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“Fasting, Change, and the Kingdom of God as a PARTY!!”

Matt.9:14-17 – May 21, 2017


It’s the Victoria Day holiday weekend. Or, as it has become known colloquially, “May 2-4" – not only after the date, but also the connection to a box of 24 cans of beverage. An occasion many people seize to, as they say, “Party Hearty”. But, wait – did you ever consider there might be the slightest remote connection between partying and what’s happening HERE this morning?

      Yvonne & I were blessed to receive tickets to a concert on my birthday May 6 over at Huron Chapel (Auburn), featuring Tim Neufeld and the Glory Boys. Subtitled a “Hallelujah Hootenanny”, their bluegrass-style music sought to praise God with a lively, toe-tapping beat. And I’d say, judging by the enthusiastic response of those in attendance, they succeeded.

      One of their original songs had these lyrics:

“It's time to let the secret out

Tell ‘em what the kingdom's all about

Gotta take this party to the street

Invite everyone to the wedding feast

Everybody gather round

Stomp your feet and shake the ground

Shout it loud if you believe

That the kingdom of God is a PARTY!”

      Now, just hold on there a minute...The Kingdom of God is a PARTY?! What are you talking about? Concerts with lively music are one thing, but what’s that remotely got to do with church and what God’s doing in the world?

      Another verse carries on the metaphor...

“Don't be shy just Come on down

Swing your partner Round and round

It's a Jesus Jamboree

Celebrate now We are free!

Cause the Kingdom of God is a PARTY!”

      Hmm...That doesn’t sound much like church to me. “Swing your partner round and round”? Sometimes it’s all we can do to lift our hands during a praise song! But it’s right in that Jesus has brought us freedom from sin, shame, guilt, and death. And freedom is certainly something to be celebrated.

      In today’s Scripture passage, Jesus uses word pictures based on a wedding party, and a reference to wine which is often consumed at parties, to highlight the celebratory nature of His intervention in the world. In contrast to what many people had come to expect “religion” was supposed to be about. I’d like to summarize Jesus’ emphasis in three words: authentic, dynamic, and organic.


True spirituality, that which involves a genuine relationship with God through Christ, is AUTHENTIC. Not hypocritical or fake, but real and intimate.

      We pick up Matthew’s account in chapter 9 just after Jesus heals a paralyzed man, and calls Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of His disciples. The response of onlookers to the healing of a paralyzed man is predictable: Mt 9:8 “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” A person’s healing is certainly reason to celebrate God’s goodness and power.

      Likewise, when Matthew realizes Jesus wants him to be a disciple, his response is to host a big party. V10 tells us “many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came...” Apparently they were keen to find out what had happened in Matthew’s life, and to meet this amazing Prophet and Teacher who had drawn him.

      But not everyone was happy at these events, or willing to join in the celebrations and feasting. V14 tells us, “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’” At this point, John the Baptist was likely in prison. His disciples perhaps were wondering why Jesus wasn’t doing more to help their leader. At any rate, John’s ascetic lifestyle of eating just locusts (gag!) and wild honey contrasted starkly with Jesus’ willingness to accept table fellowship with low-status folk who were widely known to have led unrighteous lives. The Pharisees as well followed strict dietary practices; the one described by Jesus in His parable in Luke 18 is probably representative: Lk 18:12 “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

      Jesus’ objectors are all set to talk about rules and disciplines and behavioral limits, but Jesus resists replying on their terms. Instead He uses a word picture drawn from one of the most celebratory events possible in a person’s life: that of a wedding feast. Mt 9:15 “Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.’”

      Who does a bridegroom choose to be Best Man and groomsmen? Usually his best friends, perhaps including family members who would know him best. Often there’s a fair bit of banter back and forth between the groom and his groomsmen, kidding around, some practical jokes – there’s a freedom to kid around because they know each other so well. It’s hard to joke around and laugh with someone you hardly know – you’re not sure how they’re going to take your attempt at humour! But if you’ve hung out a lot, if you’re very familiar with your best buddies, there’s great ease and freedom in having fun and being yourself. You can risk being real with each other because you KNOW each other intimately, you have confidence they’re not going to take it the wrong way or become offended.

      You can be AUTHENTIC with each other – be real, be yourself, they already KNOW you for who you really are.

      Contrast that with the religion of the Pharisees. Jesus criticizes them harshly in Matthew 23 for their hypocrisy – over half a dozen times. They are pretenders, play-acting, fakers. Mt 23:28 “In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” One minute they were tithing mint and dill, but the next minute they were ignoring basic principles of justic and mercy (23:23).

      How does our practice of faith square with these two contrasting views? Are we very good at rule-keeping and outward disciplines such as fasting, like John’s disciples and the Pharisees? But is it more for show than genuinely for the Lord? Are we ‘faking it’ when it comes to our church activity? Is our daily Quiet Time a matter of rote practice and routine prayer rather than a genuine listening to God and conversation with Him in prayer? How AUTHENTIC are we, really? Are we as free to ‘be ourselves’ and honest with God as a bridegroom’s Best Man feels he can be with his good friend?


The second word picture Jesus uses comes from the material world, as in, the world of sewing and clothing manufacture and dressmaking. From language of relationship there’s a shift to the language of RIPPING!

      Mt 9:16 “"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.” The old cloth is already shrunk; it’s fixed, rigid, not going anywhere. However as anyone who’s ever washed a wool sweater in hot water knows, unshrunk cloth can change drastically in size relative to what it used to be! So Jesus is picturing the mistake of patching an old garment with new cloth, resulting in a tear as the patch is laundered and shrinks, pulling away from the fabric around it.

      Christian faith ought to be DYNAMIC, adaptable, interpreting God’s truth in light of real-life situations, seeing past the ‘letter’ of the law to the spirit of it, how God’s eternal truth addresses new cultural drifts. The early church recognized it was appropriate for worship to shift from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) to the Lord’s Day (Sunday), the first day of the week, the day of resurrection. John’s disciples and the Pharisees seem to have been locked into their system of rules and regulations. The Pharisees had their 365 prohibitions from the Old Testament codified and they weren’t very flexible in applying them in ways that were helpful or compassionate to people. Jesus criticized in Mt 23:4, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

      How DYNAMIC is your faith? Are you like that old piece of cloth, unmoving, resistant to the tug of the Holy Spirit, stuck in your same old / same old routines? Are you ready and willing to be obedient in a new thing the Lord may be calling you to try?

      Our congregation is being forced to be ‘dynamic’ with the upcoming relocation from our present facility this fall. It’s good to be adaptable, to be ‘light on our feet’, flexible in using different configurations of space for our congregation’s ministries. Meanwhile other congregations that have grown too attached to their buildings are finding their maintenance costs have detracted from ministry and mission expenditures, and they eventually have to close their doors because they refuse to be dynamic.


Christianity is not about just another RELIGION: it is about a RELATIONSHIP with a Heavenly Father made possible through the forgiveness secured for us by Jesus’ perfectly innocent sacrifice for us sinners at the cross. Jesus calls our spiritual life to be AUTHENTIC rather than fake; to be DYNAMIC rather than rigid and static, checking off lists of rules. Third, Christ calls us to an ORGANIC relationship with Him and with other believers – something truly alive and growing, not dead and broken.

      We find His third word picture in this section in 9:17 – “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins.If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

      Back in Palestine, skins of goats and sheep were used to store wine, rather than bottles. When new, such skins had “give” to them, they stretched, which was good because as the wine fermented it caused increased pressure inside the container. Old wineskins would be dry and inflexible, having exhausted all their “give” and elasticity. To put new wine in them would be asking for trouble! A small explosion, rupture, and waste – of both the wine AND the wineskin.

      Winemaking is a very ORGANIC process, involving living things. The surface of a grape has yeast naturally occurring on it. So all a winemaker has to do is gently crush the grape, exposing the sweet sugars inside to mingle with the yeast already there, thus commencing the process of fermentation.

      Jesus was mixing with the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ – something that was horrifying to the Pharisees, who went to great pains to avoid even brushing up against anyone in a crowd who might be unclean in any way. Yet Jesus calls us to love our neighbour; to not be standoffish, but to help them learn about His grace that we have tasted. We need to be in the world but not of it; we need to be mixing with others who haven’t yet heard the Good News of salvation through Jesus.

      Are your attitudes rigid and judgmental like those of the Pharisees? Or is there “give” in how you interact with others? When someone messes up, can you forgive them? If it impacts you directly, can you absorb the hurt and with God’s help get over it? We need to demonstrate “give” in our relationships with others; that’s what grace and love are all about.

      Wine production is organic, a symbiosis of sorts between the yeasts and the grape’s internal sugars. Are you able to co-operate with other Christians to produce good fruit? Other churchgoers function differently than you – we all have our own personality types – yet can you ‘flex’ enough to work together on a common project for God’s glory? And are you organically reproducing, multiplying yourself through mentoring someone? Healthy churches do grow in quantity and quality. A wineskin is just a supportive structure that helps us until we’re ready for the next stage. The church is people, not the wineskin.


Today I’d like to close with a few minutes from one of our EMC Assembly plenary sessions from May 9 in Calgary with our new President-elect, Kervin Raugust. He sets forth our identity as Kingdom workers, with a task to do in current-day Canada...

(see 14-19 minute mark of https://youtu.be/ymGkOhS8kFU)