Recently I sat on my back deck looking out over the trees in the distance in a place of quiet reflection with my bible open, when a scripture verse that came to me over 20 years ago and changed the entire direction of my life at that time resurfaced again before my eyes. It was this one:
I literally wrote in my journal: "Lord, after 20 years I can't believe You are still speaking this word into my life!" Later that same day in the car, I put on a new CD I had just received in the mail. When it got to track 11 I had just arrived home and was parked in the driveway, but I couldn't turn the engine off or get out of the car. I don't know if you've ever had something like this happen to you, but it felt like an invisible shield had just descended around me and I was transported to another place. This is the song below, written by Brooke Ligertwood/Fraser of Hillsong Church. Do yourself a favour and listen to it from beginning to end. When you do you'll know why it made such an impact on me that day.
'Jesus bring new wine out of me'. I've been singing that one line all week at work ever since. I believe it is a word not only for myself or the Emmanuel Community I lead, but a message for the whole renewal movement in the Church today. In the gospel at Mass this weekend Jesus said: "Every branch that bears fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (Jn 15:2) Sometimes even those of us who have given our lives for renewal in the Church can operate out of old wineskins that don't necessarily serve the mission of the 'new' evangelisation, but we persist in them because we can't let go. Yet I get the feeling that the Lord has lighter fingers than we do. He is not so fixed on the things that we are. His ways and thoughts are higher - and probably much simpler - than ours.
Sometimes letting go can be painful - like a 'crushing or pressing' - but if we have eyes to see, we will realise that the Lord loves the Church too much to leave us where we are! And yet this painful process of renewal must begin - not in a program or ministry or committee room - but inside you and me. Sorry to break it to you, but we are the grapes which the Lord lovingly asks to crush to bring forth new wine for the world; which if you look at it another way, says that nothing painful we experience in this life is ever wasted with the Lord. Yet at the same time we are also the new wineskins that the Lord wants to soften, stretch and sew together; wineskins that will be young and flexible enough to contain and ferment and carry the intoxicating new wine of His Spirit for this time, this era of history. No doubt the Lord honours the heritage of the past - at one point it was the dramatic present and the unknown future. But as this parable conveys, Christ does not enshrine it at the expense of the new wine. And if the Lord doesn't, then neither should we.
Interesting side point: Jesus obviously knew that wine was 'intoxicating' when he drew this analogy, which makes me think. 'When people are intoxicated with wine what happens?' Well for a start they certainly talk more freely, their courage is boosted, their worries are alleviated for a moment, they tell strangers that they love them (!) and they DREAM a whole lot bigger. I reckon the Church could do with a bit of that kind of intoxication don't you? It's why St Ambrose and the other Church Fathers said things like: "Let us drink with joy the sober intoxication of the Spirit" (read more here). Hmmm, maybe they were onto something?
All of us probably have some 'old flames' in our lives. I'm not talking about the kind who suddenly contact you on Facebook when you turn 40 :-). No, I mean memories of renewal or methods that may have served us well in the past or carried us forth in powerful mission for a season. But as this song says so eloquently, today the Lord is calling us 'carry His new fire', which requires us to 'lay down our old flames'; not unlike how we must empty our hands in order to receive each day our daily bread.
Friends, our hands cannot hold both. Let our hearts and memories carry the old flames, but we need both hands to carry God's new fire for today.
For the record, I have no respect for belittling what was in the past in order to propose what could be. That is like an arrogant child demanding pocket-money with no gratitude for how hard his father worked to save it. But let us not be like those in Jesus' parable who after tasting the old wine, turn to each other and say; "The old is better." We don't have that luxury.
God is on the move. "The kingdom is forcefully advancing" as Jesus said in Mat 11:12. Brothers and sisters, let us be those who keep in step with that kingdom, and prepare our hearts and communities to be new wineskins that are flexible and prepared to ferment and bring to the lips of our thirsty world the new wine of the Holy Spirit!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pat Keady is the author of SPEARHEAD: 'Reshaping the Church to Engage the World'. He is a Catholic speaker, songwriter and leader of the Emmanuel Community in Brisbane, Australia. You can browse more of Pat's writings, music and books via the links above.