Pastor Chris Tweitmann
If you’ve ever been a part of a wedding party in the United States and Europe, you may have heard someone tell the bride she needs “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” for her wedding day.
This popular tradition, driving many wedding parties to make an effort to add something old and something new to their bridal ensemble, along with something borrowed and something blue, stems from an old rhyme going all the back to 1894, the late Victorian period.
Originally listed as a Puritan marriage custom, the original rhyme goes “Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue. And a sixpence in her shoe.”
In this rhyme, “something old” symbolizes continuity;
“something new” symbolizes hope;
“something borrowed” symbolizes friendship;
“something blue” symbolizes faithfulness or fidelity.
And for those who are wondering, a “six-pence” was a silver coin to symbolize prosperity.
This rhyme comes to mind today as we open up to the Gospel of Luke and read about another encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders.
Once again, they have a few questions for Jesus.
And Jesus is going to answer their questions by way of an analogy and a few pictures.
The analogy Jesus will use is to relate life with God to that of a wedding.
The bride/groom analogy is a repeated one used in the Bible for characterizing God’s relationship with us.
Today, through the analogy of a wedding and a few clever images, Jesus is going to speak to us about something old and something new.
Some people say, “Out with the old and in with the new.” Others believe, “The old ways – what’s tried and true, are always the best.”
But contrary to what is often taught about this passage and the Gospel, Jesus isn’t going to pick a side in this argument.
No, if we listen carefully, just like that rhyme, Jesus is going to make the case for both – appreciating the old while also embracing the new
– of recognizing the purpose of the continuity of the past is to prepare us for the hope – the new – of the future. (TEXT)
This passage is actually the continuation of an encounter Pastor Drew preached about two weeks ago when Jesus called Levi who we know better as Matthew, to come and follow him as one of his disciples.
Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. – Luke 5:27 – 28
We might remember Levi (Matthew) was so impacted by meeting Jesus, apparently so excited by Jesus’ invitation and the opportunity to leave behind his days working for the Roman government, he threw a huge dinner party for Jesus – to which he invited all his former coworkers, his fellow tax collectors.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. – Luke 5:29
However, the religious leadership which continues to closely monitor Jesus’ movements and teachings does not take kindly to him breaking bread with those types of people – flagrant sinners.
Unable to remain silent on this point, the religious leadership lodge a formal complaint – directing it not to Jesus but to his disciples.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” – Luke 5:30
But Jesus, refusing to be triangulated, answers them directly, declaring:
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31 – 32
Initially, this appears to be one of those “drop the mic” moments for Jesus.
The religious leaders have been appropriately humbled and silenced in their sense of self-assurance even as they have been challenged to recognize and confess their own need for healing and forgiveness.
But as we’ve learned, the Pharisees and teachers of the law do not walk away quietly in a spirit of introspection and repentance.
No, they double down in their criticism as they now directly address Jesus with another disapproving question.
Pivoting away from the grousing about the company Jesus keeps, the religious leaders grumble about how Jesus practices his faith.
They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” – Luke 5:33
Their indictment comes by way of comparison.
As with everything in Judaism, there were set forms and guidelines that had been established detailing how a rabbi should train his disciples.
One of the most common practices for a disciple, a student of the faith of Israel,
one of the most clear expressions of one’s faith and reliance upon YHWH, the one true and living God, was fasting.
Fasting is a spiritual practice wherein one abstains from something (usually food) in order to fuel one’s spiritual thirst and hunger for God.
One of the insights that can be gleaned from the practice of fasting is our identification of the various stuff we consume on a regular basis – food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, social media content, gossip, negativity, criticism – ANY appetites and habits that rival, eclipse, and therefore have become idols we worship instead of hungering, living for, and honoring the Lord.
The Pharisees followed the pattern, the tradition of teaching their disciples to fast regularly.
In fact, everyone knew when the Pharisees were fasting because whenever they did so, they marked their heads with ashes as a visible sign of their piety for all to see.
Even though the Lord only had called the people of Israel to fast just one day a year on what was known as Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the religious leadership had decided, had established the tradition of fasting twice a week – on Mondays and Thursdays.
But Jesus and his disciples aren’t following this tradition – a tradition which, as the religious leaders point out, even John the Baptist and his disciples regularly observed.
Interestingly, in the parallel version of this episode in Matthew’s gospel account, Matthew tells us it is one of the disciples of John the Baptist who asks Jesus this question!
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” – Matthew 9:14
Now to be clear, as we read through all four gospels, we find evidence both that Jesus himself fasted and taught his disciples to do the same.
What is being implied in the question put to Jesus is really more of yet another accusation being made against Jesus and his disciples.
Through their more liberal posture and public actions – of doing more eating and drinking rather than abstaining and fasting – Jesus and his disciples are setting a bad example, a poor witness before others – of not taking one’s devotion to the Lord seriously.
Jesus answers their question, their accusation by reframing their understanding of who he is and what he is doing as he casts his mission and ministry through the analogy of a wedding celebration.
Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” – Luke 5:34 – 35
Jesus compares himself with the bridegroom and his disciples with the guests of the bridegroom.
An even closer, better translation of what Jesus says here is his disciples are the assistants of the bridegroom or in today’s language, the disciples of Jesus are the groomsmen – those who follow or assist the bridegroom in pulling off the wedding.
Not coincidently, several of the Old Testament prophets utilized the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between God and humanity – wherein the people of God were depicted as the bride and the God as the bridegroom.
Jesus, in associating himself with the bridegroom, is separating himself and those who follow him – from the religious establishment – those who have been keeping the faith and even those like John the Baptist who have been preparing the way for the wedding.
The mission and ministry of Jesus and his disciples isn’t about maintaining the status quo and simply observing the traditions and practices of the past.
No, the mission and ministry of Jesus and his disciples is about the inauguration of the event, the celebration, the promised marriage for which all those traditions and practices were preparatory.
Jesus, once again, presents himself as both the Messiah and God – the Bridegroom who initiates the wedding, the One who brings the celebration, the One who comes to redeem this beautiful yet broken and still beloved creation.
Jesus acknowledges there will be a time for fasting.
That time will come in the space between Jesus offers his life unto death for all the world and the victory of his resurrection from the grave.
But now – as through signs and wonders as well as revolutionary acts of compassion and grace – Jesus and his bridal party unveil the dawn of the Kingdom of God – the countdown to the eternal and unbreakable marriage between we who had formerly divorced ourselves from the Lord – now is the time for feasting and not fasting.
Now is no longer the time for looking to the horizon for the Messiah to come – for the Messiah is here.
Now is no longer the time for waiting for the God’s promised covenant of salvation to be fulfilled – for the day of the long awaiting wedding is finally dawning.
Now is the time time for basking in the renewal of fellowship, the redemption of brokenness, and the revelation of hope.
When the bridegroom arrives and the celebration of the wedding begins, nobody is fasting. It would be counterintuitive to do so.
It would represent not a sign of joy and thanksgiving but one of resistance and opposition to the pending marriage.
Once again though, Jesus’ response to the religious leadership is as much of an invitation as it is a rebuke.
As he expands his initial answer to their question by way of three pictures, Jesus is inviting those who are still hesitant, those who are still waiting and marking time on the sidelines, to stop holding back and to enter into the newness of what he is doing, of what he is offering.
Let’s look at these three illustrations in succession and then step back to try and understand what Jesus is trying to communicate.
That this is what Jesus intended for us to do – to look all these images together rather than apart from each other is hinted by Jesus’ repetition of the same phrase: “No one…
“No one tears…” “No one pours…” “No one after drinking…”
The first illustration is the most accessible for us today as Jesus describes an old, worn piece of clothing that needs to be mended.
He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. – Luke 5:36
For this sort of repair job, we’d patch the torn garment by sewing on a piece of scrap cloth – think of a pair of jeans with a gaping hole in them.
However, that’s not the repair method Jesus outlines here.
Instead, he points to something more absurd – patching the old garment by tearing off and using a piece of fabric from a new article of clothing.
Of course, no one would do this because as Jesus observes the new piece won’t match the old garment.
And perhaps even more importantly, trying to fix the old garment by cutting up a perfectly new garment makes it unwearable – leaving it with a gaping hole just like the old piece of clothing.
The second illustration Jesus offers – involving the pouring and storing of alcohol, while similar to the previous one, needs a bit more context as what Jesus describes isn’t how one starts amassing a wine collection these days.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. – Luke 5:37 – 38
You see back then, wine wasn’t stored in bottles; it was kept in wineskins.
These wineskins were made from sheep and goat skins.
The hides of the deceased animal was worked off the body without cutting into the skins, so that the only openings were the orifices where the feet and the head had been.
All these openings save where the neck had been were sewn shut and then the skins were cured.
Now, these new wineskins possessed a certain elasticity so that when newly pressed wine was poured into them and the opening at the neck was tied up airtight, the skin could and would expand as over time gases were released as the wine fermented.
However, these wineskins were single use only.
After the wine was poured out it, the wineskin would not shrink back to normal. It would remain fully stretched out to its limit.
So if somebody came along and attempting to pour new wine into one of these old wineskins – that had lost its suppleness, as the new wine fermented the old wineskin eventually would stretch past its limit and crack, or it might even burst.
And as Jesus observes, both the new wine and the old wineskin would be ruined.
Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. – Luke 5:37 – 38
New wine has to be poured into new wineskins.
The third picture Jesus paints is more of a continuation of this second one as he remains on the image of wine.
And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” – Luke 5:39
With the first two illustrations championing what is new, Jesus concludes his response to the religious leaders with the acknowlegment that new wine takes some getting used to.
Old wine generally tastes better than new wine because its had time to age, because our palates are more familiar with, adjusted to its flavor.
People tend to prefer what they know – even if it’s incomplete, even if its past its vintage, rather than drink, receive what is completely new to them.
So what’s the point of these three illustrations? What is Jesus trying to tell us?
Let’s start with what Jesus is not saying.
Contrary to how this passage is sometimes interpreted, Jesus is not declaring the old ways of Judaism – what is primarily known as the Torah or the Law – should be abandoned for the sake of some new way of following and worshipping the Lord.
Beyond this encounter, Jesus himself, will insist he came to affirm and fulfill the Torah or the Law; not to abolish or destroy it.
We must not create a false dichotomy between the Law and the Gospel.
Likewise, and more broadly, Jesus also is not declaring or affirming the philosophy of out with the old and in with the new – the notion that custom and tradition should be forgotten or dismissed whenever something new and innovative comes along.
If look and listen carefully at what Jesus teaches and does, while he presents the good news as something new, he also portrays it as being in continuity with, being anticipated through what came before.
Jesus isn’t pitting the old against the new here.
Jesus is trying to wake up the religious leaders to the possibility, that God doing something new doesn’t mean God is changing the rules.
God in doing something new actually is revealing where all those rules were intended to lead us, how they were preparing us for what God ultimately intended, eternally promised for us all.
Rules and laws are good, necessary things. Both provide order and coherence – structure, and boundaries.
Specifically, God’s rules for life – the Torah, the Law – reorient us in a broken and chaotic creation as to what is true, good, and holy.
The problem is when the rules, the Law become what we worship – what we fixate on, what we become devoted to.
This is a problem because this is not the point of the rules, of the Law.
God didn’t give us rules for life – the Ten Commandments – in order to be entertained by humanity having to jump through a bunch of do’s and dont’s.
In taking just one of those rules for life – one of the Ten Commandments as an example, Jesus teaches us elsewhere, humanity was not made for the Sabbath – to take a day of rest for God’s sake, the Sabbath was made for humanity to get a break – to rest for our well being.
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27 – 28
The Lord gives us rules and laws for life, the Torah, as tools intended to guide and instruct – to lead us out of our brokenness, division, and separation into healthy, safe, and thriving relationships of mutuality.
The goal is not following and keeping the rules, the Law for their own sake.
A better relationship – the best relationship we can possibly have – with God, with ourselves, with each other – is the goal.
The rules are for the sake of enhancing the relationship.
Jesus is trying to help the religious leaders understand all the rules, all the traditions that came before were never meant as an end onto themselves.
They were given as a means of preparation.
They were provided to keep us moving forward rather than to keep looking back.
They were instituted not so we could take of ourselves but so that we could recognize once and for all how great, how absolute our need is for God.
It’s not the rules we need because the rules can’t save us.
It’s not the Law we need because the more we understand the Law of God – the way things are supposed to be – the more we realize our inability to follow the rules.
It’s not the rules we need; it’s the relationship.
Christianity is so much about following rules; as it is following the relationship – the relationship we can have with God, with ourselves, and with each other – through being in and following Christ.
Too many of us have been raised, have settled for a patchwork Gospel.
Instead of having our clothes changed, we keep trying to rip off pieces of the fullness of what Jesus is offering in order to patch up the holes in our lives.
We incessantly labor and toil under the assumption, the conviction if only we could only patch up this one rip in the garment of our character then our life would be better. Different.
Truth be told that’s why many of us are here, because we’ve grown up trying to apply the Sunday, the weekly church attendance patch as the way to cover the gaping hole in our lives.
Others of us keep attempting to patch up the holes in our lives by doing good things for Jesus, by seeking to be more ethical and moral in how we live our lives.
But despite all these patch jobs; it’s still the same old garment. We remain basically the same people.
The patches work for a while.
We’re a little more generous, a little more forgiving, a little more compassionate, a better neighbor for a season – until the patches tear and the holes in our tired lives get exposed again.
But what Jesus invites us into is not some religious formula of adding or subtracting things from our life in order to get right with God.
We can try and subtract certain, obvious sins from our lives. We can try to add certain, obvious good deeds in their place.
However, when we do this math – when all the additions and subtractions have been made, the sum of who we are remains unchanged.
We’re still the same old person rather than the new creation, we are meant to become in Christ.
Beloved, Jesus didn’t come to patch up our character. Jesus came to transform our character.
Jesus came to change our clothes – our mindset, our outlook, our posture, our engagement with each other.
We misunderstand and misrepresent the Gospel if all we perceive it to be is Jesus coming to pour a little new wine into our lives – a drop of goodness, a shot of courage, a cup of love, a taste of hope.
Jesus has not come to add the new wine of the Kingdom of God into the wineskins of our old, former lives.
Once again, following Jesus isn’t about adding things to our lives – bible study, prayer, church membership, charitable service, and so forth.
Merely adding things to the old wineskin of an otherwise unchanged and empty life doesn’t fill us up and make us feel better; it eventually leads to becoming more exhausted and overwhelmed – until we burn out or like those old wineskins – inevitably crack and burst from all the pressure.
This is the point Jesus is making to the religious leadership. The full and abundant life God seeks to give to us is not about the things we add or remove from our lives.
Because the truth is, on our own, we can’t remove all the dead things that weigh us down in life.
On our own, despite all the moral things we may add to the surface of our lives, we can’t change deep down who we are apart from God – broken, flawed, inconsistent, self-centered people.
We need an extreme makeover that only Jesus can provide. The whole garment of our lives needs to be changed. We need to become a new wineskin.
We must be born again – born from above. We need a new spirit.
We need to be transformed in a way only the Holy Spirit can cultivate – gradually softening and removing our hearts of stone and transplanting them with new, supple hearts of flesh
that mirrors the very heart of God.
Following Jesus is about Christ reshaping us – how we see God, how we perceive ourselves, how we recognize each other, how we think, how we speak, how we act – reshaping and reforming us so that we can receive, we can hold and pour out the new wine of the Kingdom of God.
And what is this new wine which can’t just be merely added to our lives but for and through which our lives are changed?
In a word, it is grace. Grace is the new wine.
Grace is the new wine that is greater than all our sin.
Grace is the new wine that cannot be contained – that bursts out of any old wineskins that persist in bearing their shape out of guilt and shame.
But like Jesus observes, the new wine that is grace can take some getting used to.
After all, grace involves change – being changed by God.
And most of us, don’t like change. Some of us don’t want to change. A lot of us believe, we can’t change.
Still the fact is, change is a difficult but inevitable experience of life. Not all change is good. Not all change is necessary.
But here’s the thing – and there’s no way around this – the Gospel is all about change.
If we believe the Christian life is simply saying a prayer so that we’ll go to heaven when we die but never have to have our lives changed here and now, well then, we’ve heard and we’re sharing the wrong Gospel.
The Gospel is that we need to be changed, that our perspective on God needs changing, that how we relate to each other desperately requires change, that this world – all creation – is groaning for change.
And that this is what Jesus comes to inaugurate – real, meaningful, deep, change – the eternal transformation of all things – including us.
The Christian life is a journey of change – of being changed, as the apostle Paul once put it, “from glory to glory” into the image of Christ.
Despite all this, the new wine of grace can be hard to swallow.
For people who live and die by the rules, grace is unsettling.
It is easy to become addicted to the false comfort of regulations and boundaries – the false sense of power and superiority that comes from judging and condemning others.
For those who strive to be perfect and who demands others likewise meet that standard, grace can be unsatisfying – more of an annoyance or an excuse than an encouragement.
Grace does not mix well with those refuse to let go of their anger and resentment.
The forgiveness out of which grace is harvested leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those who continue to nurse grudges and insistently demand their pound of flesh.
When we’re used to living only by the rules – according to the letter of the Law, grace is definitely an acquired taste.
But again, grace doesn’t negate the need for the rules, for the Law.
Grace reminds us, all the rules, the Law was never intended to become an end unto itself.
The rules, the Law were intended to point us, to lead us into a deeper, fuller, complete relationship with our Creator, with our Heavenly Father and by extension, with ourselves and with each other.
Grace doesn’t negate the rules or the Law.
Grace takes us beyond the limits of the rules and the Law – into the highest and most beautiful of all rules and laws – the law of unconditional, divine love.
When all we have are the rules, the Law – all we have is a lot of guilt and shame.
All we manifest is a lot of finger-pointing and name calling. All we cultivate is criticism and condemnation.
There is no room for differences. There is no room for disagreement. There is no room for mercy.
But when we have grace in the midst of all the rules, the Law, there is more room for us all to breathe more freely.
There is more room for openness and wonder.
There is more room for forgiveness and reconciliation as we disagree and even hurt each other. There is more room for love and mercy
expressed not out of fear – of protecting ourselves – but love and mercy truly borne of selfless and honest compassion for others.
Are we settling for a patchwork religion rather than a relationship with Jesus?
Are we struggling to receive the new wine of God’s grace because we continue to resist being changed – to have the old wineskin of our lives exchanged for the new life Christ offers to us?
Beloved, by themselves, all the rules and the Law can’t change us the way we need to be changed.
We’re all well practiced at going through the motions – of trying to show others what they need to see to label us “good.”
We even can try to fool ourselves by giving the appearance of change for the better without actually changing for us inside.
Guilt, shame, and punishment may lead to our compliance, our external obedience – but that’s not the same thing as internalizing God’s rules for life – rules again for our mutual benefit – not God’s.
Our Creator knows this.
And that’s why giving us the rules, the Law was never the master plan of our Creator.
That’s why God doesn’t come down in Christ and hand us a list of things to do but instead repeatedly invites and beckons us to “Come and follow me” – to learn from Jesus, to receive from Jesus – the grace that fulfills the Law, the grace that enables us to live the full abundant life God always intended for humanity.
Only Jesus can change us for the good. Only Jesus can change all creation for the better. Only Jesus, the bridegroom, can deliver God’s promise to us all – that the best is yet to come. Amen.