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Sermon: Cathedral Eucharist - 17 January 2016

Sunday 17th January 2016
Cathedral Eucharist
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The opening airport scene of Love Actually is full of moments of loving recognition: Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, health or status human love is poured out in hugs, kisses, embraces. From Heathrow to Guildford Station, we've all been there: waiting, scanning the crowd, glimpsing love.

 The Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, says: 'Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.  Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there...'

To embrace expresses the risk and vulnerability of love - you stand, arms flung wide; waiting and hoping that the other will respond. You embrace, enfolded for a moment in wordless affection. That's but the beginning. For embrace then means letting go, stepping back, moving on. Embracing whatever might unfold.

Embrace risks openness to the other: the lonely, ostracised and busy; the self-sufficient, judgemental and weary. As a Communion, we face most acutely the hope and  pain of being in relationship: the desire to maintain conversation and build trust, the deep hurt  of alienation and the depth of our difference.  Today's  Gospel  of overwhelming abundance meets us in this broken middle.

Jean Vanier in his poetic and prophetic commentary on John, describes marriage as a covenant of love a 'sign of sacred union, enfolded in love, that enables people to grow in forgiveness, tenderness, kindness and compassion'.  Having recently contributed a chapter to a book that seeks to think again about marriage, the fruitfulness of such exclusive intimacy is, I think, important precisely because it looks beyond the bonding of human sexuality.

That bonding becomes a sign of a love that is radically "more than".  Marriage is a public and inclusive relationship which can be a sign of the abundance of love that cannot be possessed but only given.  The paradox is that as two become one, space is created for a third - and for many others - in hospitality, compassion, generosity. Things extend beyond the couple into a multiplication of love.

Cana is about wine in abundance.  Vast quantities of water are transformed.  The ordinary becomes excellent.  It is enjoyed when the guests have already had plenty to drink.  But this generosity and abundance comes from a place of lack.

The party is in full swing, noone is paying attention to the potential crisis of grumbling guests and an embarrassed couple. One person does notice. It is Mary who pays attention. It is Mary who trusts Jesus. Their exchange is opaque. But perhaps it alerts us to the deep awareness that what is about to happen is not merely the alleviation of a potential social disaster; rather it is sign of the breadth and depth of love, actually.

Yes, this is about abundance of life and joy, which increases our capacity to receive, and therefore give, even more love.

Yes, it is a glimpse of our ultimate reality when God's love will be all in all.

Yes, it reveals our deepest desires to be known and loved.

But, when does this abundance manifest itself?

When the wine runs out, when there is nothing left, transformation occurs.

When we are most vulnerable, most wounded, most broken, most fearful, love is there.

When we lack everything, when hopes are crushed, in the face of terrible loneliness, the anguish of exclusion, even there is love.

When others seek to dominate or control, when the vanities of power, ambition or moral superiority come to the fore, when fragmentation seems all but inevitable; may be love is there.

When walking together seems impossible and mutual affection inexpressible; perhaps love is especially there.

When the cost of our loving is painful, when those who love face prejudice and violence, and when our own lack of love falls short: there, most generously, is love.

None of us can be written out of this story of abundant love.

To return to Jean Vanier, 'our desire for love is not a hoax, awakening in us a thirst for an unattainable, infinite, eternal love that can be quickly crushed by the limits and brokenness in us all. We are not cheated of love; love is possible'.

If this is our ultimate hope, how do we move forward when at a human or institutional level we feel cheated?

In part, the answer lies in the moment we see Mary with her son our saviour in the final chapters of John. Jesus' hour has come. The consumption of excellent wine at a wedding reveals the abundance of God's love; the water and blood flowing from his pierced side, reveals the depth and cost of that love.

This is glory: the refusal to refuse to love.

At this Eucharist we are caught up in that - continuing to break bread; continuing to partake of one cup.  We do so in a fearless hope that this is not the end. Just as water was turned into rich wine, so the poverty of our human nature is transformed by the riches of his grace. It is only in the renewal of our lives that God's glory breaks through. And not in the renewal of our lives alone, but those of our brothers and sisters in America, Pakistan, Nigeria, Australia and Mexico.

On Friday, Michael, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church said: 'The pain for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to 'walking together' with you as fellow Primates in the Anglican family'.

May we remain committed to walk together, bearing the pain, hope and bewilderment.  May we walk together because the marginalised need the prophetic; the persecuted need visionaries; the proud need the humble. As in marriage, so in the church, love is abundant. The more it gives, the more it receives, in order to give.

Radical love cannot be an exclusive club; it has to be an inclusive witness.

In washing feet, the Primates stayed together.  Perhaps what Archbishop Justin has risked in reconciliation is the possibility of the transformation of the Anglican Communion - where fear and rejection will be replaced by trust and affection, where reproach will be transfigured by grace.

Paul reminded the fragile and fractious Corinthian church:  'No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit'. More than ever, we need the affirmation of the varieties of gifts, service and activity; of wisdom, knowledge and healing.