Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘wine’

Water, Wine, Love

John 2:1-11

Have you ever wanted to tantalize an audience with an amazing magic trick?
How about showing off your miracle skills in front of a bunch of people?
Would you like to turn water into wine?

waterTowine

Yes, even you can be a miracle worker! Thanks, science!

catscientist

The Science of water into wine and wine into water:[1]
1. Place a small amount of sodium hydroxide in the first glass and a little phenolphthalein in the second. In the third, add a weak acid, such as vinegar. Using differently shaped glasses ensures that you will not get them confused.

2. Fill a jug with water when you are demonstrating this experiment to others. As this is plain water, you can let your audience taste it.

3. Pour water into the first glass and stir. This is now no longer pure water but a mildly alkaline solution.

4. Pour the contents of the first glass into the second and stir. Watch as the mixture changes color, because phenolphthalein is a pH indicator that turns red in alkaline solutions.

5. Pour the red liquid into the third glass and stir once more. The acid neutralizes the solution, which should now become clear again.

So wait…was Jesus a mad scientist or fake peddler of miracles?

Cartoon Sale man selling his wares outside his car

Probably neither.
I think we obsess [a lot] over Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel stories, and that leads us to obsessing over “miracle cures” that make it to our email inbox or redirect us to another link via Facebook or other social media. Personally, I don’t think that the Gospel stories intend for us to focus on miraculous things so as to prove Jesus was great.

I love the stories and try my best to respect them. And each Gospel IS a story; John is no different. So no, the whole “water to wine” thing was not all about Jesus being some sort of magician/mad scientist back in the day. It’s a story loaded with metaphors and symbols. So here is some background:

Cana is the setting–a village in Galilee, about 9 miles north of Nazareth. And it’s a wedding! Keep in mind that at the time of John’s Gospel stories about Jesus [i.e. the end of the 1st/beginning of 2nd Century], in Israel and Palestine, weddings were a big deal. They typically lasted a week.

So you can imagine just how much wine was needed. So it goes that the hosts of the wedding would serve the best wine at the beginning of the wedding celebration, when everyone could taste and enjoy. And then, after a few days of partying, the hosts would break out the cheaper stuff, because by that time, nobody noticed.

Morewine

That is the setting in this John story, and it’s quite the story. Apparently, the wedding hosts ran out of wine–at least Jesus’ mom thinks so. That’s right–an appearance from Jesus’ mom! Mary [Miriam] appears suddenly in Luke and Matthew’s birth story that we read at Christmastime, but after that, she pretty much disappears. In John’s Gospel, however, Miriam/Mary appears twice–here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry [first miracle story], and then at his death. But in this case, at a wedding, we get an actual conversation between Mary and her son, Jesus. Mary notes that the wedding hosts have run out our wine. Jesus’ response is that they should have hired a better wedding planner. Mary then tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.

So the servants filled the water pots, six of them, with water, and then they brought the pots to the governor of the feast, the head planner of the event. Upon tasting the so-called water, the governor was shocked to taste good wine. Thus ends a fun and interesting story complete with a magic trick/miracle.

But….

There’s more to the story

As you can probably guess. John’s authors are not just telling us a nice fairy-tale to remember something magical Jesus did. So let’s look at just a few of the symbols in John’s wedding tale.

First, the story begins with this phrase: And on the third day…a marriage…

Marriages and banquets are eschatological images, or in other words, symbolic events referring to what will happen in the future. Often the Hebrew prophets and the NT Gospels [as well as the NT book of Revelation] use the image of a wedding feast to symbolize paradise, the afterlife, or in general, some good ending for humanity, and the world. And I’m guessing that “on the third day” triggers your Spidey senses. Indeed, three of the Gospels explicitly go out of their way to state that Jesus’ resurrection took place on the third day. So what we have here is a pleasant, joyful, symbol of grace, community and abundance, as well as the idea of new life, even after death.

Also, are you wondering about what Jesus said to his mom?
“What to me and you, woman? 

RavenOhSnap

Sounds a bit harsh in English, I’ll admit, and Raven thinks so, too.

Simply put, though, in Greek [and considering the culture and time], how Jesus addresses his mom is actually very, very respectful. He didn’t call her mother, but woman. This is expressing equality. Mary, in Jesus ‘eyes, is not just a mother, but a full human being with purpose that extends well beyond society’s conventions.

Also, notice these words of Jesus: My hour is not yet come.

Another reference to Jesus’ death, and because John’s author wrote this Gospel well after Jesus’ death, of course Jesus in the story can refer to something that has not yet happened. So John is reminding all of us that the wedding at Cana is the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and eventually, to the cross. John’s Gospel calls this the first of the signs–seven in total.

Some notable details
First, there were six stone water jars. Six being one less than seven [according to my mathematical genius], which you probably know is a good number, no wait–a VERY good number in Biblical literature. So seven means completeness or wholeness. Only having six water jars means that you’re so close, but so painfully far from wholeness!

Further, the jars were also set “according to the Judean cleansing” which is a reference to the Mosaic Law of the Jewish tradition. Even weddings were set up in such a way as to follow the Jewish rituals. But having six jars means that the rituals and laws weren’t enough to bring the people wholeness. So everyone was missing something.

Next, the governor of the feast is juxtaposed with the servants. The governor, when he is served the now wine-filled jars, is shocked at the good taste but also has no idea where the wine came from.

The story clearly tells us that the servants are not shocked and also know where the wine came from, because they were direct participants in its making. So once again, the powerful, the heads of society, the so-called elites, or celebrities don’t know what’s going on, and the so-called servants and lower-class people totally know what’s up, cuz they are making it happen!

And finally, the governor’s words of every person gives the good wine first, and when they were drunk, the lesser (wine). You have kept the good wine until now shows that Jesus and co. don’t care much for conventions or social rules. The good wine, the good life, should be available at any time, for anyone.

The details speak for themselves
Thus, you should be able to draw your own wonderful conclusions from this story. I hope you do.

My final thoughts:

Miracles, whatever that word means to you, don’t happen unless it’s a collective effort.

Miracles, to me, are surprising occurrences in everyday life. They could be explained by science, or maybe not. Either way, they are still miracles to me. But they happen in everyday life, and they happen because people make then happen, together.

Secondly, we should stop relying so much on social and religious customs and traditions. They just don’t cut it and leave us feeling a bit empty. Why should we only serve the best wine at a certain time? Who says so? Why do we have to have a certain number of jars, prepared in a certain way? Who says? Why should the rich and powerful always get to make decisions while others don’t? Why do we have to have all these social levels and categories of people? Who says so?

The good wine at the great feast is and should be accessible for everyone. And that good wine fills everyone’s cup to the brim, and the cup is full now.
[1] http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryhowtoguide/ht/waterwine.htm

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New Things, Beautiful and Changed

Mark 2:21-22  

Have you  moved a lot in your life?
I know I have. I have way too many memories of packing up stuff and cleaning out an apartment, a dorm room, or a house.

That’s the worst part of moving, isn’t?

Each time I moved, I had to come to that awful, eye-opening revelation that I just had too much stuff and now what am I going to do with it all?

It’s overwhelming.

Well, at least it is when you’re in the midst of all that packing and cleaning.

And yet, something happened to me every time I moved—whether as a kid, or a teenager, or a student, or an adult—once all that stuff was gone or packed, I felt pretty great.
In fact, I felt light as air.

And if you’ve ever been in a “temporary” living space for a while, unable to have all your “stuff” by your side, the first few days are frustrating, but after that, something happens.

Again.

You feel liberated.

Some of my fondest memories in life involve an empty house in Indiana; an unfurnished studio apartment in Honolulu, Hawai’i; a bare-bones dorm in Princeton, NJ; and a period of many months when my partner Maria and I did not have any of our stuff because it was in storage somewhere.

Why is that?

Perhaps you have your own answers to that question.
For me, the reason I felt so liberated each time I moved was because the change made me aware of my attachment to all the stuff in my life, and I’m not just talking about furniture, clothes, or knickknacks.

I mean my attachment to the past—to a life I lived somewhere else that was now over.

My attachment to memories and places.

In this case, I agree with the Beatles when they state in their song In My Life:

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
In my life I’ve loved them all

 

But the song continues with a realization:

And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Sure, this may be portrayed as a love song, but it’s always resonated with me as a love song for our memories. Yes, I do stop and think about all the places I’ve lived and been; I do think about the people who have come in and out of my life; and I do have affection for those memories.

But today, in my life in this moment, I see something more important.

I love this moment more than my memories, because it’s real.

I love the people and things in my life right now more than my past.
That doesn’t mean that my memories are worthless or harmful.
It simply means that I embrace today more than yesterday.

And such a change should not scare us.

Maybe that’s why this Jesus saying about wine and wineskins that appears in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas has always spoken to me.

Funny, though—it’s basically an argument.
Jesus is arguing with his own disciples [and others] about the memories of tradition.

Hmmm….maybe this wasn’t written in the 1st or 2nd century?

It all sounds so familiar.

People were arguing with Jesus because they noticed that he and his disciples didn’t follow the “normal” religious rules. They weren’t fasting as much as they were supposed to and when they were supposed to.

Of course, this was about more than fasting.
Jesus was also criticized for healing people, remember.
That’s right—you heard me.
He was criticized for healing people—for doing something so amazingly wonderful and life-giving.

Healing wasn’t a tradition on the Sabbath. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a criticism of Judaism—it’s a criticism of religion in general.

Christians are no different than the Pharisees and disciples who were more interested in protecting the memories of the past than actually living compassionately today.

Curious, isn’t it, that while Christians claim to believe in a God who is a God of change and claim to follow the Jesus of change and claim to be guided by and filled with the Spirit of change—most Christians fear change.

There’s a sense in the church institution that things were always better way back when.

Remember when…

But Jesus throws down a teaching here that is significant for any century.
Don’t put new wine in old wineskin.

If you have chosen to be a person of faith, and this spirituality you choose to develop is a “new” thing or at least something that “renews” you every day–why in the world would such a thing feel heavy?

If you choose to be a person of faith, this should not be a burden to you. It should not weigh you down; it should not be about “I can’t do this or that”; it should not make you legalistic, rigid, or limited.

So why then, is much of religion such a burden and so heavy?

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coatIt’s heavy, because we keep trying to put new things in old things.

In the Gospel story, wine is a metaphor, of course, but real wine was indeed a staple of the culture of Jesus.
No one would never put new wine in an old wineskin.
It would ruin it!

New-wineIt’s really a simple metaphor about embracing change and letting the past be the past.
But I’m quite sure you’ve had moments [or days, or week, or months] when you wanted to put your past behind you but just couldn’t.

You wish you could do that so you could move forward in your life.
But you keep hearing [and feeling] that you have to hold onto your past for some reason.
So you keep trying to introduce new ideas or experiences into that old life, it just doesn’t take.

Hey, I understand.

Every time I moved in to a new place and tried to introduce the same old things from my old place, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t work. I had to rearrange or get rid of some things altogether.

The difficult truth we all have to hear is that we need to let the past be yesterday.

It’s difficult, but we have to let go of anything that weighs us down or keeps us from moving out of the past and into the present moment.

This affords us the opportunity to be free.
And, it enables us to be creative, to love, to help, and to fully live.

The past is something that can cause fear and confusion. It can make us believe that some things are impossible and that some things will just never change.

A couple of years ago, the congregation I serve decided to put up two signs [one a rainbow design] that clearly welcomed the LGBTQ community in a public way.

People left the church.
Founding and long-time members quit. Others continued to grumble. Eventually, because of what those two signs led to [more freedom and less fear of change], more people left. The first rainbow sign, after it was put up, was even stolen.

Many members of the congregation who stuck around started to be more active in their community. They welcomed and helped people who had no place to go and sometimes no food to eat. They formed more partnerships with people of different religions and those who didn’t claim a religious background. It was new wine.

And yet, there was still grumbling; and fear; and resistance.

The new wine was bursting the old wineskin.

And the more they interacted with people who were atheistic, agnostic, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Baha’i, Sikh, Buddhist, gay, lesbian, transgender, yellow, brown, pink, orange, and black; speakers of languages other than English; loud and energized toddlers; inquisitive and skeptical teenagers; suburban, urban, and rural folk; those with money and jobs and those with neither; families with kids and those without; single moms and dads; straight and gay couples…

The wine spilled out.

The old wineskin just didn’t function anymore. The heavy religious stuff didn’t make sense.

And for those who were able to embrace this, it freed them.

Yes, it’s true. Though it is difficult sometimes to do, we should not fear change.
We should actually embrace change.

Because the Creator is always doing NEW things.

And we are created and can become creators ourselves of new things.

We are all liberated from the way it’s always been done

You have the opportunity to be new–to embrace all people for real, and to show them that something new is being created in them and in you.

And whatever those heavy things are from your past—whatever weighs you down—know that you have the freedom to let go.

Today [and every day] new wine is poured.
New things are created.
So welcome it.

The Wine of New Realities or….PURA VIDA!

Check out: John 2:1-11

Image

Costa Rica is a beautiful country. I just returned to the icy cold of Philly after 17 days in Central America. Costa Rica shares borders with Nicaragua [on the north] and Panama [on the south].  It’s hard to describe just how beautiful of a place it is. When Maria and I landed in its capital city, San Jose, we were instantly overwhelmed by the natural beauty all around us. San Jose is located in the Central Valley, the most heavily populated region of Costa Rica. The Central Valley is surrounded by volcanoes—some of them still active.

Here is a picture I took of the crater at the Poaz Volcano.
poazNow if you expect it to be hot and humid in CR, think again. In the morning and at night, we wore sweaters or light jackets. During the day, it was sunny with low humidity, never reaching above 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Okay, if you’re dealing with frigid temperatures right now [like in Philly], you may be getting mad. After all, it’s January! But I have to tell you more.

Years ago, Costa Rica’s land was nearly 90% rainforests. Sadly, at the start of the sixteenth century, after Europeans and U.S. nationals pushed indigenous tribes out of their homes and started buying and developing land for commerce, Costa Rica’s tierra madre [mother earth] suffered greatly. Due to massive industrialization and land clearing for coffee, banana, and pineapple fields, the precious rain forests and all the plants and animals that lived there were in danger of extinction.

Consider this: Costa Rica, land-wise, is a small country. And yet, it is home to a mind-boggling 12,000 species of plants;

strangePlant

1239 species of butterflies;

mariposa

440 species of reptiles & amphibians;

rana

832 species of birds;

toucan

and 232 species of mammals.

osoperezoso

If you’ve never seen one of these creatures, this is a tree sloth–un oso perezoso. They are amazing. We saw a bunch of them even as we drove down a common road; they were hanging from power lines.
And I assume that I must be related somehow to the tree sloth, because like me, they also spend most of their time sleeping, and even when they are awake, they move very, very slow. My distant cousins, maybe?

Well, actually, I’m probably more closely related to this guy here.
monoHe’s a white-headed capuchin.

I have to say that spending time in the rainforests of Costa Rica changed my perspective about a lot of things. I admit that I previously thought that monkeys only lived in the cages of zoos in the Americas. How wrong I was! Costa Rica not only has the white-faced monkey, but also the spider monkey, the howler, and the squirrel monkey—all native to those forests. Sadly, though, as I mentioned before, after European and U.S. conquest of Costa Rica, the amazing plants and animals were in great danger of extinction. It was not until the 1970’s–years after Costa Rica’s independence–that the government and its people were able to put together a plan for sustainability and the rescuing of the rain forests. Today, though the forests and the plants and animals are still threatened, Costa Rica is back to being about 50% rainforest. In fact, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a method of quantifying and numerically benchmarking the environmental performance of a country’s policies, rates Costa Rica as the number 5 country in the world for environmental policy and implementation.[1]

My life partner Maria and I were very fortunate to experience the biodiversity of this great country up close.

And we came to adore the Costa Ricans—Ticos–as they affectionately call themselves.
And we learned about a famous phrase they say: Pura Vida.

puravida

In English, it doesn’t really translate well. But what pura vida means is full of life or this is living or this is the life. If you tip well at a restaurant, the waiter or waitress may say pura vida! If you try a food or a drink you like and say this is delicious a Tico may say pura vida! If you meet someone in Costa Rica, share a laugh or a joke or a story, see a crocodile, a monkey, a toucan, or a tree sloth–you just might join in and say pura vida! Truthfully, as Maria and I experienced the warm hospitality of Costa Rica’s people, the beauty of its surroundings, the delicious fruits, the foods, and the amazing weather—we started to say, without hesitation, PURA VIDA!

I kind of think pura vida was what Jesus of Nazareth had in mind as he lived and taught people about what it was like to really live. The story of a wedding in Cana and water that becomes wine is precisely about life and living it to the fullest extent. This story has a lot of symbolism in it, so I’d like to start there. And I’d also like to mention that the wedding story is only found in John’s Gospel. That should make sense, though, because the water to wine story is what John’s Gospel calls a signs story. You see, John wrote a lot about the signs that appeared throughout Jesus’ ministry. This Johannine concept of signs is often equated with miracles. But it’s actually more nuanced than that. In John, signs are the better word to describe what Jesus was doing. Jesus didn’t just perform amazing feats of magic [i.e. miracles] to impress people or to make them believe in something. Jesus performed signs, because signs pointed people to something or to someone. And in the majority of cases, the signs of Jesus in John’s Gospel point people to life. Pura vida.

So let’s look closer at the story itself. Right away, our Spidey senses should be tingling as the story starts out with On the third day…What else happened on the third day?

Okay, so we know that this story will be about new life—resurrection, a transformation of the mind, an enlightening; a new perspective. John’s Gospel also likes characters and this story doesn’t disappoint. It’s Jesus and his mom together on stage! The mother of Jesus is never called Mary in John’s Gospel; she only appears here and at the foot of the cross when Jesus dies. So Jesus and mom are at a wedding, and just so you know, weddings of this time and place usually lasted seven days. Notice there is no mention of a wedding ceremony, just the party afterwards. It was customary for guests of the wedding to help contribute to the feast that would last, as I mentioned before, for nearly a week. One would honor the bride and groom [and his/her families] by providing wine and other such things. Wine was important though. Wine was a symbol of abundance. The Hebrew Scriptures talk about that quite a bit. A cup overflows when God blesses. God’s favor pours down from heaven, washing over God’s children. More wine meant more blessing.

Also, wine was [and is] a common, everyday drink, but also a celebratory drink. In Israel and Palestine, people drank wine daily. But they also used different wines [most likely aged, rich, full-bodied wines] to celebrate. So if you’re a guest at a wedding celebration that could last up to seven days, you better have enough wine. Am I right? Well, something happened at this particular wedding. The wine ran out early. This was bad news and would dishonor the couple and perhaps reflect badly on the guests. So Jesus’ mom, clearly a woman of details, told Jesus: They have no wine.

We don’t know why the wine supply ran dry. Were Jesus’ disciples crashing the party? Did Peter have too much to drink? We don’t know, but Jesus responded to his mom. But he didn’t respond in a condescending or scolding way as some people have inferred. When Jesus said to his mom, Woman, this was in fact a common, respectful way to address a female. What concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come. Was it Jesus’ fault that they ran out of wine? Did he forget to bring his share or was the Galilean Wine and Spirits store closed on the Sabbath? Jesus didn’t seem convinced that they should do anything about it. And his hour is of course a reference to his death. Maybe it wasn’t the right time to help out?

Actually, Jesus did care, because his mom then said to the people working at the wedding reception, Do whatever he tells you. Jesus hadn’t expressed any intention to change the wine-less party situation. But his mom already knew that he would. She knew something about him; saw something in him that gave her confidence in his ability to remedy this situation.

Do whatever he tells you.

So there were 6 stone water jars that could hold up to twenty or thirty gallons, all empty. The jars were meant for use in Jewish purification rituals. In other words, they were religious implements used for the cleansing of sins. We would call it baptism in our traditions. Fill the jars with water, Jesus told them. So the helpers filled the jars to the brim [remember that Hebrew Scripture God-Abundance-focus]. Then Jesus told them to pour some out and give it to the head guy in charge of the wedding for a taste test. The steward tasted the water which was now wine, and was clueless as to where it came from. The helpers knew, though. John wants us to know that the helpers saw the sign first.

Well, at this point, the steward is confused. So he found the groom and expressed this head-scratching detail: at a wedding feast, everybody always serves the best wine first, and then once people are getting toasted [drunk], the mediocre, box wine comes out. But you, says the steward, saved the best wine for last. It is a sign, says John’s Gospel, a revelation of God’s work.

A million things to say about this, but I’ll keep it short. I’m drawn to a couple parts of this story: first, Jesus’ mom saying: Do what he tells you to do; and second, the hour has not yet come.

#1: Do what he tells you to do. I really, really wonder what Christianity as a religion would be like if we actually did do what Jesus told us to do. Seriously, think about it. Equality, acceptance, love, and honor for all people—not just some, but ALL people. The so-called servants are the ones who see signs and even participate in the miracle. Jesus’ God is not a punisher, accuser, or lightning bolt-holding terror who waits for us to make mistakes so we can be found guilty. Jesus’ God wants cups and jars to overflow with the best wine which is a symbol of abundant life—pura vida! Jesus lived and taught that such a God cares more for the poor than for the rich, powerful, and esteemed of society. Do what he tells you to do. Love and care for all creation and protect the vulnerable, oppressed, and hurt. Do it.

Second, the hour has not yet come. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Hundreds of thousands of kids, youth, and adults will participate worldwide in service projects, community building, education, and interfaith engagement. Much of what we talk about and hear about Rev. King each January focuses on his “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom [the Great March], which took place on August 28th, 1963. Though I am certainly a great big fan of the I Have a Dream speech, it is only one sound bite in King’s legacy and the dream that he spoke of was not limited to merely signing civil rights legislation. King desired equality, respect, love, and acceptance for all people of all races, religions, cultures, and countries. If he were with us today, he would most certainly say what Jesus said: the hour has not yet come.

The dream is not fulfilled.

We still hate and hurt, destroy and kill. We still discriminate, push people to the back of the bus, turn a blind eye to prejudice and poverty, and ignore our neighbor’s needs. The hour of the dream has not yet come. The new, fully vibrant wine meant for everyone is still undiscovered.

And so, in a world that can often seem so lifeless, how does this wedding story teach us to live?

Martin Luther King said it: The time is always right to do what’s right.[2]

All the signs point us there.

It doesn’t matter how things are going for us today or tomorrow. We ought to do what is right. We ought to create community where everyone can experience a full life; this means we’ll have to get rid of the things that take away people’s ability to live well. We should stop using religion or a god as a way to separate people or control them; instead, we should point to the signs of God’s love and grace, sharing OUR love and grace with all people, no matter what. The reality of God’s grace is not real unless we share it openly, never keep it for ourselves, nor limit it to only a few.

Jars need to be filled and overflow, and they need to be shared. People need signs that point them to love, community, and acceptance. The routines of religion and habit won’t do; the jars are filled with a new, delicious beverage of wisdom and transformed perspective. So participate. Do. Live. Share grace. Amen.


[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., Oberlin College, Oberlin College, Assembly Speaker 1963-64.

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