When I was a kid, there was always a man waiting inside the church’s double doors. I knew he would be wearing a Christian t-shirt with something about the rapture, and he would be shouting, “Abby, are you on fire for Jesus today?” As he jumped up and down he’d yell, “I’ve been born again, have you been born again? Tell me you’re born again!”
I was horrified.
If being born again meant I would be yelling weird things at people while wearing a tacky t-shirt, I wasn’t interested.
It all made me feel very uncomfortable. Very early on I heard, witnessed and experienced Christian lingo being misused, abused or used to abuse. For awhile I’ve thought it’s time to start over. We need new words, new phrases, a new branding. A new way.
There’s a story Jesus tells in Mark about wine and wineskins. He likens what he’s doing (bringing the Kingdom of God) to the fermentation of wine. The legs and tail of a goat were cut off, the holes stitched up to make a wineskin, and the wine was poured in. Once the skin was filled with the new wine, the neck was tied off and carbon dioxide was released. The fermentation would expand the skin. Once the skin reached it’s capacity, that was it. It couldn’t be reused. Old wineskins could not be reused to store new wine because they had already expanded to their limit.
No one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Pouring the new wine into an old skin would completely burst the skin, spilling and wasting the new wine.
What Jesus was doing, expanding God’s kingdom, could not fit into the ways of thinking that the early first-century people thought. They needed to think bigger, differently, to get new wineskins for the new wine he was bringing to them.
Jesus was announcing his kingdom, saying that God was doing something in a new way. Something different was coming to birth and it was different from anything that had ever happened before. It was powerful and explosive, and it was pouring out!
Jesus also likens it to putting new cloth to patch old fabric. In doing so, you ruin the new cloth and tear the old fabric worse than it was torn before. It’s as if you’ve been given an entire new piece of denim to create a new pair of jeans, and you’re insistent that you can just use it to patch holes on your ratty old jeans.
Of course, those old jeans are comfortable. They’re broken in. They fit just right, hugging and giving in all the right places. They know you’re body well. It’s easier to try and tweak things here and there. To try to cover up the holes…
This is why we talk about being born again. It’s another way of saying that you cannot keep putting on those old jeans. You cannot drag some things into the future with you. Some things have to stay behind. Maybe they were fun. Maybe they were useful. Maybe they were even good.
But you have to look forward and ask yourself where is God moving and how in the world do you get to that place? This isn’t about youth or age. Innocence or experience. It’s about willingness to be renewed and to accept what God wants to pour in to us and sew on to us.
There isn’t anywhere in the Old Testament that God simply sits back and is content with his people as they cling to history and tradition. There also isn’t anywhere in the New Testament where the Church is told just to sit back and reminisce about the way things were. God is moving.
God will continue to move in new ways that outpace us. God is always faster than us, more creative than us, and always a step ahead of us.
God wants you to let go of the old wineskins. To let go of that old fabric. God is building a kingdom that cannot fit into the way that things have always been done. God is building a kingdom that is fresh and new and relevant and compelling and beautiful and God is using new fabric and materials and tools and he wants to make each one of us new so that we can be part of creating it.
God is doing something new. In me. In you. In our world.