New (Matthew 9:14-17)

The music is playing loudly, people are dancing, laughing, chatting and drinking. Then someone comes into the room, switches the lights on, turns the music down, looks around scowling and says “please tone it down.” Then the best man goes across to them and says “excuse me but you’ve just interrupted a wedding.”

You walk into a room, loudly cracking jokes. Everyone looks up and stares at you.

“Show some respect, grandma has just died”

You long for the ground to open up and swallow you. You’ve completely misjudged the time and the mood.

Sometimes, it is obvious what the mood should be. At other times, it is not so easy.  How are we to respond to this current “season” that we are in?  I’ve heard some people say that we should be fasting, lamenting, mourning because God is judging us through the pandemic. Meanwhile I’ve also heard others talk about the way that God has given them a form of sabbath, a rest from normal life, time to reflect and opportunities for evangelism.

This Bible passage is all about timing and mood. Jesus is approached by John’s disciples and they want to know why his disciples are observing the various religious fasts.  Jesus responds with two statements. It’s important to see these together as emphasising the same point. First, he says that wedding guests don’t mourn and fast during the wedding. Secondly, he says that it is useless attempting to mesh together old and new materials.

How are we to respond to our circumstances? Well, it does depend on understanding what God is doing.  For Jesus’ disciples, the point was that God was doing a new thing, he was bringing in his kingdom and was present with his people. This was therefore cause for joy. It also meant that all of their old religious practices and customs were not needed, in fact were useless. You could not stitch the legalism of law keeping together with the good news of the Gospel. It would be just as silly to attempt to pour new wine into old wineskins causing them to burst as it would be to attempt to constrain the good news with the rules and rituals of the old order.

This new thing needed space to grow, to breath and to expand. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that he has been brewing wine during lockdown. He made some wine from elder flowers.  At first it was too sweet, it wasn’t ready. He had another look the other day and when he removed the lid, there was the pop of expanding air because the wine was fermenting again. That’s the point. The new thing is still growing, expanding, changing, whether it is wine or new cloth that doesn’t match with old cloth that has no give in it.

Now, on a side note, sometimes these verses have been misapplied. “New wine” has been used to refer to new spiritual movements such as the Pentecostal and charismatic movements.  Of course, there are new and fresh movements from time to time in the church and they refresh God’s people -but this passage is not about that. Nor is it saying that you cannot renew and refresh things in an old church.

You see, the new and refreshing thing Jesus has in mind is his own arrival. It’s the coming of the Gospel. He is the bridegroom. On the one hand that does mean that there would have been a natural change of mood after Christ returned to his Father, we are in “now and not yet time.”  We are looking forward to the wedding feast of the lamb.

However, there is also a sense in which we are in that time of celebration and joy still. God is with us through the Holy Spirit and we are the new wine.  We are experiencing the joy of the New Covenant and we are seeing all the brilliant beauty of new life as people are brought out of sin, death and shame into the joy of belonging to God’s family in Christ. This means that our own mood should capture the same mood, the now and not yet mood.

We are both saddened by the damage that sin causes. We grieve at its destruction.  We grasp that there is a serious urgency to the Gospel.  At the same time, we have good news. We are overjoyed as we experience God’s outpoured love and grace to us. We want to share this joy.

This applies to life right now. You see, I don’t think we should be trying to discern a specific season that we are in right now. As I’ve said before, the new normal for churches here in the West is in fact what was the old normal for much of the church around most of the world throughout history. The threat of death, the restrictions of meeting, the sense of not being able to control things – that is normal for the two thirds world. So, it is right to be saddened and concerned at what we are seeing around us in a sin sick world. It is also right to take delight in the things God is doing.  Most of all, we need to keep the big picture in mind. We will get through this winter by knowing that #SummerIsComing.  We will get through coronavirus by remembering that we are part of the big, good news story of the Gospel.

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