The Italian Winemakers…

Photo by elfidomx, 2010-CCLEvery now and then I find a quote that I like and it sticks with me.    It becomes almost a game to figure out how to work that quote in the coming and the going of my life.   In the end, it finds its way into the occasional Facebook status, sermon moment, or carefully timed zinger.

This week the quote that got my attention was from John D. Rockefeller, who said; “With every right comes a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; and every possession a duty”.  I like this quote.    They remind me of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben’s advice that “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”* 

As I stewed on Rockefellers catchy words, a story came across my desk that spoke to them perfectly.   The story takes place in a small mountain town deep in Italy.   In addition to making a great point that we need to here as a people of faith, the opportunity to encourage and embrace the Italian culture and my Italian heritage made the illustration irresistible to me.

Deep in those sublimely gorgeous mountains of Italy, there stood one of the most prosperous patches of farm land in the whole of Europe.    Overtime every crop imaginable was grown there, and eventually the inhabitants decided to devote every inch of their land to the most noble and most sought after of all crops;  the grape.    In just a few generations, the vineyards that were in this small patch of land became some of the best and most famous wine producing plants in the world.  The demand for their wine was beyond their richest expectations.

As you can imagine, with everyone growing grapes in this small town it soon became evident that they would be in trouble if they could not find anyone willing to sell them all the other services and products of life.   The village was quickly falling into disrepair.  Despite their ever increasing wealth and the great success of their vine, the town was in trouble.

It wasn’t long before the roads started to crumble.   Next, a bridge collapsed.   Before they knew it, it was next to impossible to get their wine to market, many miles away.   Things got serious fast.

Thankfully, a town official had an idea.     In order to build a new bridge and repair the roads, every family would be expected to give a few barrels of wine to the town in the way of a tax.  They built a giant barrel, as large as a building, and it stood at the center of town.

It turned out that each family that made wine had their own unique way of making it, and each was almost as heavenly tasting as the next.    What was truly wonderful and entirely unexpected in the town’s edict, was what resulted when they put all the wines together, and allowed them to ferment together.  The resulting product was far beyond anything they had ever tasted, and they were soon commanding unheard of prices for their wine.     It was a beautifully simple secret recipe.

Slowly they were able to raise enough money to keep up with the repair and infrastructure of their town.   It was always a battle and they always had just enough, but they were enduring.  They were making it through.  They even started to hold a great wine festival and year after year people came from everywhere just to be a part of it.

Unfortunately do to some blips in weather and a problem with some of the soil, one particular harvest was less than what anyone expected.    After looking at his harvest, one particular farmer was worried that he would no longer be able to get enough from his sales to live a standard of life that was comfortable.  He began to stress and as a result thought of a rather devious solution.

When it came time to put his wine into the giant barrel at the center of town, instead of wine, he would fill his barrels with water.    There was so much wine in that giant, communal barrel, that his few would more than likely go unnoticed.     Despite the guilt that this elicited, a few days later the man made his donation of water.

It wasn’t long before he forgot about his deed.

Finally, the day arrived for the great wine festival to be celebrated.  It was met with a joy that the town had rarely, if ever, seen.  That joy was even more complete, considering the harshness of the weather that everyone had finally pulled through.    Many came from miles away, looking to buy as much as they could of that wonderful wine.   Many called it the wine of God, and they had been preparing for months for the journey to the small town.   The anticipation was great and contagious.

Finally the time came to tap the keg, and begin the sale.   The mayor came out to a roar of cheers.   After an official proclamation he announced that the time had come, and with the strike of a hammer tapped the barrel.

To the shock and awe of all who saw it, instead of wine pouring out….  It was water.     Everyone stood around that keg in silence as the realization of what they were witnessing dawned on each of them.   Each of the villagers had chosen to fill their barrels with water.

In the end, no one trusted in what they had.   They started to look at all that they had and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough.   They wanted to keep all that was theirs.     On that wine festival there was no wine to be had.    In the days that followed there were no new roads and no new bridges.   The trust faded, and no one was willing to put wine in the barrel again. They had held back, and now there was nothing.

It is said that even today if you find this village you would never know it.   The vineyards are all gone.  Instead of great hills of grapes, you know have asphalt and factories and tenement houses.     If you look hard enough you can even see the spot where that giant keg stood…   Interestingly enough it is the poorest part of the town.

I am sure that this is almost entirely internet folklore, but the illustration is perfect for our purposes.   Although we are not farmers, we are in a way making wine.    Wine is a Biblical metaphor that is often used for the Gospel, and so in a way we are planting the seeds and we are farmers of a different sort.

Like the townspeople mixing different versions of wine to produce something infinitely more wonderful, the same can be said of the church.   We come to our family of faith bringing more than we can imagine.   It’s in the diversity that accompanies our presence that the fullest flavor of who we are as a community is realized.  Once that flavor is released to the world, the wine that we offer is irresistible.

Yet, there is risk in our faith.   The risk is that as we all work towards that great festival moment, we too can find ourselves doubting what we have.   We can find ourselves asking is it enough?  Our gut might even be telling us that we need to hold things back.

We should heed the warning of those villagers, because there have been a great number of churches who when the barrel is tapped the richest of wine, or God’s wine, it doesn’t pour.    Because they held back the wine is lost.

The most often forgotten component of our faith is risk.

We are people who are called to reach out and to give all they are to the wine we are fermenting through the church.    When we find ourselves uncomfortable or facing risk, we need to take a deep breath and trust God.   We need to remember and celebrate that we are all in this together, and that day of festival, comes only when we all move towards it; together.

(Photo by elfidomx, 2010 – CCL)
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