More Than a Band-Aid

Delivered March 26, 2000 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper

Sermon Text:
Mark 2:18-22
18 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?”
19 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.
20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them,
and on that day they will fast.
21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does,
the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.
22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will
burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No,
he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

This past September I spent a week in Pasadena, California on study leave preparing both the syllabus and my lectures for a seminary class that I taught last fall at the Seminary of the East. While I was there I stayed in a dormitory called the Aylward House. It was named after a great woman of faith named Gladys Aylward. Unfortunately, a woman that most Americans and most American Christians have never even heard of, although we should have. Actually, if you’ve ever watched the Ingrid Bergman movie from 1958, called “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness,” you know the story. There is even a copy down in the church library. I encourage you to rent it. It’s a good movie, great for family viewing, all that kind of good stuff.

Gladys Aylward was a young woman in England who felt a call to go as a missionary to China. So she signed up with the China Inland Mission, what is now OMF (Neil and Wannee Thompson are missionaries with them). She signed up with them and she began their training. But she just didn’t fit their mold and they had to tell her “We’re sorry, but you just won’t make it as a missionary to China with us.” She was very discouraged, but she was not willing to let that deter her from what she thought was the obvious call of God in her life. So she began to work as a maid, lived frugally and she saved all of her money so she could buy her own passage to China. Now, this was toward the beginning of this century, and it turns out that when she finally left England and took a train across Siberia to get to China, unfortunately it was during the Russian China War. So there were all sorts of difficult things that she had to go through to finally get into China. When she finally arrived, life was hard. In fact, her ministry was running an inn for mule drivers. But the Lord blessed her work and even gave her a job from the Chinese government – she became the main foot inspector for her region, going around and checking to make sure the Chinese were no longer binding the legs and the feet of their female children, the little girls, so that their legs could grow freely and straight and normally. And in that job she was able to go to every single village and share Bible stories and talk about Jesus Christ and the Gospel, and many people came to know Jesus Christ through her.

Of course, what she is probably most famous for was what she did with children. You see, she adopted many children in China and cared for dozens of orphans. When the Japanese invaded China in 1938 she became famous for leading 100 children for weeks over the mountains of China and the Yellow River, in order to take them to safety in the province that was not yet hit by the war… one hundred children saved.

The point is that God used her in a mighty and powerful way throughout her time in China to bring many of the Chinese to Christ and to save the lives of these 100 children. But, if she had listened to the folks in the mission agency back home in England, she would never have gone. You see, she just didn’t fit in. She didn’t fit the old mold. And the reality is that God is often about doing new things in the world around us. In fact, we often find that the rebels of yesterday are the heroes of today. Many of the rebels of today will be heroes of the faith tomorrow. The question for us as Christians and as a church is always: Are we open to the new things that God wants to do in our midst? And that’s really the question that comes to us in our passage for this morning. It comes from Mark 2:18-22, found on page 708 of your pew Bible.

Hear the word of the Lord as it comes to us from Mark.

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? And Jesus answered, how can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They can’t, 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. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine would burst the skins, and both the wine and wineskins would be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.

Please join me as we pray: Lord, we do thank you for these words that you’ve given to us in your scripture. And we pray now that by the power of your Holy Spirit, you would make these more than just words, but that you would engrave them upon our hearts; that you would change us by them, that we might be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. For it’s in his name we pray. Amen

Why isn’t Jesus fasting? Why don’t his disciples fast? By the way, fasting means going without food. Sometimes we choose to go without a number of other things, but fasting in the Bible generally refers to going without food for a period of time. And the people around Jesus are wondering why his disciples are not fasting. You see, fasting is a good thing. Hopefully, because at Central Presbyterian Church during Lent we are encouraging people to fast on Wednesdays and then to break that fast in the evening and join together here in prayer during our Concerts of Prayer.

Well, why is it that we fast? Two basic reasons, maybe three. One, often people fast because they are sorrowful. Sometimes in ancient times people would fast after a loved one passed away, because of their sorrow. People also fast out of repentance, they are sorry for their sins so they fast, they give something up, they give up that food in order to bring them closer to God and to show their repentance. Which leads us to the final reason for fasting which is simply to get closer to God. Because as we sacrifice what is often considered a need – eating – we trust in God to sustain us, and it draws us closer to Him as we trust in Him to meet all of our needs, even when we go without for a period of time.

Back in the time of Jesus these were the reasons for fasting plus one additional one, and that is that often the Pharisees would fast in the hope of bringing the Messiah. You see, they thought that if they fasted and repented enough that they would be worthy of God sending his Savior, sending his Messiah, to the Jewish people.

But there was something about Jesus’ presence with his disciples that communicated that fasting was no longer needed. Now it wasn’t that his disciples never sinned and therefore never had to ask forgiveness or never needed to repent. But there was something about being around Jesus that brought joy rather than sorrow. To be with Jesus was to know joy and happiness. In fact, Jesus was known for going to parties, being the guy that everyone wanted to be around. And so fasting wasn’t quite appropriate.

Then Jesus tells this parable about the bridegroom, that you don’t fast while the bridegroom is still with you. In other words, you don’t fast during a wedding feast, which back them lasted up to a week long. How would you like it if someone came to your wedding wearing sackcloth and ashes? It wouldn’t be a real encouraging sight, would it? The same thing here. Jesus is the bridegroom and as long a Jesus is with us, fasting is not quite appropriate. One of the reasons is – why should you fast hoping the messiah will come, when the messiah is right here with you. Or even more, if fasting is a way to get us closer to God, yet God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, is with you, why fast? You can’t get much closer to God than that. The presence of Jesus meant that his disciples didn’t need to fast. But there would come a time he said when they would fast; when the bridegroom was taken away – at Jesus’ death, his crucifixion, his resurrection and then his ascension to the Father. He is now in heaven rather than right here beside us, so fasting is once again appropriate.

But fasting isn’t really the point of this story. It’s only the issue that gets us into the real meat of what Jesus is trying to say. And that is, that Jesus was bringing something radically new to the Jewish people of his time. And fasting, and his disciples not conforming to the traditions were just the tip of the iceberg. So Jesus gives two different short parables about new and old.

The first is about clothes. Obviously, anyone who knows anything about clothes knows you don’t put a new patch of unshrunk cloth onto an old garment. Because when you wash it, what’s going to happen? The patch shrinks and it either tears the old garment even more or you just have an ugly, misfitting patch.

The second parable is about wineskins. You see wineskins were generally made from leather of some sort, some sort of animal skin. Sometimes even the stomach or the bladder of an animal. And the thing is, new wine is wine that is unfermented, but as wine ferments it expands. And so you put new wine into a new wineskin that has elasticity. What happens if you put new wine into an old wineskin that is already stretched to its maximum? Well obviously, it breaks and you loose both the wineskin and the wine.

You see, Jesus is saying that he is bringing something new. And unfortunately, it’s not just going to fit nicely and neatly and comfortably into the traditions and the culture that Judaism had developed. Now in one sense what Jesus was bringing was not radically new because it was really a continuation from the true Old Testament teaching and religion. The problem is that when we as people get a hold of the truth, over time we add our own traditions to it. We add our own bits of culture and adjust it to our different comfort levels. And so we finally have our version of something that may not look a lot like it was originally intended to be – and that was true of the Judaism of Jesus’ day. And he was telling them, “Look, I’m not going to fit into your system, I can’t fit into your system. I’m bringing something new. I want to bring you new life, not just a patch to the old religious system, but something new in your relationship with God and you’re going to miss it if you just try to fit me into the old mold.”

Well, that was true of first century Judaism, but what about today? I mean, we’re all good Christians, right? We come and we worship at a wonderful church and these shouldn’t be issues for us, right? Or should they?

Is God doing a new thing here at Central? Or maybe better, does God want to do a new thing here at Central? And are we ready for it? Are we open to even seeing the new thing he wants to do?

This weekend the elders and deacons are going to be meeting with Paul Borden, a church consultant – in fact, one of the most respected church consultants in the nation. We’re going to be talking about the results that he has found both from the survey that we took a few weeks ago, as well as from other studies we have done and from focus groups that are meeting later this week. He is going to share with us, to the best of his ability, what the Lord might be saying to us, as he looks at who we are and what are some areas that God may want to do something different in our midst.

Are we going to be open to what he has to say? It’s really a good question, because most of us are pretty comfortable here, aren’t we. We like Central, we like the way things are. That’s why we keep coming. Do we really want change?

Remember Dr. Bilezikian, who challenged us with a biblical vision of what true Christian community is? Now the good thing is that we here at Central are already doing a number of those things. But if you were here during many of his sessions, you realized we’re doing a good job on some of them, but there are a lot of places where we need to grow. Those areas of growth are only going to happen if we’re willing to change and to give up some things. Community only happens when we are willing to give up a little bit or maybe a lot of our individuality, my individual rights, what I deserve, because I subordinate my perceived rights in order that others might be blessed. And that’s a hard thing for us Americans to do. Are we willing even to change our schedules for the sake of developing Christian community? Even to change sometimes, heaven forbid, the structure of how we’re organized if somehow that structure hinders true Christian community.

Are we open to the new thing God wants to be doing here?

What about, and I know I may step on some toes here, but how about a third worship service? Now I know most folks here at 11:00 are thinking, “Ah, we have plenty of room, you know we’re comfortably full, but no need for a third service.” But really, it’s at 8:30 that we have bulging seams and where visitors can no longer find a place to sit, especially if there are 2 or 3 together. The question is, as a congregation, are we willing to move in the direction of doing the new thing that God wants to do here? Now I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like. But some important questions are being raised – such as, if God’s new thing means changing some times around, am I willing? Or am I going to let time of day prevent God from doing his work? What if God wants a third service to look different than anything we’ve done before? To reach out to a segment of society that maybe we haven’t been able to yet? You know we hired Greg to reach out to young adults and college students. Well, do we have a service that really caters to them? That fits with their preferences and lifestyle? Good Question.

You see, we all get comfortable where we are. We get comfortable with the time we come to worship. We get comfortable with the style of worship that we like. Are we willing to rearrange a few things if it’s the new thing that God has for us? Or are we going to say, “Maybe not. We’d rather just stay as we are, Let God use another church.” Now I know that’s not what most of you are thinking, although it’s the natural way for us to think, isn’t it?

The point is, we have a mission statement that says, “Moving people towards Christ,” and that mission really does control us as a congregation and it controls the leadership as we try to make decisions. It ought to control all of us, because it comes from scripture.

You know, I think Henry Ford was probably reflecting the sentiments of Jesus Christ when he said, “I’m looking for a lot of people who have an infinite capacity to not know what cannot be done.” I think that’s the kind of people Jesus is looking for. People who won’t say, “Oh, it can’t be done,” or “We’ve never done it that way,” but who will say, “Hey, anything’s possible. If the Lord is with us, let’s give it a shot.”

But you know this whole thing of old and new, new wineskins, old wineskins, has more to do than just with us as a church, but also as individuals. You see often in our spiritual life, we use Jesus, or we are tempted to use Jesus, like a patch. Some part of life isn’t going quite right and so we get out the emergency patch kit called Jesus. And we suddenly begin to pray more, but, of course, only for that particular part of life we want Jesus to change. Not the other parts we are comfortable with, you understand. Or maybe we have a relationship that’s gone bad, or a marriage that’s experiencing difficulty, and so we say, “How can I bring Jesus to bear on this particular problem, but he doesn’t necessarily need to mess with any other part of life.”

You see, often we seek to use Jesus as a Band-Aid, as a patch. We want to keep the old garment; we just want the new patch. But that’s not the way Jesus works. You see Jesus wants to bring us something new, he wants to bring us new life, abundant life. And if we just use Him as a patch, then all we’re really doing is looking for techniques to make our old life feel better, when what Jesus really wants for us is a new life. Not just so that we’re satisfied with it not falling apart, but life abundant. Joyful life in his presence filled with his new wine. Which leads us to a second problem and that is we often say “I want Jesus in all of my life and not just a patch. I want more than a patch. I want all of new life and I want his new wine to fill me and fill me with joy.” The problem is we’ve kept the old wineskin of our life. We’ve kept all of our same priorities and perspectives on life. We still relate to people the same way . We still think of ourselves the same way, except I now have a new veneer of new wine, of newness. But Jesus wants to come in and change all of us.

Right now many of you might be tuned into the NCAA basketball championships. You know: March Madness, the Road to the Final Four – although, since my team got knocked out in the second round, I couldn’t care less nowadays – and condolences to the Duke fans who were knocked out early as well.

When you think NCAA Basketball, John Wooden comes to mind. He was one of the most famous Basketball coaches on the college level. He was at UCLA when they won several National Championships. But you know what was interesting, after he won his first national championship, he took his offensive strategy – his offensive game plan that he used for years, the game plan that got him the National Championship – and you know what he did? He scrapped it completely. Got rid of it and developed a totally new game plan. Do you know why he did that? Because of the presence of one person – no not Jesus – Lewis Alcindor, who we know as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He came to UCLA to play, and in order to take advantage of his unique gifts and abilities, John Wooden scrapped his offense and totally reworked it. Wooden developed a totally new strategy to capitalize on the gifts that this one man brought to the team

Now you and I aren’t on a basketball team – we’re in real life – but the same question comes to us; there is one person that has entered into the game for us, he’s on our team, and the question is, “Are we willing to scrap what’s brought us to this point and develop something totally new to take advantage of what this Jesus Christ brings to light?”

You see we often get comfortable in our ways. They’ve brought us a certain measure of success. But what if taking Jesus’ new game plan would give us a life that is even better. Isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth leaving behind the old garment, the old wineskin, and allowing Jesus to really change us? To be open to the new thing that he wants to do in us, both as individuals as well as a church? May God give us the grace to be open to the new thing that God wants to do.

Let’s pray together:

Lord, we do thank you, that you sent your Son Jesus Christ to bring us new life. Oh Lord, we recognize that that new life comes at a cost and the cost is our old life. Lord, as individuals and as church give us, through your Holy Spirit, the strength and the courage to live out the new things that you desire for us. And Lord, use us to encourage one another to greater faithfulness as we walk this path with you. For we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen