new wine (annotated)

by Jeff Rainwater, 24 April 2017, Cheyenne, WY

you will say
I am,
and other names
may follow.
Disturber of the Peace![5]
of Beelzebul![6]
(my absolute favorite,
but only
if you use the word…
But were you there
when Mighty Wind
blew through
when Now walked in,
to greet sacred Past
with love?
it is New Wine[7]
that was poured.
Spirit[8], Peter named it,
and I’m sure I heard
someone whisper,
Grace never tasted
so sweet.[9]

[1] Acts 2:13; Acts 2:15, Peter’s reply. There is an irony here I never caught before. The complaint was literally, “these men are full of sweet, new, wine.” The implication is clear, ‘they’re drunk.’ But Jesus has spoken of new wine before in Luke 5:37, comparing his presence with the disciples and perhaps the Kingdom itself as ‘new wine.’ (In Greek, a different word from Acts 2:13, but same idea). The complainers were more right than they knew. Were the disciples full of new, sweet, wine? Yes! Just not the wine the complainers were thinking of.
[2] John 19:12, of Jesus; Acts 21:38, of Paul, falsely
[3] Or blasphemer; Matthew 26:65, of Jesus; Acts 12:13, of Stephen, falsely
[4] Mark 3:20, of Jesus
[5] Acts 24:5, of Paul
[6] Matthew 12:24, of Jesus
[7] Luke 5:37
[8] Acts 2:17, referencing Joel 2:28-32, Joel suggests this is a singular event, but Acts later  attests to the Spirit being poured out on many occasions, as a continuing fulfillment, that I suggest continues through the present in new, sometimes equally disruptive, ways.
[9] Psalm 119:103; Psalm 34:8; and again, Acts 2:13, new, sweet, wine. Oh to taste sweet wine of Jesus’ grace given by the Spirit!


A note about this poem:  In July 2016, I was an observer privileged to be present for the election of the first openly gay Bishop within the United Methodist Church. She was elected because she was the best candidate, leading all ballots throughout the process. The election has been challenged because she chooses to live an authentic and open life in all its dimensions including her marriage to her spouse, Robin Ridenour.

Today, I leave for Newark, NJ, to stand with many others in support of Bishop Oliveto. Since her election 8 months ago in Arizona, it has been my great honor to serve on Bishop Oliveto’s Cabinet in my continuing appointment as Wyoming District Superintendent. She is my Bishop through and through, deserving in every way of the office she now holds, but to me she is more than that. Bishop Karen and Robin both have become family. As I pray for justice this week, I wish all could come to know this remarkable leader of our church as I have. I wish all could see how the Spirit is at work in the Mountain Sky Area.

For those that question the motives behind Bishop Oliveto’s election or object to my support of her or of the full inclusion the LGBTQ community within the life of our church, I offer this poem as a reflection on that day in July when history was made within the denomination I love. Whatever happens now, that moment cannot be undone.

“Hello Wind!” A Cold Lesson in Reverence

A Winter Wind

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ – John 3:8

As I walked my dog Suzy today, it was cold… and, as usual, the wind was blowing.  I live in Wyoming.  The wind always seems to be blowing here.  Most of the time, most of us around here have learned to ignore it.  Most of the time.  Unless it is really blowing. (some days it is blowing so hard if we were on the Gulf Coast they would call it a hurricane.  Here it’s just another day in Wyoming.)  Or unless it’s 10 degrees outside and there is 6 inches of snow on the ground.  Suzy didn’t seem to mind; I’m not sure she even noticed.  But then again she is a Great Pyrenees.  She was born for this weather I guess.  I don’t think I was.   Most of the time I turn up my collar, put my head down, watch my feet and keep walking… sometimes grumbling under my breath.  Today, I did something different.

I acknowledged the wind.  I stopped for a moment, lifted my gaze, and turned my face full into the cold of the wintery Wyoming wind.  I acknowledged the wind. In her wonderful book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes of ways we can connect to that More that we so long for in our lives yet often overlook.  It is in the often day-to-day practices, like paying attention and cultivating reverence, that we can connect to God.  She describes how her dad taught her reverence by, among other things, teaching her to clean a rifle or inviting her to watch a meteor shower from her balcony.  She describes a native american friend teaching reverence through an invitation to acknowledge a tree: “Do you know that you didn’t make this tree?”  ‘If they say yes, then he knows that they are on their way.’  It strikes me that her examples were a whole lot more comfortable than mine today.  The most uncomfortable experience of reverence she mentions is watching a mosquito as it bites.  The cold Wyoming wind bites a lot harder.  But I guess that is what I get for living in Wyoming instead of rural Georgia.

Still… I have a reverence for the Wyoming wind.  Barbara Brown Taylor quotes philosopher Paul Woodruff,

“To forget you are only human, to think you can act like a god–this is the opposite of reverence.”

Again Taylor writes, “Woodruff argues that true reverence cannot be for anything that human beings can make or manage by themselves.”  One thing is for certain, I cannot manage the Wyoming wind.  I can no more tell the wind to stop and it obey me than I can tell my eyes to turn brown.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Holy Spirit — that God’s very movement in the world — is like the wind.  We do not know from where it comes, nor where it goes.  We can only see it’s effects.  I must say I have never equated God’s Spirit with the bitter winter wind of Wyoming before.  Is God’s Spirit so…. cold?  Does it have a bite?  I have always at least hoped God’s spirit was a gentle breeze, warm and refreshing to the face.  But such an image limits God I think.  Jesus was not trying so much to comfort Nicodemus as he was trying (quite successfully) to unsettle him.  That too is part of reverence.  Awe.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. -Proverbs 9:10

I’m not sure many folks here in Wyoming are afraid of the wind but we respect it.  And, yes, some days as I hear it rattle the fence and whistle by the windows in all its strength I am in awe.  My house withstands the wind but it does not stop it.  And it is only one force in this world that God the Spirit gives life to.  I am in awe of God’s Spirit too.  Why should this matter?  Because awe is the beginning of wisdom.

Paul Woodruff and Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that if we can revere what we see greater than us – especially God – then we can respect what we see lower or weaker than us.  And that surely does make a difference… in how we care for this world God has given us, how we respect and love our neighbors and how we raise our children.  How much of the pain in this world has been caused not because one meant to hurt another, but because one simply didn’t see that other or understand how we are related.  How much pain has been caused not by malice but by foolishness?  Too much.  Way too much.

I lifted my gaze, turned my face full into its cold blast and acknowledged the wind.  And it greeted me as only it could, by making my cheeks tingle, then burn, and making my eyes water.  Not altogether pleasant yet life-giving just the same.  For that moment, I was more conscious of my own breath as small as it was compared to my companion.  My senses were awakened.  I knew my place in God’s great big world.  And, in a way, the wind acknowledged me.  Even as it turned my cheeks bright red and brought tears to my eyes, it had to alter its course ever so slightly in that moment in that place I stood before moving on its way.  We were related somehow.  How much more will God’s Spirit acknowledge me if I take a moment to lift my gaze, turn my face full into its gentle breath or awakening blast?  It may just choose not to alter its path, but be breathed in, and reside and give life.

Lord, may I acknowledge the Wind!  May I turn my face into the presence of Your Spirit.  May I breathe deep Your breath that gives life.  Teach me to be in awe of You and Your creation.  And as I stand in awe of what is greater than I, may I also bow to respect what is weaker, what is smaller, yet no less precious.  Amen.