Merhan Karimi Nasseri lives in Paris. Well, sort of.
Actually he lives in Terminal One of the Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Nasseri's story begins in Iran in 1977. Fresh from studying in England, he was expelled from Iran, without a passport, for protesting against the Shah. He bounced from capital to capital until deciding to settle in the Paris airport.
He has lived in Terminal One since then, writing in a diary, living off handouts, and cleaning up in the airport bathroom. In 1999, French authorities gave Nasseri an international travel card and a French residency permit. He was free to go anywhere but he simply smiled, tucked the documents into his folder, and resumed writing in his diary.
He was afraid to leave the bench and table that had become his home.
Nasseri's experience may seem incredible, but his fear is common.
Most of us resist change—that's part of human nature.
If we do not watch out, however, we can develop a rigid spirit of resistance to change that harms our spiritual vitality. This seems to be the point of Luke chapter five and the first part of chapter six. In this scripture, Luke describes five major conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees—conflicts about change.
While describing these conflicts, Luke includes Jesus' parable: "No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins." (Luke 5:37-38)
We know this part. We've heard many sermons about trying to force the dynamic rhythms of the Spirit into the tired framework of legalism. We get it. Jesus is saying, "A new thing is happening. God's coming Kingdom will stretch you. But if you try to force it into your brittle traditions, all could be lost." Most of us want to be "new wineskins." We want to be flexible and teachable, not rigid and brittle. But change is hard.
Jesus knows this, so his parable continues: "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'" (Luke 5:39) Could it be that presenting God with a new wineskin isn't enough? Perhaps we also need to ask for it to be filled with new wine.
Jesus puts his finger on human nature. We're often satisfied with the old and familiar.
We say we want the new way God is working among us. We just hope it doesn't rearrange our lives.
"Do it again Lord, just like you did back in..." "Oh, God, I really want to be a dynamic witness. But Jesus, surely you don't mean...we've never done it that way!" New wine won't work in old wineskins. But just as true—old wine won't work in new wineskins. It just sits there. It's not turbulent, not radical, doesn't expand or push us. We cry, "Give me that old-time religion, it's good enough for me." But this too often really means, "Let me stay where I am. I know all I need to know, and I like how I have things situated."
God always has new things for us to learn. We need to be open to new ways, new ideas, and new models for life, worship, and service. We need to be new wineskins, but that may not be the hardest part. The real challenge is asking God for the new wine, a fresh infilling of His Spirit. This can be scary because we can't control how He fills us.
So we talk about new wineskins, yet want them filled with old wine. We want our church to grow, but we don't want it changed in the process. We want to mature spiritually, but don't ask us to sacrifice old habits for new disciplines. Jesus' parable calls us to do two things. One, come before God daily with a receptive, obedient heart. Two, ask God to fill us afresh with His Spirit so we will be challenged, pushed, and drawn into a deeper relationship with Him. If we do that, this could be an exciting year of growth for us and for our churches. "Have Thine own way, Lord Have Thine own way!"*
*Adelaide A. Pollard, "Have Thine Own Way, Lord"
Jeren Rowell is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Shawnee, Kansas and coeditor of Preacher's Magazine.
Holiness Today January/February 2005