Sunday, March 24, 2013

Joy in the Shadows - Luke 5: 33-39

We in southern California are blessed to have so much sunshine…and so when the sun is obscured by days of gloomy clouds, we truly long for the sun to return.  My dear cousin from Oregon always arrives in shorts and flip flops no matter what time of year it is…because he and his family hope for warm, clear skies.  For me one of the most beautiful sights to behold is the sun…piercing the clouds after a rainy day; the rays of light illuminating the earth and sea like heavenly searchlights.  On this Passion Sunday I want us to think together about the light of joy…joy in the shadows.   

In Luke 5:33-39 we hear Jesus speak for the first time of his suffering and death…but it happens in the most unexpected moment: it happens at a joyous dinner party.  Then [the Pharisees] said to him, "John's disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink." Jesus said to them, "You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (33-35)

i. In the shadow of the cross, Jesus knew the joyous gift that cannot be taken away. (33-35) Jesus has just called Levi, a tax collector to follow him.  At that time, Levi throws a great dinner party for Jesus and invites all of his tax-collector-friends.  The Pharisees and Scribes complain to his disciples.  For them, the proper response to sinners was separation…not compassion.  But Jesus reminded them that he came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance; that the Kingdom was like a party to which sinners and hurting people alike were invited.   Can we think of a sinner, a sickness, or an outcast that Jesus would have distanced himself from or turned his back on? More likely he would have turned toward them, with his healing touch, his forgiveness, and the call to repentance and faith in him.

The religious leaders again questioned him.  “Why do you not fast and pray like John’s disciples instead of eating and drinking with such people?”  What we need to understand is that these men were fasting and praying to hasten the coming of the Kingdom.  They did not yet understand that Jesus announced the Kingdom and that in Him the words of Isaiah were being fulfilled: good news was being preached to the poor, captives were being released, the blind could see again, and the oppressed set free!  The point being…The Kingdom is at hand, so now is the time to rejoice!  Jesus used the picture of a wedding feast.  Everyone knew that you didn’t fast at a wedding feast; you enjoyed the food, you rejoiced with the happy couple; but the problem was Jesus was keeping company with the wrong kind of people and so….

As Jesus spoke these words, he saw the stern disapproval in their faces.  That’s when he continued, “The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”  He foresaw the rejection of his message and ministry in their faces.  He foresaw his own sacrificial death.  The day would come when he would be taken away.  The day would come when he would be betrayed by one of his own disciples and deserted by the very ones with whom he was now celebrating.  The day would come when he would be falsely arrested, flogged and crucified like a criminal, treated worse than any tax gatherer or common “sinner.” The day would come when he would suffer and die on a Roman cross…but that could not take away the joy of this day nor his power to love and forgive on that dark day. Why would anyone reject such joy or the man who embodied it?

ii. Why some cannot receive the gift that Jesus brings. (36-39) [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.(36) To put it another way: many people are prepared to patch their old ways with some of Jesus. They’re willing to take bits and pieces of him and stitch them into the fabric of their old ideas where they have become threadbare.  But what tailor would ever try that?  Who would cut a piece from a brand new suit and use it to patch an old worn out one?  My words and ways, says Jesus, are meant to be a total replacement, not just a convenient patch when our old ways aren’t working out very well.

Jesus continues: 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. (37) These are the ones who want to have all of Jesus provided they can keep all of their old ways too.  In the ancient world, grape juice was fermented in animal skins.  The CO2 generated by the fermentation process would stretch the skins which is why new wine was always placed in new, flexible skins.  Jesus warns that the brittle “wineskins” of our old beliefs/habits can’t contain the “new wine” that he brings. 

And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, "The old is good.'"  (39). That is, some prefer their old ways to any part of Jesus.  His point here is not that some think their old ways are “better” but that they are “good enough” and don’t even want to taste the new.  It’s a refusal to even try Jesus’ words and ways or admit that they have any merit at all.

But what does Jesus mean when he says that “new wine” must be placed into “new wineskins”The Greek word kainos conveys more than simply “chronologically new” (If that were true then only the physically young could follow Jesus).  No, kainos  means “newly-invented, remarkable or previously unknown.”  When Jesus says that his wine must be put into fresh wineskins 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 that new vessel can even be a tired old heart that comes to him in repentant humility, and is transformed by his grace.  A “new wineskin” is growing and changing as Jesus fills us with more of himself; growing in the knowledge of his word and ways, growing in compassion for others: the poor and the sick, those have been treated unjustly, who feel unloved, forsaken, lost and lonely and running from God.  Again, it is not separation from “sinners” that defines Jesus’ followers, but compassion.

iii. The secret of the gift and why any who will may receive it. (35) But here is the secret of the gift of Jesus’ “new wine.”  We can’t make ourselves into “new wineskins” – No!  The “new wine” makes our “old wineskins” new!  “For if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come.”  (1 Cor. 5: 17). “I have a friend” Henri Nowen once described, “a friend who radiates joy, not because his life is easy, but because he habitually recognizes God's presence in the midst of all human suffering, his own as well as others'. ... My friend's joy is contagious. The more I am with him, the more I catch glimpses of the sun shining through the clouds. Yes, I know there is a sun, even though the skies are covered with clouds. While my friend always spoke about the sun, I kept speaking about the clouds, until one day I realized that it was the sun that allowed me to see the clouds.”

Let us remember on this Passion Sunday that the light of the Son has pierced the clouds of sin and sadness; that Jesus invited us to experience true joy even as he stood in the shadow of the cross; that in Him there is no sin or sickness, no evil or injustice, no failure or disappointment, not even the shadow of death itself, that can take us away from God’s joyous Kingdom or his love. 

King Jesus, in the shadow of the cross, You showed us the joyous gift of the Kingdom of God that no sadness or sorrow can defeat; the joyous reality of Your sacrificial love that bore our sin and turns our mourning into dancing: “Surely, You have born our grief and carried our sorrow. For You were wounded for our transgressions, and upon You was the chastisement that made us whole.”  Responding to Your sacrifice we turn from everything we know is wrong. We honor, bless, and praise Your holy name. We thank You for bearing our sins upon the cross, for offering us forgiveness and the fullness of Your Spirit.  We ask You now to come as Savior and cleanse us; to come as Lord, and take control of us, that we might serve You with Your other disciples, forever.  Amen!

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