Sunil Chandy

Water to wine- the act that welcomes all

There is the story of Johnny Carson, the host of The Tonight Show speaking to an eight year old boy. The young man had rescued two friends in a coal mine in West Virginia. As Johnny spoke with the boy, it was clear that boy was a Christian. So Carson asked, if he attended Sunday school. When the boy said yes.  He asked "What are you learning in Sunday school?" "Last week," came his reply, "our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine." The audience roared with laughter but Carson tried to keep a straight face. Then he said, "And what did you learn from that story?" The boy shifted a bit- it was clear that he hadn't thought about this. But then his face lite up and he replied, "If you're going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!"


To the modern hearer, it might be a bit puzzling to hear that Jesus’ first public act in John’s Gospel Is turning water into win-now I know you might say—hey by Episcopal standards that this is an exceptional miracle.  But really water into wine?- In the Gospel of Mark--Jesus’ first public act is an exorcism, in Matthew it is the Sermon on the Mount; in Luke it is a sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth on the sabbath.


So what is John's is trying to tell us about Jesus and his ministry in this first story?

Let’s look and see: 

Jesus’s family is invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee and he and his disciples tag along.  As we look into this story we see a little bit of comedic tension between a mother and her son. Reminding us though Jesus is God, he is still a son.  Mary is a demanding mother has faith in the abilities of her son.  So much so she goads Jesus to take care of a problem.  A problem that would have been a shameful experience for the family of the bridegroom.      


So what does Jesus do—he directs that six stone water jars which were to be used “for the Jewish rites of purification” to be filled with water.  The water in those jars would have been used for making people ritually clean to participate in the community celebration.  This is important because in the Gospel of John, there is a running debate between Jesus and the religious authority.  Where as the Authorities adopt of posture of following the rules that allowed some to be in and others to be out.  Jesus offers a grace that welcomes all.  By changing this water into wine, Jesus makes a symbolic statement that foretells Jesus’s ministry. Because really Jesus could have gotten water from any where else to may wine from but he chose the Jars of purification and repurposed them for grace.   The jars could not be used for ritual purification any longer.  In other words no would have to jump through hoops to be made clean or worthy to join the party. 


John calls this miracle the first of many signsthat reveals the glory of God in Jesus.   In the Gospel there are  6 other signs that reveal who Jesus is.  The signs could be miracles but they didn’t have to be.   For John the signs confirmed belief, encouraged faith, transformed individuals.  For John it is not the miracle that was important- for you see once the wine is gone- it doesn’t really matter how good it tasted but what is significant is that the sign helped the people to discern that there is something special going on- God is doing something and especially with Jesus.   The sign of the changing of water into wine at Cana- lead those disciples who on the fence about Jesus to be confirmed in their faith!  It lead them to a deeper commitment to God through Jesus. 


For you see in the Gospel of John,  those who could recognize the signs were people who could spiritually see and understand the power of God as opposed to those whocould not see the signs and who were spiritually lost. 


Signs are important for us in our world as well .  We see a stop sign and we do what? We stop of course!   We see the flashing lights of a police car we immediately recognize the sign and slow down or pull over- and pray we don’t get a ticket. 


In church there are signs that are brimming with great symbolism, Baptism is one:  when a child- or an adult and the baptized it is a powerful sign, we call it a sacrament an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  The sign tells us something about holiness of the act and the holiness of the promise being made.   


Sometimes there are signs that are not so positive, this past week in the news we encountered a sign in our Anglican Church.  A sign that revealed a deep division within our Anglican church,  as we wrestle with hard issues of who is welcomed and included by God in our church.  I am speaking of course of the recent sanctioning of the Episcopal Church by Anglican Primates.


The sanction recommends that, the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, “no longer represent the Anglican Church on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, and should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committeeand they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”


The sanctions were imposed in response to our churches decision at General Convention last June to change canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).


But even though there is a call for sanctions the Primates called for an unanimous desire to walk together in the grace and love of Jesus Christ. 


What we might understand from this sign is that there is still a lot of work to do to reconcile differing perspectives in our Anglican Church. 


But in the midst of the great work that has to be done.  Our presiding Bishop Michael Curry and our Diocesan Bishop Nick reminds us, that Jesus calls us to be House of prayer welcoming all people.  We are church firmly and courageously hold to the understanding that whether you are gay or straight, black, white, latino, Asian, young or old, conservative or liberal the Episcopal Church is your church!  And that our church is part of movement that began with the first miracle in Cana of Galilee. A Jesus movement- a movement of justice, it is a movement that acknowledges that God loves us- all of us. 


I am proud our church, I have faith in our church – because it is a church that welcomes all with the grace of God!


Because friends Jesus has been invited to our party- and his isour community.  And by God’s grace we will by the g walk and pray with those who do not share our point of view.  And by our walk we will  fulfill our vocation to welcome all to Jesus.  And we will be a community that isvisible sign of God’s inward Grace! So that all may learn and believe!



"An Ordinary Christmas"


The Rev. Sunil Chandy


Christ Church Westerly, RI


Merry Christmas


Tonight is Christmas Eve, and for many of us, we are familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. 


It begins, with shepherds watching their sheep. There are angels, prophesies, and of course Empires and Kings that provide-the backstory. In fact folks, the very cosmos is involved, as the God is ever present in the story. 


The Gospel of Luke describes powerful forces at work because the birth story of Jesus begins a new phase in the struggle between Good and Evil, Light and Darkness. 

Between a hopeful vision for the world- a vision filled with justice, peace and goodwill as opposed to a world filled with greed, violence and hate. 


But in the midst of this epic struggle, Luke does something extraordinary- he focuses his attention on ordinary folk- like you and me, he moves our gaze to simple shepherds, an ordinary carpenter, a teenage mother, and a new born infant. We watch as they respond in faith to the fulfillment of God’s promise.    


And this is not just in this birth story, in the scriptures that follow,  Luke, focuses on Simeon and Anna, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John and countless other ordinary folk as he advances the movement of that Epic Universal Struggle- a struggle that is won finally for Good in sacrifice of that same child who would grow to be know as Jesus.  A man who tells us that God’s Vision of a Just Good World is a reality for us- if we act with faith and compassion!  He reminds us of this even at his death on the cross that for every act of violence and hate-- if we respond in faith and love--the forces of Good will win over the forces of evil!


Why does Luke do this? And Why is this important to us?   


Because in Luke’s story the ordinary people are forerunners ... of future believers.  And he Luke invites, to relate to the them.  To see ourselves in them.  To understand that we can be like them, the shepherds-- are who are waiting for purpose, waiting for something meaningful to be apart of and to be joyful about.  Or we are like Mary and Joseph  caught up in a violent, and busy world, and  filled with pressures and forces we can’t control.  For you see their world is not unlike our own, filled with fear, terrorism poverty and a host of other problems.  But Luke reminds us that it is to this broken world that God chooses to establish a new way. 


And this new way it must be chosen by of these simple folk.


In response to the visit of the Angles the shepherds move from terror to rejoicing. Joseph and Mary moves from anxiety and worry to reflection and recommitment to God. 

And our response to the Good news is a choice as well that will help the vision of God to be a reality.


Because friends Choices matter, because what we choose to believe about ourselves and our world defines how we live in it.
I would like to offer you a gift today.  It is a story that I heard over 15 years ago and it changed the way I see myself in the world.  Its about a boy named Teddy.


He was one of those kids! Disinterested in school; wrinkled clothes; uncombed hair; you know the type--a deadpan face; unfocused stare. Miss Thompson his teacher, just couldn’t relate to Teddy. He always answered in monosyllables. He was unattractive, unmotivated. He was just plain hard to like.


You know how parents say they love they love their kids all the same. You know that’s not true, sometimes you love some better than others. Well for teachers I think it’s the same thing!  Miss Thompson said she loved the all the class the same way but deep down this wasn’t completely truth. Whenever she marked Teddy’s work, she got a bit of pleasure Xs next to the wrong answers, and when she put the Fs at the top of the papers, she did it with a flair.

She knew better; she had his records and knew his history.


1st Grade: Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude, but poor home situation.

2nd Grade: Teddy could do better. Mother is seriously ill. He receives little help at home.

3rd Grade: Teddy is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.

4th Grade: Teddy is very slow, but well behaved. His father shows no interest.


Well Christmas came and the kids in Miss Thompson’s class brought her presents. Among the presents was one from Teddy. She was surprised.


Teddy’s gift was wrapped in ugly brown paper and held together with Scotch tape. On the paper were written the simple words, "For Miss Thompson from Teddy." When she opened Teddy’s present, there was a half bottle of perfume (not the really expensive type) and also out from the bag fell a gaudy rhinestone. The other kids started to laugh, but Miss Thompson had enough compassion to silenced them by immediately putting some of the perfume on her wrist and then holding her wrist up for the kids to smell, she said "Doesn’t it smell lovely?" And the children agreed with "oohs" and "aahs."


At the end of the day, when school. Teddy stayed behind. He came over to her desk and said softly, "Miss Thompson...Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother...and her bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you liked your presents." When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her, for her cynicism and lack of compassion.


The next day when the children came to school, they were welcomed a new Miss Thompson.  She chose to became a different person, no longer just a teacher going through the motions; she had become an agent of God. A person committed to loving her children and doing things for them that would live on after her. She helped all the children, but especially the slow ones, ones like Teddy Stallard. By the end of that school year, Teddy showed amazing progress! He had caught up with most of the students and then She didn’t hear from him for a long time. One day, she received a note that read:


Dear Miss Thompson:

I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class.

Love, Teddy Stallard


Four years later, another note came:

Dear Miss Thompson:

They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I like it.

Love, Teddy Stallard


And four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson:

As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were still alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year.

Love, Teddy Stallard


Miss Thompson went to that wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat. She deserved to sit there because her faith and Godly response helped to change a young man’s life, a life that would touch the lives of others!


Yes my friends Luke is right- it is the faithful, courageouschoices of ordinary people like you and me who will build the kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish! 


So Friends, this Christmas, for this year- for every act of violence or meaness that you experience or see find a way to respond to the world in love!  For every fearful or angry moment you may have choose to respond in faith and compassion! For this is the model of the savior child born in bethlahemand it model for establishing God’s dream of a Kingdom of Peace.