Luke 5:33-39 The New Wine
Finding the Lost: Why People Really Matter to God

This week TV comics and programme makers have been told by the Broadcasting Standards Commission to poke fun at their own faith but not at other people's. So for example Father Ted, about three Roman Catholic priests is OK because the eccentricities of life portrayed at a rural Irish Presbytery is made by Irish Catholics. Its good to be able to laugh at ourselves. Do you know the difference between God and a vicar? God knows his not a vicar... The Broadcasting Standards Commission also noted that Jewish humour is a classic example of a faith being able to laugh at itself. None more so than Jesus. If we fail to appreciate the humour contained in many of Jesus' stories we have not understood their purpose.

Jesus was a master communicator and used simple stories to communicate profound truths. But Jesus didn't simply use parables because they were a good way to communicate or to tell a joke. Instinctively people do not like being told they are wrong, or need God's help. But we like stories. Begin one and people are receptive, open, listening, attentive. Jesus used simple stories with a point, even a barb on the end, to get through the thick skin of indifference which protects us from conviction from other forms of communication. In the preceding verses the religious leaders had been moaning about the company Jesus was keeping. In the next few verses they are complaining that Jesus was enjoying himself. His conduct seemed inappropriate.

He accepted invitations to parties from literally anyone. He played with children and people of dubious origins. He broke their social conventions. He paid no attention to their religious etiquette. They were irritated because He didn't keep their rules. They liked telling people what they could wear, how long their clothes needed to be, when they could eat, what they could eat, and with whom they could eat it. What they could and couldn't do in worship. There was a law for everything. It was a kind of religious blackmail. Its not surprising there were a lot of so called "sinners" who couldn't be bothered to play their kosher games. "Even the disciples of John the Baptist fast, so why not yours?", they said... It was time for another story. Jesus uses three short illustrations in reply. Three provocative illustrations that explain his motivation in life.

1. Jesus the Bridegroom 5:33-35
Jesus had already made it clear that He came to convert sinners, not to compliment the self-righteous. Now He told them that he had come to bring gladness, not sadness. Like the attempts by the Taliban to impose strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan, the legalism imposed by the scribes and Pharisees was a burdensome thing. People were weighed down by rules and regulations that were impossible to obey (Matt. 23:4). "Life is not supposed to be like this!" Jesus told them. "God wants life to be a wedding feast! I am the Bridegroom and these people are My wedding guests. Are not wedding guests supposed to have a good time?" After a Jewish wedding the bride and groom didn't make a quick exit for a private honeymoon. An open home was maintained for a week so that family and friends could share in the celebrating the joy of the new relationship. It was a time of great rejoicing and hospitality, dancing and feasting. Such as might rarely come into the lives of the poorer people. And, significantly, it was all paid for by the bridegroom's family.

It was free to all invited. What a symbol for the kingdom of God Jesus came to introduce. He came to bring gladness not sadness. The Jews knew that marriage was a picture used in the Old Testament to help explain Israel's relationship to the Lord. They had been "married to Jehovah" and they belonged only to Him (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 31:32). When the nation turned to foreign gods, as they often did, they committed "spiritual adultery." They were unfaithful to their Husband, and they had to be disciplined. The major theme of Hosea is God's love for His adulterous wife and His desire to restore the nation to His favour once again.

John the Baptist had already announced that Jesus was the Bridegroom (John 3:29), and our Lord had performed His first miracle at a joyous marriage feast (John 2:1-11). Now He was inviting people to come to the wedding! Becoming a Christian is similar to entering into the marriage relationship (see Rom. 7:4) People don't get married just because they know about each other, or even because they like each other. Marriage involves an act of the will as well as the heart and mind as a man and a woman choose to commit themselves to each other for life, in public. Similarly becoming a Christian involves much more than knowing about Christ, or even having "nice feelings" toward Him.

We become a Christian when we respond to the love of God shown us in Jesus Christ. When we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ publicly because he first committed himself to us on the cross. Then we may bear His name; enjoying His love and protection; and one day when he returns we will live with him in His glorious home in heaven.
That is why our relationship now is one of infectious joy. That is why our activities as a community of believers are first and foremost acts of celebration. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride. His meaning is unmistakable. The other two illustrations reinforce each other. In both Jesus takes everyday activities, the decisions people make about the best way to preserve clothes and wine, and then applies them to his behaviour.

2. The New Patch and the Worn Garment 5:36
Did your mum ever sow patches on your jeans or jackets when you got a hole in them? My mum would keep some worn out jeans for use in case I needed a patch on my jeans or the elbow of my jacket. She would have gone through the roof if I had taken a new pair of jeans and cut them up to make a patch to sew onto an old pair. But that was precisely what the religious leaders expected. They criticised Jesus for not conforming to their traditions. But Jesus hadn't come to patch up Judaism. The new life he came to bring couldn't be tacked on to the old ways. It was like a new garment. It was as absurd to think his teaching could be tacked onto their Judaism as it would be to tear a perfectly good garment to patch up an old one. The new patch and the worn garment.

3. The New Wine and the Brittle Wineskin 5:37-39
In those days liquids like wine were kept in goat skins which, like the wine, had a limited life depending on how well they were cared for. New wine needed new elastic wineskins that were supple and able to give with the pressure of fermentation. Old Wine skins lost their suppleness. With age they became hard and brittle. Jesus isn't so much contrasting new with old, as suppleness and brittleness. New wine was never put in old wineskins otherwise the fermenting wine would burst the skin and both would be lost. Jesus is saying that it is fatal to try and preserve the vigorous new understanding of God which He brought within the obsolete religion of Judaism. The ferment of the Gospel will always burst through old structures that try and restrain it, whether they be Jewish, Anglican or British. Jesus came to usher in the new, not to unite with the old. Hebrews 8:13 says, "By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear." Jesus was establishing a new covenant in His blood. The Law would now be written on human hearts, not on stones.

There was therefore no longer any need of a temple, or priests, or an altar, or sacrifices. All were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. New wine needs new wineskins. The New Testament pattern for God's people was to be radically different. There is no longer room for special holy places, or holy objects. As we saw last Sunday, the human body has become the temple of the Holy Spirit. The church is a one class society, for sinners only. We are all sinners, the only difference is some have found forgiveness and new life in Jesus, while others have yet to do so. Being a Christian is not a partial patching up of one's life; it is a whole new way of life. Literally life for the dead. The Christian life is not a mixing of the old and the new; rather, it is a fulfilment of the old in the new. We were created to know God and enjoy Him for ever. That calls for celebration. How can we apply these short but vivid illustrations?

1. God is always the God of New Wine
The Gospel is new - always renewing, bringing life to where there is death. Bringing light where there is darkness, peace where there fear. Forgiveness where there is guilt. Joy where there is sadness. Where the good news of Jesus Christ is shared, there God is at work. When we take our eyes off Jesus, the Holy Spirit quietly leaves. He is the God of the new wine.

2. God is also always the God of New Wineskins
What kind of wineskin are we? It must never be harder to join our Church, than it is to enter the kingdom of God. If we add anything we are turning grace into legalism in the name of our Anglican tradition. Some people would make the 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not have fun on Sundays" That's precisely why next Sunday we invite you to bring your lunch and join us at the football ground for some fun together. There will be games for the little children and for the grown up children. The people who used to frown at kids playing ball games on Sundays had forgotten the reason for the 4th commandment to keep the sabbath holy. Lets show the people of Virginia Water how to enjoy it. As we approach a new millennium we need to ask what kind of wineskin do we need to be for the next generation? How can we ensure humanly speaking that those being baptised today will be among the leaders of Christ's Church in twenty years time? At least in a few months time, God willing, our buildings will certainly be more functional and practical than they are now. But its vital that we go on asking the question "How can we use our resources more effectively?" Why? Because the wineskin is the point of contact between the wine and the world. So how do we ensure that we remain supple and flexible? Do you ever move your furniture around at home? Can you imagine a family living in a house for several hundred years and never moving the furniture? We would think them rather eccentric. Yet its true of many churches.

Can you to imagine in a hundred years time the PCC meeting to discuss whether to replace the worn out carpet. I wonder whether anyone would object? Whether anybody would form a "Christ Church Preservation Society", and petition the local community to stop the removal of this carpet. We may find the idea rather humorous but its happening all the time. That kind of old wine skin mentality has delayed the renovation at St John's in Egham, St Helen's Bishopsgate, St John's, Wonersh and hundreds of other churches around the country. The wineskin has to do with more than buildings though. It involves everything we use to communicate the gospel - our church structures, our priorities, our activities, even, our pattern of services. Times change, and wineskins must remain supple, adaptable if they are to be of service.

Rudyard Kipling was once on a sea voyage, and happen to see General Booth come aboard the ship to the beating of tambourines. This, Kipling's orthodox soul resented. During the voyage Kipling told the General what he thought of the tambourine. Booth looked at him and said, "Young man, if I thought I could win one more soul for Christ by standing on my head and beating a tambourine with my feet I would learn to do it."

Humanly speaking change is hard, especially as we grow older. Its difficult to integrate new ideas, we find our security in the old ways. That is why we need to be continually renewed by the Holy Spirit to keep us soft and flexible and responsive to the new ideas, to the changes, to the growth He is bringing. That will only happen if we consciously dedicate each day to His leading, and empowering. New Wine needs new wineskins. Both are from God. We cannot have the one without the other. God is always God of the New Wine, He is always God of the New Wineskins. Are we ready, are we willing to be the vessel for God's "beau jolais" vintage 2000? If so, it won't stay in the bottle long, for life is a celebration, the Bridegroom is coming back soon. Lets bring joy and refreshment to all who come to know Jesus Christ through us. That is my prayer. Let's pray.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7). Thank you Lord Jesus for the new life and joy you came to bring. Help us not only to celebrate our relationship but share the joy of knowing you with others. In Jesus Name. Amen."