New wine or old?
Angelita is a wonderful chutney maker. She loves experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. But when I want to taste the new batch, she will often say – “It’s OK if you can try it now but it’s not at its best. Just give it time to age and it will be wonderful.” She’s right of course! If I can wait long enough, it does get better. It’s the same with cheese – newly made cheddar cheese is somewhat tasteless, but let it sit for months to mature and it comes to its best. I prefer my chutney aged and my cheddar extra mature. I find their fuller flavours are smoother, nicer, comforting. Consuming something whilst at its best is the key.
It is possible to hold on to wine or anything for too long until it goes past its best. In Luke 5 Jesus used the metaphors of old and new cloth and old and new wine to communicate a principle, that people needed to respond differently when situations change. By His coming, the old covenant wine of law and ritual was about to go past its shelf life and would need to be replaced by fresh new covenant wine of grace and relationship. The good and comfortingly familiar ‘old wine way’ of appealing to God would soon be ‘going off’. The eternal truth of God’s grace hadn’t changed but the way God’s people had responded to God for a long time would soon be inappropriate. Now Jesus was a realist, he knows that new wine is more challenging to deal with. It can be very vigorous and gassy. New forms to contain it must be created – new wineskins made. If new wine isn’t handled appropriately, it can “burst out of the old wine skin”; then the old wine skin would be ruined, the new wine spilled on the ground, and everything wasted! Jesus added a second picture, ‘pieces of new cloth sewn onto an old garment to plug holes don’t bond well’.
This need to beat our best, applies to the church. We must regularly ask, ‘Have the familiar and comfortable ways I have learned to respond to God passed their best because conditions have changed?’ As we experience God this coming year, He may require of us some new and less familiar ways. We may need to adapt our structures, learn to be flexible, or accept unfamiliar forms, so that those encounters are not ‘spilled on the ground’ and wasted. And remember, we can’t just add bits of new cloth onto our old garment and expect it to do the job.
Why does God keep challenging us like this? Because we are so easily satisfied with the way things are. We like things comfortingly familiar. Jesus expressed what we often feel… “No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘the old wine is good enough.’” Luke 5:39 NET(The NLT translates it ‘just fine’ the NIV ‘better’.)But today’s just fine or better old ways were themselves once unfamiliar and new ways. (No doubt after enough time passes, we will be saying that todays’ new wine has become good enough.) This is why a process of re-newal or re-formation keeps repeating down the generations. God encounters us and re-shapes His church to keep us appropriate with His unchanging message for an ever-changing society.
God’s plan is always to keep His church from becoming past our best. We need regularly to hear God’s voice and be willing to embrace new wine ways.
Stay faithful and stay flexible!
Pastor Paul Ogle © 2022