Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 4 February 2018.
I wonder how many of us really want change. We may well want things to get better, but do we really want instant, total change overnight?
It does not really matter whether this applies to the places where we work or shop, how we get our news, or even how we get to know people, but life is far more manageable when we are able to deal with changes in them at a reasonable pace.
Revolutions are fine provided that they do not affect us – at least not directly. But major change to our lifestyles which we cannot understand let alone manage are not welcome.
But our lessons are all about change, the way we see them and the ways in which we face them.
And Jesus is the most uncompromising of all when He says that for a new life we need new frameworks and structures.
Hence His illustration of repairing clothes: you do not sew a patch of new material into an old garment for otherwise the patch will shrink and the garment will tear and be even worse off than before. To repair the garment, you must use material that will not shrink differently to the garment itself.
And with equal force, you put new wine into new wineskins, so that as it continues to ferment, the skins will stretch to accommodate it. An old wineskin which is already stretched will not yield when it is filled with new fermenting wine and it will burst.
And these are the pictures He used when meeting the complaints that Matthew, whom He had just recruited to the disciples, threw a party and invited his friends – tax-collectors, harlots and other ‘undesirables’ in the eyes of the local Pharisees.
But Jesus’ comments were directed at the Pharisees whose lives comfortably revolved around their understanding of the law and who were going to resist Jesus’ teaching fiercely, even to the point of arresting and condemning Jesus Himself.
But the likes of Matthew would be able to receive Jesus’ ministry, with His teaching, miracles and disputes with a fresh mind, and only exceptionally were the Pharisees going to be able to do the same.
And it is easy to feel superior to the Pharisees and their legalisms and traditions, until you see that we also have our own ways of seeing and doing things. We have our own ways of studying and understanding matters, whether these are spiritual or practical, personal or political.
And this is where we also have to Jesus’ teaching confront us, and where we also have to ask whether we are trying to control the way in which He comes to us and the ways in which we receive Him.
Are we also wanting to keep control over the whole process, to allow Jesus into some parts of our lives but not others? To allow Him to change or direct us in directions in which we had not considered going, or worse, to direct us where we had definitely not wanted to go?
It is easy to get used to a way of life in which our church-going has a certain pattern, and our giving and our church work have established routines.
And then we become rigid, especially when our society has its own values and practices, which when we examine them, are definitely not Godly. One example is the way we observe the Sabbath day – or don’t. And let me be clear, I am in no position to throw stones.
It is when we come together before God and ask Him to change us, that things may indeed change. It means being willing to change personally and to recognize and accept change within the Christian community.
But we are also offered some comfort for in Hosea, the prophet tells of how God would lead His people: He would lead them into the desert, where even the place of denial and discomfort would be a place of renewal and restoration.
God would be in charge and would lead and guide His people into a deeper and stronger kind of faith and life. It may not be comfortable, but it would be bearable.
It may not be fashionable or glamorous but it would be loving and fruitful.
And this was the kind of church that Paul was thinking of when he declared that the church in Corinth – yes, the problem church – was also to be his recommendation, and a letter of praise from Jesus Christ to God His Father.
They would be a people of the spirit, rather than of the legalistic letter.
They would be a people alive with the things of God and not just functioning or performing.
In comparison with so many dead works, self-selected and self-regarding, even the Corinthians were to be God’s holy people, beautiful and glorious in His sight. That is what He wants for us.