New Wineskins Mark 2:1-22
Given by Rev. April Blaine on Sunday, January 10, 2016
So, at the end of our Scripture today, you heard Jesus talking about wine and wineskins.
So, I thought I’d begin today with a little bit of wine history lessons from the Roman world.
Wine was incredibly important in the days of Jesus – it was served at nearly every meal… from the rich and elite to even the servants - and the way that wine was most frequently stored was in what you called leather wineskins. And the leather wineskin was useful because when the wine was new – when it was first made, the fermentation was complete but not entirely complete, and so placing it in a container where the fermentation could continue to completion was important. The leather wineskin was perfect because the nature of leather is that it has some give – some ability to expand along with the wine.
So, as long as your wineskin could expand a bit, it could be used and reused to hold new wine.
But at some point, after using the wineskin enough times. The wineskin would reach it’s fullest capacity. It would have expanded as far as it could and so if you were to put new wine into a wineskin when it had become old… the expanding wine as it fermented would crack the brittle framework and you would lose not only the wineskin, but also your precious wine.
Wineskins were pretty important. Necessary for daily life. But sometimes they needed to be changed. Replaced.
Because Their whole purpose was to deliver the wine
the WINE is where it’s really at.
As we’ve been re-reading this incredible book over the past year, I’ve been so delighted to discover the ways that God – through the people of Israel – was doing a NEW THING. Pouring – you might say – NEW WINE for God’s people.
It started with Abraham. In a world where no one believed that God was personal or even cared about the lives of humans – was this incredible promise to do a new thing – to make of Abraham’s descendants a new nation where God promised to be their God and they would be God’s people – a people who would be a BLESSING to the whole world.
And then when the Israelites became enslaved in Egypt, God sent Moses to come and declare liberation from captivity, freedom from oppression, release from Pharoah’s clutches – and the people were called from slavery to the promised land- called to set up their nation of people – a nation grounded in love, justice, and the trust of their God Yahweh.
The journey was not an easy one, for Moses or for Abraham and his descendants and so God gave the people some practices, some rhythms, some rituals to help them remember who they were – and to help them remember who God was.
Practices like circumcision and animal sacrifices and the ten commandments.
These were – you might say – the wineskins – the delivery system to help the people more readily receive the NEW WINE that was being poured out onto them.
But it wasn’t long before the people began to lose sight of this promise – you see they started to confuse the promises they had been given, the call to which they were born – with the laws and practices that had been set up to help them get there.
And so instead of finding their safety and their security in their relationship with God – they started to find it in their laws and in their rituals.
And so instead of opening themselves up to the new ways that God was inviting them to grow in a trusting relationship – more grounded in love and justice. They worried more about whether they were practicing sacrifices or lighting incense in the prescribed way, or correctly observing the Sabbath, or removing all traces of idols or symbols from other “heathen” cultures from your home.
These rules, structures, and rituals helped them feel less anxious or worried in the face of trauma or danger or uncertainty –as if they had some sort of control
Until the religion of the Israelites became mostly about preserving some old brittle wineskins and very little about the precious gift of the new wine.
It’s a common human problem that we have.
We like the concept of a big, expansive loving God that works in the world for all people.
But when it comes down to it – on a day to day basis – it’s harder for us to keep this kind of wide thinking.
We do much better when we can simplify things. Categorize things. Organize things.
Into this box or that box.
We do much better when we can learn what the rules are and then find our place within those rules.
It makes us feel less anxious and afraid. It makes us feel more in control.
So, The Scribes, the Pharisees, the high priests, the teachers of the law
The people who figure prominently in our story today -
had set up rigid rules about what was allowed and what was not allowed. About who was in or out of their community.
If you want to be a good person – follow these rules
Take the correct path
Don’t be like THOSE people.
For we have seen the light and you just need to do as we say.
It was easier than drinking the wine of the living God – which might ask them to change and to be transformed by the powerful movement of the Spirit. That might ask them to break apart their categories of who was in and out – to forgive their debtors – to break down the walls of the power they had built for themselves – and acknowledge that they needed the grace and forgiveness of God just as desperately as anyone else.
For centuries – all they had offered the people of God’s teachings were some old brittle wineskins.
So, you can imagine what began to happen when Jesus comes on the scene and begins teaching about the coming of the kingdom of God.
Where ALL are called to repent. Where the good news of the Kingdom of God is for ALL people. Where people from every walk of life are finding healing and love and forgiveness and redemption. Where people saw a man with authority – who was offering a word of good news that was transformative. It was redemptive.
And he didn’t just offer it up to a select few. Because he goes from healing the poor, paralytic man dropped through the roof by his friends – to healing the heart of a corrupt and oppressive tax collector and having dinner with his rich friends –
Jesus is serving up some new, Sweet Wine – and people can tell the difference.
And he’s not even following the rules.
He’s not even fasting!
Jesus and his disciples are going around spreading the good news of the kingdom –
Having dinner parties – sharing the joyful gift of the spirit.
New Wine that is changing the story.
When the paralytic man’s friends drop him through the ceiling – Jesus doesn’t first heal him of his physical condition, he says to the man – your sins are forgiven. Because he knows for this man, that the thing he really needs to find freedom and release is to know that he no longer needs to be ashamed. And that God’s love can cover his own sins. The healing of his physical body is secondary to the transformation of his heart and spirit.
And these poor religious leaders – are aghast –
They’re standing there with their poor old wineskins that have been stretched and stretched –There was no room left to expand.
They knew that what Jesus was teaching would break apart their precious skins – the precious framework which they had used to shape their identity.
And so the new, actual wine was before them – but they had no way to receive it.
And they were too afraid to let go of their old wineskins to experience it.
Too afraid to admit that perhaps their container might need a replacement – so they could take a drink and see the new thing that God was doing.
Last week, we talked about this call that Mark argues is at the heart of the practice of being a follower of Jesus. The call to repentance. The call to turn and re-turn. The call to open anew to the thing god is doing. To change our minds. And that we do this – not just once, but over and over again.
And the reason that this is the heartbeat and rhythm of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ is because God wants to change us.
From the inside out.
To heal the deepest parts of us that we don’t want to look at and certainly don’t want others to see. To help us claim our belovedness even in those spaces – so we can live as our true selves and not just the persona we’ve created for the world to see.
But this is where the party is really at.
This is where the magic happens.
This is the real wine.
Now, if you invited me to your house and put me in charge of the wine, I expect that you’d be pretty disappointed if I showed up with an empty bottle.
Don’t settle for the wineskin when Jesus is offering the real wine.
Coming to church on Sundays is great, helping out in the nursery, or bringing some money for the offering, or even serving on finance committee – these things are wonderful, helpful and good.
But these are the wineskins. Their intention is that we might come into connection and deeper communion with the living God who wants us to know worth and love and transformation.
Wineskins have a purpose. But the purpose is to hold the wine.
So, may we as a church and as individuals – never become so pre-occupied with the container we are building here at Summit that we forget to be in the kind of life-giving – breathing relationship with the living God.
Our wineskins need room to expand – and sometimes need to be replaced.
So that we can more effectively turn and return – open up to receive
So God’s healing and light and love and grace and forgiveness can reach the deepest parts of us
And So we don’t miss the real party – the real magic – the real wine.