Monday, September 24, 2012

Old tea in a new wine skin

Hey Church, it’s me again.  I had another thought for us.
I just read the account of Jesus hanging out and eating with a bunch of tax collectors and notorious sinners in Mark’s book about his time with Jesus.  It starts in the 2nd chapter around verse 13.  It’s an interesting little story about how the religious leaders weren’t all that impressed about Jesus choice of regular dinner guests, in fact, they weren’t just unimpressed, I think they were totally confused.  Jesus goes on to tell them that he came for sinners not good people like them, which seems a little harsh and I’m sure put the bee in their bonnet, so to speak.  I bet they were having a really hard time figuring out why all these people who wanted nothing to do with them and their rules and religion were flocking to this new rabbi on the block and his bizarre modus operandi of hanging out with the wrong crowd and offering them unconditional positive regard, even love and forgiveness.
Anyway, at the end Jesus says something I’ve always found a little weird, because my wine comes in a bottle, not a skin.  It’s one of those cultural/technological differences that cause us to lose some understanding once in a while.  He says, “no one puts new wine in an old wine skin, the wine would swell and burst the skin.  The wine would be lost and the skin ruined.  New wine must go in new skin.”
I think what Jesus meant was he was bringing in a new system that was going to be very different from the old, that would open up the kingdom of heaven to a previously unreachable sector of society and that it was going to take some time (about 3 more years) before everyone would see what he meant.  The wine had to ferment, some things had to happen at the right time under the right conditions and the wine had to expand some more before it was ready.  It wouldn't fit in the old packaging once it was ready - aka the Law - but would be better and sweeter than the old stuff.   That all makes sense to me in a theological sort of way.

Here’s what doesn't make sense; after a couple thousand years, we have tried our best to mix the old wine and the new wine back together and expect that it will taste good.  Slowly over time, we have introduced new traditions and rituals with old traditions and rituals that look very little like what Jesus said and did. We've managed to turn the wine back into grape juice.  We've sanitized everything to the point that the wine tastes more like bleach than wine to most people.  We’ve tried to sell people the idea that Jesus came and did everything it takes to give us a free gift of salvation by grace, but here are all the rituals, religious things and rules you need to follow anyway.  Now I know that some of this wine metaphor is lost on you because “Christians shouldn't drink wine” but try to stick with me. 

Let’s try tea, maybe that’ll go down easier.  Any respectable tea drinking parishioner would never invite someone over for tea and reuse the bags from last Sunday’s service.  You’d never put Red Rose and Earl Grey in a pot together, that would just taste like dirty water.   You’d never give someone green tea and expect them to believe it is orange pekoe and you’d never make tea in the coffee machine.  You probably wouldn’t give someone one of the double shot mocha latte’s from Starbucks and try to convince them it’s just Tetley.  “Here’s your cup of black tea, that doesn’t really have what it takes to make you well so I put in some spinach peanut butter protein shake to give you a little extra boost and keep you going.”  OK maybe that’s too far.  But if you were to offer someone tea, they'd expect to receive tea.  If you did any of the above, people would question if you knew what tea was, they might even wonder if you were a christian.  

Somehow over the years we’ve managed to put back into the mix most of the things Jesus came to say were not necessary, not helpful and not tasty, trying to pass it off as the gospel.  If we keep mixing new wine and old wine, the new wine will not do what it’s supposed to do.  The old wine will stop the reactions that cause the new wine to expand and grow. 

We have to look at our wine skins again and see what we’re putting in there.  Are they the things that Jesus said we should do like care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the broken, the lost, the sick, the most desperate, most notorious, most sinful members of our community, or are we pandering to the respectable “law” keepers.  Are we doing the things that Paul told the churches he wrote to; living by the Spirit not the law, following Jesus gospel not the twisted false gospels of men, living lives fully submitted to the law of love rather than the law of sin.

New wine in a new wine skin can’t keep looking like mixed wine, watered down with grape juice in tea cups.  New wine in an old skin will be ruined and wasted, mixed wine anywhere will taste like crap to whoever we try to serve it to, even the winos and tax collectors, will spit it out.

Paul says this in Colossians 2:6-23

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.
Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.  For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.
For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.
In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud,
and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”?  Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.
These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

Don't let anyone serve you a cup of week old tea at the end of some pointless ceremony.  And if you're going to drink wine, look for the real thing.  After all, Jesus saved the best wine for the first miracle at the end of the wedding feast, I think he wants you to have the best wine and know the real gospel.

Be Blessed. 

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