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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Children's Chapel:  10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
 

Half Full or Half Empty?

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, October 10, 1999

Let's start with a story about Jesus.

In the gospel of John, we read:

    "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.' And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.' His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, 'Fill the jars with water.' And they filled them up to the brim. He said, 'Now draw some out and take it to the chief steward [the head waiter, I guess].' So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine... the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, 'Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the best wine until now."

This is one of my favorite stories in the whole New Testament, for a whole bunch of reasons.

For one thing, it's a wonderful testimony to Mary, and the important influence she had on the life of her son. (Maybe it's about the importance of the influence of our mothers in all of our lives.)

Jesus goes to a wedding (with his mother)-- been there; done that. She discovers that the host has run out of wine (been there; done that, too-- which is why, now, if I have four guests for dinner, I cook enough for 14... just in case...) Anyway-- Mary finds out about the host's problems-- mothers are amazing detectives sometimes; they know all kinds of things about us... more than we now about ourselves, perhaps...

So, she says to Jesus: "They don't have any more wine."

But it's been a long week for Jesus-- healing the sick and preaching and praying and all-- and he was kind of looking forward to a little time to chill out here at this wedding, and just enjoy himself. So Jesus, like many of us in similar situations, sort of shrugs his shoulders and says, "So what? That's not our problem." (What a wonderfully human Jesus we have here!)

Plus, he says to Mary-- it's not in my job description-- not yet anyway: "My hour has not yet come." I'm not going to work a miracle here. Not now. Not yet."

But that's not good enough for Mother Mary: She knows that his hour has come, and not a minute too soon, and that this is as good a time as any, and that Jesus, you've got to do something, you've got to help the poor man out, he's a friend of the family, after all...

So, we can imagine Jesus sort of sighing, and rolling up the sleeves of his robe, and sighing, and saying, "All right... Get me the water jugs..."

And so, according to this delightful myth, he turned the water into wine.

But not just any wine-- the very best wine. The head waiter can't believe it! Usually, he says, they serve the best stuff first, and save the lousy stuff for last, when everyone's too full, or too drunk, or too tired to notice. "But you have kept the best wine until now." Sometimes, good things do come to those who wait for them.

I know that there have been times when we all have felt as empty as those wine jars at that wedding feast, just before Jesus performed his first public miracle. Drained. Empty. Desolate. Alone. Exhausted. Broke. Spiritually or emotionally bankrupt. The fires of our soul extinguished.

But when the miracle of faith (faith in ourselves; faith in other people; faith in Life) works its way in us, amazing things can happen:

When we (somehow; anyhow; each-in-our-own-way-how) find the strength to go on; to rise from bed on that dreary November morn; to make one more telephone call or do one more errand or go to one more meeting in a day that has already gone on too long; to say one more "I'm sorry" or one more "I love you"; when we find the strength to go on with life-- then amazing things can happen, and we can garner such precious gifts of the spirit:

We gain a sense of our abundance: Out of our emptiness, we can see just how much there is in us-- how much strength, how much hope, how much courage, how much love.

(Jesus doesn't just make a couple of bottles of new wine-- just enough to eke out a thimble-full for everyone there at Cana. No, he fills six 20-to-30-gallon jars! That is a great abundance of wine; enough to carry them through all of their feasting-- and beyond.)

Second, when we let the Spirit do its work, we gain a sense of extravagance. Not extravagance as our culture would picture it, as consumption gone mad. But deep, holy extravagance-- as abandondly in love with Life as Life is, at its heart and soul, beautiful. There is so much beauty in this world, that these limited lenses who we are can not hope to take it all in. It's the extravagant beauty of three million maple leaves (on a single tree sometimes!) all reaching the glory of autumn's color! It's the extravagant beauty of the music of a Mozart or a Bach or Beethoven-- not "just enough" music to get by-- but the extravagant beauty of human creation rivaling the stars in its magnificence! It's the extravagant knowledge of an Einstein; the extravagant wisdom of a Jesus or Buddha or Gandhi; the extravagant compassion of a Teresa of Calcutta; the extravagant courage of a Nelson Mandela.

What a wondrous feast this life presents! And we are all invited! Our birth certificates are our invitations to the feast! Just for being born, we're invited.

The third gift is transformation: Jesus transformed the water of purification into the wine of celebration. O, happy blessed day when angels of Virtue and Passion meet and kiss at last! The kiss of the Spirit (of faith and hope and love) transforms the (sometimes drear and gray) prose of our lives into the blessed, golden poetry of the Divine.

And the fourth gift is new life-- or, a new consciousness in this life-- a revolution in the sphere of human consciousness-- which invites us to see more manifestly the luminations of the Holy in each and every moment of earthly living, and the gentle, powerful angel spirit at the heart of every man, woman, and child.

In the gospel of John, the last line of the passage about the wedding at Cana reads: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs... and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him."

He changed the water into wine, and his disciples saw that there might more to this carpenter from Nazareth than met their eyes. And more to themselves, as well. And more to this earthly experience than they-- or we-- can imagine possible.

In another well-known Jesus story from the gospel of Matthew, Jesus has had another busy day, healing the sick and preaching and all, and at the end of it, the crowds are still hanging around, and it's supper time, and they're getting hungry. And the disciples (Jesus's handlers; his managers) say, "Tell the crowds to go away, so they can go into the town and buy themselves something to eat, and so we can have our supper here."

But Jesus-- who has learned his mother's lessons well by now-- says: "They don't have to go away. We'll feed them all."

"Whaddya mean? We're gonna feed 'em?" one of the disciple probably exclaimed. "We've only got five loaves and two fish-- barely enough for the 13 (or whatever) of us! There are hundreds, maybe thousands of them out there. How we gonna feed all of them?!"

But Jesus took the fish (two of them) and the loaves (five of them) and offered them up to heaven (in gratitude) and tells his disciples to go and give them to the crowd... And by the end of the day, we are told, "...those who ate were about five thousand men, beside women and children."

Not a bad pot luck! That Jesus really knew how to stretch things, huh?

Or, more likely, by giving from his own gratitude and sense of abundance, he inspired those others around him to do the same. So they reached into what they had... and instead of holding onto it for dear life, instead of coveting it, and hoarding it, and saving it-- just in case-- a little leftover for the ride home maybe-- they opened their hands, and their arms, and offered what they had to others... and lo and behold! It was sufficient-- not just to feed themselves, not just to feed a couple of other people they liked-- but to feed the multitude. There was enough bounty of Mother Earth among them to feed everyone.

That little spark of light within the souls of any of us might seem small against the darkness of this world sometimes.

But when we uncover it, and let it shine, and join it with the lights of others, these is such a magnificent light-- that if we let it, it will blind all those powers and principalities of hatred and division and fear and oppression and exploitation that hold this world of ours in thrall.

And when we offer it to others-- first to those closest to us, and then further and further out in ever-growing circles of love and compassion-- it grows ever more abundant, ever more extravagant, ever more transformative, ever more life giving.

A wise person (I can't for the life of me remember who) once said that the great choice we make in life is whether we see our lives as gifts to be shared or as possessions to be hoarded.

So much depends on that choice:

One day two poor farmers were out walking, and they came upon their Rabbi who was also out for a mid-afternoon stroll. "How is it for you?" the Rabbi asked the first man. "Lousy," the man grumbled, and he proceed to list everything in his life that was wrong... one bad thing after another... "Terrible, lousy," he said, "life is not worth getting out of bed for."

Now, wouldn't you know it, according to the Hasidic tradition, God was eavesdropping on the conversation. "Lousy?" the Almighty thought. "You call that lousy, you ungrateful lout? I'll show you what lousy is!"

Then the Rabbi turned to the second man, "And you, my friend, how are things going for you?"

And the second man-- who had no more in material possessions than the first, whose life had been no easier, no more privileged-- replied, "Ah, Rabbi, life is good. Each morning when I awaken, I kiss my sleeping wife, and I give thanks for another day. For I know, rain or shine, that it will unfold in blessings too numerous to count. Life is good. And I thank God for it."

In the instant of a heartbeat, the man's words of gratitude flew up to the heavens, and God, we are told, smiled. "Good?" the Almighty exclaimed. "You think life is good now? I'll show you what good is!"

Now, we don't (most of us at least) believe in a Father God in Heaven who overhears our conversations and rewards and punishes according to His whims. But I don't think that's really even what the Hassidic story was saying.

No, I think it's more about our hearing our own conversations, and listening to the voice in our own souls-- and how we express (or don't) our gratitude for this precious gift of life.

You know, that story doesn't tell us, necessarily, that God turned around and smote the first grouchy farmer with Job-like afflictions, or that he made provision to bless mightily the second, thankful one. No, but God said He would show them what lousy and good really were: He would sing that song of blessedness or cursedness more deeply in each of their ears for them to hear...

    And though they were gifted more-or-less equally,
    the first would always complain that there was never enough,
    that times were tough and getting tougher,
    that his wife wasn't beautiful enough, his children weren't obedient enough, his farm wasn't large enough, his bank account too small... and life not really worth the price he had to pay...
    while the second, just as poor in possessions of this world,
    and no more gifted, really, in intelligence or creativity,
    would every morning "wake at dawn with a winged heart", and kiss his sleeping wife as though she were a royal princess;
    and prize his sons and daughters as sweet blessings of memory and hope;
    and savor what he had worked so hard to garner, and make do with what he had, and share that he had with those who had less;
    and know that it is the simple men and women who often shine most brightly in the eyes of their Creator, and that the price we pay in life is never too high for the blessing of having lived.

"The joy that isn't shared, I've heard, dies young," wrote Anne Sexton. And:

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life," Melody Beattie has written. "It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision of tomorrow."

As Meister Eckhart has said:

"If the only prayer we have ever said in our entire lives is 'Thank you.', it will be enough."

If we utter a deep prayer of "thank you" to our Creator for this precious, precious life-- and find our way to live out that prayer in the days of our lives-- that will be more than enough... and then some.


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