Celebrate good times...

I was speaking from Luke 5: 33-39 yesterday morning, and referred, among other things about the image of wine as a metaphor for the Kingdom (and the new wineskins required for the new wine).
Certainly wine, and alcohol in general has a bad press here in Northern Ireland. Our drinking culture is NOT healthy and we all know of the damage it can do... This has led many Christians to make the choice of having an alcohol-free lifestyle, and that is entirely legitimate and indeed at times to be encouraged.
Sadly, some take it further and try to sanitise scripture by saying that what was being referred to was unfermented grape juice... Not so much wine as Shloer... (indeed I've heard one speaker actually substituted the word Shloer for wine when reading from any passages that contain it). But that is nonsense... It is alcoholic wine being referred to, and to deny that makes us miss why wine is used to describe the Kingdom of God.
Ask a biochemist and he’ll tell you that biochemically alcohol is a depressant. So is the Kingdom of God going to be depressing? Full of miserable people wallowing in their own misery... No laughing on a Sunday... No smiling if you’re in church... Christianity is a serious business...
Nonsense... Biochemically alcohol may be a depressant, but you take some and the first thing it depresses (most of the time) are your worries and inhibitions... That’s why people often have wine at parties... Not so that people will get depressed and morose, but so that people will loosen up and enjoy themselves...
God uses the image of wine to describe his Kingdom because his Kingdom should be marked by joy and celebration...  In the book of Nehemiah just after the law had been read in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem for the first time in decades - a very solemn occasion, Nehemiah tells the people:
"Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Nehemiah 8:5-10 (ANIV)
This should be even more the case for us as Christians. But as Gerald Coates once said:
"If the joy of the Lord is our strength, it’s little wonder that the church in Britain has been so weak and ineffective."
You could echo that for the church in Ireland... There are times when we have been a miserable bunch!
Yet we were reminded at the Methodist conference last week that John Wesley said:
“A Methodist is one who has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him… He “prays without ceasing…” in leisure business or conversation his heart is ever with the Lord… He “rejoices in the Lord always”… And he who hath this hope “in everything gives thanks.”
Joy and gratitude should be the mark not only of Methodism but of Christianity.
However, all this talk about wine does not imply that we should all go out and get full... Rather, I am with Paul who wrote:
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit."
Ephesians 5:18 (ANIV)
Because although alcoholic spirits may make you feel good in the short term, the Holy Spirit offers you so much more... All of the joy and none of the hangover!

So it was good to come home after saying all that, and having a good time with my church family at Dundonald Methodist (even though it was a lunch "celebrating" my imminent departure) to find the following video, being circulated by a few friends...

Get your glad rags on and come on and celebrate... Christ the bridegroom is inviting us to a party...


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