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Lose your religion

23 Nov

Imagine that you discover an extremely large wasp nest hanging under your front porch. Imagine that in addition to the insect damage, there is so much dry rot that the porch is very likely to collapse in the near future. Would you fill in the damage with wood putty? Would you slap on a fresh coat of paint? Would you ignore it completely? Or would you tear down the porch and rebuild it from the ground up?

In Mark 2:18-22, people ask Jesus the question, “How come your disciples don’t do religion like the Pharisees do religion?” In his response, Jesus explains that he did not come to repair, reform, or remodel religion. He came to replace religion with a relationship. His answer demonstrates that a new day demands a new way of doing things.

The question the people ask centers on religious practices. The Old Testament law required people to fast one day a year on the Day of Atonement. If one day a year is good, the Pharisees concluded that twice a week is even better. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees fasted each week on Monday and Thursday in order to demonstrate their religious piety. In contrast, Jesus’ disciples went to dinner parties, which confused the average person on the street.

Jesus answers the question with an analogy and two parables. Using the analogy of a wedding feast, Jesus explains that you shouldn’t mourn when you should celebrate.

My daughter, Amanda, will be married next summer. Now I might fast before the wedding in order to fit into my suit and look good in the photos. I might fast after the wedding to lose the extra weight I will gain. But I will certainly not be fasting the day of the wedding. I will be eating, drinking, and celebrating to my heart’s content.

Through the analogy, Jesus says that he is the bridegroom. While he is present, it’s time to celebrate rather than mourn. The day is coming when he will be gone, which prefigures his death. Then it’s time to mourn, but not now.

Jesus adds two parables to reinforce his explanation. Talking about patching an old garment with a new patch, Jesus says that we should not repair when we should replace. Speaking of pouring new wine into an old wineskin, Jesus says that we should not force the new into the old.

Adding the analogy and the parables together, Jesus demonstrates that a new day demands a new way. Salvation is not a matter of patching up one’s old life. It requires a whole new robe of righteousness. Trying to measure up and earn God’s favor through fasting and other religious observances has been replaced with a new relationship based on grace and forgiveness. This should lead us to celebrate God’s good gift and provision for our deepest needs.

We can apply the same principle to how we do ministry today. A generation ago, communication was only verbal and in black and white. Today, our church communicates visually through color, PowerPoint, an email newsletter, and a website. Before, Sunday School was the only method of Christian Education. Today, we host Awana, small groups, a youth group, men’s & women’s ministries, as well as Sunday School. Instead of sharing prayer requests by phone, we now use phone, email, and texting. Instead of providing sermons on tape, we provide them on CDs, our website, and on my blog. In the same way, we adapt and adjust our leadership structure, staffing principles, and methods of evangelism to fit our ever-changing culture.

While our message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone does not change, our ways of doing ministry need to be constantly evaluated and adapted to reach today’s culture.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 23, 2014. It is part of a series on the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

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