Welcome, Cheviot churches! We worship together on this 2nd Sunday of Epiphany
Call to Worship
How precious is God’s steadfast love!
We will find refuge in the shelter of God’s wings.
Come and feast on God’s abundance.
We will drink from the river of God’s delights.
For with God is the fountain of life;
And in God’s light we will see light.
Hymn 327 – Brightest and Best (1,3,4)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
God of light and life,
as the new year unfolds before us, we begin to feel the sunlight coming back to brighten the winter.
Our spirits grow stronger in the light.
You shine your light into our lives in your Son Jesus.
Your Spirit strengthens us to face whatever this year will hold.
Ever-hospitable God, the storehouse of your love never runs dry. We taste and see your goodness, overflowing, spilling into our lives and the life of the world— love, grace, and mercy enough for all, and more besides. Generous God, forgive us when, in fear, we withhold your grace, worrying that there may not be enough to go around; or, when we judge that others may not be worthy of your blessing. Forgive us when we share your grace with those ‘like us’ and those who like us, forgetting that all of humanity is our neighbour, and all are invited to your feast.
Be assured. No power in heaven or on earth can separate us from God’s great love.
Take heart, and know that we are forgiven.
Readings – Isaiah 62:1-5
Hymn 201 – Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (1,3,4)
Heavenly Father, as your Son Jesus began his earthly ministry at a wedding celebration and through the miracle of changing water into wine showed us the abundance of your wonderful love for us. May our Lord continue to transform the water of our everyday lives into the new wine of your kingdom as we put our faith in Him, transforming by his love the ordinary into the extra-ordinary. Amen
I was visiting my Syrian friends in Galashiels earlier in the week, and I was chatting away to Youssef, when Hania, his wife, appeared with a tray of big bowls of a Syrian type rice pudding sprinkled with coconut. Not something I would ever choose, I must say, but I couldn’t refuse. I managed to clear my bowl, only for Hania to reappear with another bowl. I did refuse this time. Then a plate of fruit appeared – each. Banana, apple, pear, grapes. Eat, eat, eat! It was Middle Eastern hospitality. They don’t have much, but are very generous.
Our Gospel reading today talks about abundance at a wedding reception - though it could have gone so very wrong! It is interesting that John should begin Jesus’ ministry at a wedding reception. First things matter. In Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry with the sermon on the Mount with Jesus as a Moses figure, giving the law. Mark has Jesus immediately into the fray, casting at demons, while Luke has Jesus preaching a sermon on liberation and healing in his home town of Nazareth. Each sets the tone for their Gospels. But John chooses what at first seems a rather frivolous story of turning water into wine. But it was a sign, and John has seven of these signs – like the feeding of the 5000, the walking on water, the raising of Lazarus, all pointing to the kind of person Jesus was, pointing to what he was coming to do, and the first of these was at the wedding reception.
Weddings can last several days in the Middle East, but at this one, the wine ran out. Inconvenient, to say the least. Positively embarrassing for the family, you could acknowledge. But at that time and in that place, it was a real disaster. For wine was more than a social lubricant, but symbolised God’s harvest, God’s blessing. It would be an awful start to anyone’s marriage, if the wine ran out. There was no point looking at who was to blame; something had to be done!
Enter Jesus’ mother. She gave Jesus the ‘look’ and told him to get on with it. He protested his time had not yet come, but Mary had a steely determination about her, and Jesus soon was asking that six big stone jars be filled with water, and when tasted, it was the best of wines, so good that the steward remarked on the family keeping the best wine till last. The day was saved, as were the family’s blushes.
Some commentators look at the six stone purification jars and see the emptiness of the religion at that time, contrasted to what Jesus brought- something new, something out of the ordinary, something transformative. He brought the sign of God’s abundance, for the six jars would have produced 1000 bottles, more than enough for the reception.
In Isaiah 25, there’s a banquet on God’s mountain, where all are satisfied; the Messiah would bring this about. In Isaiah 62, which we read this morning, Israel would be transformed and given a new name – they would no longer be forsaken, but called Hephtzibah, my delight. We have been going through a difficult time, and certainly we are not out of the woods yet, but in this sign John is pointing to God’s extravagant love and abundant grace. As Jesus was committed to the wedding family, so God is committed to us. The story of the wedding in Cana is all about the joy and abundance that Jesus brings in his kingdom, where no-one gets the dregs and where worry is turned to wonder and embarrassment to joy. In this act, Jesus shows the best is yet to come. ‘Don’t worry’, he says, ‘I have saved the best till last’.
Hymn 697 – Let’s praise the Creator
Prayers of Intercession
O God, Jesus brought the joy into lives that needed hope and a new beginning. We pray for all those who need a new beginning this year:
Individuals trying to make a new start,
Families trying to sort through difficulties,
Groups hoping to accomplish good things for others,
Refugees building new homes in a new land,
Students and teachers beginning a new semester,
Businesses and congregations trying to rebuild in uncertain times.
Show each one how much they matter to you,
and renew their courage and resolve to make a fresh start. God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
O God, Jesus changed water into wine to show us that you can accomplish extraordinary things through ordinary lives.
We pray for all those volunteering their energy and concern to make a difference for others in this community.
We pray for our elected leaders and for all workers trying to manage their responsibilities in such challenging times.
We pray for those working for justice, raising awareness to problems in society and for the earth itself.
And we pray for one another and for each good purpose we undertake with new resolve this year.
Give us a glimpse of how our hands become your hands, blessed by the Spirit.
God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
O God, Jesus faced the suffering around him with compassion, reaching out to those in pain and grief with healing and hope.
We remember before you those whose lives are wrapped in sorrow or despair, and those facing tragic death or critical illness…
We remember those burdened by pain or problems that seem to have no end…
Embrace each one with your comfort and courage,
and show us what we can offer to make a difference.
God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
O God in whom we live and move and have our being,
thank you for giving us the courage and commitment we need to follow Christ in good times and in hard times. Thank you for the strength we find together as part of your church and the gifts you give us in each other. Help us trust in the promise of your love for us
and energize us with your Spirit so that we can recognize the opportunities you give us
to live out the grace and mercy we know in Jesus Christ. Amen
Hymn 700 – As man and woman