Meg Peery McLaughlin
September 13, 2020
Matthew 9: 14-17
Then the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And he said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
This scripture begins with a question among friends.
John is the preacher who was always pointing to the kingdom of God,
just a few chapters prior to this he’d baptized his cousin Jesus in the Jordan River.
Since then, John’s crew –and thus Jesus’ own friends—
had heard Jesus preaching on the mountainside,
seen Jesus forgive sins, watched him call odd balls and outcasts into ministry work
and break bread with sinners. They are curious. It’s not a trick question.
They ask about fasting, which was a way to mourn, it was a protest against the presence of evil.
And what we get to do here is to overhear is a small group discussion about the way of Jesus.
Today or later this week,
many of you will be doing the same.
You’ll be asking questions among friends,
taking note of what you’ve seen happening around you,
and getting curious about what it means to practice your faith.
Hence this kick off scripture for all of us.
Here, Jesus describes what it is to be engaged in his way.
And essentially what he tells us is that his way is altogether new,
it unravels the old path, and puts us all on fresh ground.
His friends ask why don’t your disciples fast, like we do?
why don’t they do things the way we’ve always done it?
And as one scholar paraphrases it, the answer is that:
Being sad in Jesus’ presence is an existential impossibility.
Doing things the way we’ve always done it
while the reign of God is making all things new is nonsense.
Another scholar says it like this:
In the ministry and person of Jesus Christ,
all the stops have been pulled out in the celebration of God’s presence
and to fast would be like weeping at the joyful activity of the kingdom of heaven.
With Jesus comes a new day, a new way.
In studying this text, I kept tripping over the words like never before, and unprecedented. . . .
words that we are using all the time right now as we endure this NOVEL coronavirus.
So much of the world as we’ve known it has unraveled,
and we are having to school our children,
mourn our dead,
communicate, shop, work in all new ways.
And I don’t know about you,
but frankly, right now I am weary of new. I am longing for the familiar.
That old cloak that Jesus spoke of was probably really comfortable,
worn soft at the elbows. And who doesn’t like old wine, anyway?
I’m reminded of that old show Downton Abbey,
and their cook, Mrs. Patmore in this scene.
Listen. . . . (insert 45 second scene here)
“But I don’t see why it’s better than an ice box.”
“Well, a refrigerator is more efficient. It keeps food fresh longer. You won’t need ice to be delivered.”
“But the papers will still be delivered, and the groceries and all sorts. Or are we to stop that too?”
“Mrs. Patmore, is there any aspect of the present day that you can accept without resistance?”
“Oh, my lady, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of my corset!”
Now, hear me right.
Jesus isn’t like an upgrade from an icebox to a refrigerator.
Jesus is entirely new
indeed– God’s reign of freedom and love, palpably inaugurated in his very person.
And while we, like Mrs. Patmore, may be resistant to our coronavirus present day reality,
what Jesus came to do was less about present day,
and more about promised day.
God’s promised day where all that is broken is mended,
and all that is wrong, made right,
where all that is false, brought into the light
and all that is mean, brought to justice
God’s promised day where those who have been
forgotten, are remembered
put down, raised up
That future is what Jesus ushers in,
that day is what Jesus drags us toward,
that truth is what Jesus unravels before us.
And, if I understand the text, in order for us to savor that news like a fine wine,
we must be made a new vessel,
we have to let go of all we thought we knew:
all we’ve been taught
about people getting what they deserve
about there not being enough to go around
about hate having more power than kindness
about our ability to control and God’ ability to forgive
about love being the least bit limited or bound by time
we have to untether ourselves from all that,
let it loose, let it go.
Sometimes, we just have to start over.
I recently read a leadership book called Canoeing the Mountains which describes the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
For over three hundred years explorers had been looking for a water route that would connect the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River. Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery for just that. They started in St. Louis and after fifteen months of hard travel, mosquitos galore, a cold winter, grizzlies, the death of a companion, Meriwether Lewis finally thought he’d made it. He believed he would walk up the hill then see a navigable river running to the ocean, and instead he saw, the Rocky Mountains. As Corps sergeant John Ordway said “the mountains continue as far as our eyes could extend.”
And at that moment everything that Meriwether Lewis assumed about the journey changed. He was planning on exploring the new world by boat. He was a river explorer. He planned on rowing a canoe. But you cannot canoe a mountain.
And a new patch won’t work for an old cloak.
New wine will burst old wine skins.
And fasting is an existential impossibility when you’re face to face with God’s new day.
The way of Jesus Christ is altogether new,
everything else comes unraveled.
So, my dear curious friends,
gathered around your questions,
let us set out together on his path,
his unprecedented way.
Whew, here we go.
 Marva Dawn, Feasting on the Gospels
 Edward Schillebeeckx
 Tom Long, Matthew: Westminster Bible Companion
 Downton Abbey, Season 4
 Bolsinger, Tod. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory pg. 24-27