As we get started here today, I want to ask you a question or two.  How do you handle change?  Does just hearing that word “change” throw a little tension into your body this morning?  I want you to think about how you respond to change while I ask the next question.  Are you open to something new, or to new ideas?  How do you respond to new thoughts?  Now before you answer that question, I do want to remind you that I’ve lived in Dillsburg and small-town USA my whole life too.  This means that I know the outrage that we all felt when our beloved diner Baker’s changed ownership and remodeled their building!  I know the stress and push back our beloved coffee shop in town got for changing their hours!  I mean how dare they mess with us like that!   And on and on I could go…so take a moment and think about how you respond to change and new ideas.  In general change, and new concepts and ideas can be very challenging for us humans to accept and be open to…we get comfortable, we get into ruts and routines, and we don’t like change at times.  We truly are creatures of habit, and I think it’s fair to say, we humans really can struggle with and even fear change and new ideas.

Well, I will tell you an area of our lives where we really struggle with change and new thoughts, and that is in our faith, and spiritual lives.  If you want to really upset someone, just bring a new idea, or thought into their Spirituality or change something around their church.  One of the things that I find most fascinating about us humans and our faith is that what we are taught first and accept as our truth really locks in as our beliefs, and good luck trying to find or introduce new truths or concepts to us, one we decide what we believe!  I will tell you; this concept of change was one of the first lessons I learned here at MRC when I stepped into full time ministry.  I have told people if I wrote a book about my first year or two as a Pastor that book would be titled “Don’t Change Anything!”  You may laugh at that but think of the tension we all felt walking into the auditorium of our church a few weeks ago, only to find that the chairs were set up differently in here for the first time since we began meeting in this building!  And that was just the chairs, imagine the challenge of new ways of thinking, new ideas, and challenges to change things we grew up believing all our lives!  There is just something about change and new ideas around our faith, our beliefs, and churches that we struggle to be open to isn’t there?

You know I’ve watched this unfold throughout my life around the church.  From a young age I believed in the Gospel message, and the idea that we Christians are to engage the Mission of Christ sharing The Good News of Jesus with those who need His love and grace in their lives…because it is quite literally what the Bible calls us to do and I remember how painful and confusing it was when we moved to Mechanicsburg in the 80’s when my father took over Mechanicsburg BIC and wanted this small group of believers to stop focusing on themselves and to serve and help others, and really reach their community for Christ.  I wasn’t ready for the push back, the anger, and tension that asking people to actually live out the Bible could bring to a group of Christians who were comfortable hanging out with each other in a small church in a small town.  That was a real education for me.  It was so frustrating and confusing to watch.  But it was my first real lesson in dealing with religion and people and it wouldn’t be the last.  It’s been quite a journey for MRC over the last 20 years stepping into two very traditionally religious towns with this really crazy idea of simply being ourselves, living a life of love, while stripping away all the religious complexities to free people up to live out their faith.  The response has been wild, as we try to open people up to this “new” idea and concepts about their faith that could lead to so much freedom, and health, and joy in our lives…but frankly, we fight it, or because it’s opposite of what we have always done it confuses us and we can’t understand it.  The interesting thing is we can fight it, and struggle with it, even if it lines up with Scripture and even if we know deep down in our hearts that it is probably right and could lead us to so much health in our lives…it’s just so hard to accept or be open to change, and what ends up being a new thought or new idea to us.  So, I want you to think about this as we get started here today.  Think about change and new ideas, why are they so difficult?  How do you, personally, respond to change and new ideas?  This is an important question to think about as we dive into today’s Parable from Jesus which will address this very concept of new thoughts and ideas as those around Jesus struggled with the new thoughts and ideas that He was bringing to them.   But before we dive into that, I want us to take a moment and prepare our hearts for this teaching from Jesus.  Remember, Jesus told a lot of stories, and told us that He tells stories to create ready hearts, so that we can understand, receive, and live out the very life we should be living.

Matthew 13:12 Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. 13 That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. MSG

Let’s pray for ready hearts so we can be open to this teaching.

So, I started this talk today with some questions that may have made you feel a little uncomfortable because change and new ideas can be hard to accept and frankly can make us uncomfortable. I’m hoping that you are really personalizing that and thinking it all through as we dive into our Bible study today.  For most of this series we have been hanging out with Luke, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.  But today were heading to Matthew 9 and we will be looking at an interesting little parable about old cloth, new garments, and some wine skins that if you aren’t paying attention you could just read through and move on without grasping how significant this teaching really is…but before we dive into our Parable which we find in Matthew 9:16-17 we first need to understand the context of the teaching.  It is so important that we understand who Jesus is talking to and what He is responding to because it brings these parables to life!  The context is fascinating and for most of our Parables we have found an interesting pattern where many of them come out of very intense and confrontational type moments with the religious leaders of the time.  This is so fascinating and frankly makes us really villainize the religious leaders of that time because they oppose Jesus constantly…well, they do end up killing Him, so there is that…but today as we read Matthew 9, we start to maybe see things from their perspective a bit.  So, to find our context of this parable we simply need to move up the page of Matthew 9 and we find an interesting moment unfolding.  Jesus has just called Matthew to be one of His disciples, and Matthew is a tax collector which would be considered the scum of the Earth in those times, which of course really bugs the religious leaders who are watching Jesus’ every move, and then we see this interaction take place.

Matthew 9:14 One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?” NLT

What’s interesting is we also get Mark’s perspective on this same moment in Mark 2.

Mark 2:18 Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?” NLT

This isn’t the first time that one of John the Baptist’s disciples were struggling a bit with Jesus and what He was up to…in John we find a moment where John the Baptist’s disciples struggled over what they saw as competition between Jesus and John…and John the Baptist says something beautiful as he tries to open them up to what is really going on.

John 3:22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan — the one you testified about — well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” 27 To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.  NIV

I love verse 30 in the English Standard Version

John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” ESV

So what we are studying today is not the first time that John’s disciples have struggled with Jesus and his disciple’s and how they acted.  But now, we have John the Baptist in prison where he will eventually be beheaded and his disciples, I’m sure are very heavy hearted, and struggling a bit with where John is, but also still looking at Jesus and wondering why He and His disciples are not following all the same rules that the religious leaders, and John the Baptist followed.  Frankly, if you think about what he is asking Jesus, it’s not a bad question and really is part of the massive tension that the religious feel around Jesus!  He isn’t acting, living, or lining up with what they believe and have always done.  Jesus responds this way, which ironically is like how John the Baptist spoke of Jesus there in John…

Matthew 9:14 One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?”15 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. NLT

This is interesting, isn’t it?  John’s disciples want to know why Jesus and His disciples aren’t fasting and following the customs of the religious leaders and John the Baptist himself.  Then Jesus compares himself to the bridegroom, which is what John the Baptist did when they were comparing themselves and feeling a little competitive with Jesus and His disciples before!  Pretty incredible, isn’t it?  I want you to see this, in those days a wedding was a time of joy and festivity.  For a week after the wedding the party continued, and the bride and groom would be addressed as the queen and the king…it was a massive celebration.  So, with this one little illustration Jesus is showing us a couple of things.  First, he is saying that to be with Him, to be with Jesus is a time of joy and celebration!  Now think about it, this wasn’t a joyous time for John’s disciples because they are heartbroken over John’s imprisonment…but this is important to see!  Second, he is once again reminding his followers and all of us that being with Him is amazing, but there is a difficult journey ahead.  Jesus is heading to the cross, it shows his courage and determination, and this is a good reminder for us all that life as a follower of Christ does have challenges and pain in it too.  The joy is found in walking with Him regardless of the circumstance or challenge.  Then Jesus continues really addressing the tension the religious leaders and John’s disciples feel around Jesus.

Matthew 9:16 “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. 17 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.” NLT

Jesus understands that in so many ways He is pressing in on these people with brand new ways of thinking and living and a brand-new presentation of what it truly means to be a Christian.  Now, think about how these people must have felt as they passionately follow rules and customs that they would have been brought up to believe as truth, and Jesus comes and just seems to trample over so much of what they believe and challenges them to live out a life of freedom, joy, and most specifically love.  It sounds simple for you and I to think through, but picture being them and how challenging it would really be to accept, believe, and live so opposite of everything you truly believed in your heart, mind, and soul to be true for your entire life…and Jesus stands in front of you, and confronts it all.  He gets the challenge that he is bringing to them and gives us two different images to help us receive and understand what He is saying here.

Matthew 9:16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. NIV

The religious of that time, much like us today, were very attached to the ways things were.  They had customs, and ways of doing things, that they deeply believed in.  In their eyes God’s rules and laws were what they were, and you dare not add to or subtract from it and they followed those rules with a level of focus and discipline that is probably lost on our generation.  So, to them, any concept of a new idea, thought, or any questioning or challenging God’s law as they knew it, was wrong, it was flat out sin…frankly, I think in many ways we can relate to this concept on how unwilling we are to think about or be open to new ideas.  Jesus’ second illustration was the wineskins…

Matthew 9:17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” NIV

This makes a lot more sense in Jesus’ time than it does to us, but in those days, wine was stored in a skin, and as it fermented it would expand a bit, and a new wine skin would stretch with it, while and old one couldn’t stretch out anymore and would burst…not sure why they didn’t just bottle it like we would today but whatever! Just kidding.  In many ways Jesus is painting a picture of how we think and are ability or inability to receive new concepts.  Can we be flexible or able to expand our minds to a place to receive Jesus and this new way of thinking, or will we stay rigid and not be able to hold onto Jesus’ teachings.

So, let’s stop for a moment and think about how challenging and offensive Jesus must have been to these people.  He is bringing new thoughts and change to people who passionately believed in the Truth as they knew it.  So maybe it’s not as shocking as we make it to think that these people struggled so much to accept Jesus…because change is hard.  I wonder how you are doing with this.  How do you feel about new ideas?  How do you respond to change?  Think this through, if Jesus was here amongst you right now trying to change things in your life that you passionately believe to be right, how would you respond?  I think it’s ok to admit this.  Change is hard.  It’s unsettling and brings tension.

“Every new idea has had to battle for its existence against the instinctive opposition of the human mind.”  William Barclay

It’s interesting but we humans struggle with change and just have a hard time with something new.  And with the time I have left I want to look at why change and accepting new things is so difficult for us as people.  Even when we can see it lines up with what God asks of us in Scripture.  I have been reading about our minds a lot lately, looking at different studies on the mind, and reading books on our thinking, because so much of our reality is determined by our thoughts.  It’s something I see in my own life, and as we try to share Christ with people, I see the walls that go up when we hit these areas with people that may challenge a thought that they have always had or have believed to be true regardless of what Scripture says.  So, here’s some reasons we struggle with new thoughts and change and how Scripture can help us combat those instincts, fears, and tension points in our lives.

As people we tend to hear a new thought and immediately think the worst.  God did an amazing job in designing our brains, and so much of our brains are wired to instinctively protect us and keep us safe.  You have probably heard people talk about fight or flight before?  That’s the thing in you, that in an intense moment will either have you put up your dukes (in Christian love here, we are pacifists in the BIC) or have you turn and run from danger.  It’s been found and proven that two-thirds of the flight-or-fight part of our brain is wired to pick up on the negative.  Ha, sometimes I think maybe my whole brain is wired to pick up the negative because I tend to drift to those things quickly, but think about that.  It would then make sense that most people’s initial response to change comes from a negative response rather than from positive thinking.  Negative thoughts consume us and make it so important that we do what Paul asked of us…which is to focus on our thoughts and grab hold of them when they hit us, which takes practice and discipline and intentionality since we know how many from previous talks that we can have 50 to 60 thousand thoughts in a day.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. NIV

And we focus, we fix our thoughts on the good as best we can, which is really important because we have learned that up to 80% of our thoughts each day can be negative!

Philippians 4:8 Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. NLT

As a people when we don’t understand something, we can tend to fear it. We can feel afraid of what we don’t know can’t we?  The uncertainty about the future (and change) brings a lot of fear and insecurities with it.  Fear is another instinctive part of our design that keeps us safe, but we aren’t to live in fear or have a spirit of fear in our lives, are we?

2 Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. NIV

We don’t want to live timid and fearful lives and we don’t have to because Jesus is in us, and God walks with us!  So, when something new hits, a new thought, or some change that is different than what you believe or is hard to understand, ask yourself if it lines up with scripture…and stand in the fact that if it does, it is good!  Don’t let fear run your life!

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.  NLT

We are creatures of habit, we get comfortable, and feel safe in what we have always done and known.  The longer we do the same thing, and engage in that routine, the harder it is to change. We truly are creatures of habit, and we get stuck in the ruts and routines of our lives.  They make sense to us.  We feel comfortable in them, I know I do!  But we must be careful that we don’t get so comfortable that we aren’t growing, thinking, and maturing into the people God has created us to be.  Frankly, comfort stunts our growth, and all through Scripture we see that it’s when we aren’t comfortable that we are growing…which is God’s desire for us to grow into the people He created us to be.  Do you remember how the Sermon on the Mount began in Matthew 5?  Quite an intro to a talk, and all about this concept.

Matthew 5:1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  NIV

Listen, there is nothing wrong with a desire for comfort and safety, but the reality is that in that comfort and safety we can be lulled to sleep and stop growing and stop moving towards the finish line of our race that we are to be running well.  Do you remember what Jesus says about the church that got comfortable in Revelations?

Revelation 3:14 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation: 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. NLT

Maybe comfort is not as safe as it appears or feels.  So, as we close this talk down today I want to ask you a couple of questions and we will start back where we started this talk.

  • How do you respond to change or something new?
  • Do you feel like you are open to new challenges and able to accept thoughts and ideas?
  • Do you take new ideas that you question to God and line them against the Scriptures?  If they line up with Scripture, are you able to accept them as truth or do you stay with what you thought or always believed before?
  • How do you think you would have responded to Jesus’ new teachings and ways of living that seemed to trample all over what the religious would have believed and always done back in the day?
  • Why is it so hard for you personally to accept change and new ideas?  Does change bring tension to you?  Are you afraid of it?  Do you fear things you don’t understand?
  • Have you noticed how Scripture teaches that we grow in challenges and discomfort and how dangerous comfort could really be in your life?  It can literally stunt your growth.  
  • How would your life change if you could break out of your routines and habits and engage in a new way of living?  And what’s stopping you?

Listen, we love you and have been honored as a church to continue to challenge you with these new ideas, which frankly aren’t new ideas but straight from Scripture and we will continue to do so.  Think this all through this week, take these questions and Scriptures to heart, and ask yourself how you handle change and new things in your life, it’s important and may be the very thing you need to overcome to take the next steps on your spiritual journey!