New Wine and Old Wineskins

We welcome the Rev. ‘Debo Onabanjo, an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, as a contributing author to Methodist Life’s “Life Talk” column.

Matthew 9:16-17 (NLT)

“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Jesus said these words to the disciples of John the Baptist when they asked why Jesus’ disciples did not fast like they and the Pharisees did.  Even though there was little connecting the teachings of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the Jews for the arrival of the Messiah, and the teachings of the Pharisees, the two groups did share an emphasis on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

Jesus wanted them to understand that his disciples did not have to go through the rituals or spiritual practices like fasting simply to be acceptable to the religious elites.  To be clear, Jesus was not opposed to fasting.  He simply was saying the time had not yet come when his disciples would fast.

Jesus was not sent by God to patch up the old religious system but to institute a new approach to worshiping God in spirit and in truth. If we are not careful, it is easy for us to miss the profound revelation found here.

As United Methodists prepare for change, it is important not to approach the next Methodism in the same way and manner. This has nothing to do with theological differences. What comes next must be treated as new wine that can be accommodated and preserved only in new wineskins. 

For those who have been part of the church for so long, change is usually the most difficult thing to embrace.  Even though the disruption to church as we knew it by the Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt been devastating, there are those who are quite eager to go back to their “old normal.” These folks represent the old wineskins that Jesus talked about. If there is anything that church experts are telling us, it is that the church and indeed our world has been altered, and having the mindset of “business as usual” will not be helpful. 

To embody the new wine by becoming grace-filled disciples of Jesus, we first need to unlearn old habits. Then we can understand and fully assimilate the new teaching that will help us develop new, healthier habits and rhythms of discipleship.

Paul sums it up for us this way: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17.)  Are you ready to become new wine prepared for a new wineskin? Is your old life truly gone and is the new life you are living now being lived in Jesus and not dependent on your old experience and knowledge?  

It is a good thing to examine ourselves and tell ourselves the truth.  And as we know this truth that is embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are set free from old “stinking thinking” and released into the new life for which God designed us.  I believe we can join David in asking the Holy Spirit to create in us all a new heart as we become malleable clay in the hands of the potter

Lord, we want to be rid of our old wineskins of malice, prejudice and idolatry and put on the new wineskins of love, mercy, compassion and justice. We know that even in this challenging season, you are doing new things.  Open our spiritual eyes so that we may perceive where you are acting, both in our lives and that of others.  We humbly offer ourselves to you in the precious name of Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

Drink Up!

Note: The LifeTalk devotions from Methodist Life will be on hiatus for two weeks so the regular author can take some vacation. Regular devotions will resume Monday, June 7. John Grimm, an occasional author for LifeTalk, likely will be posting on his personal blog during this time.

John 7:37-39 (NRSV)

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


By Chuck Griffin

I offer you this reading from John as a prelude to this coming Sunday, when most of us will celebrate Pentecost and the presence of the Holy Spirit within the church.

Too often, we allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to seem so mysterious that we miss the outpouring of grace and joy available to us.

Are you thirsty? By that, I mean are you fading spiritually, declining in such a way that you’re receiving signals of impending spiritual death? Belief in Jesus Christ opens a spiritual tap, and we can be so filled with the presence of God that we begin to sustain others.

If you’re thirsty, open the tap now. Remember your belief in what Christ has done for us on the cross—dwell on what it means to believe. Engage with God in all those ways God loves to be engaged: in Scripture, in prayer, in fellowship with other believers.

Certainly, seek the Spirit in worship somewhere this Sunday.

Be blessed!

Lord, thank you for your constant presence. Help us to shake off the blinders this world places on us and let us see you once again. Amen.

Fuel for the Fire

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 2:37-42 (NRSV)

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.


We used this text as the basis for a devotional Aug. 4, but it bears further exploration. This time around, let’s consider how we stretch a moment into a lifetime.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter had preached the first fully developed Christian sermon. About 3,000 people accepted Christ as Savior and were baptized. What a day! They would carry memories of that day for the rest of their lives.

Most of us who accept the moniker “Christian” have a similar point in time where the work of Jesus Christ on the cross became very personal. We were “cut to the heart,” expressing sorrow for our sins while simultaneously understanding Jesus gave us a way to put them behind us. We knew God had lovingly committed to save us, so we committed to following God.

I also know from my own experience and the shared experiences of others that it is not unusual over time to feel a little lost again. A day comes when we crave that spiritual fire in the belly we once felt, and simply remembering the specific day we turned toward Christ isn’t enough to fan the flames.

Think of it this way: Christians are like cavemen without fire-making tools. When we find fire, we want to keep it burning through all circumstances, and the only way to do that is to feed it the fuel it needs.

Remember, these early Christians experienced works of the Spirit that astonished them. Yet even they knew what was required to continue their burning faith.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

There’s the fuel for spiritual fire. We are blessed to now have the apostles’ wisdom and experiences captured in the Holy Bible.

Fellowship and the “breaking of bread” are a little more difficult for us right now, but thank God for the technology that keeps us connected, if only we make a small effort.

And of course, we can pray anywhere and anytime. The most totalitarian governments in the world have yet to figure out how to stop people who want to pray from doing so.

If you’re feeling a little cool, feed the flame God placed within you!

Lord, forgive us when we neglect the great gift you have given us, the gift of life lived now with you. Where we have gone very cold, reignite us once again—you are the sole source of spiritual fire. Amen.

A Sprig Held High

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (NRSV)

Thus says the Lord God:

I myself will take a sprig
   from the lofty top of a cedar;
   I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
   from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
   on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
   I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
   and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
   in the shade of its branches will nest
   winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
   that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
   I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
   and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
   I will accomplish it.

As you may have noticed reading the Bible, prophets can be strange folk. Ezekiel is one of the strangest, but his story should encourage us when we seek renewal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would really like to see some renewal in this world.

Born a little over six centuries before the birth of Christ, Ezekiel spent much of his time helping the people of Israel understand why their world had fallen apart. In short, they had turned on God, falling into idolatry, and God had given them up to their enemies. Ezekiel eventually was dragged off to captivity in Babylon, along with most of the brightest of God’s people.

Here are some of the odder things Ezekiel did to communicate God’s wrath to a very stubborn people:

  • He lay on his left side for 390 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Israel had existed in sin. He then lay on his right side for 40 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Judah had sinned.
  • During this time on one side or the other, he ate bread cooked over cow dung, to show how the people of Israel would be forced to eat in an unclean way as captives. He also ate very sparingly, to show how the people of Jerusalem would suffer from famine during the occupation.
  • Later, whenever he ate he had to tremble and shake with fear to show the people what they would feel when their towns were attacked and stripped of possessions.
  • He was not allowed by God to publicly mourn the death of his wife, as a sign of how the people would lose all they treasured with no recourse or way to complain.

It’s depressing stuff. But again, there is this powerful message of hope in the midst of so much suffering. We see that hope in our Scripture today, the prophecy of the sprig.

For the people of Israel, the prophecy is about the restoration of the line of David, the great king of their history. A cedar tree was the sign of royalty.

Clearly, the tree had become twisted and corrupt, having moved its roots away from God as the source of life, but God was promising the people through Ezekiel that he still planned to fulfill the great promises he had made. God was in control; God is in control.

We have this image of a tiny sprig at the top of the tree, new life being plucked from the old and being moved to a high and lofty place. A new king would come, one who would fulfill the promise from God that all the world would be blessed by the people of Israel, the line descended from Abraham.

This fulfillment has already happened. As Christians, we live to celebrate the great event. Jesus Christ is the sprig broken off Israel, establishing a new kingdom as he was held high on the cross.

And if God is transforming the world through Christ—if he is making all things new, as we know he is—then we can find new life, too.

Perhaps our habits are not what God would have them be; like the ancient Israelites, we can find ourselves living in defiance of God. Perhaps our families or others important to us are corrupted in some way, suffering under the influence of the world rather than seeking God’s will, and we find ourselves pulled down with them.

Know this: Through belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we allow God to pluck off what is fresh and good in us and replant our lives in fertile soil. I’m talking about a life rooted in God’s holy word and refreshed daily by God’s Holy Spirit.

The first step is to offer ourselves, branches held high.

Lord, take from within us what still has the potential for holiness and eternal life, and use that to grow us into what you would have us be. Amen.