New Wineskins - Theme Interpretation
Delivered April 2010 at the Louisiana Fellowship Spring Meeting
Part 1- Wine in Cana
Chris Thacker, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Alexandria, LA
The wine market in those days was very competitive. This was wine country, after all. What else would you expect? It wasn't easy to carve out a name in that market. Every vineyard was trying to get an edge...
Ernest and Julio Galilee
They had been reading all the latest scrolls on the Jerusalem Times non-fiction bestseller list, and they learned that success really came down to branding. That's what mattered. And branding meant wineskins. People don't buy the wine... they buy the brand... the package.
Some of the established vineyards proudly displayed their distressed wineskins. Had them emblazoned with a date... Established in 355 BC. This was the original. First winery in the region. When all the startups are gone... we'll still be here. That was their motto.
And there were plenty of new vineyards. Some were founded by vinedressers who grew dissatisfied where they used to work. Some were founded by dreamers who wanted to see their vision come to fruition. They sold their product in new wineskins... new and improved. Not so heavy. Lighter material. BPA free so there weren't any dangers.
And the wine was marketed to all types...
Samson's Club sold a wineskin so large that you could keep half the stock from your cellar in it. They called it 40 Days of Purple.
There was wine for the religious folks – Vine is the Kingdom.
There was wine for the artists – a little moody so it had to be served at just the right temperature.
Wine for for families – it came with a bonus sippy-cup.
Wine for those on the go – the original camel pack.
Some of the old companies tried to package their wine and make it look new. They even gave it a new name. And some of the new companies tried to package theirs and make it look old. Retro... real vintage stock.
But a good winetaster didn't care about the packaging. He could tell the difference in wine because he knew the substance.
There was the one guy in Cana … great winetaster. He used to work all the weddings. One day, these two local kids were getting hitched, and the whole town was there. And they had all kinds of wine. Families were expected to have a lot of wine because the weddings lasted for days.
In order to pull off the event, the host family would scrimp for months. This was their responsibility in the ancient world... a world where hospitality was a sacred duty. To run out of wine would be a slap in the face of the entire village. It was a shameful act, the kind that could scar a host’s reputation.
Besides the shame, running out of wine was just such a bad omen. The Rabbis said, “Without wine there is no joy.” Wine represented the best of God’s blessing, and that’s why it needed to flow freely at a wedding.
The point wasn’t to encourage drunkenness... which was a disgrace. The point was to celebrate a future -- like a toast to the new couple’s happiness. A bride would have serious concerns about her married life if the wine ran out at her wedding.
You probably know that they were all out of wine in Cana that day. And you probably know what happened. Jesus worked a miracle... the very first one we know of. Water into wine. And the wine master was stunned because this was the best wine in the house.
And as readers, we are let in on the secret that there's something very different about this wine. The gospel writer tells us that it happened on the third day. And you can just see the author winking at us. Third day. This is a story of a new and risen life. The writer also tells us that this wedding party is where Jesus' glory was revealed – his “doxa”. Jesus couldn't stand to see the party end... couldn't stand to see the joy run out for this young couple... and all these folks gathered. It wasn't the wineskins that made it special. It was that glory... doxa. That was the secret ingredient, opening eyes so that all can see something true.
I can tell you about the best pizza I've ever had. I was a junior in high school and had my drivers license. On Friday afternoons after the pep rally, me and a few buddies on the football team would drive over to the county seat before we had to report back at the field house. We would load up in my mom's Crown Victoria... put in a tape of our favorite music. We sang all the lyrics... or shouted the lyrics... the whole way. We waved at girls we saw on the road and let the road set us free.
We would pull into the parking lot of the Pizza Hut. I remember what we ordered. Canadian Bacon and Sausage on thick crust with extra cheese. This was before any concerns of cholesterol, you know. Dr. Peppers all around. We told stories. Told lies. Laughed like we had never laughed before. There shouldn't have been anything special about the pizza. It was just a big chain restaurant. I doubt the ingredients were fresh. I wonder what was in that pizza?
My wife can tell you all about the best hotdogs she ever had. It's when she was growing up and her family would go to the lake. Cousins and siblings all swimming. The sun shining down. Splashing in the water like it was baptism Sunday.
They would open up the cooler and get out the hot dogs bought on special at the supermarket. Nothing special about them really. But when they came off that lakeside barbecue pit, they tasted better than any hot dog in the world. I wonder what was in those hotdogs?
I've got a friend who can tell you about the best cookies she ever tasted. She and her family took these cross-country road trips when she was a child. Just the four of them on the great American highway. When they grew hungry, they just pulled into the nearest rest stop along the road. That's when they opened up the cooler and feasted on whatever they found inside. Cookies were the standard for dessert. Generic cookies bought in bulk... as basic as cookies get. But they tasted better than blue ribbon pastries from the greatest bakery. I wonder what was in those cookies?
I wonder what was in those hotdogs?
I wonder what was in that pizza?
I'm still not sure. But I know this much... whatever it was, it must have been the same stuff that was in that wine in Cana. Amen.
Part 2- When Wineskins Break
Remember back in high school when you went to youth camp with your church? You were just a teenager at the time, and it was the greatest experience ever. You loved every part of it. God was powerful and real... in worship and Bible study – even in those messy games at rec time. And something happened inside of you. You thought, “I want to keep coming back here every year because this is where God lives.” Then 10 years later, you returned as a sponsor, full of anticipation and excitement. But it wasn't the same. Nothing spoke to you. What happened? The wineskin broke.
Remember when someone gave you that book about faith? So much was happening spiritually in your life – all the questions you were asking, all the seeking and conversation and discernment. You poured over that text... underlining passages, highlighting entire paragraphs, talking about it with anyone who would listen. Several years down the road, you noticed the book on the shelf. And when you flipped through the pages, it just didn't speak any more. You wondered how you ever got so much out of reading this. What happened? The wineskin broke.
That's what wineskins do. They break. They aren't supposed to last forever because they aren't the real prize. When wineskins do their job, they help make the important stuff accessible. They give us a language... a frame of understanding. Wineskins provide us with a way of seeing and knowing.
There are all kinds of wineskins in this experience of faith – different wineskins for different seasons of life. The “name it and claim it” movement is a wineskin. Views on biblical interpretation can be a wineskin.
There are plenty of wineskins with worship. You might say, “Our church is liturgical.” Or contemporary. Emergent. Contemplative. While we have good and faithful reasons for doing what we do in worship, the sense of identity we take from them is just a wineskin.
Do you remember when a wineskin broke? Remember what it felt like? What it felt like you were losing?
Maybe when you sat in that OT survey class... so convinced about the certainty of the Pentateuch... and you learned about JEDP for the first time? I remember being in Greek class as a college sophomore. I honestly believed my professor was going to hell. He didn't seem to embody anything of a true Christian leader. That same professor later did my wedding. A wineskin was breaking for me.
Or maybe it happened for you the first time you heard the Word of the Lord... and it really was the Word... proclaimed from female lips. And it didn't line up with where you were. But it was blessed. That was the wineskin breaking.
Maybe it was when you had to make a big decision, and your old tried-and-true method of flipping open the scriptures for a random verse just didn't work. Or maybe it was when you were ministered to by someone you thought was going to ask you for spare change. Maybe it was when a prayer was answered in a completely unexpected way. Maybe it was when you felt the first great loss in your life... and the wound never healed. Maybe it was when your assumptions about someone else fell apart.
Several years ago, my wife and I went to visit her parents 6 hours away. While we were there, my wife's grandmother died, and the family asked me to do the funeral. I didn't have anything to wear, and I couldn't imagine making a 12 hour round trip to get one of my suits. I also didn't have the money to buy a new one. So my mother-in-law suggested that I ask her local pastor if I could borrow a suit. I thought that was a horrible idea. Her pastor and I run in completely different circles theologically. We are as different as two pastors can be. We each have the other pegged as someone who just doesn't get what ministry is all about.
I decided to humor her by giving the minister a call. And wouldn't you know that he just happened to wear a 44 regular. And wouldn't you know that he wore a size 9-and-a-half shoe.
I went to his house and stood there at his closet door as he handed me his nicest suit... his nicest pair of shoes... his nicest white dress shirt. He was as kind and generous as anyone could have been. And in that moment I thought, “You just don't get to peg people so easily.” A wineskin broke.
Whenever the wineskin breaks, it feels like you're losing your faith. Inevitably, you'll try to put everything back together. You'll reach for what's familiar... for what worked in the past. Eventually you realize that wineskins are supposed to break. And when they do, it's not really faith that you're losing; it's just the way you hold that faith.
We would do well to remember that every old wineskin was once new. And every new wineskin of tomorrow eventually becomes an old wineskin. What remains constant is that simple and steady purpose – offering access to the wine of new life.
And maybe the breaking wineskin isn't the worst thing in the world. Some might say that we never grow up without a few broken wineskins. Some might even say that broken wineskins are at the heart of God's mission in the world. When the container breaks and the wine spills, maybe then a people dying of thirst can drink deeply of what matters most. Amen.
Chris Thacker is Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria.