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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
A Taste of New Wine

Epiphany 2     John 2:11

This story is told with permission. One of the pleasures of my job is to visit old Al Lunde, one of the many long time members of our congregation. During my list visit to his home, along with my wife, Jan, we were sitting around the table and talking about this and that. There were some apples on the table and so we began talking about apples and apple cider. I had heard that old man Lunde had made apple cider, and so I asked, “Al, can we have a glass of our apple cider?” He said, “OK.” He walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out an old jug that said “vinegar” on it. He took this jug of vinegar over to the table, and then reached up to a cabinet and pulled down three champagne glasses. I thought that was a bit strange, to pull down such fancy glasses to drink cider from. He poured the apple cider into the glasses. He reminded that he celebrated is birthday a few days before, and that we should toast his birthday. We did. We sipped that apple cider. Apple cider? My eyes popped. My taste buds budded. My salivator salivated. My eyes watered. This wasn’t apple cider. This was apple champagne. Fresh. Sharp. Full bodied. Al’s eyes danced with laugher and he chuckled.

In the lesson for today, Jesus says that the gospel of Jesus Christ is like a taste of new wine. Fresh. Sharp. Crisp. Full bodied. To know Jesus Christ is not something old, stale, or rancid. Knowing Jesus Christ is like tasting new wine. It fills your mouth and it tastes good. … Al Lunde knows that you don’t take new wine and put it into old wineskins. Old wineskins have lost their elasticity and their expanding power. The old wineskins are all stretched out. If you put new wine into old skins, the wine starts to expand and the old skins burst. You take new wine and put it into new skins. We will talk about this latter in the sermon.

First, let us talk about the joy and freedom of the new wine. When Jesus came to the synagogue of Judaism of his day, he found a religion that tasted rancid and moldy. The Judaism of Jesus’ day was old, musty and stale. … Have you ever tasted a bottle of wine that aged too long? The old wine begins to taste like sour vinegar. Have you ever tasted a wine that has been left in the refrigerator too long and has been left uncorked? It turns into vinegar. Have you ever had some 7-Up that has been sitting out for a few days. It is flat and awful. Jesus said that the religion of the Jews of his day was like old, bland 7-Up or even worse, like old stale Root Beer. That is the worst. There is no joy, no crisp effervescence, or life to it.

Then Jesus gave two illustrations of that kind of stale religion. He talked about fasting and Sabbath observances. Rules about fasting and the Sabbath were like old, stale, sour wine.

Jesus first talked about fasting.  Fasting means to abstain, and on certain days, the Jews abstained from eating, drinking, bathing, anointing themselves with oil, wearing sandals and having sexual intercourse. They fasted from these things; they abstained from these things. Initially and importantly, there was only one fast in Judaism, Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement, the holiest of days. (As a footnote, the Jews never fought battles of war on their holy days, and therefore their enemies knew that this was the best time to attack the Jews, when they were at worship.) Pretty soon, one fast wasn’t enough and the Jews had to have more fasts. They had to have a national fast, a state fast, a morning fast, an evening fast, a Sunday fast. Soon their religion became a series of fasts, a series of prohibitions, of “no, no, no,” of “naughty, naughty, naughty,” of “don’t do this and don’t do that.”  This is of the way I talk to my child at home. Everything is a “no, no.” …The Jewish religion had degenerated into a series of “no, nos,” There was no joy, no zing, no effervescence. It was all “Do not drink. Do not eat. Do not wear your sandals. Do not have sex.”

Jesus’ second illustration of this kind of religiosity that tasted like old wine was their attitude towards the Sabbath. The Sabbath was to be a holy day, a day of rest, a day of no work. The Bible said that the Sabbath was made for man; the day was created to help human beings and the land to take a rest and rest is important. The Jews of Jesus’ day weren’t content with that. They had to make the Sabbath a little more miserable than that, and so they added a whole bunch of rules to it. They added negative rules such as “do not prepare food, do not care for your donkey if it gets sick, do not care for your camel if it breaks down, do not heal a person if they get sick, do not exert any effort if it could be called work.” Soon, their religious laws about the Sabbath were filled with “don’t do this,” and “don’t do that.” There was no joy, no zing, no effervescence. Instead of Sunday being a holy day, a restful day, it became a miserable day to keep track of all the things you may do wrong. It tasted like old root beer, and there is nothing worse than old, stale root beer.

Then, the Pharisees and the followers of John the Baptist, saw Jesus on Yom Kipper. John the Baptist and his boys were all fasting, abstaining from pleasures, and being very religious. John and his boys saw Jesus having a party while they were fasting, and so they said to him, “Jesus, what is wrong with you? Don’t you know how to be religious?” Jesus replied, “Why should I fast? The bridegroom is here. I am here. It is time for celebration and joy.” The Baptist and his boys apparently didn’t get it then.

There was another incident about the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of grain and they picked some wheat. Picking wheat was interpreted as working and it was against the Sabbath law for anyone to work. The Pharisees said, “Jesus, that is a no, no. You are not supposed to pick grain on the Sabbath.” Jesus replied, “Huh? The Sabbath was made for man, not the opposite. Man wasn’t made to do all these Sabbath regulations that you have created.”

So the Pharisees of Jewish history had made a religion of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” Jesus was trying to teach them about a new religion of new wine and new joy.

There are three points to the sermon for today. Point one:  As with the taste of new wine, there is a joy to be found with Christ and our Christian walk. Point two: there is to be joy in our worship services. Point three: there is necessity for new wineskins in our Christian faith.

To know Jesus Christ is to taste new wine, to be free from the wineskins of Jewish legalism. The mood of Jesus was like a taste of new wine; the mood of discipleship is like a wedding. I have been to many weddings in my life, and I have been to only one unhappy wedding. That’s when the mom and day were embarrassed because their daughter got pregnant and they wouldn’t come to the wedding because their pride had been hurt. That was the only unhappy wedding I have ever been to. Most weddings are a time for laughing, singing, smiling, enjoying each other’s presence, and that is to be the mood of our Christian lives. It is to be like new wine.

If your Christianity is a burden to you; if your Christian faith is “I can’t do this” and “I can’t do that;”  if you faith is a series of “no, nos” and a bunch of rules for you to now follow, you haven’t tasted the new wine of Jesus. Christianity is not a series of new rules and regulations; rather, Christianity is freedom. … As a footnote, I had to admit that I when I was  brought up in childhood, I was not reared on Jewish legalism but Norwegian legalism. These two legalisms are country cousins. What was it to be a Christian back then? I can tell you. A bunch of don’ts. My pastor and church told me, “Don’t dance. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t play cards unless it is Rook. Rook was permissible. Don’t go to movies. Don’t marry a Roman Catholic. Don’t get a divorce. Divorce seemed to be the unforgivable sin.” Somehow, I got hung up on all the wrong issues. Then, I read my Bible and I read the Apostle Paul and discovered that I was free from all these cultural and legalistic hang-ups. I found out that I was free to love, free to die that others might live. I found out that being a Christian was not a series of rules to obey; the New Testament was not a series of new rules in a new rule book. Rather, Christianity is like tasting new wine. The Christian faith is like falling in love. I fell in love with my wife. I don’t have a rule book that tells me how to love my wife. I don’t look up on page 42 of a marriage handbook, paragraph B, regulation 25 for Tuesdays that tell me I should be nice to her. I just love my wife. I  don’t need some rule book to tell me how to love her. Nor do I need a rule book to tell me how to love my children. I am free. Free to love. That’s what it means to be a follower of Christ. It means to be free from all those cultural hang-ups and free to love as Christ loved.

Point two. It is not only in our relationship with God that is like new wine, but also our worship services are to taste like new wine. Every Sunday morning is Easter Sunday in which we celebrate the resurrection of Christ over death. Holy Communion is like celebrating a wedding feast of forgiveness, with all its joy and happiness. Holy Communion is a time of great happiness.

Sometimes and much too often, we convert our Sunday morning worship into the mood of somber and serious. For example, Holy Communion is a time of celebration of the Risen Christ and the joy of God’s forgiveness. Instead, we often sing a hymn that sounds like a dirge, “Deck thy selves with joy and gladness. Dwell no more my soul on sadness.” The words are so true, so joyful and happy, but far too often, we sing and play them like a funeral march. It seems that during Holy Communion, Lutherans think more about confession than about forgiveness. We feel sorry for our sins and walk back from the communion rail, looking like we are still sorry for our sins. But the new wine has a new taste, a new zing, a new effervescence, that we have been joyfully forgiven. Our worship services are not to feel like a time of mourning, like a somber funeral service.

My suspicion is that our young people would enjoy worship more if the services were a bit happier.

The third point is this. You can’t take new wine and put in old wineskins. The old wineskins have been all stretched out and have lost their elasticity. If you put new wine into old wineskins, the old wineskins burst. The old wineskins can’t handle the new wine.  … I have found that there are some people who like old wineskins more than they do the new wine. They love their old wineskins. They love their old wineskins and to be religious is defined as using the old wineskins such as the old hymns, the old liturgy, the old ways of thinking about God, the old creeds that were written in third century metaphysics. In some peoples’ minds, if it is old, it is better. Or, we can’t do it that way because it has never been done that way before. Many people do like their old wineskins more than about anything, and they don’t want to change wineskins.

People have a hard time changing and changing wineskins. For a long time, people thought that Jesus talked Norwegian. Then they thought that God spoke in the King James English with all the “t.h.”s at the end of words e.g. he goeth and cometh. Many people like their King James Version of the Bible, even though the language is archaic, and the translations is based on meager manuscript support.

People have a hard time changing and changing their old wineskins. This is especially true in our thinking about God. To me, this is illustrated by Copernicus back in the Middle Ages. Back in the Middle Ages, the church taught that the earth was the geographic center of the universe and that the sun revolved around the earth. The church also used the Bible to prove these so-called facts of the created order. Copernicus came along and said, “No, no, no. That is not what the Bible teaches, that the earth is the center of the universe. The earth revolves around the sun.” Copernicus got thrown out of the church and had to recant because he had dared to think such new thoughts about God. Yes, some people like the old wineskins better than the new wine. They like their old cosmologies that the earth is flat, the earth has four corners, heaven is up and hell is down someplace in the hot center of the planet, and it is best to read about it in the King James Version of the Bible with its “t.h”s at the end of words.

In the church, when there is new wine, let me tell you, there will be new wineskins. That is the way it has always been; the church has always been finding new wineskins in every generation and every culture throughout human history. That doesn’t mean the essence of Christianity has changed; it only means the cultural wrappings are forever changing. The message of Jesus Christ and his eternal love from the cross never changes, but the wrappings of this message constantly changes. The wineskins are forever changing. We Christians will forever create new songs and new liturgies and new languages and new forms. Otherwise, the new wine of Jesus Christ will burst the old wine bags.

I had a pleasant surprise the other day.  We went over to call on old man Lunde, as he refers to himself. What a pleasure. We were chatting about apples and apple cider. We asked about cider and he said, “Do you want some?” with that certain twinkle in his eye. He pulled jug from his refrigerator and it said, “vinegar.” He poured that ice cold, golden liquid into our wine glasses, and we toasted his birthday.  We tasted the apple juice. Apple juice. No. Was it wine? No, it was better than wine. It had zing. It had zang. It sparkled. It was apple champagne. And old man Lunde laughed and his eyes twinkled.

That’s the way it is when you taste new wine. Amen.

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