New Wine Luke 5:33-39/ 1 Cor 5:6-8/ Eccles 1:9-11
I’ve just come into a consistent form of grand parentage! When I say consistent I should explain that Fran and I have been grandparents for 5 years now but for much of that time my son has been living and working in the States and so in order to visit him and his children we had to part with around $5-6000 and endure a significantly uncomfortable two day journey to his place.
Last year they moved back to Dunedin where I live and bought a house just around the corner and now we see those children every week and often multiple times every week. So just a few days ago it was my job to take our little 5 year old to his first soccer practice. Now I used to do this for my own children and so didn’t see that it was much of a challenge till I discovered the ubiquitous child’s booster seat. Have you ever tried to get a child into one of those things. I mean they would do NASA proud. An astronaut would be as safe as houses going to the Moon in one of those seats! There are two top buckles with special sliding locking systems and then there are the bottom buckles which slide up the belt and click into a central unit which slides up between the legs and which are both almost impossible to do up especially when a child has a nappy on. That one device takes all the fun out of taking children for a ride too – and yes I get it that we need to keep them safe but did they have to be designed to go into space??? And there are many other new rules now for children. You can’t leave them in cars while you hop into the Supermarket for just a minute. No. Children cannot be left alone. They certainly can’t walk to school. They must be met after school.
The passage we’re dealing with this morning is one that pits old against new and essentially privileges the new but not because the new is in any way better or more correct and even more appealing than the old but, quite simply, because it is new. This is a tough thing to swallow but there are some redeeming features to it. Firstly, everything gets old and so everything essentially suffers the same fate. No one is immune from this feature of life this side of heaven. All things grow old. This is a key theme of the book of Ecclesiastes except that there the writer is quite critical of the claim that new things really bring anything new. Newness is something of an illusion in terms of originality and we can so easily forget that in this age of incredible advances in technology. Things may look new but essentially they’re not.
So the writer will say.. ‘ What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. So we need to realise that newness isn’t important so much because of what it brings but because it carries life – it enables life to continue and it reinvigorates a population that is naturally aging. The nature of this world is to grow old and to require new things. This is obvious in the way our seasons work – nature renews itself each year; species must renew themselves through new generations and even one of the key themes of our own faith is that of renewal! Without renewal, without new things arising we are condemned to die out and for that reason alone the new is privileged in the Kingdom of God but again let me emphasise that this does not appear to be a matter of quality or even of righteousness.
Indeed, Jesus makes no bones about it. The old wine is better. Anyone who’s tasted it always prefers it. Something that has aged and is mature tends to be smoother and more appealing. The rough edges have gone. The character has developed. The impurities have been dealt with. If we’re looking for taste the old will almost always win. But the truth is the old must give way to the new in just about everything and the preaching of Jesus reinforces this is many places. Not a jot or a title of the Law will be abolished. The law was the light of the Jews and yet Jesus says in John 12 ‘ I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’ The true light is now Christ Himself. The Law isn’t bad but it is superseded by the new. The bloodline of the Jews had been since the beginning their guarantee of salvation but Jesus will say of John the Baptist that ‘ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’ The old has produced some amazing people, none the least of which is John but the very least person in the new kingdom is greater than he.
Again, the old is superseded by the new. The Law dealt only with actions. Murder was condemned. But in Matthew 5 Jesus shows us that in the new kingdom how we think is also a matter of right and wrong. Sin is more than just an action. It is a matter of the heart. ‘ “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, (the old principle) ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you (the new principle) that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.’ 6 times in Matthew 5 alone Jesus will deliberately preference the new over the old and there are many more examples elsewhere.
Why is Jesus so concerned about this principle? Why is the new so preferred in his preaching? 3 answers.
1. Sin has created a world in which the power of death is only balanced by the ability to renew ourselves. In this world we must constantly deal with death and with the passing of good things but so often our tendency is to try and hold on to what is old because it is good. Nothing wrong with this except that eventually all things will pass away and the new must then arise to take its place. If we constantly prefer the old the new with never get a chance to become established and the future of whatever we are doing will be at risk. (eg. Garden – making room for the new.)
2.We have a tendency not only to preference the old but to sacrifice the new to preserve the old. Jesus addresses this directly when he talks about using a new patch to patch up the old. What is inferred here is that we’ve spoiled a new piece of material by cutting a patch out of it to fixed up an old skin. We know that churches hold on to old styles and older approaches to please an older generation at the expense of the involvement of new generations. This is only natural but we must resist this and allow the new to arise – not at the expense of the old necessarily but certainly so we may guarantee the future.(Kidz Friendly)
3. The new represents not just a new set of norms but a new language. If we cannot speak that language ourselves we must allow those who can to speak it so that new generations can hear the gospel. Culture presents a remarkable challenge to the Gospel because the Gospel is a message; a message of God’s grace and love. As such it must be conveyed through language. Culture changes language both directly and indirectly. Unless we speak in the language of new generations we will not be able to convey the Gospel to them. Again because of this the new must be privileged. (eg. Micah correcting his Dad – footpath/pavement – holiday/vacation)
4. Finally we tend to want the new to look like and taste like the old but it never does. Look at music. Look at lifestyles. Look at work habits. Look at priorities. We cannot stuff new wine into old wine skins. But what we can do is be thankful that there is new wine. That young people are interested in spiritual things. That they care about the world and, indeed, the Church. That they want to honour the past even if they can’t be the past. That they desire health and peace and justice and joy just as we did – just not quite in the same way. These things we should rejoice in and if we have a little greater wisdom in certain matters let’s not forget we’ve had a lot longer to learn it.
Let me reiterate again. While Jesus clearly privileges the new this is not a matter of right versus wrong or good versus bad. Indeed, it is clear that the old is often a more palatable option often for us but in the context of this life, the fact that all things come to an end and that we must speak the Gospel in the language of the young dictates that we must privilege the new. And how do we do that. This is probably worthy of another sermon but let me give you some pointers.
Firstly, let’s look to have young people on our decision making bodies as a matter of course. Just hearing their point of view regularly in these bodies will help us see how difference the new is and how old our own view has become. Secondly, let’s learn from ministries who are connecting well with young people for whatever else we need if we want younger people with us we must find ways of connecting with them. Finally, let us try to understand the priorities of young people in terms of their hopes and dreams.
Their vision is a large part of the newness they bring to us and as much as we may want to criticize this vision let’s not do that. Old wine and new wine. Both good in their own way but the new must be preserved and privileged. AMEN