Sunday, August 9, 2015

patching clothes, storing the new vintage and Jesus Revolution of grace (Luke 5:31-39)... Following His Footsteps: the Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (part 9)

"but we've always done it that way"... famous last words...

 “But we’ve always done it that way!’ I wonder how many countless groups, companies, institutions even churches if they were honest should have this engraved on their tombstones.

 “But we’ve always done it that way!” lies behind the questions and answers that Jesus gives in the passage we had read out this morning. As we follow his footsteps through Luke’s gospel we see how Jesus revolution of Grace comes more and more into conflict with the existing religious thoughts and practises of the day. His revolution of Grace, what God was doing now wasn’t going to fit in the old ways, just like you can’t patch old clothes with new cloth and you can’t put new wine in old wineskins. If you try and do that both are ruined and wasted. As we seek to follow Jesus footsteps today, Jesus answer and his quick parables continue to guide us as we can get caught in that same conflict between ‘we’ve always done it that way and Jesus revolution of grace.

There is no scene setting verse at the start of this section of Luke so it’s safe to assume that this discussion is at the banquet at Levi’s place. In response to Jesus calling Levi to ‘come follow me’ Levi had thrown a banquet inviting all his friends, fellow tax collectors and religious outsiders; considered sinners by the Pharisees. The Pharisees had grumbled about it and questioned Jesus disciples… why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus had replied with a parable that the well don’t need a doctor only the sick, and the son of man has come not for the righteous but to call sinner to repentance.

It seems quite natural that eating or not eating food as a sign of piety should come up in conversation. In the Old Testament fasting was associated with a discontent for the present, and a longing for a better world. For the Jews it was a way of looking forward to the coming of the messianic age, for God to act on their behalf and send God’s salvation. But fasting twice a week had become a ritual, it had become one of the ways they showed their commitment to God, that they were righteous people, hoping because of it that God would act. John the Baptist had bought with him a renewal movement within Judaism, one that the Pharisees could relate to, a call to repentance and separation from sin. In this verse we see that John’s disciples had fasted, it fits in very well with the preaching and teaching of John, looking forward to the coming of the messiah, preparing the way.

 But Jesus and his disciples didn’t fast, in fact they willing celebrated and banqueted with people. I wonder even if this banquet Levi threw was on one of the days that they the Pharisees had set aside for fasting. Jesus answered that by saying that friends couldn’t be made to fast when the bridegroom was with them. That it was right even in the Pharisees way of thinking to feast and celebrate with a bride groom for his wedding. It’s got some deeper connotations as well In using that analogy Jesus was able to capture a lot of Old Testament imagery that pointed to who he was. In the scriptures Israel was likened to the bride and YWHW her God to her groom. It is carried over into the New Testament epistles where the Church is seen as the bride of Christ. Why fast then when what the Pharisees and john’s disciples were looking forward to was in their midst.

Yes there would be a time to mourn and to fast when the bridegroom was taken away. It is interesting that the passion narrative in Luke occurs between two meals: The last supper and the meal on the road to Emmaus. Today Christians both look with dissatisfaction of the condition of the world and look forward to the return of Christ, and fasting is a discipline you can use to express that. But we also acknowledge that with celebration, Christian worship is a celebration, and with a meal: a remembering of what Jesus had done for us a celebration that the groom is still with us, a foretaste of what is to come. But fasting is never regulated as something followers of Jesus should do. People who practise it see it as a useful disciple helping them focus on prayer.

This is why Jesus moves on to his two parables about meaning cloth and storing new wine. This new thing that God is doing this new revolution of grace, won’t simply act like a patch on the old ways of doing things. Maybe in the age of synthetic materials and pre-shrunk clothing we miss something of what Jesus is saying. If you use new cloth to patch old clothes, it will work at first but as the new cloth shrinks through washing and use it will pull away from the old clothes and leave an even bigger hole. Not only will that but the new cloth be ruined as you cut bits out of it to patch the old. Jesus revolution of grace was something totally new and different; we have been seeing it as we’ve been working our way through Jesus early ministry. It has stretched out and reached out to those thought outside and away from God and welcomed them back as they had responded to it with repentance and faith. It didn’t deal with the external expressions of piousness and religiosity, but with change and release and wholeness at a heart level. That wasn’t simply going to fit as a patch on an old set of clothes, but was new cloth for something new that would develop.

In Jesus day, Wine was stored and left to ferment in animal skins. A sheep or a goat skin would be used. The legs tied up and used to hang the wineskin up and the neck was tied and used as a pourer. As the wine fermented and aged it would give off gases and the skin would be able to stretch to accommodate that process. After a while however it would be stretched and in the sun and open air becomes hard and brittle, less elastic. If you poured new wine in as the fermentation took place the pressure would build up and the skin would crack and burst and both skin and wine would be lost. This revolution of God’s grace this new move of the Spirit of God wasn’t going to fit into the old containers and old structures.

 Jesus finishes by acknowledging that people will want the old wine rather than the new wine. This can be taken in two ways… That there would be a reluctance to change, that people would want the old. Recently we’ve had the opportunity to drink a few bottles of ten year old Spanish wine. It was wonderful with a full rich taste, but that shipment ran out and so we tried a three year old wine from the same place and found it very average and ordinary… Jesus uses this to not only talk about people being reluctant to change but challenges the Pharisees that their focus on rituals and regulations and keeping laws that focused on the externals was the innovation, Jesus focus on faith and trust in the Goodness of God and his goodness and salvation was the true vintage that people longed for.

 These parables continue to be relevant for us today.

the Life Cycle of an organisation.
We can be like the Pharisees and focus on rituals and regulations and the structures we build on and around our faith. We can come to depend on them and value them and trust them and miss the wonderful revolution of grace that came in Jesus Christ. We can focus on the way thing have always been done and we can miss the new things that God is wanting to do in our midst and through us to the world around us.

When it comes to the church I wonder if it’s not the difference between seeing the church as a movement and the church as an institution, on its way to being a museum. In the book by Tim Keller I’m reading at the moment he talks about the difference between an institution and a movement. Both are groups and organisations that spring up round and because of a compelling vision. A movement is the way in which that compelling vision becomes a reality and an institution is usually established to protect and guard the gains made by a movement. Keller list four al mark differences between a movement and an institution.

 Firstly, a movement has a compelling vision. A clear picture of what its leaders are seeking to bring about. Jesus ministry starts with the reading from the scroll of Isaiah, this revolution of grace and forgiveness and release. The leaders invite people to come and follow that vision, if this is where you want to go come along with us. Institutions on the other hand will normally have a vision statement somewhere but what holds it together are rules and regulations and procedures. In a movement what guides the day to day choices are that vision, in an institution it is typically the rules and established patterns.

 Secondly, the unifying vision is so compelling that it leads to a culture of sacrificial commitment and intrinsic rewards. The vision is put ahead of personal comfort and rewards come from seeing the vision being made a reality, in doing good things in and of themselves. Jesus disciples it tells us left everything to follow him. In an institution every position and participant has a set of defined rights and privileges and rules with clear understanding of compensation and benefits. The Pharisees had a set understanding of what God should do in response to their prescribed display of piety. Movements focus on the benefits for others out there and the focus of an institution is within.

Thirdly, Movements and characterised by a generous flexibility to achieve the compelling vision, they are more likely to make sacrifices, make allies and cooperate with those outside to achieve their vision. Institutions are concerned with intentional practices, right procedures, areas of responsibility; they are all about ‘turf conscious silos”.

 Fourthly, movements tend to spontaneously produce new ideas and leaders grow from within, they will focus on leaders who get things done. Institutions don’t like taking risks and are in maintaining things for the long term.

 It’s not a matter of institutions are bad and movements are good, We actually need institutions to keep society functioning. Keller summarises, movements will die out if they do not become organised and able to sustain themselves for the long run. But institutions will simply become empty shells unless they gain some fresh momentum. They are willing to be on the move again inspired captured and open to compelling vision. That we are willing to find new wineskins and put on new clothes to house and be filled by the new wine of the Spirit, the always renewing revolution of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

We have a new elder being ordained this morning and this is a challenge and an encouragement and a call to you as you step into leadership. To all of us who have been in leadership it is a call to renewal and a rediscovery of the compelling vision of Jesus revolution of grace, and for all of us as a church I hope it is inspiration to be on the move… to follow his footsteps.

No comments:

Post a Comment