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Continue to Flex and Grow
by John Nadasi
Mark 2:13-22

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 forgiven.

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, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t 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 God.


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 lived out.

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 God’s creation, both Jew AND Gentile. Are the chosen vehicle for God’s continuing revelation. Folks, that’s 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 don’t 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 else’s” 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 through us?

Well, I don’t know about you, but that is not where I am at. You see, I don’t think that in referring to old wineskins, Jesus was referring to people’s age, But I think he was talking about the willingness to be moved And to be stretched by God’s Holy Spirit.

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, Let’s take a look at him for little bit and get a picture of the kind of man Jesus wanted to pour his new wine into.

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 the enemy.


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 God’s.

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 Elijah’s 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 strange sight.

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 heart.

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 tax collector.

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 Lord’s 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 didn’t 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 life.

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 today?

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 horse's bridle.

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 sin.'"

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 Wesley.

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 Christ’s 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…