WEDDINGS PATCHES WINE // Sara Wolbrecht // June 14, 2015 // Mark 2:18-22
So in a minute we’re going to hear a passage from Mark’s gospel that begins with folks asking Jesus a question about fasting. Find one or two others and discuss what you know about fasting, and whether you have ever done it (or someone you know) and what that has been like.
What did you come up with? What is fasting? Who has done it before? Why have you done it? Fasting on the spiritual side of things for us today is the practice of giving up a meal or going a day without food. And the intention is that your attention is directed toward God, maybe you are holding a big decision that needs to be made, or wondering about a new direction in your life – fasting is a way of seeking clarity and direction from God. Instead of the time and attention given to eating, you spend that time in prayer. That growling tummy and hunger you feel also helps ground you in a sense of hunger for God.
Fasting in the first century –at the time we encounter this text – was a very common practice, expected of religious people. The Jews of Jesus’ day fasted on their festivals, holy days throughout the year. Also some groups would fast on a regular day or two during the week.
In other words: the really religious folks were into fasting. And Jesus has already claimed to be the Son of God, so essentially the most spiritual person possible. You would think that he and his disciples would be fasting kinds of guys. But once again, Jesus lives a life outside that predictable box and this moment happens, here in our text.
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
So what do we observe? Jesus’ disciples are not fasting. People come and ask about it. Now, who thinks Jesus is about to give a really clear, straight-forward answer? Um, no. If you’re newer to the Bible you may have already experienced this, so often Jesus communicates in metaphor and images that have many layers. And at first read we feel confused. Here is one of those places. Jesus is going to give three images in response to this question. Try to catch all three, I’ll ask for them. Listen to them, envision them, we’ll unpack them in just a minute.
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. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 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.”
All right. Jesus gives this answer in response to a question about fasting. Curious. What are the three words/images he uses? Bridegroom, new patch on old garment, new wine and old wineskins.
Take a quick step back – we remember that at the beginning of Mark’s gospel we heard Jesus say his first words he said: The time has come, and WHAT has come near. The Kingdom of God. That this reality of God breaking into the world that had been longed for for centuries, for God to set things right, the Kingdom of God – it was beginning to happen. That’s what Jesus says, and then everything we see him say and do points toward what the Kingdom of God is like.
In this passage Jesus is not doing the expected super-spiritual thing once again. We’ve already seen this – Jesus shaking up people’s expectations, right? He reached out and touched a leper – someone who is bound by law to live outside the city and not come within 6 feet of another person. Jesus touches that man, heals him. He healed and forgave the sins of the man who was paralyzed – something that only priests are supposed to do that on behalf of God. Who did Jesus think he was? He called Levi to be a disciple – Levi who collected taxes at a border crossing, he worked for Herod and was seen as a traitor, a cultural outcast. Jesus not only calls him but then heads back to Levi’s house with all the cultural outcasts – showing us, yes, this is what the Kingdom of God is like. And now, his disciples aren’t fasting.
Through all of this, Jesus has been showing them and us that God is doing something – and the people aren’t getting it. So these three images are Jesus’ explanation of what he’s doing. So why, why a bridegroom, patch, and wine?
And he uses these three images, and like a set of telescope lenses, each image gives a slightly different focus, but when you put them all together the image is sharp and clear. Let’s look at all three.
First image: bridegroom. Which means, groom. So. Have you ever been to a wedding? Can you think of your favorite weddings you’ve been to? What made them so great? We love an excuse for a party, we love seeing people who are happy. But even more than that, I think it’s because weddings say something about the goodness, the love and the lavish creativity of God who made the world and made us this way.
Jesus uses the goodness of a wedding to make two points. Both of them are these big picture ideas that are referenced throughout the bible. So, you get little pieces of it throughout the whole thing. First, the biblical writers and Jews near Jesus’ time used the picture of a great wedding as a way of talking about the wonderful new world that God would eventually make, the world in which everyone would have more than enough and there would be peace and justice for all.
They painted this picture of the Kingdom of God – it’s like a great wedding. Weddings can tap us into that kind of vision. You’ll see that reference throughout scripture.
Then also, the second big picture biblical theme that overlaps with this, is that Israel, as God’s people, was God’s bride – though sometimes wayward, rebellious, sometimes running off with strangers, but over and over again being wooed and won back again by God. You see this especially in the Old Testament. Israel was the bride, God was the devout, loving groom.
So for Jesus, this rabbi from Nazareth who has just shown up on the scene, to describe himself now as the groom. Whoa. What is happening here? He is saying: the groom has arrived, and the DJ is firing up the music because the great wedding has started. The Kingdom of God. This is it!
If you have been to a wedding reception, how long does that typically last? Maybe 2 hours, maybe five hours. In Jesus’ day, wedding receptions lasted six or seven days. Eating, drinking, celebrating love and the goodness of life. The bride and groom weren’t whisked away to their honeymoon but they stayed and enjoyed the bounty of good time and food. The wedding ended only when the bride and groom left.
Now let’s bring this back to the question about fasting. Can you imagine sitting at a table at this week long party and not eating because you are fasting? Right? Couldn’t do it. And people were not expected to do it. Even for the super-religious Pharisees there is a fasting exemption at weddings! Everybody gets to eat at a wedding because it is such a significant moment of celebration for everyone in town. And that lasts for as long as the bride and groom are still at the party.
Jesus’ response to the question about fasting – it makes sense! Jesus says: How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. The groom is in the house, the party is underway and so no one needs to be fasting.
That’s why Jesus brings up the whole bridegroom thing. Hang on to that as we move on to the second image for a quick look – new patch on old clothes.
Jesus tended to use images and examples of ordinary everyday life– like the mending of clothes. Do you have any experience with sewing? If you buy fabric and are using a pattern to sew something – then you know that you first must wash it so that it will shrink to its actual size before you start working with it. A brand new piece of cloth (unshrunk) won’t do to patch a hole in an old coat. As it shrinks with time, weather, washing, it will pull away from the hole and make a worse tear than before. The basic point Jesus is making is that new and old don’t mix. Don’t try to patch something new over the old thing. People shouldn’t be surprised when putting them together has unfortunate results.
This image connects to the third and final image. New wine in old wineskins.
Has anyone ever brewed beer before? Sounds pretty sexy to do – it really is primarily a whole lot of standing around. Jason, my husband has. I’ve watched. One time Jason brewed two batches, with our friend Mike. As part of the brewing, the beer ferments in a large glass carboy. At the top is a special little piece where the bubbles. You keep it in a cool, dry place. We put ours in our coat closet – we were living in California where there are no basements and it is hot. So there were two carboys in our closet. In the morning we awoke to the sound of a large popping noise and the smell of beer. And yes, one of the batches had exploded in our closet, shooting the device off the top of the carboy.
Similarly: wine and wineskins. We don’t use wineskins for making wine anymore, but we do use barrels and bottles and similarly to the exploding beer in our closet, there are points in the process that have to be done correctly to keep you from broken bottles and wasted time. Jesus is again, trying to explain what he has been up to, which again everybody is not quite getting. Jesus is saying: what I’m doing can’t be fitted into the existing ways of thinking and living. There is a new way to all of this.
Jesus keeps doing the unexpected thing because God is doing the unexpected thing. A new thing. So the old, expected, predictable patterns for what God was about and what God was supposed to do – that didn’t fly now that God has come in Jesus. And the old ways of rules and religious expectations – though often birthed out of sincere desire for connection, vitality and relationship with God – so often it starts in a sincere place. But for the Pharisees and the religious experts somewhere along the line, the focus becomes religiosity, being good church people who do the churchy things, and not Jesus, not actually connecting with the living God who is present and up to something.
So – what does this all mean for us? Grooms, patches, and wine – these images together that Jesus uses to ground us in our God who is always up to something new?
I’ll tell you that in any other church the sermon for the community would go something like this: So, you see how Jesus tells the religious folks that they need to not get stuck in their old ways. We can’t let ourselves stay in this toxic place where all we tell ourselves is: But we’ve always done it that way! We need to be open to new ways of doing things because God is doing a new thing!
A little Googling this week led me to this:
But for us here at Salt House – we are in week #12 of worship. We’re still figuring out how to work the thermostat, and where should we stand for Communion, exactly. And how should we reach out to our neighbors or follow up with people who come for the first time. We have the rare, wonderful gift to be new right now. We can’t get stuck in the ways we’ve always done things because we don’t know yet how we do things!
AND YET – we are poised at the beginning of forming a community at a time when the Christian church is changing so dramatically. The American culture we’re a part of is a post-Christian culture. In the 1960s, 98% of people were in church on Sunday. Less than 5% of folks in the greater Seattle area are in church on any given Sunday. Is that depressing for us as Christians? It could be. Discouraging? Could be.
Or: we are in the middle of God doing a new thing. We look around saying – but aren’t people supposed to be in church? Which is actually just like the question from our text - Jesus, why aren’t your disciples fasting? Maybe God is refocusing us, reminding us that “Church” isn’t just a building, but church is a people fascinated by and drawn together into the life of Jesus and together in community figuring out how to live a life beyond themselves. This is actually a very exciting time to be a community focused on the life of Jesus.
There are all kinds of gloom and doom statistics out there about the drop in church attendance. AND YET what is also happening, is a rise in faith. Friends, we have this unique opportunity, gift set before us to shape who we are as a community at Salt House and what we do. And to let it be a new thing! For those who are here for the first time today, for those of us who have been hurt by churches in the past, for those who have been in the church for a long time but never really sure why, for all of us – here is our chance at making new wine.
I’ve got plenty ideas about what that could look like – but me personally, I am fairly rooted in being a Pharisee. I’m a churchy person – which is not a bad thing, BUT what I believe God is doing is bubbling up fresh ways to be God’s people, the bride of Christ, ways that are more culturally relevant. Yes, ways that bring people together authentically around food, and in their neighborhood, and in natural groups of people the same age or interest. And I think the best, brilliant ideas for what that is, will come from folks who are not necessarily standing in front of the church.
It’ll come from y’all. From your own places of creativity and possibility and desire for community and authenticity. From what has formed you and failed you already in the church. The hurts and celebration you have weathered.
And so because of all of these things... I have two questions for you to consider. First, every Sunday we take time to ask the two central questions of the Christian life: What is God saying to me/us? What am I/we going to do about it? I love these questions. To be spiritual people means to PAY ATTENTION and these two questions draw us back to a place of listening to our lives, noticing the world.
So together, I want us to ask these question AND open up the space to listen for God and dream together about who and what we can be here in this place. And maybe you’re here today and will never be back, maybe you’re still not sure if you’re “a part of Salt House” it doesn’t matter – you have a voice, today. You can hear God and you have been shaped by your own experiences, and you are already living in a way based on what you hope for for the future – yours and God’s.
These are the two questions:
1. Describe what you hope our life as a community could be.
The ways we are together – maybe what happens on Sundays (always have communion, we spend more time talking together than listening to the preacher talk). Maybe what we do to have fun. Maybe how we care for each other. It could be something we are doing, or something we could do.
Like Jesus did in this text, think of pictures, images, describe what you see.
2. Describe what you hope our life engaged in the world could be.
What could Salt House be known for? If we were to cease to exist what hole would be left behind because of the impact we made? Or another way to ask it: there are grant funds we could apply for to engage in mission. If we had $40,000 to use to bless people, serve, engage in justice – what should we do?
How could we use our building? We have an unfinished basement that is rad, how could we use it? Again – if possible, describe the scenes, images you see. “I see people working in a community garden and the neighborhood is invited. We give away the food.”
There are pieces of paper around – old hymnal paper for us to use to write on. Grab some paper, a pen. I have more up here just let me know if you need something. Make a list or just one idea. We’ll be singing while we do this – feel free to tune that out and just listen, or sing.
Prayer: God, you are always doing a new thing. The groom is here, the party has started, and we are ready for new wine in new wineskins. And here in this place as Salt House becomes a community of folks who belong to you and each other, we are thrilled for the chance to do things in new ways. But we also know how easy it is to do the things we have always done. So in these moments, we stop, we listen, we have fun with brainstorming the possibilities. Speak to us now, give us nudges and vision for who you will have us be, together. What a gift to be part of your new thing.