Continue to Flex and Grow
by John Nadasi
There was a machinist with the Ford motor company in Detroit who had, over a
period of years, "borrowed" various parts and tools from the company which he
had not bothered to return.
While this practice was not condoned, it was more or less accepted by management,
and nothing was done about it.
The machinist, however, experienced a Christian conversion. He was baptized and
became a devout believer. Even more importantly, he took his baptism seriously.
The very next morning he arrived at work loaded down with tools and all the parts
he had "borrowed" from the company during the years. He explained the situation
to his foreman, and added that he'd never really meant to steal them and hoped he'd be
The foreman was so astonished and impressed by his action, that he cabled Mr. Ford
himself, who was visiting a European plant, and explained the entire event in detail.
Ford was so moved by the testimony that he cabled back: "Dam up the Detroit
River, and baptize the entire city!"
It would be nice, wouldnt it? Wouldnt it be great if God were to move
with such power that Entire nations could be changed and transformed into the people that
God would have them be?
It would be great, but that is not how God has chosen to reveal Himself. God has
not chosen to come in and take the world by force, But instead by a gentle spirit, calling
each and every one of us Personally, one at a time.
Jesus brought the world this message and it was entirely different than anything
the people had heard before. And, He knew that it was difficult for his hearers to
entertain such new truth. Therefore, he gave them vivid illustrations to show the heart of
In the lectionary text this morning, We hear about the calling of Saint Matthew
and the story about the wine and the wineskins.
Although the text first starts with the calling of Matthew, I want to begin by
looking at Jesus commentary on the wine and the wineskins.
Now, In those days the wine was stored in animal skins. Since new wine gave off
gases and expanded, it was placed in new wineskins, because they were supple, soft,
elastic, and capable of expanding with the pressure.
Jesus said it would never be advisable to put the new wine into old wineskins,
because they were dry and brittle, and had no elasticity.
Since they could not expand with the pressure, they would eventually crack open
and the wine would be lost.
Jesus knew that at some point in time old ways, manners, words, phrases, creeds,
and theology seem to come apart and crack. They grow brittle with time. Like old wineskins
they lose their elasticity.
With such radical new teaching, he was telling his followers that they Needed to
remain open to the new revelations that God was to reveal to mankind. By telling them that
new wineskins were required, Jesus told his followers that the conventional theology of
the day That had sustained the people for thousands of years, Was no longer adequate for
all that was to be revealed In his ministry.
Old and conventional ways of thinking would restrain the kingdom of God from Being
Why did he warn about such resistance toward new ideas? Because people cling to
what they are comfortable with, And resist change at all costs.
Copernicus, who lived in the sixteenth century, was a great astronomer and
scientist as well as a Christian. To many church leaders of his day he was a radical
because he made a radical new discovery. His Book of Revolutions shook the world because
in it he introduced his new discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe,
rather the sun is and the earth revolves around the sun.
Facing New Discoveries, The Catholic Church demanded he retract his statement.
They placed his book on the Index, meaning it was forbidden to be read by Catholics.
Catholic Church leaders charged that Copernicus was "a fool who wishes to
reverse the entire scheme of astronomy as taught in sacred scripture."
The Protestant reformers were just as rigid. Martin Luther declared, "This
upstart astronomer deceives the people and reverses the teachings of the Bible. Sacred
scripture tells us that Joshua made the sun stand still not the earth."
John Calvin answered Copernicus by stating Psalm 93, "God has established the
world, it shall never be moved."
Copernicus was so discouraged that he decided to withhold his discovery from
publication because he loved the church and he did not want to cause any dissension.
But he was right. His discovery was truthful. It was a monumental discovery that
would greatly benefit the world of astronomy and science.
His book appeared at last, and one of the first copies reached Copernicus on May
24, 1543. He was on his deathbed at the time. He read the title page, smiled, and in the
same hour died.
This was a radical opposition to conventional thought. It was radically different
to the understanding of Scripture of Copernicus day. But, the belief that the earth
revolved around the sun was no more radical Than what Jesus was proposing.
That we, the sinful people of Gods creation, both Jew AND Gentile. Are the
chosen vehicle for Gods continuing revelation. Folks, thats was a major
stretch for Jesus day. We have heard it a hundred thousand times, and therefore it
seems normal, But for that day and age, it was a radical concept that God would Have
anything to do with a sinner.
Most of you have been coming to church for many years, And, through time, you have
probably come to realize that as the world becomes More and more tumultuous, The more
stable we want our church to be.
Or, to put it in other words, We dont really like change. Let me put this
into perspective for you,
Just this week I was inviting someone to church, And her response was that she had
not been back to the Methodist church since she had accidentally sat in someone elses
pew. And, that person kindly let her know that she should find another seat
Now, if you are shrinking down in the pew this morning remembering this
conversation, I can assure you, I have no idea who you are, and I really do not want to
know. But I tell you this to make this point.
No, we really do not like change. But, God has a way of shaking things up
sometimes that requires us to Be a little more elastic than that.
There needs to be a willingness to bend and stretch to meet the needs of the
culture and the community.
Now, notice I did not say that we need to bend to become like the culture, But
bend to meet the needs of the community in which we are to serve.
This is because if we do not remain willing to stretch, Over time, we will become
brittle and we will break.
Or, as Jesus put it, In Mark 2:21-22 21 "No one sews a piece of unshrunk
cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and
a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine
will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine
into fresh wineskins." (NRSV)
Now, what are we to do? Folks, take a look around you. This congregation pretty
well represents the average age of the entire United Methodist Church.
The average age is about 70. So, do we declare ourselves to be old wineskins and
give up? Do we say that we are no longer flexible enough for God to do something new
Well, I dont know about you, but that is not where I am at. You see, I dont
think that in referring to old wineskins, Jesus was referring to peoples age, But I
think he was talking about the willingness to be moved And to be stretched by Gods
I think that this was Jesus criteria for choosing the disciples.
Flexibility. Willingness to change. Willingness to follow and be transformed. It was not
education, sophistication, or eloquence of character. In fact, Jesus avoided such refined
people at all costs.
He surrounded himself with the more down to earth, gritty, rugged, hardworking
folk of his day.
People willing to get dirty. People willing to stretch and be transformed.
This morning we have the calling of Saint Matthew, Lets take a look at him
for little bit and get a picture of the kind of man Jesus wanted to pour his new wine
Mark's Gospel introduces us to Matthew with the words: And as Jesus passed by, he
saw Levi, the son of Alpheus, sitting on the receipt of customs, and said unto him:
"Follow me" And he arose and followed him.
Now Matthew, or Levi as he was named in the early days, was a tax collector, or
publican, meaning a person in public life and service.
Let me give you a little history here on why the calling of Matthew is so
extraordinary. The Jews despised taxes.
Okay, so that does not take much of a stretch of the imagination. Who does like to
pay their taxes? Paying taxes is sort of like giving yourself a transfusion from one arm
To the next where 95% of your blood runs on the floor. No one likes taxes.
But, the Jews REALLY hated taxes. It went beyond a mere dislike and discomfort,
But they felt total hatred and rebellion towards the system for three main reasons.
First, they had a theological problem with the system.. The Jews had historically
always opposed taxes, for they felt that God was the only true king, and only to Him could
tribute be rightly paid.
Second, every time they paid taxes it reminded them that they were under the
foreign domination of Rome. Its bad enough when we have to pay our taxes to our own
government, But imagine have your income taxed by Saddam Hussein, the Russians, China, or
another nation who you might find morally repugnant in nature.
Think back to when Mary and Joseph were required to go to the village of
Bethlehem, even though she was nine months pregnant, because the whole world was being
enrolled. The reason for this head count was, of course, taxation By foreign domination.
But there was a third and even more insidious reason for their hatred of taxes, or
In particular, the tax collector. The Romans made Jews to do their dirty work for them.
The ones gathering in this extraction were their fellow countrymen. Thus, they were
despised and hated beyond all description. Jews saw them as traitors, as being worse than
Imagine your next door neighbor, coming to your door to forcibly Tax you for money
that would be given to another military power that had taken over your nation. Now, you
get the idea of why these were not very popular people.
In the New Testament tax collectors are variously grouped with such despicables as
murderers, robbers, harlots, sinners, and gentiles. They were the scum of the earth.
Even Jesus used the term "Tax Collector" derisively. In Matthew 18:17
Jesus said that when a brother who has sinned refuses to listen to you, or refuses to
listen to two or three witnesses, and even the church, then, Jesus said, "Treat him
as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
So even Jesus judges the tax collectors as morally repugnant people.
They were not only ostracized socially, but also religiously. They were debarred
from going into the temple and even receiving forgiveness was considered near impossible.
And this, This is the kind of man that Jesus decides to surround himself with.
This is the calling of one of the greatest Saints from all time. A tax collector.
And that is what we see. We see the outside of who this man is. Its funny how
different our perspective is from Gods.
In Jewish tradition, There are many stories of Elijah that are told, That are not
found in the Bible.
To them, Elijah was not only a renowned prophet of Israel, he was also a bit of a
trickster and magician.
A story is told that once Elijah was walking through a town when he heard the
sounds of a party coming from a very large and beautiful house.
He swirled around and instantly became clothed in the rags of a beggar. He knocked
on the door of the house and, when the host answered, he took one look at Elijahs
miserable clothing and slammed the door in his face.
Whereupon Elijah swirled around a second time and was instantly clothed in the
fine garments of a gentleman. He knocked on the door again and, this time when the host
looked at his splendid attire, he ushered him in immediately.
At the feast, there was a long table of food. Elijah went to it immediately and
began to stuff food into his pockets. The other guests all stepped back to watch this
Then Elijah pushed more food into his shirt and poured wine over his shoulders and
down the front of his fine attire. It was not long before the host became irritated and
asked Elijah, "What do you mean by this unseemly behaviour?"
"I came to your door dressed in rags," replied Elijah, "and you did
not invite me in. Then I came to your door the same person dressed in fine
garments and you welcomed me to your feast.
I could only conclude that it was not me you invited but my clothes. So I fed them
with your food and drink."
The story says that the people were ashamed and looked down. When they looked up,
Elijah was gone.
The point of such a story is clear. We see only the outside, Yet God sees the
Jesus see what is on the inside of Matthew.. He does not look on the outside as
others would, But he sees the potential that Matthew means to God, And he reaches out to a
Now, you will find a depiction of this event on the front of your bulletin. It is
a work by Caravagio entitled, The calling of Saint Matthew.
Is their any question why Matthew is staring at the table instead of the Lords
face? He is a sinner, a publican, a tax collector for Rome, a traitor to his own people,
And a soon to be Saint, called by Christ himself to serve the Most High.
Now, some have questioned the reliability of the fact that Matthew so completely
and so quickly turned over a new leaf. They wonder how someone such as this could so
completely turn his back on it all.
There will always be people who say "I knew him when." Well, this
instant acceptance by Matthew is amazing. He didn't wait to put on his coat, to clear off
his desk, to turn in an official resignation, to go to his banker and lawyer to clear up
some personal matters. No, he just got up and left.
He didnt care about what others thought. He saw Christ extend a helping hand
out of the filth that his life was, And he not only took his hand, He clung on for dear
He changed, he stretched, He did whatever it took to be flexible and used by God.
Now, this is a beautiful story. It is a great miracle, and therefore belongs in the Bible.
But, do these radical conversion still take place? Is it still possible to be so
transformed that one would turn away from a life Of sin and evil to follow Christ and be
filled by the Holy Spirit?
Is God willing to clean and use a dirty vessel to accomplish his work in the world
As John Wesley rode across Hounslow Heath late one night, singing a favorite hymn,
he was startled by a fierce voice shouting, "Halt," while a firm hand seized the
Then the man demanded, "Your money or your life." Wesley obediently
emptied his pockets of the few coins they contained and invited the robber to examine his
saddlebags which were filled with books.
Disappointed at the result, the robber was turning away when evangelist cried,
"Stop! I have something more to give you." The robber, wondering at this strange
call, turned back.
Then Wesley, bending down toward him, said in solemn tones, "My friend, you
may live to regret this sort of a life in which you are engaged. If you ever do, I beseech
you to remember this, 'The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all
The robber hurried silently away, and Wesley rode along, praying in his heart that
the word spoken might be fixed in the robber's conscience.
Years later, at the close of a Sunday evening service with the people streaming
from the large building, many lingered around the doors to see the aged preacher, John
A stranger stepped forward and earnestly begged to speak with Mr. Wesley. What a
surprise to find that this was the robber of Hounslow Heath, now a well-to-do tradesman in
the city, but better still, a child of God!
The words spoken that night long ago had been used of God in his conversion.
Raising the hand of John Wesley to his lips, he affectionately kissed it and said
in tones of deep emotion, "To you, dear sir, I owe it all."
Wesley replied softly, "Nay, nay, my friend, not to me, but to the precious
blood of Christ which cleanseth us from all sin."
I guess that each and every one of us could relate to these stories a bit
differently. I suppose that how much they affect us really has a lot to do with who we
Were when Christ called us by name.
I find myself deeply relating to Matthew. I remember where I was when God called
my name. And let me tell you, it was not on a padded church pew On a sunny Sunday morning.
Instead, I was deep in my own sin waiting for someone To extend a hand to me showing me
the way out.
Perhaps there are those of you here who can relate to this experience. Perhaps you
were in the gutter when Christ first called your name. And perhaps, there are some of you
there this morning.
If you are, take a look at Matthew. Matthew had it all. He had money, he had
security, he had position, but he didn't have anything he would bleed or die for. He
didn't have fulfillment, he didn't have friends, he didn't have love.
Matthew, for all he had, had nothing.
He had nothing but the potential to stretch. The potential to try something new.
The potential to get up, not care about what anyone thought, And follow Jesus in a radical
new way with complete abandon.
People of God, This is still our task. To stretch, to flex, to grow in new ways
that allow us to reflect Christs salvation within us. To be willing to move where
the Spirit would lead us, Even if it is new, scary, or require that we do Something that
may not make a lot of sense.
For those of us who have been on the journey for a long time, It might be worth
revisiting where it started. For those of us who have never reached out and taken the hand
of the Savior, The journey begins like this
Jesus, I am a sinner who needs a savior. Forgive me. Lead me in your ways. I want
to be your vessel. Fill me with your Spirit, Amen.
Folks, for those of you that have prayed the prayer a thousand times, I am going
to ask you pray it again today, Remembering where you were when Christ first called your
name, How much you have stretched and grown over that time, And recommit yourself to
continuing to flex, and grow.
For those of you that have not made this personal commitment, I will lead you
through it this morning. Pray the prayer. Mean it in your heart, and let the journey begin