Mix and Match Faith
Luke 5: 27-39.
Have any of you gone to American style worship?
The type I am thinking of is when they start with four or five hymns at the start of the service, then they might have a reading or a skit, or a meditation, and then the offering, then they have the sermon and go home.
I’ve been to a few when I was in Canada but also on holiday in Europe. Found it exhausting. All that singing at the start.
Wasn’t that keen.
But does that make it wrong?
What about Iona community worship with responses in the prayer?
The worship leader says a bit then the congregation say a bit.
Been to a few services like that.
Wasn’t that keen.
But does that make it wrong?
Or what about high Anglican where they have these choirs that sing anthems all the time.
Or what about Orthodox services or even some Roman Catholic services where they have those incense things with smoke going all over the place.
Some like those and other don’t.
But does it make it wrong?
What’s more important than any of that stuff, what about the way we live our life in a spiritual way? How much should we put in the offering?
How often should we pray?
How often a day or week or month should we read the Bible?
How many hours in the week should we devote to church work?
I was in America once and this couple stood up and declared that they tithed their time to God. A tenth of all their time they dedicated to church work. I wasn’t too sure if that was all time or just their waking hours.
If it was all time then it would be just under 18 hours a week. If it was just waking hours it would be just over 11 hours a week.
Think of how productive this church could be if every person here, every member gave the church 11 hours a week in volunteering. That would be about two and a half hours every afternoon, or maybe every morning, or every night. We could set up after school clubs for children, food banks for the poor, bereavement support groups, marriage support groups, counselling groups, parent support groups.
This church could be a real light to the community.
Any minister reading or listening to this sermon is now asking themselves, ‘Why won’t every member of our congregation give 11 hours a week to the church in volunteering if they love God?’
Everyone else is asking, ‘Am I wrong not to want to give 11 hours a week in volunteering?’
And to be honest I am thinking I am being generous not asking you to give 17 hours a week.
Have I got you thinking yet about what the right thing to do is?
Well that is the quandary of the people that day when they were talking with Jesus.
You may remember a wee while back, the scribes and the Pharisees had a run in with John the Baptist. So ordinary people who wanted to do the right thing would see the scribes and Pharisees as religious people, close to God and try to do what they did so that they could close to God.
After they saw what John the Baptist said about the scribes and the Pharisees then they stopped trying to be like them and started trying to be like John the Baptist.
John is an in-your-face evangelist. ‘Get your finger out. Start being committed. Fast and pray and give up all the extra stuff and concentrate on God.’
So that’s what they do.
And then along comes Jesus. He sees this tax collector and does a different type of evangelism. They are having a party and wine is flowing and people are chatting and talking away and discussing faith. And these ordinary folk that are just trying their best to get close to God are asking Jesus. ‘What’s going on? Should we be tithing and dedicating ourselves like the Pharisees say? Should we be fasting and praying like John says? Should we be partying and celebrating like Jesus says?’
And what we think the passage says doesn’t help.
Because I think, and you can correct me if I am wrong, but I think we think this passage says, ‘The old is done and wrong. The new is where we should be. So being stuck in the old ways is just wrong. What you are doing is wrong. And like it or not you should change your ways.’
You don’t wreck a new coat to fix and old coat. You don't put new wine in old wine skins. The old wine skins just can’t take it and it bursts the wine skins and everything is lost.
Is that what we think?
If that is what we think then how come Jesus says, “And no one wants new wine after drinking old wine. ‘The old wine is better,’ he says”
But if Jesus is says that the old ways are better then how come he is doing something new?
What if...what if Jesus isn’t making a judgement call here. Or maybe not the judgement call that we think he is making.
What if he is trying to get us to think?
What is better a new coat or an old coat?
I’ll be honest here. If you were to ask my son and I we would probably come up with something different.
I would always say an old coat, because an old coat has a feel about it. You have worn it in, it feels comfortable.
I don't worry about overusing old cloths because every now and again I will go to get some old piece of clothing and find it has just disappeared. I ask my wife about it and she doesn’t know what is going on. I suspect that every now and again someone comes into the house and steals all my best old cloths.
And I can understand that, why would anyone want to steal new clothes that are still to have all that stiffness worn out of them?
However my son, who works for Slater's (other clothing sellers are available), would completely disagree with me. He would always go for new cloths. I know that because he is always buying new clothes. He is 21 and has bought more suits in the last three years than I have bought in my lifetime.
Who is right?
Maybe I am right wearing old cloths and he is right wearing new cloths.
Maybe the only time we would be wrong is if both of us wore a mixture of old and new and both us felt uncomfortable.
Maybe I can rejoice in how well he looks and he can rejoice in how comfortable I feel, and both of us can be content.
Or what about wine?
Is it better to have new wine in new wine skins or old wine in old wine skins?
I wouldn’t know as I don't drink wine.
But knowing a lot of you, you wouldn't care whether it was old wine or new wine as long as it tasted good.
But putting new, still fermenting and expanding wine, in old wine skins which have no give left in the skin, and the expanding new wine bursts the old wine skins so that both wine and skin are lost, that just seems like a waste.
Maybe what Jesus is getting at, is that it isn't what is right or wrong that matters, it is what is apt.
And if that is the case with ordinary things like cloths and wine,
maybe it is even more the case with spirituality, about getting close to God,
that it isn’t about what is right or wrong, it is what is apt.
It was apt for some Pharisees to tithe, to give a tenth of what they made to God. It gave them discipline and direction and purpose. And that helped them to be close to God.
It was apt for those followers of John to be fasting and praying a lot. It gave them perspective. When they fasted it reminded them of all the many blessings that God gave them. When they prayed it reminded them that God was near, that they could always be in communion with God. And that helped them to be close to God.
And in the same way it was right that with these tax collectors and others that had been far from God that they celebrate, that they drink and eat because they were reminded that God never gave up on them, that God was wanting to be close to them, had been close to them, and their celebration helped them feel closer to God.
There is no right or wrong, only what is apt.
Now that is a challenge to us.
Because what might be apt for us to get close to God could change from day to day or week to week.
What is right when we are young might change when we get older, and it might change again as we mature.
What we need, is to start is to be honest.
If we are going through a hard time and struggling then going about celebrating and pretending that everything is all right isn’t going to get us closer to God.
If we are going through a time of celebration and being dour and reserved and not celebrating the things God has given us will not help us get closer to God.
There are times when we need to be disciplined and focused and seek the gift of life God has given us.
There are times when we need to be free and be loose and just enjoy the gift of life God has given us.
Times when we need to seek God in scripture, times when we need to seek God in fellowship, times when we need to seek God in scripture with others.
But it starts with us being honest.
Honest on how we feel. Honest on where we think we are.
Once we are honest then we can move from where we are, to where we would want to be.
If we are not honest then we are going to be too busy pretending to be fine to ever move from where we are, so we will be stuck. With us pretending that everything is fine when it isn’t. And no one helping us because they already think we are fine.
So here we are with a decision to make.
Are we going to pretend that what we are wearing is what we want to wear?
Maybe complain to some folk about how unhappy we are with our cloths.
Or are we going to do something about it...get those old comfortable cloths and enjoy life, or get those really new cloths and feel great.
Forget about what others think we should wear and just enjoy the cloths that make us happy.
Now if we can do that with cloths, maybe we can do that with our faith.
Forget about what we think others think we need to do to get close to God, but just be honest, see where we are, see where God wants us to be, where we need to be, and start the journey to get there, realising that in the journey itself, God comes closer to us.