October 25th, 2020
This fall we have been looking at the stories that Jesus told, – his parables. In the book of Mark, only four parables are recounted. We are looking at two of them today, the parable of the unshrunk cloth and the parable of the wineskins.
There are some core truths in this passage that if you get them allows you to walk into the life God intended for you, and if you don’t get them, your heart will shrivel. But as I look at the church over the years, It amazes me, how many people miss these core truths. I believe that these core truths are really applicable right now.
You heard the passage read, but let me walk you through it, and then look at what it has to do with us.
Mark 2:18–22 (NIV)
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
This question seems to be an honest question. John’s disciples and the Pharisees make a practice of fasting. Your disciples do not fast – what’s up with that?
Now just a note, the Old Testament commanded the Jewish people to fast once a year – but the Pharisees up their game and fasted twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays. So, fasting was part of their religious rigor.
19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
Jesus basically says, “I will tell you why. Think of the biggest and best celebration that you know of. – It is the weeding feast. This time we have right now – it is a celebration. The Kingdom of God has come near. The Messiah has come. You don’t fast at a wedding feast. My disciples shouldn’t fast now. This is a time for real joy.
He says, a time will come when I will be taken away. This is the first allusion in Mark to his death. Jesus says, when that day comes, my disciples will fast.
Jesus says this, and then he tells two stories. Both stories are saying the same thing.
21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
Now I have to tell you that I am not a wine expert – surprise, surprise. But my guess is that even todays sommeliers know very little about wineskins. Wine has been stored in glass bottles since the seventeenth century. But Jesus describes what happens when you put new wine in old wineskins. The wine expands, and burst the wineskins, ruining the wineskins and spilling the wine.
I am as much of an expert on sewing as I am on wine. But the picture is easy enough to imagine. If you sew a patch of unshrunk cloth on cloth that has already been shrunk, when the patch shrinks it will rip the garment.
I love how Jesus paints word pictures. But what is he saying by using these two stories?
Jesus is saying to the person who asked the question about fasting that – your question assumes that I have come to somehow fit into the old religious system. You think that I have come to put a patch on what we have always done.
But that is the wrong way to think about the Kingdom of God. It isn’t a tweak to the old religious forms. If you treat it like a patch, what will happen is that it will rip the old forms apart, but you will be left with an unusable garment – an unhelpful religious system.
If you try to contain the kingdom of God in your old rituals and way of being – it is going to burst that wineskin and you are going to lose the wine as well. Your old system won’t work, and neither will you experience the kingdom of God. What we are celebrating is something completely new.
This is what the prophets of old had foretold.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
I am doing something different. You used to follow me by submitting to rules and regulations. You had a whole lot of external laws that you had to keep. You tried to please me by conforming on the outside.
But I am doing something new. I am changing you on the inside. Instead of dealing with your behaviour I am going to change your heart from where that behaviour comes. I am going to change you from the inside out.
That is what the celebration is all about. The Kingdom of God has come near. Jesus doesn’t want to somehow tweak our religious system so that we can please God. No – He is doing a whole new thing – he is changing our hearts so that we can please God.
I want to play you a video that popular a few years back. It overstates the case – but I think that it is helpful
VIDEO – Why I love Jesus but hate religion.
Like I said he overstates the case.
James 1:26–27 (NIV)
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James says here, there is a religion that is worthless and there is a religion that is accepted by God. I will assume the best of the video and assume that he is talking about the worthless religion that James is referring to. Jesus came to do something different. He came not to make a new religion, but to change our heart.
But here is what happens. When Jesus changes your heart and when Jesus changes my heart, we know that we are to walk in relationship with God and with relationship with each other. When we do that, we find that there are certain practices that, when we do them together, help foster our relationship with God.
Over the years, those practices have changed. If you would have been alive in the 17th century, one of the practices that was common in the church was the 2 hour sermon. In a different era a practice that was common was the chanting of the Psalms. When some of you grew up, it was three hymns, a sermon and an altar call.
I suspect that each generation and each culture has to discover what practices work best for them together, to foster relationship with God and each other.
But here is where the church has become distorted over the years. What happens is that God has moved in people’s lives and they have entered into a vital personal relationship with him. They come together and they, being led by the spirit, figure out what practices they can do together to foster a relationship with God. – And it works for them.
But then what happens is their children or their grandchildren come along – and they adopt the practices of getting together without really experiencing the vital relationship with God. What is worse they will often argue over what practices are the best. And that is where our gatherings move from being a life-giving church to a dead religion. It often takes a few generations – but unless God moves by his spirit – church will always end up as old wineskins.
But here is the thing about God, he often does new things. His word does not change, the gospel does not change, but how he deals with individuals and cultures and his church changes regularly.
When Charles Wesley penned godly lyrics and set them to tunes that came out of a pub – it was a new thing. Until it wasn’t – they became our old hymns. When John Wesley preached outside in a field it was a new thing – and he struggled with it – but 1000s came to know Jesus. When D.L Moody an evangelist of the 18 hundreds employed a song leader – instead of choirs – God did a new thing. When the charismatic movement of the 70’s came along, it changed how all churches worshipped. God did a new thing.
But if you look deeper at each of those happenings, God is was revitalizing his people. People were coming back to an understanding of what it meant to walk with God. The forms of religion were broken and new practices were established. Because what God wanted to happen in the present could not be contained by forms of the past.
Please do not hear me as saying that we have to get rid of all forms of religion from the past. We still sing the songs of the Luthers and the Wesleys. But God is doing a new thing. Their forms will no handle what God wants to do.
I hope you are with me so far. Up until now, I have been talking about the past; but, let me know bring you into the present.
Our world has changed radically in the last six months. We are in the middle of a pandemic. Who knows what is happening to the economy? Our social interactions have changed significantly. We have to be careful how and with whom we visit. Things as simple as going to the grocery store have change.
Along with that the church has changed. We can’t meet in the same way that we did last year. Our Sunday morning services are different. We have a third of the people in church we had pre covid. We have another 60 people or so, watching online. We can’t sing congregationally, and it is awkward to sing watching a live stream. Small groups are a challenge. Fellowship is a challenge.
To put it in the language of this sermon, our practices together have had to change. What I am encouraged by is that none of this surprised God. He knew we would have to change.
Not only – we shouldn’t put new wine in old wineskins, we can’t put new wine in old wineskins. The practices that we do together must change – but God still wants to meet with us. He still wants us to encounter him – both together and apart.
So, the question is – what should that change look like for those of us who are a part of Asbury Free Methodist Church?
I only have partial answers for that question. But here is what I suspect
1. God wants to meet us in a new way. We have talked about a personal relationship with Jesus. But, we need to live out a personal relationship with Jesus. Some of the things that I think we will see is us learning what it means to abide in Christ – to stay strongly connect to Christ. I think it will show up in people learning to hear God’s voice. I think it will show up in peace amid storms.
2. I believe that God wants to help us grow deeper in the faith by learning new practices together so we can practice them apart. To that end, next Sunday morning I want to reorder the Sunday morning service a little so that we can be discipled in some new practices – that you can carry on throughout the week. I want to move Sunday morning from primarily a service of worship – to a discipleship time.
3. I believe that God wants us to find more practices that we do together so that we can also do them when we are apart. I believe he is going to use this to grow our roots deep into the kingdom of God. Technology will have to be a part of that – but we will have to find ways to minister to those who don’t have as much access to technology.
4. I believe that those who learn to walk together, finding practices together that strengthen their faith – will find the resilience they need for the times ahead.
I believe that God is pouring out new wine, and your old wineskins a are not going to be able to contain what he wants to do. The good thing is that we don’t have access to the old wineskins any more because of Covid. My question is are you willing to say Lord, I am willing to do what it takes to allow you to fill me with yourself.
Sermon Questions for October 25th, 2020
The Parable of the unshrunk cloth and the new wineskins.
1. What characteristic of God strikes you as “Good News” this week?
2. What are you praying for this week?
3. Read Mark 2:18-22
4. What does the question in verse 18 tell you about the person who asked the question?
5. Explain in your own words what Jesus was saying in verse 19.
6. When do you think Jesus was referring to in verse 20?
7. What does the wineskin represent? What does the wine represent? (Verse 22)
8. What is Jesus saying in these two pictures? (verse 21-22)
9. See Ezekiel 36:26. How is what Jesus proclaimed different than the religion the person who was asking the question was used to?
10. Read James 1:26-27 – What are the characteristics of “worthless religion” and “acceptable religion?”
11. The sermon proposed that God may doing a new thing through this time of Pandemic. Do you think that is true? What do you think God is up to in this time.