New Wine and Old Wine Skins: A Reflection on Current Changing Times

In Matthew 9: 14-17 John’s disciples came to Jesus asking why he was not holding his disciples accountable to the same standards as they and the Pharisees observed. Jesus replied in part, new wine is put into new wine skins, and so both are preserved. (NRSV emphasis added.) Clearly the Divine Spirit, whom we refer to as “God” is trying to do a new thing. The best indication to me is the rise in radical religious conservatism throughout the world today—persons who are trying like John’s disciples to preserve “old wine” and “old wine skins.”

Times are changing and changing fast. When I was substitute teaching in Hawaii in the late ‘70s there was a statistic that said that the average high school graduate would have five careers, three of which were not yet invented. All one has to do is look at what has happened in the electronic and dot com industries since then to see the truth in that prediction. Today they say that much of what is taught to freshmen in college is obsolete by the time they graduate. There is now more information available on any given day, than the sum total of all information accumulated since the beginning of civilization. We now know that there are at least 200 other galaxies (!) beyond our own and that the universe is expanding faster than we thought. Our culture is changing exponentially, and we are still trying to put New Wine in old wine skins.

The basis of understanding of the Divine as practiced in most mainline churches was packaged in old wineskins of the 4th Century. This old wine has been poured out through linear thinking down through the ages. Indeed it is said that most of us born before 1980 were trained to be linear thinkers, by linear thinkers. Linear thinking has very limited validity in the exponentially changing culture within which we are currently immersed. An exponentially changing culture calls for creative thinking on the scale which we have witness this past year in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements. Neurological studies show that today’s multi-tasking younger generations are using parts of their brains that we linear thinkers seldom, if ever, use.

Change is the hallmark of every facet of creation, including faith. From an historic anthropological perspective religion was created to maintain the status quo. The function of religion today should be to enhance the movement of the New Wine of faith being created by the Spirit to deal with these changing times. It is helpful to remember Jesus’ promise to his disciples recorded in John 14:26 (NRSV); the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Jesus did not promise them just a Bible, which is but one manifestation of the past work of the Spirit. Faith development today needs to be Spirit led, which can be chaotic for us linear thinkers, but chaos is the medium of choice of our Creator from Genesis 1 onward.

In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul reminds us that “Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they themselves are subject to no one else’ scrutiny….But we have mind of Christ.” The dominant feature of Jesus’ earthly ministry was that from the very beginning of his ministry when “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” Jesus was led by the Spirit. We, too, having the mind of Christ, need to be led by the Spirit, if we are to make New Wine and find new liturgical wine skins within which to allow it to be aged and served. This means we must diligently begin to re-think, re-language, and re-live our faith in the Divine for the 21 Century.

In doing so we must remember that Jesus said part of the reason one has to pour New Wine into new wine skins was to preserve the old wine and old wine skins. It is not a matter of either or, but both and. Many of the older generations who are the financial backbone of most of our churches are still enjoying the Old Wine preserved in old liturgical wine skins. We need to continue to serve them the old and seasoned vintages of Wine and invite the younger generation to taste, and appreciate old wine, while continuing to provide New Wine banquet feasts for the younger generation to which the older generations must always be invited.

How do we go about creating these New Wine banquets? We must trust the Spirit. I believe Paul provides the guidelines for doing this in his conclusion to his first letter to the church at Thessalonica: Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. (First Thessalonians 5:16-22)

We must allow the Spirit to guide us into becoming vintners of New Wine for the 21st Century, seeking to create new wine skins from which to serve it. To do so we must seek to develop our mind of Christ, striving to become evermore Christ-like, divinely human vintners for our day and time. Peace and blessings in the name of the one who turned water into the best Wine at a banquet feast 2000 years ago.

Copyright © 2012 Rev. Dan Hatch

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