Preached FCCW, June 4, 2017
I have a friend whom I love dearly, despite the fact that she can be kind of a wine snob.
To be fair, that opinion has almost nothing to do with any actual snobbery on her part and everything to do with my own sense of inadequacy when it comes to my lack of sophistication around wine.
She uses words like fruity, oaky, or robust to describe the nuances of what her taste buds are experiencing as she sips a Merlot or a Cabernet.
Meanwhile, the response of my palate is limited to a simple “like/don’t like” reaction.
To her credit, if she sees through my wine ignorance, she is gracious enough not to call me on it.
I get the impression though, that some of the eyewitnesses to the events of the first Christian Pentecost were less gracious wine snobs than my friend.
Pentecost was the day when Jesus’ promise that after he returned to his Father the Holy Spirit would come upon his disciples was fulfilled with a rushing wind and bursts of supernatural fire.
Those fired up, filled up with the Spirit, disciples took to the streets of Jerusalem carrying on about God’s Kingdom and Jesus and salvation with anyone who would listen.
Even though listening, or at least understanding, what they were saying, should have been nearly impossible.
Pentecost was one of the three major Jewish religious festivals, so on that day Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from all over the world, along with Gentile converts to Judaism, each speaking the languages of the lands they came from.
The crazy thing was, they all heard the disciples speaking fluently in the tongues of their homelands.
They began to ask each other, “Wait a minute. Aren’t these guys Galileans?”
I guess Galileans had a reputation for not being sophisticated linguists.
And not very polished wine enthusiasts, either.
Some people dismissed the miraculous goings on by sneering and saying,
“They are drunk on new wine.”
I’m not certain what “new wine” is exactly, but my gut tells me it’s neither “robust” nor “oaky.”
Because when you combine the words “wine” and “sneer” in the same sentence you are speaking in the mother tongue of wine snobbery.
But, even I know that the quality of wine improves with age.
And, if that is true, than the opposite must also be true.
That new wine is wine that has not aged, which is another way of saying it’s the cheap stuff.
Like Muscatel or Boone’s Farm.
The kind of wine that you’d expect a bunch of low class Galileans in the big city to celebrate the holiday to be drinking.
But, “new wine” can mean other things.
Jesus once told a parable that was about new wine.
He said that new wine cannot be stored in old wineskins, or the wineskins would burst.
The new wine he was talking about was wine that had not had the time to ferment into alcohol.
The old wineskins would have been skins that had lost their elasticity with age.
If you filled an old wineskin with this kind of new wine, there would be no place for the gases produced by the fermenting of the grapes to go.
Sooner or later, the pressure of the expanding gas would explode the old wineskins and spill the wine on the ground.
It’s likely that Jesus used this parable as a commentary on the inflexibility of the religious leaders who opposed him.
The religion they lived by could not be stretched to accommodate the expanding understanding of God, righteousness and salvation with which he was confronting them.
“You can’t put new wine in old wineskins” was like a first century version of the UCC slogan, “Never put a period where God had placed a comma.”
In other words, when people try to contain God’s Spirit, something has to give.
There are still lots of people walking around today with old wineskins when it comes to their relationship to the Church that had its birth on that Pentecost in Jerusalem.
Unlike the pilgrims in Jerusalem who were able to hear what the Holy Spirit was saying to them, they are locked into narrow religious perspectives that reinforce their old assumptions.
They sneer at the suggestion that the Spirit is calling them to openness and personal transformation.
Others are burdened by old wineskins bursting with judgmental words from Christians who told them they were unloved by God and unwelcome in Christ’s Church.
They have never been addressed with words soaked in the new wine of grace and acceptance.
It was new wine that Jesus shared with his disciples at the Last Supper.
He poured it into a cup, blessed it and gave it to them, calling it the cup of the New Covenant in his blood.
The cup of forgiveness. The cup of acceptance.
Every so often in the Bible, someone has something to say to someone else that’s intended as a put-down, but that, without their realizing it, speaks a holy truth about them instead.
Like when the soldiers who crucified Jesus hailed him “King of the Jews” to mock him, not knowing that it was in fact the King of Kings who they crowned with thorns.
When some of the “old wineskin crowd” sneered at the “ignorant Galileans” who were making a spectacle of themselves
as they boisterously witnessed about Jesus,
and said they were filled with “new wine”– they meant it in a snobbish way.
But, they had no idea of the truth of their words.
For that is exactly what those disciples were.
They were filled with the new wine of the Holy Spirit.
That new wine burst the disciples’ old wineskins to smithereens, so that it flowed through the streets of Jerusalem on tongues that spoke words which transcended even the language barriers on that day, and sparked a holy fire in the hearts of those who received it.
Pentecost is popularly referred to as the birthday party of the Church.
But, it’s not a party if there is no wine.
Or, more correctly, it’s not a party if there is no new wine.
At its best, worship should be a “Happy Hour.”
A time to get inebriated on the Spirit that God pours out as freely on us as He did on those Galileans.
So that, filled with new wine, we too can speak the words of grace and peace that the world around us needs to hear.
© 2017 Raymond Medeiros