January 30, 2016

Living in abundance

Sometimes John’s gospel pops up in the lectionary when we least expect it.  Here we are in Luke, following along in what seems a logical progression, then Heere’s Johnny! And like a crazy dream that we don’t quite know what to do with, we are trying to sort out a variety of images and reactions to a passage that is hard for modern minds to understand.

We could wrestle with the sheer volume involved in turning six stone jars of 20 to 30 gallons each into wine.  Cornell University has done an analysis of wine and says:

“A standard bottle of wine is 750 milliliters (ml), meaning a case of 12 bottles contains 9 liters, or 2.378 gallons. 2.6 pounds of grapes yields one bottle of wine. At 150 gallons per ton, a ton of grapes becomes 150/2.378 gallons per case, or a little more than 63 cases of wine. With 12 bottles per case, we have 756 bottles in total.”
     Conversion Factors: From Vineyard to Bottle from Cornell University

We could focus on the symbolism of Jesus turning water for purification rites into wine for celebrating new life in a community, from what we might assume was dry and empty ritual into the life of the party.

We could look at the fact that John does not have a last supper story with the institution of our communion service.

We could even dissect and puzzle over Jesus’ rather snippy remark to his mother, in what sounds very much like a Boxing Day conversation after a long Christmas day with the family, “Mother, I’m 35, can’t you start treating me like an adult instead of telling me what to do?”

Or we could dig into allegory and metaphor.  But I’d rather talk about pianos.  Or at least one piano in particular.

This piano was sitting rather sadly in a snowbank about three weeks ago.  Its family had moved out, leaving it in the back alley rather than take it to wherever they were going.  It had accumulated a new wardrobe of a snow hat and snow coat to keep it warm, but its wood didn’t like that very much.  And it was lonely and sad, feeling like a burden, I would guess, since its family had decided it was too much hassle and expense to keep it with them.

Someone came along who knew a little about pianos but had only ever played a keyboard.  She was not what you would call a musician, but she dabbled with different instruments and had sung in choirs since she was old enough to sing in the children’s choir at her church.

The abandoned piano got stuck in her head, and New Year’s Day things fell into place.  She was having coffee with a relative and telling him about the piano.  She had told her brother and parents about the piano, and they called a few friends to come and check it out.  One of the people had lots of reasons why the piano should be left where it was.  Stealing is stealing, even when the house is empty, people have been consulted and two inches of snow was covering it.  Snow would have permanently damaged it.  Pianos should only be moved by professionals.  The piano would damage the movers.  Even if we did get it out of the snowbank, there was no way we could drag it the block and a half to the house. And what about the steps? And where would we put it? And so on and so on.

The rest of us, curiously enough, were willing to give it a try because we loved the girl and also because we were all deeply committed to walking in the Christian path.  If Christians can put their hopes in a story as crazy as water into wine, a piano is easy.

However, dragging a small studio upright along an unshovelled sidewalk for what was more like three blocks not two was no cake walk. 

It was fun and encouraging.  We took plenty of breaks, talked about different ways to lever the piano up the front steps, how to deal with the chipping varnish and how to get it dry, and wiped snow off the wood at every break.  We did hit a bump where one of the beautifully carved front legs cracked, but the girl was sure that she could fix it in her woodworking shop with the help of a friend who knows how to restore furniture.

And we managed the stairs and put cardboard under it to catch any drips, tickled the ivories and checked all the strings and hammers.

The nay sayer pushed along with the rest of us, bad knee and all.  It felt like he wanted to say something else that would prove his point that this was a foolish endeavor, but he was at a loss for words.  The rest of us knew that we had accomplished something beyond the scope of one person, quite unexpectedly, and it cheered us immensely to know that we could work together to make a young lady’s dream come true.

The piano is now nestled in a dry, warm and hopefully musical environment, waiting to become acclimatized enough to get tuned.  It sounds a little like a honkytonk piano right now, and I’m sure it is as eager as the dreamer is to get back to making music.

When we gather with Jesus at the heart of our understanding of life, abundance pours out in unexpected ways.  Not just a little bit of abundance but abundance large enough to move pianos, turn a disastrous wedding into the event of the century in a little town that no one had ever heard of before.  No one knew Cana or cared much about it before John’s Gospel, and now it’s visited by tourists who want to see the place where John’s Gospel has Jesus start his ministry of abundant love and grace.

May we too find love and grace flowing abundantly in this community to help us find the faith that can move pianos, move mountains, and yes, maybe even turn water into wine in celebration of God’s amazing gift of Jesus to our scared world. 

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