Come Home for New Years

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Synopsis of Come Home for New Years

Good and joyful morning this morning to all Christian brothers and sisters on this the day the Lord has made. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, or tea or milk, or whatever is your favorite. We’re about to slice a piece of the bread of life, the word of God. And today’s slice comes from…. Matthew 9:17 “Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Thought for the new year: Old wineskins become stiff. They hold the good, old wine … But they become quite inflexible. They have little tolerance for expansion. New wine requires flexibility. If you put new wine in old wineskins you might burst the old skin. That would spill the remainder of the good old wine … And you would also lose the new wine. All would be lost. Sometimes Christian activity is this same way. New life poured into good, old activities might crack the old inflexible wineskins. Then all might be lost … Both the old and the new.

We humans are often schizophrenic when it comes to the old and the new. On one hand, we are creatures of tradition. We follow the same daily routine. We sit in the same pew at worship. We find comfort in things which are familiar. Change is something we’d rather avoid. On the other hand, we often seek those activities and items which have the potential to rescue us from the abyss of boredom — bigger houses — exotic vacations — fancier cars.

All too often we find ourselves caught up in destructive behavior but are hesitant to confront it and make changes because we are afraid of the new and unknown. I also wonder how often we act out our boredom in ways that are unhealthy and hurtful. The writer of John’s gospel frankly acknowledges this phenomena in his opening chapter when he speaks about people preferring to live in darkness. Because this characteristic is ingrained in human nature, we need some outside help if we are to move out of our darkness and into the light of the new.

This morning we hear Jesus telling us that his mission and purpose are to do exactly that. He uses imagery that is unfamiliar to us in these days of bottled wine. Nevertheless, if we can get behind that imagery, we will discover a new dimension to life, which is so powerful that it cannot be contained by our old ways of doing things.

Let’s talk about old wineskins first. I think about the shootings that have taken place in schools. I think about the gang wars which are taking place in which innocent bystanders get shot. I think about the fighting that is taking place in various parts of the world. Whether it goes by the name of ethnic cleansing or civil war makes no difference. People are still needlessly dying because the political powers that be are seeking to strengthen their control. I think about the racial and economic barriers that divide communities. Just pick up your morning newspaper or turn on a television newscast.
Is there any hope for something new? The gospel proclaims the answer to be a resounding “yes!” the power of God is like new wine in fresh wineskins.

This world still belongs to God. Nations may rattle their military weapons. Gangs may battle for turf control. But the one who is still in charge is God!

That brings me to the new wine. We often forget that God is still in control because we measure God’s power in human terms. We wonder why God doesn’t use the immeasurable power at God’s command to step in and wipe out evil. That’s where we miss God’s message. The new wine of God’s power is focused in a different kind of weapon. It is found on a cross! It is the crucified one, Jesus.
Rather than looking for new life in the pleasures that life offers, God calls us to find new life in Jesus.

Where do we find this new kind of life and meet this new kind of power? We meet it first in Holy Baptism in which God uses water and His Word to change us into new persons. It is God’s own spirit who touches hearts and souls and calls repentant sinners who are tired of destructive living into a new way of living.

We are beginning a new year. Like every year, this year will have its ups and its downs good luck and bad luck, if you want to think of it in that way. The person of faith, though, understands that sometimes “downs” are “ups” in disguise. The person of faith also understands that even when it seems that a season of adversity lasts for a long time when it seems like God has been silent forever God’s hand of rescue comes.

The people of Israel had been hostages in a foreign land for many generations. And they longed for home. Don’t we all long for home at times? There seems to be within every living creature an instinct for the place of our origin.

There was an article in the newspapers recently about homing pigeons. Tom murphy, a trainer in Pittsburgh, pa. Suffered a broken shoulder that left him unable to care for his 30 pigeons. So he sold them. Two of the birds were transported to Texas. They escaped from their new owners within a period of a few weeks, however. They flew their coops and separately made turbulent, 1,500 mile flights back to murphy’s Pittsburgh home. “Obviously, they had been blown about by storms,” Murphy said of his thin, battered birds. “By the grace of God, these birds made it, but i don’t know how.” So… how does a homing pigeon find its way back home, and what is it that drives it to overcome such odds to continue the journey?

Or how about the king Salmon? This amazing fish hatches in the fresh water rivers of the northwestern U. S. After the female salmon lays approximately thirty thousand eggs, she swims away with her mate to die. From those eggs come young salmon who, when mature, will swim out to sea to spend four years swimming in the saltwater of the pacific ocean. Then something strange happens. After their time at sea, they somehow return to the mouth of the river in which they were born. Against overwhelming odds they seek their birthplace. Swimming upstream against the current, often leaping up and over strong waterfalls, they travel approximately twenty five miles per day. Then they, in turn, lay eggs, beginning the cycle once again. Amazing.

Is the longing for home instinctive? Is there within every living breast the longing to return to familiar grounds? Certainly the longing for home is instinctual in some species of animals. But what about humans? Is there within us an attraction for home?

The people of Israel longed to return home. They had been in captivity for many generations. Jeremiah speaks to them on behalf of God and promises them that in weeping and repentance they will return to their homeland and to their God, and God will overwhelm them with abundant provision and care. Jeremiah is echoing God’s promise from Deuteronomy 30:4 “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.” An old cliché says, “You can’t go home again.” God’s promise is that we can go home.

There is a sense in which you and I are away from home. For some of us that is literally true. You moved to this community from somewhere else. You married someone in this community, but the rest of your family is somewhere else. It would not be unusual if someone listening today is somewhat homesick. Very few Americans stay put. Every day in America 108,000 of us move to a different home, and 18,000 move to another state. Some of us are away from home in a literal sense. Many others are away from home in a spiritual sense. Something is missing in our lives. There is a spiritual hunger within us a sense that we have not found that which is most important in our lives.

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