Cloth and Wine
This past Sunday our church, Downtown Faith, celebrated communion. We do this a bit differently than most. We commune with God and each other by catering a full blown community lunch table. We have a Passover style menu complete with bread (the kind Jesus might have had) and wine.
I know little about wine. Purchasing it was a task. But as I shared our idea worth discussing I couldn’t help but think of what wine tends to represent. While there’s the obvious theme of “joy” represented by wine in the Bible, Jesus also used wine to represent the “new covenant.”
I don’t want to get super deep theologically about wine and the covenants, but I did have some thoughts come up I’d like to talk about. So, a couple of stories and symbols by Jesus…
First, let’s look at what Jesus said about the”new wine” and the “new covenant.”
‘After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” Luke 22:20
‘In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” ‘ 1 Corinthians 11:25
‘When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.’ Hebrews 8:13
Jesus was doing something new and the wine they drank at the Last Supper symbolized the very nature of what he was doing. Hold on to that for a second. It also seems that what he was doing would ultimately make what came before “obsolete.” This is a very interesting conversation as you move deeper into the implications. But for our purposes today we simply want to look at wine as a new that doesn’t work with the old.
This brings us to something else Jesus said…
‘Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t even match the old garment. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.”’ Luke 5:36-39
Jesus says this following a question by the religious leaders of his day. The guys who oppressed their own people with impossible standards, aligned their religion with empire, and were all about power and money. They questioned why Jesus’ disciples didn’t behave the same way theirs did.
Jesus explains that when old things and new things try and exist together they both end up worse off. Old clothes stitched with new cloth would be illogical. Both items would be torn. The same goes for new wine in an old wineskin. When you try to combine the new and old you destroy both.
Lessons About New and Old
A few months ago I was speaking with another local pastor about Downtown Faith. I was expressing how difficult it is for me personally to usher in something new into the “church” space. He alluded to the “new wine in old wineskins” symbol given by Jesus. He said that he feels like what we are doing just wouldn’t work anywhere else. In the modern “evangelical” movement, in mainline Christianity, or in any other denomination or group.
Guess what I felt at that point. Isolated. It felt as though everything we are doing with Downtown Faith might always be misunderstood, misrepresented, and ostracized. I’ve had to deal with this as a leader both personally and organizationally. Maybe you’ve been a part of something new in a familiar space. It just didn’t fit. It didn’t work. Holding on to something old while ushering in new broke you, your company, or your team.
I know I’m not alone. Although it feels like it.
So, to help I decided to share a few lessons learned about blazing new trails, pouring new wine, and changing the game.
- Find your tribe or build one from scratch. These are your options for connectivity and relationship when doing something new. You can either search out those who get it and do the work of developing a relationship, or you can decide to build your own tribe around your new idea. Jesus seems to do the latter. It cost him. Eventually he was alone. But ultimately something about this new thing caught on and exploded. This new thing actually included more people than the old. It opened up a whole new world of possibility. Just check out my talk about it here.
- Transcend and include the old. Now, I know this can often mean several things depending on the interpretation of the person with whom you’d speaking. Simply put, it means that you do a new thing while appreciating the old thing that got you there. I experience this all of the time. I have found a way to be grateful for the things in my past, the places that raised me, and the church that originally pointed me to Jesus, while also operating from a different perspective. It’s there. It’s my story. But it’s not the whole story. It doesn’t define me or confine me. I’m so grateful that God has brought me to a new place that’s given me a new perspective. It’s kind of a “both/and” but not really. The old exists. It’s there. I’m grateful for it. Yet not oblivious to its short-comings. And humbly I do a new thing. My hope is that people read this and feel it. Humble gratitude.
- A foot in two camps causes you to lose both legs. The more people try to incorporate new into old the more they lose both. I see this with churches all of the time. A new, innovative program by one church catches momentum and other churches begin to implement it. Only, it doesn’t have the same impact. It’s lost something. It just doesn’t fit. Or even worse it just causes the organization to cannibalize itself. This happens in all sorts of companies and groups. Kodak Film actually invented digital photography but no longer exists because they wanted to use it as a means of printing pictures. No one prints pictures. They store them in the cloud. They are on an app. Kodak tried to exist in both the old and new simultaneously and it didn’t work. Commit to the new and move away from the old.
I write about this because I have a lot of conversations about new things God is doing in people’s lives. These conversations almost always involve fear. Fear of isolation. Fear of the unknown. Fear of loss. Fear can either write the final chapter of your story or it can move your story into new, exciting adventures. We get to decide. But it’s all about how we choose to handle “new.”
What’s so interesting about Jesus, to me, is that every so often in history a move toward being more like Jesus actually moves you forward not backward. It’s new, again and again. I think that’s the process. I think that’s the point. Even people who say they follow Jesus tend towards a move in an old direction over a new. My experience is that the way of Jesus will always seem new to the deeply religious. Those depending on a system rather than the person of Jesus eventually get lost and outdated.
Spiritually, let’s move towards Jesus. Move towards new. Always new. Sacrificing old. Embracing new.