Text: Mark 2: 21-22
21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
This is a familiar text which many of us have heard quite often and I think most of us have some idea of what Jesus meant when he said these words. The general consensus among scholars is simply that ancient Judaism may have been too rigid or brittle to accommodate some of the new ideas that Jesus was presenting. Other scholars get more specific and say that the text speaks to a tradition of fasting, but however you choose to interpret the text, one thing is clear and that is that it can be difficult to mix the new with the old.
I’m wondering how many times you may have witnessed this in your own lives, sometimes without even thinking about it or realizing that you are seeing scripture played out right before your eyes.
For example, do you remember going into a restaurant perhaps 15 or 20 years ago and they would ask you if you wanted to sit in smoking or non-smoking? Anyone else remember those days?
Well, here is my take on that situation-we had a new idea, a new way of looking at smoking and our culture and society had really begun to resist the idea of smoking and resisted the idea of being subjected to that second-hand smoke while we were in a public place. And so we passed laws and legislation about smoking-this was a new idea…it was new wine.
When the restaurants were asked to comply, the first reaction was to put this new wine into an old wine skin. The restaurants didn’t truly accommodate the non-smokers, they arbitrarily designated half of the restaurant non-smoking, but it didn’t really work. The smoke still made the dining experience less than ideal if you were a non-smoker. So the laws had to get tougher and we eliminated smoking in public places entirely-so the restaurants were forced to comply, and so were the smokers. If the restaurants had responded with the first set of laws with truly new wine skins, provided an enclosed space, for example, with proper ventilation, so only the smokers smelled the smoke, the first wave of laws might have worked. But putting the new idea into an old framework ended up not working very well and we had to pass even tougher laws.
Sometimes just the opposite happens. When I was in marketing in the Dallas area, I had a lengthy commute to get to work. I would stop at this combination gas station/convenience store most mornings for a large cup of not very good coffee. The place was an absolute dump; it was dirty and messy and paint was peeling inside, the restrooms were ridiculous and the exterior looked like it had not been painted or cleaned up for decades.
Once inside, the theme continued. The person who was normally working there early in the morning I think must have been there all night. Grumpy doesn’t cover it. He would scowl and grunt and never make a friendly gesture. He was generally unkempt, his hair was messy, about a 5-day stubble for a beard, often I could smell he needed a bath and there was always grease under his fingernails. I used to stop there just because of the location; it was right before I got on the freeway and on the correct side of the road, so it was convenient. I also played a bit of a game with myself-when I went in for my coffee I would try to get this guy to smile. It never worked. I don’t think it was possible.
One day I pulled in for my coffee and the place was closed. Little wonder, I thought to myself, I don’t know how they stayed in business as long as they did. Over the next few weeks I watched as the bulldozers leveled the old building and soon a bright new shiny clean store was in its place. I was thrilled!
When they finally opened I went in for my coffee, pleased that the place was new and fresh and clean, it was bright and cheery. I poured my coffee and headed for the counter to pay, and who do you suppose I saw…Yep, same old grumpy clerk-still unkempt, still messy hair, still a five-day stubble and still as friendly as ever. Oh, brother, I thought to myself-some things never change.
This was a case where they had built new wine skins and then filled it with the same old grumpy insides, the old wine, the soured wine.
My point here is that you need both; you need new wine and new wine skins. There are two parts to the puzzle; if you just do one it will not work. You have to have both new wine and new wine skins.
As far as the church is concerned, I have seen many churches that change the wine skins, they change the structure, they change the music, they change the lighting and the stage and they change the paint scheme. Then they proceed to fill that church with the same old message. And let me be very clear-I don’t think it is the physical structures that the unaffiliated demographic are rejecting in such high numbers-it is the message. At first, some of them may have been fooled by the new wineskins, and we saw huge growth in certain churches that followed some of the contemporary trappings. But now, they are losing membership as well, because, I believe, many are finding out that the new wine skins don’t really matter if you don’t get new wine with it.
This is our challenge; we need to make some changes to our wine skins, but we also need to fill those new wine skins with new wine. It is a both/and proposition.
For simplicity, we can think about it in this way; the new wine skins are the building, the style of worship, the music, the liturgy, the coffee fellowship, even the friendliness and welcoming attitude is part of the wine skin package.
The new wine represents what we actually believe. What we actually do in the community. The kind of theology that is put out there, the lyrics of the songs or hymns that we sing, the words in a call to worship or the kinds of prayers that we say. The new wine represents how self-righteous we appear to be, how judgmental we appear to be, how tolerant we are of other viewpoints and other faith traditions; whether we actually practice open hearts, open minds and open doors or not.
As we move through this process, we will be changing both our wine skins and our wine. Some aspects of worship may change, some aspects of the building may change, some of the music may change. We will also continue to plow new ground with our message; the things you have been hearing from me about thinking for yourselves, about asking the hard questions and about Biblical authority will continue.
Let’s look first at some of the new wine skins you may begin to notice. Within a few weeks the narthex area, the area just outside the sanctuary will be re-arranged. You will notice a welcome center where we will greet visitors-and visitors will actually receive some good information in the way of this folder, which is full of all the different ways someone can connect with this community.
You will also notice new name tags and a new location for those tags, to help you remember to put them on. I know in the past the name tags have felt a little redundant, after all most of us have been together for at least 20 years now – but that is about to change. New visitors will appreciate the name tags and you will be encouraged to wear them.
You may begin to notice some different music every once in awhile. We are in the process of obtaining some new playback equipment that will allow us to mix up our musical variety a little bit more and have many different styles available to us.
You may also notice that the coffee has gotten better-it seems insignificant, but it is not.
I have other changes to the worship space planned, but not yet approved or financed, so some things will be left unsaid for now, but make no mistake; we are moving forward and are taking some significant steps in creating new wine skins.
Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time-so there will have to be a Winds of Change-Part 4, where we will talk about the ways our church will be communicating to the people outside of our walls what is happening within our walls. Next week will include a glimpse of our new web site, some advertising we have planned and other ways we will be communicating our new wine message to the target demographic.
Also just a note; last week some of you had the opportunity to meet my sister and brother-in-law, Sharon & Julian Tuck. Next week, you will have the chance to meet my brother Bruce and his wife Debbie. They have been here once before, some of you may remember, but they will be with us in worship next week and will be offering some special music as well. So tell your friends-this isn’t a service you will want to miss.
So be of good cheer, for we are creating new wine and new wine skins. Go in peace. Amen.