The more time I spend studying Scripture, the more dynamic, exciting, majestic, and breathtaking is my view of God and the more overwhelming is His love through Jesus Christ. The more I spend time I spend serving others, the more delicate, exposed, and the more dignity deserving is my view of humanity. The more time I spend hearing stories of evil perpetrated by words and deeds against people, the more acute, more horrid, and more malicious is my view of sin. The more time I spend in ministry, the more momentous, more profound, and more innovative is my view of God’s creation of His church energized by the Holy Spirit to bring the good news of His hope to people otherwise surrounded by sin and the indifference of the world. Think for a moment about the picture those views create. God the Father, together with His Son, and the Holy Spirit are engaged in the radical transformation of one human life at a time moving them from death to life, from sin to holiness, and from despair to hope; and God chose that you and I would be the messengers of that hope to that one life. Let that thought pour over you for a moment. Both you and I are messengers of the greatest hope and joy another human being can experience, to know that no matter what, God loves them. That, my friends, is how radical God intended church to be. The message and the transformation of life is not one that contemplates wearing a cross and bringing our old life and old ways with us or putting a Band-Aid on the wounds of life and returning to the same old activities to be wounded again. Following Christ is radical, it is exciting, and it is always relevant to those we meet because while Christ has conquered sin for those who believe in Him; evil, hurts, pains, and hopelessness still dominate the world’s stage.
So are you ready to connect more with God and people? I am. Are you ready to share God with someone who feels unloved? I am. Are you ready to discover more about God and his plan for your life? I am. Are you ready to be part of a church that has a momentous, profound, and innovative role in God’s plan? I am. Are you ready for something new? I am. If you are ready, let us turn to God’s Word and see where He is leading us today.
We will begin this morning with a brief look in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 6. This is the account of the life of Noah and his family. Noah was a simple man, likely a farmer, who had found favor with God. At verse 11, it says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark.” How radical is this story? God made the earth and all that is in it and said it was “good.” He now surveys the earth and all that is in it and said, “It is filled with violence and is corrupt because of man.” The world was violent, cruel, unjust, and wrong. The world was corrupt, perverted, and full of ethical rot and decay. It was no longer “good.” Yet, there was a small remnant; Noah and his family who were acceptable to God. Because God loved Noah and his family, God was determined to save them. How would God save them? God essentially said to Noah, “Are you ready for something new?” It was then that God transformed Noah, the farmer, into Noah, the shipbuilder; a task Noah was unqualified to perform except through grace and strength provided by God. Noah would be the agent on earth to bring forward God’s message of hope and love for humanity and creation. The flood was not about destruction; it was about saving life, which God said was “good.” God called Noah to do something new.
About ten years ago, I served as Chairperson of the Board of Deacons of another Baptist church and I experienced on a small-scale God working through the question, “Are you ready for something new?” One Saturday afternoon, I was making calls to set up visits for the next day to some of the shut-ins of the church. I called Dr. Elizabeth Peck, who was around 95 at the time. She answered the phone. I introduced myself and asked her, “How are you Dr. Peck?” She paused and then replied with her own question, “Why do you want to know?” I quickly explained I was calling to set up a visit for Sunday and thought I would start by asking how she was. Dr. Peck then replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, I need a man!” This time, I paused. Are you ready for something new? Feeling certain, the Deacon’s Procedure Manual did not address this situation, I asked with some trepidation, why she needed a man. She explained that she needed some minor repairs done at the house. In the past, corrupt repair people had swindled her and she needed someone she could trust. That short conversation led to the creation of a church ministry, called the Carpenter’s Apprentice, for the men to come together and address such needs within the church and the community. It was something new; it was an innovation of the church to let the vulnerable and isolated know God love them. God asked only once for the building an ark to show His love but He repeatedly calls on us to new ways to build relationships with others to show His love. It is always new and always exciting.
If we move from Genesis to our New Testament reading in Mark, Chapter 2, we find today’s Scripture reading and instruction from Jesus. This is a passage about something new. We will start at verse 18. “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s [John the Baptist’s] disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Mark sets the scene. The Pharisees, in particular, engaged in fasting; on the second and fifth days of the week – Monday and Thursday. Fasting was not a private matter. Fasting occurred in a public manner and some believed fasting put pressure on God to acquiesce to some demand by the person fasting. In many cases, those fasting missed the moral or spiritual development point of fasting and instead were merely doing justice to the letter of the law. Here some people observed the disciples of John and the Pharisees engaged in fasting; however, Jesus’ disciples were not fasting. They wanted to know why Jesus was not enforcing the expected model of righteous behavior on your disciples.
In verse 19, “Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day, they will fast.’” Jesus radically changed the point of view and the scene of fasting through self-denial of food to the complete opposite of feasting at a wedding banquet. Almost in a humorous manner, Jesus asks, “Who fasts at a wedding banquet?” How many of us would go to a wedding and expect to fast? We would not; doing so is ludicrous. Jesus often compared the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet because there was so much joy and promise found in the weddings in the first century and that euphoric feeling extends into the present day weddings. Jesus’ answer then in the form of a question is, “Why would His disciples fast to seek God’s favor when God incarnate was sitting next and fellowshipping with them?” Mark does not record any response from those who asked the question. I can imagine them looking at Jesus, perhaps a little confused, trying to understand how His point of view connects with their original question. Jesus was hitting them with the question of today, “Are you ready for something new? The kingdom of heaven is at hand and it is exciting.” Sometimes I wonder if we miss the point of how wonderful it is for us to be alive at this moment in history. We are able to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus meaning all his words are true giving us the power to share his love with others and ask them, “Are you ready for something new?” Too often Christians seem satisfied to sit motionless and emotionless as though they were at the wedding unaffected by the joy.
After an appropriate pause, Jesus responded again to the original question about fasting in particular, or more generally, about ritual or traditional religious practices. He did so with two parables. In verse 21, Mark recorded Jesus’ words, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth [new cloth] on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.” This is a plainly spoken parable in which the hearer would be in acknowledgement that putting a new piece of cloth over the tear of an old garment in the hopes of extending the life of the old garment would not work. For a time the tear in the garment is covered, but once washed that new cloth would shrink tearing itself away from the garment causing even greater damage to the garment. The message is, taking a small piece of what is new and stitching it to old ways is not why Jesus came; it does not reflect the radical nature of God’s love any more than a passing shower reflects the radical nature of God’s love through the flood.
On the street I grew up on was a family of unwed sisters, who when I was ten, were all in their fifties. They devoutly practiced their Catholic faith by attended Mass together almost every day of the week; not just on Sunday mornings but every day. However, the only time they were not bickering or badmouthing one another, or someone else on the street, was the one hour a day they were in church. In some ways, church was the unshuken piece of cloth covering the tear in their garment; it did not change anything and the daily presence in the church only drew attention to how ugly the tear was in the fabric of their family life. This is Band-Aid Christianity. Jesus would later say to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” We have an immortal and imperishable soul that reflects who we really are. We cannot repair the fabric of our soul with a patch on the outside or by simply washing the dirt of our lives off. It requires something completely new.
Jesus moved his audience to the “something completely new idea” with his next parable in verse 22. He said, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Jesus begins with a point of common knowledge to his listeners; “no one pours new wine into old wineskins.” New wine is wine that has not fully fermented. A byproduct of fermentation is the release of gas, which requires the wineskin to expand. Old wineskins are wineskins that are hard, rigid, and unyielding. Jesus said, if you do put new wine in old wineskins, the wineskin will burst and the wine lost. The vessel for new wine must be proper. Many people do not understand this simple principle. They do not recognize following Jesus requires us to be new and accept new ways of thinking, behaving, and speaking. Too many just want to hold onto to their old ways. The result is sad. Consider our Old Testament reading today, the Gibeonites gathered all of their old possessions, shoes, clothing, and wineskins to suggest they had come a long way to give honor to Joshua and Israel because of the power of God. However, they were deceptive. They did not travel a long distance, they were neighbors of the Israelites seeking to avoid Israel’s wrath. Later, Joshua uncovered their deception and the Gibeonites a price paid. They did not come to honor God. Deceptiveness is all throughout the society in which we live and in some churches. We know that what comes out of the mouth is not necessarily what’s in the heart. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Some claim Christ, but they live their old lifestyle believing an old wineskin can hold the new wine of the Gospel. Jesus said, you must put new wine in a new wineskin. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” If you are in Christ, you are in essence a new wineskin, with the Holy Spirit filling your life.
Are you, personally, ready for something new? Then connect with God through Christ. Discover what it means to be a new creation; no longer bound by your own traditions. It is an exciting and rich life today and a blessed life for all time. Jesus is waiting for you at the wedding feast. If you accept his invitation to join him, it is the beginning of greatest joy for you than you can now realize. Are we, this church, ready for something new? If we are people new in Christ gather, then we have a constantly refreshing, renewing, and innovating church congregation looking at the dynamic, exciting, majestic, and breathtaking view of God and overwhelming love found in Jesus Christ and sharing it with people that He loves who are delicate, exposed, and deserving dignity. We cannot do what God wants in our personal life or as a church with a patch of cloth or by following the ways of our old lives. We must be ready for something new. If we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and with authenticity and love reach out to those around us, we can become the powerful messengers of hope God intended. Are you ready for something new? I am. Amen.