Wineskins: New and otherwise
Have you seen the Bumper Sticker? It says — Change is good…YOU go first! I dislike change sometimes. Not always. But I sure like a lot of the things that have come from change. I bet you do, too, if you’ll think for a minute and be honest.
Has it occurred to you that the car you drive was a massive cultural and transportation shift 100 years ago? Some people didn’t want them, and thought they were nuisances that simply scared the horses. The close of the Victorian culture saw people snub the telephone back in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a faddish gadget. They said that it would only facilitate gossip and look bad wherever you placed it in a room. They said it had no real purpose and would soon be abandoned, as all fads are.
That old hymn you love so much, the one that hits you right in your soul and has comforted you for decades, was brand-new once upon a time. I promise you, singing it in church caused a lot of poor pastors to get an earful from people who didn’t like it. In fact, I bet that sums up the attitude so many of us have about change. We may not always love newness, but change is inevitable and even necessary.
Do you know how many church people it takes to change a light-bulb? The answer is at least 15. That’s seven to serve on the committee that selects a new light bulb. Seven more to serve on the committee that memorializes the old light bulb and tells us how great it was. Then one person to actually change the light itself.
This week we began a series on parables. For the next several weeks, we’ll examine stories that our Lord used in order to teach. In Luke 5: 36-39, he told two very brief parables. Jesus spoke to the common life of the people through the power of story. He was a superb storyteller. Parables offer us a literal and a symbolic look at life, and then teach us things while we’re still looking at life.
Scholar William Barclay says, “There is in religious people a passion for old. Nothing moves more slowly than a church.” Do you know when he said that? 1953 which was 68 years ago. Back when our oldest members were the impatient young people of the world who wished the church would do some things faster. That’s what kept Jesus in trouble with the Pharisees. He was moving at such a fast pace, they couldn’t get their minds around who and what he said he was. When they did, they and others didn’t like what they were understanding him to say.
Luke is a most interesting Gospel. This writer sets up a tension that moves through his pages. There is a tension between what Jesus says-and-does versus what is accepted. He used two illustrations here in this parable: a new patch on an old garment and new wine in old wineskins. The new patch would only rip wider the hole in the old garment because it was stronger than the fabric. Likewise, new wine fermenting in an old wineskin would expand. A new wineskin had an elasticity that an old one simply did not and could not have.
Jesus’ message, his ways, expectations and hopes bothered them. The demands he made of religious folks and challenges he issued to justice and fairness in the economy and social systems were radical ways that seemed all too new for them. Jesus was not talking about starting a new religion here. He meant that the old ways with which they had categorized life, faith and the church were no longer going to work. Our biases, assumptions and blindspots will not always be the best containers for the goodness God intends in our world. Their ways were the old wineskin and the old fabric, not the faith itself. Faith in God was still, and will always be, good!
He realized that his people held strongly to the old ways. Jesus wanted them to know that he was sympathetic with their dilemma. He knew the old wine tasted better, just as we don’t want to lose the old wine and yet we can’t stay with the old wineskins forever! The challenge just may be to find ways to weave the good of the old with the good of the new!
DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.