Sunday, January 16, 2022

When the Wine Runs Out


John 2:1-11

Epiphany 2 / Year C

One of my colleagues made an admission on our zoom call with the bishop this past week.  She exhaled a sigh and said, “I have lost my mojo.”  She was discouraged, flat, spent.  Using the vernacular of today’s reading from the gospel, we might say the wine had run out of her life.  We all have been there and given this enduring pandemic it is becoming more and more frequent for each of us. 

For her part, the bishop was (as always) very pastoral and comforting.  Then she posed a question to us, “What do you do when you run out of mojo?”  Never one to keep my thoughts to myself, I chimed right in and described how down I was after Christmas.  Two things seemed to help me, I said.  One was talking about it in a sermon, which I did two weeks ago.  The simple act of giving a name to where you are is the beginning of getting some kind of a handle on it.  Think about Mary’s role in naming today’s challenge at Cana, “They have no wine!”  If she had not named it, Jesus would not have known to act.

The second thing that helped me was being able to celebrate communion again on Sunday morning because we had a week to distribute communion-to-go bags.  There is something very powerful “always and everywhere” to give thanks to God – even in (and especially during) these unprecedented times.  The wine may run out for a season, but it will be brief and in time discouragement will give way to celebration.

I started to read a book in preparation for what we might focus on for a Lenten program.  It is called The Gratitude Project.  It is a collection of writings and essays put out by a research group at U.C. Berkley.  This group has spent twenty years exploring “the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior.”  What they call “the science of a meaningful life.”  And they have learned firsthand how gratitude has the power to transform lives, families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and even nations. 

I’m only a tenth of the way into the book, so I have a lot to learn.  Already I have awakened to some things right in front of each of us; so close as to become invisible.  For example, the researchers define appreciation as “the act of acknowledging the goodness of life.”  It is not the denial of bad things and real challenges.  Rather, it is the awareness there are positive things in our life.  Gratitude, they say, goes one step further by recognizing “how positive things in our lives… are often due to forces outside ourselves, particularly the efforts of other people.”  Grateful people have a certain level of humility because they understand they could not be who they are without the contributions of others. 

Hopefully you are becoming more aware of this every time you go to the grocery store, as an example.  I am more aware of the people who are working there – cashiers on eight-hour shifts and stockers who are not simply clogging up the aisles, but stocking the goods I am there to purchase.  The empty shelves serve as a reminder this work does not just happen by itself.  I am more aware of the truckers and warehouse workers who are struggling to fill inventories.  Then there are the manufactures and farmers and so many, many other people who make it possible for me to buy a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs.  When you stop to think about it, it really is remarkable you can drive a few minutes from your home and purchase pretty much everything you need for any meal you want.  As the collect says, “help us not to forget that our common life depends on each other’s labor.”

The Gratitude Project states there are four components to gratitude:

·       What we notice for which we are grateful.  It is easier to be grateful for the extraordinary, but more difficult to be cognizant of the ordinary blessings of everyday life.

·       How we think about why we have been given these good things.  Was it a spontaneous act or did it come with strings attached?

·       How we feel about the things we have been given.   At Christmas we see commercials of a husband leading his wife out to the driveway where a brand new Lexus is parked, complete with massive red bow on top.  That has never happened to me.  Instead, I open a package from Grandma and discover she has knit me a pair of mittens.  How do you feel about the things you have been given?  Can you appreciate every act of generosity?

·       What we do to express our appreciation.  If Grandma is present, I may say “Thank you.  They look like they will be so warm.”  Or I may give her a hug.  If she is not there, I may call her on the phone or write her a note (Well, given I was raised in the north, you know I didn’t write a note!).

Does gratitude matter?  Does it make a difference in a person’s life?  One study asked a group of people to identify six goals they wanted to work on over a ten-week period.  Half of the group was also instructed to keep a Gratitude Journal in which once a week they recorded five things for which they were grateful.  Those keeping a journal made 20 percent more progress on their goals than those who did not. 

In another experiment, two four-year olds are in room playing and one child is given two treats.  Some choose to keep both while others opt to share.  When the children not given the two treats are put in a new environment with a different child and then give two treats, those who experienced sharing are significantly more likely to share than those who did.  Gratitude fosters generosity and selflessness.

As I am reading the book I am acutely aware it is written from a secular perspective.  It does not talk about faith communities and religious beliefs, which is OK because I can fill in the blanks.  It occurs to me if you want to get your body in shape you will join a fitness club.  And if you want to do something positive for your community you will find different ways to volunteer your time.  And if you want to grow your sense of gratitude you will go to church. 

Think about it, gratitude is at the very heart of who we are and what we are all about.  We are grateful to God for life and love and the goodness made known to us in creation.  And we are grateful for one another – the choir anthem, the cup of coffee, the flowers on the altar, the listening ear, the word of prayer, the attention to building and grounds… I could go on and on.  There is a reason the second half of our service is called “The Great Thanksgiving.”

But let me close by telling you this.  My phone rang just as I sat down to begin writing this sermon.  It was my colleague who had lost her mojo.  She wanted to tell me how much she appreciated me and my willingness to say I too have been discouraged.  Like me, she found naming it was the beginning of moving beyond it.  After the zoom she went for a walk – an activity which always opens her to the good things in life – and this too moved her forward.  She could not thank me enough for what I shared.  “Well,” I said to her, “Let me tell you about the sermon I am about to write…” 

Mojo returns.  Discouragement has its day and then must yield to gratitude.  Water does turn into wine!  Amazing!