Religion, fasting and wine

Published 10:00 am Sunday, January 23, 2022

One day some people said to Jesus, “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?”

Jesus responded, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”— Luke 5:33-35)

In those days, fasting and prayer were critical components of your faith. Religious groups led by a charismatic spiritual leader were nothing new but the group following Jesus didn’t act all that religious. The question: “Jesus, are you and your disciples serious about your faith?”

Jesus replies, this is a time of celebration, like in a wedding. These are new people who are coming to the faith through dramatically changed lives. This calls for a celebration. The fasting and discipline will come later at the proper time.

Jesus then asks the Pharisees: “Are you content with being self-righteous? Are you at all concerned about the spiritual salvation of others?”

Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “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.” — Luke 5:37-38

Wine was stored in an animal skin bag that ages and expands with the wine. An old wineskin with new wine wouldn’t be able to stretch and would burst, creating a mess and you lose everything.

Interesting, but what does that mean? Jesus is calling for a faith that emphasizes reaching out to others. But welcoming new people means adapting and if you are serious about impacting people you must be serious about accommodating new people after they change.

So, Jesus is asking: Are you going to be satisfied with your own religiosity and spiritual growth or will you be serious about helping others discover and deepen their relationship with God? Then Jesus says, “But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.” (v39)

Accommodate and listen to new people? Change the way we worship God and serve our community? Why? The old ways are fine, thank you very much. I don’t need to change! They need to change to be more like me and do what I do, say what I say, believe what I believe.

And then churches look around in confusion: Hey, where did everybody go? Scary.

I distributed an article about how we report our church finances. Several people expressed disagreement and shared some creative ideas.

One said: “We tend to rely too much on reporting financial data as if they were results. How much we spend is important but is not a result. This past weekend I spent time helping to load food for families in emergency status due to the outages. One customer shared that he had had no work and spent all his money on kerosene to keep his family warm. The food we provided was a godsend. That one incident says all that needs to be said about results of our contributions.”

“We support a major scholarship program, but we have not shared what our recipients have done or how they benefited. We support camps for children of incarcerated mothers and developmentally challenged children. We should be sharing info on what goes on there or provide the story of a single attendee. We are about to make a large contribution for Tornado relief. Maybe the organization could share what they are doing in Kentucky.”

Jesus is calling for a faith that emphasizes including others. But welcoming new people means adapting and if you are serious about impacting people you must be willing to accommodate them. So, Jesus is asking: Are you satisfied with your own religiosity and spiritual growth, or will you be serious about helping others discover and deepen their relationship with God?

Sixty Minutes last week, presented “One Small Step,” which brings people with different political views together to record a 50-minute conversation–not about politics, but about who we are as people. “One Small Step” is based on the theory that a meaningful interaction between people with opposing views can help us better understand and respect each other and our viewpoints.

Imagine that! An organization dedicated to encouraging people with different political, cultural, and religious views to get to know each other with the result they would find it more difficult to argue and hate each other quite so much. Sound impossible? Maybe, but this idea also describes what our churches should and could be in a world torn by division and strife.

The world seems more divisive than ever, but I believe we have an opportunity to offer healing. Like “One Small Step” we have the opportunity to bring people together rather than stay divided.

Old Wineskins will always be old so they can never accommodate new wine. But people and churches do not have to stay old. Through the grace of Jesus, they can change and adapt. Our churches cannot only accommodate new people and new ideas, but we can thrive in the midst of them. That’s my prayer.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.