New Wine in Old Wineskins

Recently I was at an event and the first things out of a colleague’s mouth were, “Merging new things with old never works.”  Those of you who know me well can guess at some of the thoughts that raced through my head.  I went with the diplomatic response of making a joke about how the bible agrees with him in the saying about putting new wine in old wineskins, but that I always liked to test out conventional sayings.

I am someone who wants to be liked and well thought of, so it can be hard when people make comments about their certainty of our failure.  I do appreciate the wisdom of other clergy and the ways that we have constantly been inspired and challenged by our community to become more than we are right now.  Without honest feedback from folks every step of the way through this process we never would have come this far.

If I had been really up on my biblical scholarship that day and in more of a preaching mood I would have unpacked that parable I referenced from Luke 5:36-39.  Here it is from The Message version of the Bible:    “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put wine in old, cracked bottles; you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine. And no one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine.  

Image from

Image from

The thing is that Sellwood Faith Community and Trinity UMC do go together.  They are not the same fabric.  It’s like adding a patch to a beloved and well worn set of jeans.  The fabric of the patch retains it’s pattern and color, while adding to the look of the jeans and allowing them to be worn for a while longer.  The structure of the denim holds up the fabric of the patch and supports it.  This is what these two communities are doing in the Southeast Portland Parish.  SFC is adding new color to Trinity’s long life.  And Trinity is providing structure.  Together everyone is finding new ways to live out ministry.

As to the wineskins, or wine bottles as the translation above puts it, I think that what we have here is more of a blending of grape vintages than putting new wine in old containers.  Trinity is not simply a vessel for SFC.  This is two wonderful, rich communities coming together to create something new.  A total that is greater than the sum of its parts.  We are making a nice Bordeaux here in Southeast Portland.

My colleague is right in a way.  It might not work, but we are going to let the wine age a little bit before we taste it so we can see what it becomes.  Or maybe our bottles will explode first.   The thing is this is what God is calling us to here in inner Southeast Portland.  God calls us to be willing to risk exploding bottles and messy patches to encounter something exquisite and fine created out of two beautiful communities. And no matter how much I want to please people I hope to always be the person who challenges the conventional wisdom to see if God is unfolding something wonderful beyond our expectations.




1 Comment

  1. Really love this piece! This is always a question about system change- can you actually change a system, or is it better to let the old one fail and just start over?
    I know how much easier it is to just start-over! I always want to go there first. But I am more and more convinced that God is really calling us to ‘transform’ the old.
    Your experiment with old-new is about transformation. As we let go we allow ourselves to change and transform! As I have stayed in systems that need to change I have been challenged. I learn about humility, honesty, vulnerability and how to give compassion and grace to others.
    Great reminder for me today as I was trying to talk myself into giving up- and feeling that it was hopeless. I know it isn’t. I will carry the photo of the artistically patched jeans with me! Thanks for a great reminder.