Sermon: Putting On A New Skin
Scripture: Luke 5:36-38
Date: February 14, 2016

I read in preparation for this message that the average human being generates a new outer layer of skin every 35 days. Now for those like me who have more area
to cover it might take a little longer than that. But you get the point.. Periodically throughout the year human beings have been created with the capacity to be completely new (at least on the outside) ten or eleven times a year. Think of the possibilities if scientists could tap into that regenerative capability. But as it is, it is a pretty startling revelation when we consider that most of us don’t like to embrace change at all. Do you ever watch this show on PBS called the Antiques Road Show? It’s the one where people bring in items that they have found in their basements and attics or at garage sales and antique appraisers tell them how much they think it is worth. Sometimes the amount is staggering for items that were previously considered junk. For instance, I read that a retired
school teacher brought in an old wooden table which she had bought for$25 in 1965, and it turned out to be a John Seymour Original (which must be good) because it was worth $500,000. Another brought in an oil painting of the Titanic which was worth very little, but when the appraiser turned the picture over he discovered that attached to the back of the
picture was an actual menu from the last meal on board the Titanic. And that was worth $100,000. Every week, 10 million people watch and countless more search their attics for hidden treasure. And Americans have just what we’ve always needed, an excuse for continuing to fill our closets and basements and garages with junk and treasure the old rather than the new. In fact, because of our obsession with junk, one of the fastest growing small businesses today is the mini-warehouse business. We see them all over the place.
As our garages and basement fill up, rather than clean them out, we simply rent more storage space. Daniel Eisenberg writes in Time magazine, “Really, what’s a little clutter when that rickety sideboard or dusty cup-and-saucer set might be your ticket to paradise?”

For those who aren’t familiar with how the show works, here’s a clip from a recent episode.

I recently saw a cartoon which poked fun at the Antiques roadshow and this American obsession. In one frame a middle aged couple has brought an Egyptian mummy in its sarcophagus to the show and the appraiser is saying: “Well, Hank and Marie, this is the genuine article all right. But we’ve seen an awful lot of these come on the market lately, many of them, frankly, in better condition. See that bubbling gold on the face? That’s from humidity. So I’d say your late uncle’s carelessness has come back to haunt you. Shrink wrapping could probably have prevented it. But thanks for bringing it by!”

Leonard Sweet comments

. . . all across the country people are down in their basements saving, storing, salvaging and squirreling away the remnants of the past. In every
corner of our country the pack rats are packing away, sticking stuff into cramped closets and greasy garages. . . .(Consider that) God is like a master antiques
appraiser who picks us up when we are dusty and rusty and broken and worn, looking to all the world like a piece of junk suitable only for the dumpster, and he says, “You are a treasure. You are worth saving.” And so he does.

You know, I’m not sure that Jesus would think much of The Antiques Roadshow. Because He wasn’t much of a collector of the artifacts of the past. His focus was always on the new. And in the passage from Luke that I read a few moments ago He not only talks about embracing the new, but says new things need to be placed in new skin, because if you place your new life in old baggage, it will not hold. Let me suggest this morning, before we get to far into this Discipleship journey, that perhaps we need to take stock of the basements and attics ofour life and ask ourselves, Of all the stuff in our life, what is worth carrying with us into this new life with Christ? Because let’s be clear we can’t be disciples of Christ and hold on to our old ways of living. I talked about Nicodemus last week. The leader of the Jews, a member of the Temples ruling council. By all accounts a good man. But when he came to Jesus, asking what do I need to do to be your follower, Jesus did not say, “Well if you change this or that, you’ll be okay. No, he said, “Nicodemus, you must embrace a completely new life as though you have been born again.” Disciples are ones who let go of the past, and pack light for the journey.

In an article entitled “Packing For Tomorrow”, Cathy Madison writes

Packing light is an art few of us master. Some years ago, about to embark on a three week family trek through Europe, I cautioned my daughters to take only what they could comfortably carry. . My two teenagers grumped – of course – about this latest decree from mean old mom. But early on our departure day, they appeared at the top of the stairs with crammed yet compact carry-ons. They then proceeded to have a big loud fight over who was going to carry the hair dryer. No one, it turned out. One of my favorite images from that trip is of the hair dryer left there on the stairs, the last thing I saw before we locked the door behind us. Whether we’re off on a weekend trip, a month-long trek we tend to want to take everything- in case it rains too much or the sun is too hot, in case the plane is delayed or the schedule changes, in case we get sick or hungry or lost or lonely – or just in case. The reason is simple: it’s easier to haul too much than to decide what’s really important.

Sometimes our faith journey is like that Our life can not be new as long as we pack it in old baggage of hurts and resentments and failures that we carry with us everywhere we go. New life does not fit into the old ways of living. Do you know what Jesus meant when He said not to put new wine in old wine skins? Well in Israel’s arid climate,as wine skins aged, they would dry out and become brittle. And if new wine was placed in them, it was not just a matter of them leaking, but one of the reasons that wine was placed in these skins in the first place was to hasten the fermentation process but as the wine fermented gases would build up and if the old skins were at all weak they would literally explode. And so by making this analogy, Jesus was telling us that new life placed in old lifestyles is a sure path to destruction.

What is it that you would like to take with you on this journey with Jesus? Or perhaps the better question is what do you need to leave behind?
Because just like cleaning out the garage or the basement, no one can make those decisions for you. You have to decide what’s really important, really essential in your life.

But, Jesus does give us some guidance. First, he tells us, that life with Jesus will be constantly new. One of the things that people didn’t like about Jesus was that He was constantly calling them to
look at life in new ways. Most of those who came to be healed, were healed, not because of any physical touch of Christ, but because He called them to a new way of thinking and living. Their infirmities were the products of the old life. Look at life in new ways through sinless eyes, faith filled eyes, and you will be healed. To the Pharisees he said look at the
law and ritual in a new way. Man was not made for it, it was made for man. To the disciples, he said look at fishing through new eyes. Rather than spend your time trying to catch fish, cast your nets with me, and we’ll catch the souls of people. Even to his family, He said, look at family in a new way. You alone are not my family. My family is everyone who believes in me. And to the Jews who gathered in the synagogue who were saddled by hundreds of laws governing every aspect of their lives, he said look at the commandments in a new way. There are two you must follow, Love God and Love your neighbor.

If you keep those, you will keep all the others. Jesus was not impressed with the old ways of thinking. Why? The answer was simple really. Because they had not worked.

The Jews were no better off than they had been when Moses came to Egypt to lead them out. Mankind was no closer to God and paradise then he had been from the moment that Adam and Eve bit off more than they could chew of the forbidden fruit. For centuries God had spoken the words of law and restoration but the people had not heard, and so He sent the Word to live among us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God through Christ was doing a totally new thing. God said repeatedly, “Look I’m making everything new. Now I am no prognosticator. I can’t tell you what will happen in the future. Think back ten years to February of 2006, could you have imagined all that was going to happen to you in the next ten years. Could you have anticipated that cancer was going to invade your body? That loved ones would pass away? That your family would be split by divorce? That you would change jobs once, twice, maybe more? Could you imagine what it would be like to see your children leave home? Or perhaps come back home? Could you anticipate the painful choices that had to be made on behalf of aging parents? That babies would be born. I don’t know what the coming year will bring, but I do know it will be all new. There will be new problems, new challenges, new opportunities. The new wine that Jesus brings. And those new challenges and opportunities will require creativity and openness to change. This journey with Jesus will lead us on new paths. Three millenniums ago, in 1000 B.C., Solomon wrote: The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them. And then nearly two millenniums ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians: Your attitudes and thoughts must be constantly changing for the better. You must be a new and different person, holy and good. Now, for many of us, this newness and change is exactly what we fear about the future. Not too long ago, I read an article about a man who was 105 years old. And the interviewer remarked: “In 105 years you must have seen a lot of changes” To which the man replied, “Yes, I have. And I’ve been against every one of them.” This rapidly changing world is constantly presenting us with new problems which will require new solutions. You cannot embrace the new, if you insist on clinging to the old, Jesus told the Pharisees. Suppose you went to the doctor one month with the flu, and he said to take aspirin, drink fluids and get lots of rest. That would seem like a pretty good solution. But then, what if you went the next week with what you believed to be a broken arm, and he said, “take aspirin, drink fluids, and get lots of rest”, you probably would be very happy with the doctor. Then the next month you have a heart attack, and the doctor says, “take aspirin, drink fluids, and get plenty of rest.” I suspect you might look for a new doctor. New problems require new solutions.

And so it will be for people of faith as we move from membership to discipleship. And then new solutions are going to require renewed conviction. How many of us made a resolution to get in shape this new year. To renew our bodies. I made a resolution to get back to the gym and I have failed miserably. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to the gym since the first of the year.

And I was thinking about that as I was working on this message and realized that I was trying to fit time in the gym into an old skin. Instead of changing my day to allow time for the gym I was trying to fit it into the old schedule and there just wasn’t a place for it. I needed to have my whole day renewed. Well, renewal is also a frequent theme in scripture. God wants to renew us. Paul wrote to the Romans: Don’t let the world squeeze you in its mold, but let God remake you so your whole attitude of mind is changed. The Psalmist wrote that God’s word gives new strength. And in my favorite passage, Isaiah promises that those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. You see, God not only wants to make all things new in this world, but He wants to do it through us. Through people of renewed conviction. Through Disciples. We’ll talk more about the call to Discipleship in subsequent weeks. But spoiler alert. He did not call the Disciples to come and preserve the status quo. And Jesus came to renew the church. We need to be renewed, to be re-convicted. How can we look at our world and not see the need for renewal? How can we look at the condition of the family in our society and not see the need for renewal? For new life? How can we turn on the T.V. at night and witness the moral decay of our society unfolding right before our eyes as entertainment? How can we endure the pain of young people lost in drugs and alcohol, and violent behavior and not see the need for renewal? the list goes on and on. How can we in the church look at our communities and our world and not realize that we need a renewal of our faith and conviction if we are going to be used by God to make all things new in the coming days and years? We need not fear the new, not if we place ourselves in God’s hands. Paul wrote to the Corinthians we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life . . .but this happened so we might not rely on ourselves but on God. . .

Joining Jesus on this discipleship journey means that we must allow Jesus to completely renew us.

And then finally, the journey will require courage. Courage to plow new ground, plant new seeds, and reap the blessings of God’s new world. The prophet Hosea wrote: “Plow new ground for yourselves, plant righteousness, and reap the blessing your devotion to me will produce! It’s time for you to turn to me, your Lord, and I will come and pour out blessing on you.”

Sometimes we get to thinking that we’ve done all we can. That we’re too old or too weak or  we’ve done our share. Our best years are behind us. It’s time for someone else. Or that we can’t make a difference anyway. But the truth is that no matter how long we serve the Lord, God tells us that our best days are still ahead of us. “You think you’ve been blessed in the past,” He says. “Well that’s nothing compared to what I’m going to do.” For those who follow Christ, our best days are yet to come. God is continually making “all things new.” Including us. Paul wrote: When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!” What a glorious promise that is. That God will come to us in moments of despair and defeat and discouragement, when it seems that things can’t get any worse then they are, and He will make us brand new. A new slate. A new life has begun. But we cannot place that new life into our old attitudes. He is making all things new. Our thoughts, and deeds, and relationships, and attitudes, and most especially our faith.

Every 35 days we are given a great gift by God. We are given the chance to change our skin. But it does us no good to simply put our old selves into new skin. Just as God is constantly renewing us on the outside, we must allow Him to renew us on the inside also.

Because if you truly want to be made new, if you truly want to follow Christ then you can’t just embrace cosmetic changes that may last a little while and then fade away because all you’ve done is put the new you in the old skin. To follow Jesus, you’ve got to take some risks, not just come to Him in the night but embrace the new life that Christ offers. Because Jesus is not going to lead you down the comfortable familiar paths we’ve been on. His way is new every morning. And to follow Him you are going to have to leave all your baggage behind you and boldly follow no matter what new ways He might lead you. The path to Discipleship is a new path, a bold path. We can’t bring our old lives and expect to follow Him. You must be born again . . . And again . . . . . . And again. And this altar is the place where those re-births happen.

© 2020 St. Luke UMC
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