Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Wine and New Wineskins!

Traditionally we see lent as a somber time.
I remember once coming out of church on Ash Wednesday with some friends.
Something happened (I can’t remember what it was) and we laughed.
Instantly one of the older members of the congregation dressed us down for our sudden outburst.
“Lent is no laughing matter”, he said, in a voice that was both meant to intimidate us and show us our proper place.
I have often reflected on this.
I think there are times for silent contemplation.
I think there are times for somber reflections.
I just don’t think it belongs in lent.

“Why don’t your disciples fast.” The good religious folks ask Jesus.
Why are they not more somber like other good religious people?
Why are they laughing, eating, and having such a good time?
It would appear that Jesus is letting his disciples run wild, no discipline.
Jesus responds that while he is around there is only time for celebration and joy.
This is what lent is suppose to lead us to celebration and joy.
Lent is supposed to help us see our lives connected to Jesus and that is a joy.
Lent reminds us that while the bridegroom is with us no need to cry and lament, but to party and rejoice.

We have been told that lent is a time to take inventory of all the things that we have done wrong in our lives.
That what we need to do during these next forty days is really feel bad about our sin.
This reduces Lent to merely a self improvement time.

To me that is like putting new wine into old wineskins.
You see when you put new wine in a wineskin it would start to ferment and expand, and new wineskins, made out of animal skin, would expand with the wine.
But if you used an old wineskin then it was already pushed out, and it would explode when the new wine expanded.
The good news of Jesus Christ is that we are always being expanded by God, we are being made into more than merely sin and called into a new life of grace and mercy.
When we have old wineskins we have no room to let God into our lives.

Lent is about God growing closer to us.
It is about seeing the newness of our lives in relation to the story of God.
It is about expanding our lives of faith.
If all we do is fast because that is what we are suppose to do than we are not opening ourselves to what God is currently doing in our lives.
If we walk around sad and somber for the next forty days than we are not allowing our lives to be expanded by God.

For those of us who have been Christian for a while putting on new wineskin is difficult.
We have become somewhat complacent.
We think we know what this is all about and we are comfortable.
We are like the old wineskins that are already stretched out and break with the new wine.

Which is why it is good that we have lent every year it helps us to remember that we are always being called by Jesus to throw out the old and welcome the new.
What are the new things in our lives that we have to make room for?
What are the ways that Jesus is stretching us to grow and change?

I once had a friend who was teaching confirmation.
She asked her class how we are saved.
“By grace through faith.” they obediently responded.
They knew the answer but had no love for it, no passion for it, they had new wine but only old wineskin.
And by trying to put one in the other they were destroying both.

Perhaps that is what we do too often.
We take outdated forms of being and believe that if we merely stick some new message on it than all will be fine, maybe if we just do the right action, or know the right formula than we will be able to get everything right.
Jesus suggests that the new message of the Gospel has to be accompanied by totally new ways of being and living.
Knowing Jesus causes us to throw off the old forms of convention and live in a whole new way.
It means we embrace who we are and live in the grace of God.

It means getting rid of the piety that is empty gesture to really getting down to the nitty- gritty of our faith.
It means getting rid of the pretense that we have it all figured out, and we got everything together.
Our relationship with Christ is an honest reflection of who we are, “We are dust and to dust we shall return.”
Within this day there are new opportunities to grow in our relationship with Jesus by recognizing that Jesus is right there with us.
Within today I can throw off my mistakes of yesterday, and I can ask for and receive forgiveness.
I can see new ideas and possibilities.
I can see new ways of living this message of the Good news of Jesus Christ.
I can see new ways that the kingdom of God has broken through into the world.
I can see new ways of seeing myself and my life.
Today I can own my failures, I can own my sin, and today because of the grace of God I can live a new life.

This is what Lent is about.
It is about the joy that comes with recognizing God as our constant partner in this life.
It means we don’t have to fast, or pray, or feel guilty, or feel good, or accept the way things are.
No today we can live knowing that the bridegroom has come.
Today is the day of the wedding feast and the day of celebration.

This is what life looks like from the other side of our baptism.
It looks different.
Today I want to invite you on your way out of worship to wipe away the Ashes on your forehead in the baptismal font.
As a reminder of the covenant that God made with you in your baptism.

Sure we are dust, and dust we will return, but because I know the bridegroom I can rejoice in the water that washes away and brings new life.
I can rejoice that this life is not the end.
I can rejoice that there is a tomorrow and Jesus is in it.
Today I can laugh because there is no sadness in recognizing my own sin, only the joy in the good news of Jesus Christ.

This is why we give things up in lent.
The purpose is to show you Jesus in your life and remind you of his presence.
To remind you of your mortality and sin, so you can remember your salvation and forgiveness.
This is how one person explained what fasting did for them, “Several years ago I followed a fast through the forty days of Lent and found that it changed my view of Easter, and that it changed me.
Fasting and meditating on my weaknesses helped me grasp the intense significance of the crucifixion, and gave me a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, which then became joy on Easter Sunday.”
That is what Lenten disciplines are supposed to do for us help us see the significance of Jesus for us.
They are not meant as self improvement tricks, or empty pietistic gestures.

What is it that will help you see Jesus in your life?
What will help you to grasp the meaning and value of what the good news means to you?

I know that many people take this from all kinds of different angles.
I know some people make it a point to be nicer to someone at work that makes them mad.
I know some people that devote more time to reading the Bible.
Some people give more to the poor.
Some people do nothing, because what they need in their spiritual journey is to let go of trying too hard.
Some people add more time with their family.
Some people have less time with their family.
I could go on and on, but the point is that for all of us it is going to be different.
There is going to be something different that you will need in order to know that Jesus is with us in our lives and rises us out of the ashes.
There is something different each of us needs to be ready to accept the new wine that Jesus is pouring into us.

Whatever we do during Lent let it lead us to celebration, joy, and laughter.
Let us wake up every morning to experience the new thing that God is doing so that we are ready through faith to accept the good news of Jesus Christ.

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