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Sunday, February 12, 2017

new wine

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins. (Mark 2:18-22)

All too often I find that the new life God is trying to grow within me simply will not fit into the same old containers I try to put it in.  The life of the Spirit is dynamic, not static, and our practice should be the same.  Oh that is not to say that old practices aren't useful in the life of the Spirit, because they definitely are.  In fact, some of the best ancient practices have not been practiced for so long that they have a lot of new life to them. 

What Jesus seems to be saying here is that our practice should always be determined by the life and movement of the Spirit, not vice versa.  The practices of the faith (or the spiritual disciplines, or means of grace, or whatever you want to call them) are intended to make space for the Spirit to move, not to constrict or control it.  Therefore, it seems that our spiritual practice must be constantly adapted to what God is doing in our souls and in our community.  Holding on to old, lifeless, duty-filled, performance-based forms of spiritual practice (as in Mark 2:18-22) does not give the room that the new, vibrant, growing, expansive, spacious work of the Spirit requires for the current season.  And when we hold on to ritual, simply for the sake of ritual, it is like putting new wine in old wineskins.  When we are hell-bent on always having to do the same old things the same old ways, the soul actually begins to shrivel and die.  It becomes more about what we do than about what He does.  Not that these practices and rituals are always bad, there will probably be a season in the future where they will serve us well once again--or should I say where they will serve God well as he does his work within us.  Therefore, we must constantly examine our souls and our practice to try and make the best possible space within us for the Spirit of God to do his work. 

What is the state of your soul these days?  What is God's Spirit doing within you?  What is the state of your current practice?  Is it producing good fruit?  Is it making good space for the growth that is going on within you?  If not, what will make good space for the movement of God's Spirit in your heart and life?  And how will you make those things a part of your normal rhythm and practice?

I also wonder if this parable might not contain a vocational truth as well.  I wonder if there are times when the beautiful things that God is doing and growing within us (the new wine) do not adequately match the vocation (old wineskins) we currently find ourselves in.  A new season of our soul has arrived, and God is doing a new and beautiful thing.  But this old container is not sufficient to give room to the expansive work that God desires to do.  A new container is required; one that is big enough to hold, and give room to, all that God longs to do in and through us.  Unfortunately, letting go of the old and comfortable in favor of the new and unknown takes a whole lot of faith and even more courage.  Fear keeps us trying to pour our new wine into an old skins, but it simply will not fit. 

At the very least this parable calls us to continual awareness and reflection.  Awareness of what the Spirit of God us up to, both within us and around us.  And an reflection on our current spiritual practice (or vocation) and how (or if) that practice is giving us the space our soul needs for the growth and expansive nature of this new wine. 

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