Luke 5:37-38 “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”
Since my experience with wine making is non-existent, I never really had a frame of reference for this famous verse. I did come to understand, however, that “new wine” in the Bible means the juice before the fermentation process. I know less about chemistry than I do about wine making, but I found out that already-fermented wine sits there and behaves. But as new wine begins to do its thing, gas builds up in the skins, and if the skin is too old or too small, soon you have a mess on your hands.
This made me think of hermit crabs. I’ve discovered through interacting with the children in the church that hermit crabs are a relatively popular pet. While one child complained of the noise they make at night, there is some fun in watching these creatures move from shell to shell and in the spirit of “keeping up with the Joneses” you can get new shells for them that are painted with your favorite sports teams, TV characters, or whatever. I knew that hermit crabs moved from shell to shell. What I didn’t know was that this is a biological necessity. They don’t just need a new shell, they need a larger shell. They outgrow one and have to find another. If they don’t, they die.
Now part of me thinks this has real B-movie potential with the giant hermit crab that needs to move into the Pentagon or something. I don’t know if there is a limit to how big a hermit crab can get, given an appropriate shell, but it does seem to be a similar illustration to the wineskins: there is a dynamic aspect to life that demands change and growth. One size does not fit all. If our grape juice is to become wine, if we are to grow, both our own spirit and our environment need to be open to change. The growing hermit crab that stays put is first imprisoned and then dies. The new wine in the old skin bursts the old skin open and spills to the ground—a bad thing for both skin and would-be wine.
So it is with our spiritual lives. If we are undergoing spiritual growth and transformation (which is our calling as people of faith) we can’t keep the same old shell. It might have been a lovely shell. Maybe it even had the Patriots painted on it. But once growth has begun, we’ll die if we stay put. If the Spirit is bubbling inside of us, if the sweet juice of our young faith is maturing into fine wine, the old skin will not be able to contain us. It doesn’t mean there can be no similarity between the old and the new. Maybe there’s a bigger shell with the Patriots on it. But there has to be a change—there has to be a time of vulnerability where we crawl out of one shell and make our way—shell-less—to a new home.
This has implications for both churches and individuals and what it means for you and your community is between you and God. But God has called us to a life of becoming more and more like the one who turned water into fine wine. The old skins can’t contain that transformation; the old shell will suffocate us in the end. Step out of your shell in faith, pour yourself into a new skin—new life awaits.
Transforming God, give us the courage to change. Amen.
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