“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
John’s disciples came to Jesus a little annoyed and, as I read it, self-righteous. They were curious why Jesus’ closest followers weren’t exactly coloring within the lines of religious orthodoxy. “Why is it that we fast and the Pharisees fast, but not your guys?”
It’s easy for us now to read and spot a religious spirit in the gospel narrative, where Pharisees are always cast as the villains, but I’m afraid that all too often, we the church (yes, even Pastors/Leaders) have far more in common with Pharisees than we think. If we’re honest, we’ve all asked this question. “Why is it that I’m always doing __________ , and __________ calls him/herself a Christian without doing any of it?” “Why won’t these people show up early for prayer meetings…and why don’t they say ‘amen’ when my preaching is on point?”
Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples was simple…but not easily accepted and applied by religious establishment (past and present). He says, “you’re trying to patch old clothes with brand new fabric…to fill old wineskins with new wine.” Jesus was talking about himself, of course. Right in front of them was the fullest expression of their religion that they would ever see. Jesus wasn’t just a patch, but a brand new kind of garment! And yet, they were mostly concerned with keeping up their favorite old pair of jeans (religious forms and rituals). And although we are living in a completely different moment and we ask that same question perhaps in a different context, I often find myself questioning whether we don’t often miss this principle too.
Can I ask you an honest question? Is your church primarily working to maintain old wineskins? May I challenge you to invite Jesus in to disrupt and even recreate your church’s format completely?
Often, in attempts to “revamp the wineskins”, we tweak the lighting, add the newest song to the worship set and turn up the bass. No harm there…I love all of that, and so might the person who happens into service that morning and doesn’t yet know Jesus. But I personally believe that Jesus has more up his sleeve than what we’ve seen thus far…perhaps things that won’t fit tidily in the wineskins of the modern church.
Is this a threat to the church? Absolutely not! The church is Jesus’ chosen vehicle for redeeming earth. It may, however, be a threat to any church that becomes more concerned with the polish of its performance on a Sunday morning than with hearing the voice of Jesus, standing right here in our midst, inviting us to reimagine and reinvent this old wineskin (just a simple container) around the same timeless commission… “Go and make disciples!” Reach the one!