“And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. . . . That place was called the Wadi Eshcol, because of the cluster that the Israelites cut down from there”. (Numbers 13.23-24)
These two verses are from the account of the Israelites spying out the Promised Land soon after their exodus from Egypt. Twelve spies were sent into the land for forty days. Two returned—Joshua and Caleb—with the large cluster of grapes, along with positive reports of what they found. The other ten came back with reports of doom and gloom about the new land. Their report ultimately resulted in the forty-year wandering in the desert. The account in Numbers places the blame at the ten spies’ lack of faith in God’s instructions/promises of hope. (Numbers 14.30)
I was reminded of this account this morning when I read Jesus's well-known saying about wine and wineskins (Mark 2.21-22). My “go-to” interpretation of the saying "You have to put new wine in new wineskins” (v. 22) has to do with a new group of folks accepting Jesus’ “new” teaching. But this morning, what occurred to me (and why I thought about the Israelites and their delayed entry into the Promised Land) is that “new wineskins” might just as easily be interpreted as a new context. That is, with regard to the story from Numbers, the Promised Land was a “new wineskin”. The Israelites had, for generations, become accustomed to one way of being (i.e., as slaves in Egypt), and weren’t “suitable” for the new land. “New wine” had to be made for the “new wineskin”. And so, the Israelites had to wander for forty years two generations until those who left Egypt had all died, and a new generation—new wine—had arisen.
I think we’ve all heard tales both of the “good ol’ days”, as well as the criticisms of the “new society”. I hear in them, a longing for the "old wine" (and there’s nothing wrong with fine aged wine), but also a critique of the “new wineskins” (and some new barrels CAN impart bizarre flavor to a developing wine). But I think we can take Jesus’s admonition to put new wine into new wineskins as a challenge for us to accept our current situation and develop new strategies for addressing its opportunities. For example, “new wineskins” may mean demographic changes, technological changes, societal changes.
We, at Good Shepherd, are on the borders of some new “lands". And it will take the imaginations of all of us to develop “new wine” for these "new wineskins”! Several examples will be apparent in the early weeks of August!
As we start our budgeting process for 2020, we’re working to ensure our budget is aligned with our values and dreams! Using information that we’ve gathered over the last year, we’ll be giving the congregation’s members an opportunity to signal their support of these values. This conversation will be about both "new wineskins" and "new wine"!
We’ve decided that the “new wineskin” of youth sports is a given, And rather than try to pour the “old wine” of forcing people to make a choice between church and sports (as if one is “good” and the other “less-than-good”), we’ll embrace the values of sports, and seek to find a “new wine” for that wineskin. The conversation will begin on August 11 (see article below).
We have a new bishop in the Rt. Rev. Kym Lucas. She brings a new energy and vision to the Episcopal Church in Colorado; she is helping create a “new wineskin” for us. What “new wine” might we develop with her? THAT conversation will receive new focus when she visits on August 18 (see article below).
I often say: “It’s all about joy!”, and “It’s all good”, and “Let’s change the narrative, and tell a new story!” To those, I can add: “Time for the new wine in the new wineskins!” We don’t want to wander for forty years!
PS: You’ll note that in Jesus’s sayings about wine and wineskins, he never says anything BAD about old wine or old wineskins; he just points out how they're different from their newer counterparts!