New Wine, New Wineskins
Mark 2:13-22 Epiphany 8B
Epiphany 2C (alternative: add Mark 2:18-22 to the John 2 text about the wedding)
Lent 4C (II Corinthians 5:16-17 as an epistle)
(A trialogue sermon among three pastors at Grace Lutheran Church of Des Moines, Washington: Pastor Stephanie Coltvet, John O'Neal and Ed Markquart)
Grace to you and peace
From God our Father
And from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Those of you who have been around Grace for a while have seen us do a dialogue sermon before. That’s where we sit down together, study the Bible lesson for the day, discuss it at length and then present the best parts of our discussion to you as a dialog sermon. But today, for the first time ever here at Grace Lutheran Church, we are going to do a trialogue sermon! Is that a word? So, Pastor Markquart, Pastor Coltvet, and myself have spent some time together studying and discussing the lesson for today and we would now like to share some of our insights with you as a “Trialogue” sermon. Is that a word?
I think that it’s a word, but not in the dictionary. I have to say that I am a bit nervous about this whole thing. First of all, I have never preached a trialogue sermon, let alone a dialogue sermon. They just don’t teach you how to do this kind of preaching at the seminary! And second, can you even begin to fathom getting up here to preach with these two guys? I don’t think so!
Today, to begin our sermon the three of us would like to retell the Bible story for today by re-enacting that story. I am the narrator, John is the people, and Stephanie is Jesus.
Now on one occasion, the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came to Jesus and said to him:
“Hey Jesus, my, how you’ve changed! Jesus, why do John’s followers and the disciples of the Pharisees follow the tradition of fasting, but your disciples don’t?”
And like she so often does, Jesus answered these people with a question of her own:
“Do you expect the guests at a wedding party to go without food? Of course not! This is a time of celebration! As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But when the bridegroom is taken away from them, they will fast on that day.”
Now…some people chimed in,
A time of celebration? Like a wedding? Like a party? No way, Hose’.
Jesus continued teaching them by saying,
“No one uses a piece of new cloth to patch up an old coat. If they do, the new patch will shrink and tear off some of the old cloth, making an even bigger hole. And nobody pours new wine into used wineskins. If they did, the wine would burst the skins, the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. Instead, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.”
We, as a congregation, have just come through the 40 Days of Purpose. I feel that it has been a terrific adventure and there is a buzz of excitement around here. People seem to be reenergized in faith and eager to move forward with this new-found energy. It kind of feels like new wine has been poured new wineskins around this congregation with all the enthusiasm for the small groups, learning together and all the wonderful stories of how these small groups are planning different service projects to help others. There seems to be some “new wine” flowing in this place and I’m really excited about that.
There really are many exciting, new things going on in this congregation. I can feel the energy. But even so, I want to be changed and challenged by the Gospel today. I just know that something in what Jesus is saying has the power to transform me and everyone here in this place. What does this text mean for us?
That’s the big question, Stephanie. But before we address your question, how about the three of us taking a few moments and looking at the historical background of this Bible passage. Let’s first look at the word, “fasting.” Throughout the gospels, it is emphasized that the Pharisees fasted. What is fasting? For the Jew, fasting was to abstain from eating, drinking, bathing, anointing one’s self with oil and having sexual intercourse in order to spend time and focus on God. In other words, no eating, no drinking, no sex. I see you people are snickering. Some of you are laughing.
For the Jews, all Jews would fast on one day a year, the Day of Atonement. The Jews also developed weekly fasts.
How did the Pharisees fast? In addition to no eating, no drinking and no sex, they would cover their hair with ashes, cover their faces with ashes, and cover their clothing with ashes. In other words, these Pharisees would draw attention to themselves that they were fasting. Then they would publicly pray on the street corners, rocking back and forth, wearing their prayer shawls and little round black hats, and showing everyone how much they prayed. Then they would go and give a big offering and drop their metal coins in metal buckets in the synagogue and those coins would go, “clank, clank, clank.” They would show off to everyone how generous they were. For the Pharisees, this is what it was to be religious: showing off how religious they were.
These Pharisees loved their religious rituals, rules, regulations more than God and more than other people who needed their kindness. They actually loved their religious traditions and their religious culture more than they loved God and the ways of God.
Another part of the religious background we need to know in order to understand this Gospel story has to do with weddings. Jesus had to explain to the people why his disciples were not fasting like John the Baptist’s followers and the Pharisees. He did this by comparing the situation to a wedding feast or banquet.
The theme of the wedding banquet appears many times throughout Scripture. Remember how Jesus’ first miracle took place at the wedding in Cana? He turned the water into wine. Well in those days, wedding celebrations would go on for days—usually for a full week! These people knew how to party! A wedding was a time of new beginnings…a time of celebration. The whole community would be invited to the event. Can you imagine how many people would show up? The wedding banquet would be a place where usually underfed people would be treated to the finest, richest foods. It would be a place where people could totally rest and take a break from manual labor. For as many as seven days, people would eat, drink, and be merry!
In this text from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus compares himself to the bridegroom at a wedding. Jesus is the bridegroom and his disciples are the guests. In other words, Jesus is the life of the party. And as long as Jesus is with his disciples, they feast together. They enjoy being in one another’s presence.
Jesus always used images and stories that everyone could relate to. He used down to earth, every day life events, concepts, and stories that everyone understood. It this story from Mark, Jesus uses the concept of new wine, old wine, new wineskins and old wineskins. Of course in Jesus time, wine would have been a staple. It would have been the primary drink of choice. Water was not often safe to drink so wine, or fermented grape juice, would been safer to drink. Wine also had tremendous religious significance especially at the Jewish Passover. So wine was a part of everyday life and religious ceremonial life during Biblical times. Wine at that time would have been carried in wineskins not in glass bottles. And everyone would have known the old wineskins tended to be dryer and more brittle than new wineskins. New wineskins were more flexible and had way more elasticity than old ones. Now, old wine would have been completely through its fermenting process and would not be producing any gases to expand the container in which it was stored. So putting it in old wineskins was not a problem. On the other hand new wine was still fermenting a little and would produce some gases that would need some room for expanding. Old wineskins would split under the pressure but new wineskins were flexible enough to expand as the new wine continued to mature.
All of this history and context is fine and good, but it still doesn’t answer my question. What does this text mean for us? What is it’s purpose? Do Jesus’ words have the power to change my life?
Here’s what it mean to me. I believe this passage is about being open to what God is doing today. It’s about being open minded. Our Christian faith is not a dead, static religion of 2,000 years ago. Our Christian faith is very much alive today. It’s dynamic, growing, expanding, developing, and reforming all the time. Jesus is still working in the lives of his disciples today, right now, right here at Grace. Jesus’ new wine is forever expanding and growing and always has newness to it. God’s Spirit blows where it wills and we know not from where it comes or where it is going. Jesus’ Spirit always blows in new and different ways. This Bible story is an invitation to be open minded to what God is doing in the here and now. Using the gift of discernment, we need to discover where God is leading us and be open to new possibilities, new wine. I like the saying, “A mind is like a parachute, it only functions when it’s open. On the other hand, we need to exercise some caution as well. Someone once said, “If you are too open minded, your brains might fall out.” So, some caution is needed as our new wineskins expand and contract under the influence of the new wine of faith. How about you, Stephanie? What does this story mean for you?
I believe Jesus is teaching us something very important in this text. It is easy enough to identify ourselves with the new wine and the new wineskins. It is much harder, though, to identify with the ones Jesus plainly criticizes—in this case, the Pharisees. But if we are really honest with ourselves, I think we can admit that there are times when we act like the Pharisees. Times when we cling to our own traditions rather than the cross of Christ, times when we worry about outward appearances rather than what is inside the heart, times when we draw attention to our own needs rather than meeting the needs of others.
It has been said that whenever we draw a line to separate ourselves from others and then point a finger at those on the other side, that Jesus is standing among those on the other side. Jesus dares us to cross the line…to reach out with love and compassion instead of strictly adhering to a set of lifeless, purpose-less rules and regulations. Jesus is calling you and me to step outside of our personal comfort zones. He is asking us to look at our own shortcomings…to see our blind spots…to see the times when we are just going through the motions and missing out on the new ways in which God is at work in our world. Jesus’ words are life-changing for us all. How about for you, Ed, what does this story mean for you?
The new wine is the Holy Spirit. The new wine is the Spirit of the Living God, the Spirit of Jesus Christ living in our hearts, our minds, and our actions. The new wine is the living, love of Christ taking up residence in our hearts and minds.
In John chapter three, it was Nicodemus and the new birth. In John, chapter four and the woman at the well, it was the new water. For the Apostle Paul, it was the new gospel. New wine. New birth. New water. New gospel.
By contrast, the Pharisees: they loved their religious rituals; they loved their religious rules; they loved their religious regulations. That was the core of their faith: to love their religious traditions and religious culture and religious interpretations of their Bible.
This new wine, this Spirit of Jesus, this Spirit of the Living God, will always find new wineskins. Will always find new forms. Will always find new structures. For every generation. For every culture.
In this passage, the new wine always symbolizes the Holy Spirit; the wineskins always symbolize forms or structures.
Let me explain: three simple stories. New languages. When I was in Eugene for the 100th anniversary of their congregation, I learned that there was a big congregational fight in 1926 whether or not the language of the worship service should be Norwegian. The progressives, the young people were going to quit the congregation, unless the congregation conducted their worship services in English. It was not just the language but the culture: the Norskies loved their Norwegian language and their Norwegian culture. They loved their old wineskin. For that congregation in Eugene, the purpose of their church was to preserve their Norwegian language and Norwegian heritage.
When the Russian church had their open house I had a wonderful conversation with a young man who showed me around their new facility. I asked him if they were considering doing a service in English at some point. He told me that in about 10 years they would need to do that. But for now the Russian language is a part of their “old wineskin,” and it’s necessary and good that they are using Russian language, Russian music and Russian culture at this time. But at some point in the future, maybe in ten years, when their Russian culture changes and when the young people speak English most of the time, then the Russian congregation will have to make a transition and create new wineskins, with new forms, and new language and new music for the new day and the new culture here in America. The Russian congregation will have to change their wineskin some day, not the new wine but the old wineskin. The Spirit of Jesus, the new wine, is always finding new wineskins.
Second story. The missionaries in China. New music. 120 years ago, they were teaching the Chinese converts Bach chorales to be their standard form of Chinese Lutheran. The Spirit of Jesus, the new wine, will always find new wineskins; that is will always find new music.
Third story. Copernicas. 16th century. The early 1500s. New thought forms. A contemporary of Luther. From Poland. An astronomer and mathematician in the church. He concluded that the earth was not the center of the universe and that the earth revolved around the sun. Such thoughts were considered heresy at the time because “everyone” knew that the earth was the center of the universe. This was a new thought pattern and that new thought pattern stunned the world. The Spirit of Jesus, the new wine, will always find new wineskins; that is, will always find new thought patterns.
In the children’s sermon today, our new pastor, Pastor Stephanie Coltvet is a violinist and she played the Sunday School song, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” in three different ways on her violin. In bluegrass, rock and classical. The same message in three different forms.
I believe that the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of the Living God, the new wine, the new birth, the new water and the new gospel will always find new wineskins and new forms and new structures for every generation, every culture, even continent.
You know, with this particular Bible story we’ve been dealing with, it would be easy to misunderstand and think that Jesus is saying that the old forms are always bad and the new forms are always better. That is not true. Old wineskins and older forms can be very good and useful. How ever, if we believe that the old wineskins are THE only wineskins and we are not open to experiencing the new wineskins in our lives, we will miss out on some of the ways God wants to bless us.
One more comment: think back to when Jesus turned water to wine at the wedding in Cana. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from, he went to the bridegroom and commented on how the bridegroom had saved the best for last. Normally, the host would serve the best wine first and then serve the inferior wine once the guests had become drunk. Basically, this tells us that the new wine Jesus created was the best wine in stock. In other words, the age of the wine does not always indicate superiority. The point is this: in whatever form or shape it takes, we need to make room for Jesus’ new wine in our own lives.
So are you thirsty for this new wine? When we gather around this table and receive the bread and wine, Christ pours himself into our lives and makes us new. No matter where you have been or what you have done, Christ invites you to come to his table and receive the gift of forgiveness and life. Come and taste the new wine.
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