Anyone who has pumped up a bicycle tyre with a small hand pump will know it takes ages. And of course, the more air you put in the tube the harder it gets. That proves that rubber is a very strong yet flexible material. Pity they didn’t have it in Jesus’ day. They instead had animal skins.
Now back then wine grapes were pressed in a press and left in the collection vats for a few days. Since fermentation starts immediately this allowed the first very gassy phase to pass. Then the fermenting juice was put in clay jars to be stored, or into wineskins if it was to be carried away.
The wineskins were tanned goat skins, sewn at the holes where the leg and tail had been. And once the powerful stage of fermentation was over these skins have enough stretchiness to handle the rest of the fermentation process. However, skins that have already been used and stretched out (“old wineskins”) cannot be used again since they cannot stretch again. If they are reused for wine that is still in the process of fermenting (“new wine”), they would burst.
Here then is the literal meaning of Christ’s words. But then we must ask, what was he saying in this whole parable?
Well, on the face of it, he seems to be supporting the old. Yet, that cannot be because his critics were complaining about him changing the religious ‘game play’. He was not forcing his disciples to fast. Instead, he was actually saying with me present you can find joy in worship, express joy in worship and then just enjoy worship.
Taking all of that into account then, his lesson seems to be pointing out whilst we must saviour the old, we must not be frightened of the new. Nevertheless, he goes on to suggest we should never thoughtlessly cobble the new onto the old. Because that would be a patchwork of bits and pieces that will be a mess. Rather he is saying think about the old and the new. Think about what about your goal of conveying joy. Think how to express the good news of his resurrection. That means savouring the wonders of old truths in new ways. It means harnessing the freshness of new experiences while having our hearts warmed by the timeless. Above all, it means letting the old and new be true to themselves. Then together, do we have an exciting, joyous and uplifting whole. Then together we have sight worth keeping our eyes skinned for.
Coniston in the Lake District is not a large town. Yet its tiny museum holds something unique. For until recently it displayed the remains of Donald Campbell’s speedboat Bluebird. Doubtless, you remember the story. The son of the speed record fanatic Malcolm Campbell, they built a series of high-speed vehicles all named Bluebird. The K7 boat was of a very advanced design and powered by a jet engine from a Gnat aircraft.
Running out of money, Campbell had his last attempt at the world water speed record in the K7 on 4 January 1967.
He commenced the first run of his last record attempt at just after 8.45 am. Bluebird moved slowly out towards the middle of the lake, where she paused briefly as Campbell lined her up. With a deafening blast of power, Campbell now applied full throttle and Bluebird began to surge forward. Clouds of spray issued from the jet-pipe, water poured over the rear spar and after a few hundred yards, at 70 mph, Bluebird unstuck from the surface and rocketed off towards the southern end of the lake, producing her characteristic comet’s tail of spray. She entered the measured kilometre at about 285 mph and left at a speed of over 310 mph. However, our speed merchant did not wait for his wake to die down before turning for another go. In the middle of the lake, he was heard on the radio to say – I can’t see much and the water’s very bad indeed … I’m galloping over the top … I can’t see anything … I’ve got the bows out … I’m going … U-hh .
Sadly, he would have died instantly as the boat flew through the air before impacting the water.
Well, that could have been the end of the story. It could have been condemned to be a last hurrah of a fading Britain. But a group of enthusiasts over many years rebuilt the boat. And last year near Bute, the valiant craft took to the water again. Of course, she will never travel at record -breaking speed again. Yet it shows with determination everything can be rebuilt not by patching, holding onto what is done and making do. Instead, by rebuilding and improving yet respecting the past, new life can indeed be melded with the old. Incidently, on Loch Fad, the Bluebird managed 150 miles an hour which is testimony to a venerable old lady.
But above all we can learn something from Donald Campbell himself for the church of today. For John Pearson said of him:
His father had a much easier job, driving his simpler cars at lower speeds, and becoming a great national hero and getting his knighthood. Donald tried the same thing going at much faster speeds in a very different world. I think, though, that when you go beneath the surface of what was going on, you realise that he was a much greater man than his father, a much more heroic man, a much nicer man, and a genuine hero.
We will not have as an easy job of congregations of yesteryear. Honours, respect and attendances will never be the same. However, if we go forward with courage, imagination and faith we will drink afresh old wines of the gospel. We will find new ways to break records for Christ. In fact, we will be remembered as genuine heroes by our tomorrow in a changed world.