(Don’t) Gimme That Old-Time Religion

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

Sept 29, 2013

Series: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?

            Week 1: (Don’t) Gimme That Old-Time Religion   

 

Matthew 9:14-17

 

Do you ever find yourself yearning for the good old days? It all seemed so simple then. Even religion was easier in those days. Everyone seemed to go to church, even the characters on the most popular TV shows. Hymns were sung. Portions of messages were shared. Sometimes we poked fun at one another and we laughed, as if the family was sharing a joke.

Most of you are familiar with the old gospel song “Gimme Me That Old-Time Religion.” The chorus goes like this:

            “Gimme that old-time religion,

              gimme that old-time religion,

              gimme that old-time religion,

              it’s good enough for me.”

 

Well, a lot of old-time religion is good and noble. But some old-time religion is neither good nor noble. Old-time religion gave us the Crusades, the Inquisition, and religious wars. Old-time religion oppressed woman, defended slavery, and stifled scientific inquiry. The fact is, some old-time religion is unhealthy.

 

Even Jesus didn’t like some of that old-time religion. Let’s look at two examples:

 

The first example of Jesus’ frustration with old-time religion can be found Matthew 19:3-9 which deals with the topic of divorce. In Jesus’ day old-time religion allowed a man to divorce his wife for any reason. If she burned his dinner, if he found someone he liked better (the reason didn’t matter) he could dump her on the street in a heartbeat. And in a day without alimony, child support, or public assistance of any kind, it usually left her with two options: begging or prostitution. That was old time religion, and Jesus completely rejected it.

 

Old-time religion, at least some of it, is greatly overrated. We see the same thing in today’s Scripture reading, from Matthew 9. In this passage Jesus speaks of old wineskins—a clear reference to the old-time religion of his day. Jesus says that sometimes new wineskins are needed because some old-time religion isn’t worth keeping.

 

Here are some of the things that can be discarded. Let me quickly review three of them:

 

First, we can discard old-time religion that claims God causes cancer, car wrecks, and other catastrophes. It’s not God’s will that a nine-year-old child die of leukemia, that a teenager become paralyzed in a car wreck, or hundreds of thousands of people die in an earthquake or a typhoon.  Just because something bad happens does not mean that God caused it to happen. Jesus understood that. We also need to understand that. Religion that blames God for everything that happens is old-time religion that we can and should discard.

 

 

Second, we can discard old-time religion that claims good Christians don’t doubt. Faith is not about having absolute certainty, having all the answers, or seeing everything in black-and white. Real faith, as the apostle Paul tells us in Corinthians, “sees through the glass dimly.” Real faith asks hard questions. Real faith struggles. Real faith doubts. And real faith accepts ambiguity, mystery, and unanswered questions.  The idea that good Christians don’t doubt is old-time religion that we can and should discard.

 

Finally, we can discard old-time religion that says it’s OK for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious. I’m sure you’ve met Christians who are arrogant, self-righteous, and judgmental. It’s not a new trend. There was a group of people like that in Jesus’ time. They were holier than thou, they were judgmental, they believed they had all the right answers, and they condemned everyone who didn’t agree with them, including Jesus. They were also the only people whom

Jesus didn’t like and couldn’t get along with. Arrogant, judgmental, obnoxious religion is the exact opposite of the grace-filled spirit of Jesus Christ. It’s old-time religion that we can, and should, discard.

 

Other examples of unhealthy old-time religion could be mentioned today, but we don’t have time for that. So let me get to the bottom line of today’s message. Many people in our world today, and in our own community, have problems with religion. However, most of them don’t really reject God or Christianity or church. Instead, they reject the way that God and Christianity and church have been packaged. In the language of today’s text, they are not rejecting the pure wine of Jesus and Christianity; they are rejecting outdated, inadequate, dried-up wineskins.

 

These people desperately need to know about new wineskins.

They need to know there are alternative expressions of the Christian faith, different from the negative caricatures they see on religious television and in the news.

  • They need to know that not all Christians reject science and reason.
  • They need to know that not all Christians are judgmental and arrogant.
  • They need to know that it’s OK to have questions and doubts.
  • They need to know that you can love God with your heart but also with your head.

In short, these people need to know that there are alternatives to unhealthy expressions of old-time religion. And we can offer such an alternative.

 

Today we’ve said that some old-time religion can and should be discarded. But that raises an important question. What old-time religion cannot be discarded? 

 

The answer to that question is Jesus. In order to be Christian believers, we must believe in Jesus’ life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection. A great benefit of these beliefs is that they provide promising answers to life’s most profound questions, including,

  • What matters most?
  • Am I accepted?
  • Where is God?
  • What brings fulfillment?
  • What about suffering?

Over the next month we’ll explore those questions together. I look forward to the journey!