Have you moved a lot in your life?
I know I have. I have way too many memories of packing up stuff and cleaning out an apartment, a dorm room, or a house.
That’s the worst part of moving, isn’t?
Each time I moved, I had to come to that awful, eye-opening revelation that I just had too much stuff and now what am I going to do with it all?
Well, at least it is when you’re in the midst of all that packing and cleaning.
And yet, something happened to me every time I moved—whether as a kid, or a teenager, or a student, or an adult—once all that stuff was gone or packed, I felt pretty great.
In fact, I felt light as air.
And if you’ve ever been in a “temporary” living space for a while, unable to have all your “stuff” by your side, the first few days are frustrating, but after that, something happens.
You feel liberated.
Some of my fondest memories in life involve an empty house in Indiana; an unfurnished studio apartment in Honolulu, Hawai’i; a bare-bones dorm in Princeton, NJ; and a period of many months when my partner Maria and I did not have any of our stuff because it was in storage somewhere.
Why is that?
Perhaps you have your own answers to that question.
For me, the reason I felt so liberated each time I moved was because the change made me aware of my attachment to all the stuff in my life, and I’m not just talking about furniture, clothes, or knickknacks.
I mean my attachment to the past—to a life I lived somewhere else that was now over.
My attachment to memories and places.
In this case, I agree with the Beatles when they state in their song In My Life:
There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
In my life I’ve loved them all
But the song continues with a realization:
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
Sure, this may be portrayed as a love song, but it’s always resonated with me as a love song for our memories. Yes, I do stop and think about all the places I’ve lived and been; I do think about the people who have come in and out of my life; and I do have affection for those memories.
But today, in my life in this moment, I see something more important.
I love this moment more than my memories, because it’s real.
I love the people and things in my life right now more than my past.
That doesn’t mean that my memories are worthless or harmful.
It simply means that I embrace today more than yesterday.
And such a change should not scare us.
Maybe that’s why this Jesus saying about wine and wineskins that appears in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas has always spoken to me.
Funny, though—it’s basically an argument.
Jesus is arguing with his own disciples [and others] about the memories of tradition.
Hmmm….maybe this wasn’t written in the 1st or 2nd century?
It all sounds so familiar.
People were arguing with Jesus because they noticed that he and his disciples didn’t follow the “normal” religious rules. They weren’t fasting as much as they were supposed to and when they were supposed to.
Of course, this was about more than fasting.
Jesus was also criticized for healing people, remember.
That’s right—you heard me.
He was criticized for healing people—for doing something so amazingly wonderful and life-giving.
Healing wasn’t a tradition on the Sabbath. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a criticism of Judaism—it’s a criticism of religion in general.
Christians are no different than the Pharisees and disciples who were more interested in protecting the memories of the past than actually living compassionately today.
Curious, isn’t it, that while Christians claim to believe in a God who is a God of change and claim to follow the Jesus of change and claim to be guided by and filled with the Spirit of change—most Christians fear change.
There’s a sense in the church institution that things were always better way back when.
But Jesus throws down a teaching here that is significant for any century.
Don’t put new wine in old wineskin.
If you have chosen to be a person of faith, and this spirituality you choose to develop is a “new” thing or at least something that “renews” you every day–why in the world would such a thing feel heavy?
If you choose to be a person of faith, this should not be a burden to you. It should not weigh you down; it should not be about “I can’t do this or that”; it should not make you legalistic, rigid, or limited.
So why then, is much of religion such a burden and so heavy?
It’s heavy, because we keep trying to put new things in old things.
In the Gospel story, wine is a metaphor, of course, but real wine was indeed a staple of the culture of Jesus.
No one would never put new wine in an old wineskin.
It would ruin it!
It’s really a simple metaphor about embracing change and letting the past be the past.
But I’m quite sure you’ve had moments [or days, or week, or months] when you wanted to put your past behind you but just couldn’t.
You wish you could do that so you could move forward in your life.
But you keep hearing [and feeling] that you have to hold onto your past for some reason.
So you keep trying to introduce new ideas or experiences into that old life, it just doesn’t take.
Hey, I understand.
Every time I moved in to a new place and tried to introduce the same old things from my old place, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t work. I had to rearrange or get rid of some things altogether.
The difficult truth we all have to hear is that we need to let the past be yesterday.
It’s difficult, but we have to let go of anything that weighs us down or keeps us from moving out of the past and into the present moment.
This affords us the opportunity to be free.
And, it enables us to be creative, to love, to help, and to fully live.
The past is something that can cause fear and confusion. It can make us believe that some things are impossible and that some things will just never change.
A couple of years ago, the congregation I serve decided to put up two signs [one a rainbow design] that clearly welcomed the LGBTQ community in a public way.
People left the church.
Founding and long-time members quit. Others continued to grumble. Eventually, because of what those two signs led to [more freedom and less fear of change], more people left. The first rainbow sign, after it was put up, was even stolen.
Many members of the congregation who stuck around started to be more active in their community. They welcomed and helped people who had no place to go and sometimes no food to eat. They formed more partnerships with people of different religions and those who didn’t claim a religious background. It was new wine.
And yet, there was still grumbling; and fear; and resistance.
The new wine was bursting the old wineskin.
And the more they interacted with people who were atheistic, agnostic, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Baha’i, Sikh, Buddhist, gay, lesbian, transgender, yellow, brown, pink, orange, and black; speakers of languages other than English; loud and energized toddlers; inquisitive and skeptical teenagers; suburban, urban, and rural folk; those with money and jobs and those with neither; families with kids and those without; single moms and dads; straight and gay couples…
The wine spilled out.
The old wineskin just didn’t function anymore. The heavy religious stuff didn’t make sense.
And for those who were able to embrace this, it freed them.
Yes, it’s true. Though it is difficult sometimes to do, we should not fear change.
We should actually embrace change.
Because the Creator is always doing NEW things.
And we are created and can become creators ourselves of new things.
We are all liberated from the way it’s always been done
You have the opportunity to be new–to embrace all people for real, and to show them that something new is being created in them and in you.
And whatever those heavy things are from your past—whatever weighs you down—know that you have the freedom to let go.
Today [and every day] new wine is poured.
New things are created.
So welcome it.