We in wine country are in trouble. I don’t know how much you know about cork, but it is a marvelous substance, it is compressible and watertight and as such is the finest substance yet discovered to keep fluids contained in a glass bottle. It is sustainably harvested since you can peel the bark from a cork oak tree over and over again, once every nine to thirteen years, and the trees can live for centuries like this and they have been cultivated for over a thousand years.
An analysis of the methods and systems of cultivation led a European organization to determine that cork was the most environmentally friendly choice in wine stoppers compared to screw caps and synthetic corks since you can continue to harvest it as a renewable resource.
There are approximately 2.2 million hectares (that’s 5.4 million acres to those of us whose country never adopted the metric system) of cork oaks in cultivation and about 300 thousand tons of the stuff are harvested every year. That’s a lot of cork and just like water in Sonoma County, for the longest time it looked like there would never be an end to it.
Of course in Sonoma County, at the harvest fair in years past there were so many apples grown here that there were huge bins full of them that you could just go and eat at your leisure. Gravensteins were plentiful since they grew well here, adapted as they were apparently to our mild climate and it looked like the bounty would never end.
If you can remember farther back, before the advent of marketing and the unfortunate association with digestive problems, but this county, in the long long ago was the capital of the prune universe. Before the apples there were prunes. This has always bothered me a little, since prunes are just tortured plums but they were not seen as plums, they were commercialized as prunes and that is what they were.
Nowadays, however, we are all well aware that the prunes are almost entirely gone. Apple orchards are vanishing at a frightening rate, almost every time I drive through the west county I see another one being bulldozed and removed from the landscape.
In their place? Grapes. This here’s wine country and we’ve got to get all the other agriculture out of the way of our vines, and slowly, ever so slowly but with great determination and patience, the vines have been choking out the other plants, like fickle fads they fade from our minds and soon from our memories and people like Caitlyn or maybe just a little younger will not remember a time when grape vines did not cover the entire landscape.
Don’t get me wrong I belong to two wine clubs even though we don’t actually drink that much wine. It is GREAT to give as presents though so whenever we travel there is always a wine bag, you know the ones that are all over your houses these days? Six slots for six bottles? There is always one in the trunk, carefully placed so as not to fall over and quickly removed so as not to sit in a hot trunk for a long time, but we always bring wine.
But like many things that have unintended consequences, the proliferation of wine in northern California has brought about something of a crisis in the cork producing areas of the world. You see, when there is a lot of cork, like there is, and maybe 3000 wineries in the world, then things are in balance and extra cork can be made into flooring and into bulletin boards for preschools and many other things because we can all behave like there is no tomorrow and we can just keep doing this forever, no changes.
When there are 400 in Sonoma county, 500 in Napa county, more in Solano and contra costa counties and so on and so on and suddenly there aren’t 3000 wineries in the world that the cork industry has to cope with there are 13000 instead, you begin to see the root of the problem, the branch is coming to us only now as premium cork is being replaced by composite cork is being replaced by synthetic cork is being replaced by the screw cap.
For the record the wine industry welcomes the change. While not as sustainable, synthetic cork and screw caps are actually better engineered for the task as hand, keeping the wine in the bottle and keeping it fresh. Cork has a lot of boutique value and people trust wine more when there is a cork in the bottle, but it is not, per se, better at the job.
The job is, of course, keeping the spirits bottled up. Keeping the wine in the bottle until we want it out. If we keep making more wine, then we will run out of cork, it is a system that is in serious imbalance right now and soon we may face the crisis of being unable to put corks into bottles, being unable to keep the wine bottled up.
I wish that the church had such problems. I wish that we had a hard time keeping the spirit in, that we burst out in song from time to time in praise to our Lord and our savior, that we couldn’t keep the spirit inside.
Alas, we seem to have no shortage of corks bottling us up. There seems to be no shortage of ways in which we keep the spirit contained, within.
It’s a part of our heritage, I suppose. There is a lot of reserve in northern Europe, that’s where the world’s largest reserve mines are, where it is refined into a cultural icon. Norwegians and swedes are pretty good at it, Finns no less so, but the English, with their great fear of embarrassment seem to have found a niche market for stiff-upper-lip reserve. Germans are okay once you get a beer or two into them which is how we managed to have a Lutheran Faith at all, I should think; but reserve, an unwillingness to take a leap and speak out seems to be woven into the fabric of our lives, like good Portuguese cork in a glass bottle.
Some of it is the world we live in now, and not the world our ancestors came from. We live in a much scrutinized world. There are cameras everywhere, I assume that there are about 25 of them here this morning lurking in your cell phones and so we can always be caught a little wild one time, a little sleepy another and have it on the web in seconds and so we adopt a stance of quiet reserve, maybe nobody will notice me, maybe I can slip through all bottled up.
We hide behind things like, “that’s not how people like me act” or “I’m supposed to be serious at a time like this” or “didn’t you hear me, I said, I’m Norwegian!” and it becomes so much a part of us that when the spirit comes upon us we forget what Jesus says again and again, no more clearly than this very morning, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Jesus says this about the Holy Spirit, not yet given to the disciples at the time of this morning’s reading, but apparently abundant in us since Christ has been glorified, right?
Debbie thought last week’s sermon was a little, well, finger pointy, a little accusatory, perhaps a little harsh as I said that building a new building is awesome but it isn’t enough, anyone remember that? We spoke of Christ being glorified in us when we speak of Him and bring Him into the lives of others but that this is an activity and not an event, something you have to do and keep doing; does any of this ring a bell?
Jesus has not yet been glorified by God the father in this morning’s gospel and so there is no spirit turned loose among the people of God, no Spirit of gentleness; no Spirit of wisdom, no Spirit to teach and remind and to fill us with the truth of our salvation in Christ.
In such a time there was no well of living water, no glory.
Now, however, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and we are producing a bumper crop so as to speak the word of God into the world in an unprecedented fashion, right? People pouring out living water from their lives, speaking and acting as if they were trying to gain the spotlight, not for themselves, but for the spirit welling up within them.
No, it seems we’ve developed a new kind of cork. And it is holding us fast.
Again, like last week, we are also holding in the glory of God, bottling it up along with our living water because we fear the reaction of the crowds, the loss of face, the threat to our reputations. Christ has been glorified by God and has risen from the grave to show us the way and yet if Christ is not glorified in us, then what will people think of Jesus when they look at us? Will they think of Jesus at all when they look at us?
And if they don’t, if they cannot see the workings of Christ in our lives, hear Him in our words, feel Him in our embrace, then how will we ever show them that he is real and that the water he gives is living water, the Spirit of God come to us to teach us all truth and bring us to the cross and freedom.
In that tiny microcosm, in that brief second in time between us and them it will be as if Christ had never been glorified at all, as if the spirit had no power to guide, to advocate and to keep us in the grace of God at all because that water will all be bottled up, living water held at bay by the cork we will not remove.
There are many goofy stagecraft tricks that the ministry books, the hip an cool ministry books recommend to show the spirit, fonts filled with stones and alcohol and set alight it the scariest one for me at least but all of that pales in comparison to the real Spirit pouring out of a heart in generosity, in love for someone desperately thirsty for a word of hope, a moment of grace.
Ask any child who shines with the light of a thousand suns, the guy who invented minecraft or the one who held them when they were hurt and whispered in their ear and made them feel better, feel loved.
It is ridiculously simple, impossibly easy but first, before any of it can happen you have to take the cork out, loosen the tongue, limber up your arms and legs and take the word into the world, the living water that has been given to you so very generously, so incomprehensibly abundant is this water that I think you’ll find that once the cork is out, all the blessings in your life will become beacons for the world as you share the love of God, the salvation in Christ. Like a fountain in Las Vegas, foolishly spraying the love of God into the air as if there were no end to it because, unlike water in the desert, there is no end to it, we can allow the glory of God to shine through us and we won’t even have to learn another language because the free-flowing spirit, uncorked at last, will translate for us.