the truth, up from 74% six years ago.
  • Faith in priests is now 20 points lower than in 1983, when they were the most trusted profession**.** This year two thirds (65%) trust them to tell the truth, their lowest recorded level.
  • Trust in scientists has equalled the highest recorded level – 83% now trust them to tell the truth, the joint-highest recorded score (it was previously this high in 2014). The proportion trusting scientists has risen 20 percentage points since 1997.
  • Professional footballers are trusted by just a quarter of the public (26%), putting them on a par with estate agents (27%).
  • Trust in journalists – while low – is also at a record high. 27% of the public trust them to tell the truth, the highest score since the survey began.

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