St Stephen

'Signs' in St John's Gospel

January 19th 1992

Isaiah 62: 1-5
1 Corinthians 12: 4 - 11
John 2: 1-11

In St John's Gospel, miracles are always called "signs", so this morning let us begin by thinking about the importance of signs.

Entrance, Emergency Exit, Toilets, Bus Stop. All of those appear on signs to direct us towards something. And very welcome they can be too!

But note, they will only be of use to us if we follow the direction they are pointing us in. And then notice that the thing we're really interested in is not the sign itself but something else, which may be some distance away. The sign is not the toilet or the emergency exit, and the thing we are really interested in about the bus stop is not the concrete post with the metal label but the bus which will (we hope) stop there.

But now let's look at another sort of Sign a Warning Sign. No Through Road, Beware of Pickpockets, Danger, Thin Ice!.

Here again, this sign itself is of no importance. It will only help us if we obey it. If we don't see it, or choose to ignore it, then it will in itself do nothing for us.

And thirdly, think of those signs which if you read them carefully have a lot of useful information on them. That noticeboard outside your Church for instance. It will not only tell you the name of the Church and its Vicar but also the times of services, how to book the hall, and fix up a baptism. But once again if you don't see it, heed and follow it, it will not serve the purpose for which it was put there.

See, Read, Follow. The signs (or miracles) of Jesus were intended to be seen, to be read or studied, and to be followed. In the case of each and every one of them there were some people who saw them and some who didn't notice anything unusual; of those who noticed his signs some studied them and others just passed by them; and of those who both noticed and read them only a handful followed where they pointed, the glory of God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ.

"He let his glory be seen and his disciples believed in him" those are the closing words of today's gospel.

So signs or notices are bound to be great dividers - between those who follow them through, and those who for any reason or at any stage do not follow them through.

You and I are here this morning, I take it, because we have chosen to follow through the signs of Jesus. In this sense we are already in company of thousands of other people who do the same, other Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and so forth and we already enjoy a measure of the unity for which we pray during this Week of Prayer for Christian unity. At the same time, following the signs to Christ puts us light years away from those who do not follow him. So as Jesus warned us, following him will be a great splitting off experience.

On the one hand we shall be in company with Jesus, his disciples, his mother, the servants who did what he told them with the water pots; and on the other we shall be separated from the other people who had come to the wedding and were unaware that anything unusual had taken place.

What is this sign of Cana meant to show us about Jesus? Above all I think it is about changing the value of things. In this case the water becomes wine.

Now water isn't something of no value. We needed to live and a great many things like washing and keeping cool and keeping ships afloat depend upon the properties of water.

But water gets transformed into other more valuable things. The rain falling on the vineyard makes the grapes grow; and the grapes, duly processed by the wine maker turn into wine. In so doing the value of the water is changed. But at every stage of its transformation proper procedures have got to be followed.

Jesus at Cana shows us what he can do with ordinary things if he is allowed to get his hands on them; and if people do as he tells them, ordinary things become of extraordinary value.

But they only become so if people will see, read and follow the signs which he gives. In this sense we need to be not only consumers but producers. Hence St Paul's insistence upon using the gifts which God has given to each one of us as he sees fit.

Signs and Gifts go hand in hand. Signs, if you like, are the Maker's instructions as to how to use the Gifts properly. The man who uses the Gifts of God without following the signs, or reading the instructions is liable to misuse them and end up so to speak with a Spiritual headache or hang-over. The man who tries to follow the signs whilst ignoring the gifts he has been given will end up being frustrated - because he lacks the raw-material so to speak. But the man who sees and uses the gifts given to him by God according to the Manufacturer's instructions will say like the steward said to the bridegroom, "Well this really is the real stuff!"

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