Last week I wrote about new wine based on something Jesus said in Matthew 9:17. If you didn’t have a chance to read that article, you can dig it out of your overflowing recycling bin or you can find previous editions online at http://www.webbweekly.com.
This week, I would like to continue that conversation by writing about old wineskins. That will be easy for me to do because I’m one of them.
I was born into a Christian family. My mom had already been a Christian for quite some time when I came along, but my dad was a recent convert. We did some spiritual adventuring when I was in my pre-teen years as mom and dad searched for a church that could meet our family’s needs. Sometimes we worshipped with Bob Schuler or Rex Humbard on television, and sometimes we visited local churches — Baptist, Lutheran, Evangelical Congregational, Assembly of God, Wesleyan. Yeah, it was quite a mix.
Anyway, church has always been a part of my life. And obviously, as an ordained minister who has racked up 34 years in full-time vocational ministry, church has been a BIG part of my life. With that little bit of background, you can understand why I would see myself as on old wineskin. I’m kind of set in my ways and very fond of church as I have always known it.
Church for me has always been centered around the weekly Sunday morning worship experience. And for my entire life, that has meant going to church, finding a place to sit, singing some good songs, giving my offering, hearing an inspirational message and then heading out to eat. Sure, there’s other pieces to the puzzle, but when most of us old skins talk about going to church, that’s what we mean.
And for those of us who grew up that way, that old skin is downright comfortable. It works for us. It’s like the one unchanging thing in a world that is constantly changing. Frankly, that’s what us old skins don’t like about this pandemic — it has taken our old skin away — and we just want it back.
Do you know what is in an old wineskin? It’s not a trick question: old wine. And as everybody knows, old wine is better wine. Luke quotes Jesus saying this: “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
And that’s the problem. Us old skins like the old stuff. It was new wine when it flowed into our new skins, but over time, it aged, and so did our skins. We like old wine and it’s full-bodied character, rich bouquet and pronounced finish.
New wine is for the uninitiated. It’s like drinking grape juice – too sweet and no body. New wine hasn’t fermented. It’s just not ready for the discriminating pallet of the refined spiritual connoisseur. And besides, as new wine ferments, it expands, and us old skins can’t risk a blowout. Nope, we prefer the conveniences and traditions we have grown to love. Old wine in old skins — a perfect fit.
Back in the day, us old skins were actually new and soft and pliable. And when God poured the new wine of the Spirit into us, we stretched and grew as it matured and fermented within. Have we forgotten that we were new skins back when we were drinking in the new wine of the Spirit?
God is pouring out new wine and He is offering us new wineskins to receive it. Listen friends, when it comes to the Kingdom of God we have two choices: we can store ourselves away in a wine cave and pine for the good old days, or we can trade in our old skins for new ones and receive new wine.
The choice is ours. The pandemic has created a quiet moment in history for the church in America to reflect, to evaluate, to think. Is what we’re doing working? Oh, it’s working for us old skins, but that’s not what I’m asking. What I’m asking is this: Are we able to receive new wine? Jesus warned us that God won’t pour new wine into old skins.
William Booth founded the Salvation Army after God gave him what he called, “A Vision of the Lost.” Booth recorded the details of that vision and it is powerful to read. In it he includes a passionate call to leave our old skins behind to pursue the lost masses of humanity that are drowning in the sea of life:
“You cannot hold back. You have enjoyed yourself in Christianity long enough. You have had pleasant feelings, pleasant songs, pleasant meetings, pleasant prospects. There has been much of human happiness, much clapping of hands and shouting of praises — very much of heaven on earth.
“Now then, go to God and tell Him you are prepared as much as necessary to turn your back upon it all, and that you are willing to spend the rest of your days struggling in the midst of these perishing multitudes, whatever it may cost you.
“You must do it. With the light that is now broken in upon your mind and the call that is now sounding in your ears, and the beckoning hands that are now before your eyes, you have no alternative. To go down among the perishing crowds is your duty. Your happiness from now on will consist in sharing their misery, your ease in sharing their pain, your crown in helping them to bear their cross, and your heaven in going into the very jaws of hell to rescue them. What will you do?”
I’ve made my choice. I’m trading in my old skin for a new one. I am convinced that the church is entering a season of new wine — and I don’t want to miss a drop of it.
What say you?