July 23: The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for July 23, 2023 was preached in response to Matthew 9:14-17 based on the manuscript below.

I’d like to start by acknowledging
that we’ve deviated from the lectionary text
for today’s gospel reading.
Many thanks to Archbishop Skelton
for giving us permission to do that
as we launch the New Wineskins Capital Campaign.
You may have noticed the thermometers in the narthex
as you walked in!

About six weeks ago
we heard the passages
surrounding these four verses
that we hear today.
Jesus has been teaching
and he’s been working miracles.
Working miracles,
and even forgiving sins,
without a hint of repentance
or asking for forgiveness.
Jesus’ detractors didn’t like it.
Then what we heard next
was Jesus making himself unclean —
being touched by a woman with a bleeding disorder
and touching a dead girl
to bring her back to life.
Jesus the Christ
has command over death,
even before he defeats it himself.

Between those two passages
we have this question about fasting.
Jesus not only answers it,
but interprets his answer.
John the Baptizer has come fasting —
remember how strange a character he is! —
and his disciples have taken to that model.
They —
and the Pharisees —
fast in order that God
will continue or begin to spare Israel
from the punishment it deserves.
Jesus does not.
If you remember a few weeks ago
we heard later in Matthew
how Jesus’ detractors are never satisfied:
John’s fasting is too austere,
but Jesus’ eating and drinking
(with sinners and tax collectors of all people)
is too decadent.
There’s no satisfying them!

Jesus answers the questions indirectly,
as usual.
Rather than simply say why he doesn’t fast
he answers,
“The wedding-guests cannot mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them,
can they?
The days will come
when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”
In other words,
“I am here!
God is here with me!
Now is the time for celebrating!
God is doing a new thing with my presence.
I will be taken away,
and then fasting will return.
For now, though?
Let’s party!”

Then he interprets this answer
with imagery that is nice
but is likely largely lost
in our cultural context.
“??No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak,
for the patch pulls away from the cloak,
and a worse tear is made.
Neither is new wine
put into old wineskins;
otherwise, the skins burst,
and the wine is spilled,
and the skins are destroyed;
but new wine is put into fresh wineskins,
and so both are preserved.”

I didn’t get to check with Adrienne
but my best read about the new fabric today
is that you need to preshrink your fabric
before you sew on patches,
or the give of the fabric doesn’t match
and so the patch makes things worse.
Another way of thinking about what Jesus is saying here,
one commentator suggested,
is that you wouldn’t put
new, unbleached fabric
on a vintage garment.
It would ruin both,
and the goal is preservation of both.

Jesus makes this abundantly clear
when talking about new wine in wineskins.
Even if we can visualize a wineskin,
most of what we think of today is firm,
like a canteen.
Why did it matter
that new wine
not go into old wineskins?
What’s going on?
The answer is first century champagne,
of a sort!

As new wine was being made
it was given a secondary fermentation in the skin.
What gives sparkling wine its bubbles
is gas being created.
It needs somewhere to go!
An old wineskin that’s been used
will break
and you lose both the skin
and the wine.
By putting new wine in new wineskins
you give the wine a place to grow
rather than be lost.

Jesus doesn’t fast
because God is not absent
but is present in him.
God is bringing new wine to the world
through Jesus who teaches how to live
and proclaims that God’s Reign is at hand.
This new wine calls for new wineskins,
new ways of being —
while also preserving
what is already around.
The old and the new work alongside each other
but not directly together.

At St. Hilda St. Patrick
we’re experiencing an influx of new wine.
Our postal mailing list
is actually about double
what I thought it was!
We’ve had new visitors
and people who come back
and are getting involved.
We’re building new relationships with St. Alban’s —
there is no talk of any sort of merger,
don’t worry.
You are bought in to moving service times
and starting Christian education again.
God is doing something new
at St. Hilda St. Patrick.
New wine calls for new wineskins.

You’ll get more information in the coming weeks,
but on August 20
the Diocese of Olympia
is planting a new mission in our building,
made up predominantly of Kenyan immigrants.
Goshen Edmonds at St. Hilda St. Patrick Episcopal Church
will meet after we do —
but not so far after that we barely see them,
like our last church-sharing neighbors.
We’re not sure how big it will be after the first Sunday,
but it will undoubtedly grow.
They plan to partner with us for upkeep of the grounds,
share services for major holidays —
everyone wants to celebrate Christmas Eve —
and live with us as a part of Christ’s universal church.
God is doing something new
at St. Hilda St. Patrick.
New wine calls for new wineskins.

For the next six weeks
we’re collecting pledges
for a mini-capital campaign.
Between elected and appointed leadership
and two major gifts
we’re at 78% of our goal.
We need to have
our fire suppression system and sprinkler heads tested
and maybe replaced
so that we can stay in our building.
We need two trees professionally evaluated
and maybe removed
so that we can be good stewards of our land
and good neighbors in our community.
We want to repair the gutters
that were damaged during the winter
and replace the playground that burned down two years ago.
We’d like to level and re-gravel the parking lot
so that it doesn’t eat any of our Priuses
after a heavy rain!

Our final priority is paying ourselves back,
which is where anything exceeding our goal of $35,000
will go.
We were able to have the building painted
on an expedited timeline by a reputable, reasonably priced contractor
— but had not been able to run this campaign yet.
We were blessed to have the cash on hand in savings
to pay for it in full!
We are hoping to repay at least half of that
as stewards of the resources others have given.
Without previous generations’ generosity
we would have likely faced damaged wood and walls
from the weather —
we, the Bishop’s Committee and myself —
want to leave future generations
in a position to meet such immediate needs
should they arise.

As we find who we are with COVID receding,
we need to neither spill the new wine
nor ruin the old wineskins.
God is with us doing something new,
and it’s time to celebrate.
As we celebrate God’s gifts,
I pray that you will give back to God
what you can over the next three years —
pledges are being collected for six weeks
to be paid over three years! —
to help us make these new wineskins
with room for whatever God is doing to grow.
God is doing something new
at St. Hilda St. Patrick.
New wine calls for new wineskins.
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

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