Monday, August 9, 2010

Jesus for a New Generation

I've been thinking a lot about generations lately.  My dad is retiring for the second time in his career this month.  My daughters are on the brink of adolesence...Lisa and I just marked our 15th wedding anniversary, and last night we attended my 30th high school reunion...but more about that later.  Today, we hear a lot about the great divide between generations; and, in generational theory, there is a reason for this tension: each successive generation reacts to the preferences, excesses and problems of the previous generation.

I was born at the beginning of what Douglas Copeland coined, "Generation X" (b.1961-1980). The X Generation is marked by the cynical rejection of ideals...especially those of the Silent (b.1925-1942) and Boomer Generations (b.1943-1960) which believed in and preached many ideals.  What's interesting is that the generation to follow us, the Millenials (b.1982-2005), are rising and, according to a few theorists, they will be looking for one ideal above all the other competing ones to build a society on...much like the GI or Builder Generation (b.1901-1924) had to do as they confronted the terrors of the early 20th century. As a Christian, I find that very exciting...and a huge responsibility, because this is the generation of my own children. 

I'm not a fan of shock rock musician Marilyn Manson, but I found this quotation from an interview with Rolling Stone to be interesting commentary: “Resistance will always be the first thing to fuel the fire when you’re young. That’s how I learned about heavy metal music. They would have these seminars in Christian school saying, 'This is what you’re not supposed to listen to.' So I immediately went out and bought it.” By the way, the Bible nowhere declares that certain kinds of music are evil or immoral. Any kind of music can be used to praise God (the lyrics are another matter)….But my point is that rebellion and the rejection of authority is the hallmark of every generation. Remember the old Frank Sinatra song, “I did it my way?”

Enter Jesus of Nazareth who presents himself as the truly radical and revolutionary one. In The Story of the Wineskins (Luke 5: 33-39), he claims that what he is doing is a truly new thing, and that it will always be the new thing when compared to our old ways that lead to death. Speaking to some skeptical Pharisees (the religious professionals of Jesus' day), "[Jesus] told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed" (Luke 5: 36-37).

Jesus begins by talking about the problem of new wine in old wine skins (36-37). What Jesus is saying here is that just as old garments cannot be patched with new un-shrunk cloth, and just as new wine cannot be contained in old inflexible wineskins… so his message and ministry cannot be contained or received by an inflexible and unyielding heart that has rejected him as Messiah and Lord.  The context of this parable is a controversy with those religious leaders who continued to fast and pray for the coming of the kingdom, even though Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom was at hand, and that he was the Messiah they were praying for.  In their minds, Jesus and his disciples were doing too much eating and drinking with sinners, too much celebrating and not enough fasting to qualify as a genuine messianic movement. But Jesus explains parabolically, that the kingdom is at hand, and that now is the time to rejoice! You simply don’t fast at a wedding feast. The celebration has begun, and you are standing outside, says Jesus! These religious professionals were living in a by-gone era that was passing away.

Interesting. What was true 2000 years ago of the Pharisees’ generation continues to be true for current generations. When compared to Jesus, every generation is behind the times, out of step, and obsolete. Why? Because Jesus is always ahead of us, both morally and spiritually, calling us forward in the eternal kind of life.  But, you may ask: How can you say with any seriousness that my generation is outdated, out of step, or old fashioned when compared to a 2000 year old Jesus? We are the most progressive generation to ever walk this planet! Are we?  I would agree that recent generations have seen breathtaking changes in science, technology and culture, yet the fundamental problem of human sin remains unchanged, and the fundamental need for spiritual renewal remains the same. When compared to Jesus, there is no generation that is not in need of a radical reformation. 

A while back I saw an MTV broadcast while exercising at the gym. A panel of music “experts” was being asked to name their favorite rebel song. One song in particular got everyone’s approval...though the title escapes me right now.  What made it so popular? "It makes you want to go out and break things!" they said. I really started laughing at that point. Isn’t that just like human nature to equate “breaking things” and other kinds of mayhem with being a radical or rebellious. If what we read in the papers and hear about on TV is any clue “breaking things, people and relationships” is not radical, it’s the status quo.

Case in point, last week on CNN, author and former mistress Holly Hill was arguing that married couples should consider what she calls negotiated infidelity… where couples give permission to each other to have sexual liaisons for the good of the marriage. It was supposed to be a radical new idea…but it was really an old idea. It took a psychologist to bring some common sense to the discussion. “I think what's universal is that no one likes sharing partners -- whether you're male or female.” In other words, when we sin, people get hurt.... 

Which is why I maintain that Jesus is the only authentic revolutionary, the one who beckons each new generation to follow him in the eternal kind of life, the one who leads us in a revolution of self-giving love, of reconciliation and forgiveness, of faithfulness and holiness. Paul calls him “the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29)” or we might say, “the first born of a new generation” and he beckons us to join him. But how do we join this new generation of God’s people, of whom Jesus is the “first”? In v. 38, Jesus says that we must be like fresh wineskins for new wine. Now that’s good news if we feel like fresh wineskins, nice clean bottles, uncracked, without a scratch on us -- but what hope is there for those of us who feel morally and spiritually, and even physically stale, broken, and beat up?

Let’s look at the possibility of new wine in fresh wine skins (38). The key to understanding Jesus’ meaning is the word “fresh”. The Greek word kainos conveys more than simply “new” or “chronologically young” (If that were true then only the physically young or the morally perfect could receive Jesus’ message).  But in fact, kainos  means “newly-invented, remarkable or previously unknown.” It’s a word that appears often in the book of Revelation where God promises to every generation that one day he will make all things new, that we will live in the new Jerusalem, and that there we will receive a new name, and sing a new never before heard song.

When Jesus says that his wine must be put into fresh wineskins (kainos) he is talking about a miracle of the new creation -- the creation of a new kind of vessel that can hold his Spirit, his message and ministry, and be the means of sharing it with others. Ironically, that new vessel can even be a tired old heart, cracked and compromised, that comes to him in humility, and is transformed by his grace. Christ invites all of us, regardless of our present situation or moral condition…he invites us to follow him and allow him to do the new thing in us, the healing and transforming work that only he can do.

In this parable, Jesus began by awakening us to the problem of new wine in old wine skins (one doesn’t go with the other). He inspired us with the possibility that we could become fresh wine skins for the new wine of his Spirit. And finally - he promises that new wine to all who will taste it (39). Jesus ends this parable with an ironic phrase.  "And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, 'The old is good.'” (Luke 5: 39). Everyone knows that well aged wine is supposed to be better than new wine; and there’s a sense in which we instinctively gravitate toward old, familiar ways. But the irony is that – SURPRISE - Jesus is that new wine that is actually better than the old -- but which so many refuse to taste: what he offers to us is the cup of salvation, and that means new life to every generation!

As I said earlier, last night I went to my 30th high school reunion. We drove over to the Castaway restaurant in Burbank, California and took a step back into the past; and I have to say…I was a little nervous, but it was fun. It was fun to reconnect with people that I sat in class with…went to gym and dances with…and graduated with. But I’ve got to tell you…we had to keep looking at each other’s name tags (with our senior pictures on them) to jog our memories (you can see mine above). There are always a few awkward moments of course. “Oh yeah…I remember you now. What’s your name again? Boy it’s been a long time (as we look at each other's pictures) I mean a long time.” Or talking to that girl (or was is it two) who turned me down when I asked them to the prom.  My wife Lisa (who is a Marriage & Family Therapist) was a great sport. I warned her that she’d probably be working overtime at this party helping a bunch of middle aged teenagers and I think I was right.  Anyways, as a pastor it was a natural opportunity for people to also share with me about the role of faith in their lives. There were stories of disappointment or unfulfilled dreams (we all have those)…but I was also amazed at the number of people who I met who had a deep faith in Christ, or who had found the Lord after high school…whose church had sustained them with community and friendship, a faith that has stuck over three decades.

Jesus is truly the new wine that revives and redeems our wounded and worldly hearts. Every generation claims to be radical, rebellious, and revolutionary, but in the end what they share is a common struggle with sin and death, and a thirst for meaningful, purposeful life. We have been offered that life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus offers us this new wine, the cup of salvation to all who are willing to drink it. How then do we do receive it? How do we become the fresh vessels that can hold the precious gift he offers us?  Quite simply, we begin by asking his forgiveness for everything we have done wrong (we admit to him that we are aged, cracked and imperfect vessels). We commit ourselves to him as Lord and Savior of life (we ask him to heal us and make us whole); and finally, we ask him to pour into us the gifts and fruit of his Holy Spirit, that we might be empowered to walk as his faithful disciples.

Risen Savior, what unites us today, regardless of our background, age or generational ties, is that we confess you to be our life, our hope, and our salvation; the answer to our secret longings and deepest yearnings. We admit that we have sinned and turned away from You, failing others and abandoning our First Love. We thank You for showing us how to live; and for dying for us on the cross that we might be delivered from the power of evil. Forgive us and heal us, for You alone have the power to make us new…like strong, clean bottles for the fresh vintage wine of your Spirit. As you ate and drank with your disciples on the night of your arrest saying, “Do this in remembrance of me,” so we come to taste and to drink deeply of your mercy and grace today that we might be filled with your Holy Spirit, walk as you walk, and live faithfully for you in our generation, and for all eternity. Amen.

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