Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stretch or Crack

This is a reworking and expanding of a post I made here in preparation for this Sunday's Contemplative Service.

Mark 2:18-22

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’

The problem was simple.

Jesus' disciples weren't behaving the way disciples were supposed to behave. They celebrated instead of fasting. They partied instead of looking miserable. They tasted the joy of life instead of rejecting all that life has to offer, and they didn't let their fear of getting it wrong (which they did many times) paralyse them into inactivity.

Jesus answer was simple.

God is doing a new thing - the old ways of being don't apply anymore. Don't sit around at the party looking miserable. The old and the new can't mix. New cloth on an old garment will tear. Old wineskins filled with new wine will crack.

Nearly all the images of faith I've grown up singing about have one thing in common.
A Mighty Fortress is our God
The Name of the Lord is a Strong Tower
On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand
How Firm a Foundation Ye Saints of the Lord.
They are all powerful images of Strength and Safety. Certainty and Solidity.

But here Jesus presents us with a new image, an image of Elasticity, of Flexibility. It's one excites me and makes me uncomfortable at the same time. My inner fundamentalist frequently asks me "Is that God stretching you? Or are you conforming to the world's standards'?" The 'world' of course being my inner fundamentalist's code for anything he disagrees with.

I want to know with absolute certainty that this is a work of God before I respond. Well, let me be honest here, what I really want is that other people will approve of what I'm contemplating before I respond.

When God pours out his 'new wine', I can either stretch or crack. My old framework of faith needs to be upgraded. But neither options seem very pleasant to me. I don't like it when God stretches my faith. I don't want to be challenged. I may enjoy challenging others, but I don't like it when they return the favor. Change is messy. It hurts. It's exhausting.

But I don't want to crack either. I've experienced the consequences of my own inflexibility - it led me to depression.

When I experience resistance to something I have to try and take a step back and ask myself 'Is God trying to stretch me here?' Many times my resistance is based more in my own fear and uncertainties than in anything concrete. My struggles are more emotional than theological.

If I 'stretch' myself am I saying that I was 'wrong'?

Why do I feel the need to speak with absolute certainty about Divine Mystery? Shouldn't grace leave room for change and doubt?

Maybe it's less about 'right and wrong' and more about 'growing into maturity'.

"When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." 1 Corinthians 13:11

Growing up spiritually stretches us in ways we could never imagine.

1) As you look back on your life, how has your understanding of God and your relationship with him changed?

2) Where are you experiencing resistance right now? Why are you resisting? Is God calling you to stretch?

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