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February 2012

Mission: Navigating the old and the new

A commitment to mission entails a fundamental wrestling between what's "old" and what's "new." What are the new commitments, techniques, ministries, paradigms, attitudes and behaviors that will serve God's activity in the world? And if we accept and bring in all that's new, what are the "old" things that need to be rejected, discarded and forgotten?

On the other hand, the Bible doesn't suggest that everything new is good and old is bad. To be faithful and effective in mission is not as simple as saying, "Out with the old and in with the new!" Just the opposite, the Bible suggests that some things old are the best, the good and the necessary for mission.

In Luke 5, Jesus calls his disciples to follow him. His formation program for these disciples, however, seems to bother the Scribes and Pharisees. "John's disciples like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink" (Luke 5:33). It seems Jesus' disciples are practicing their spirituality differently. And they are eating and drinking with sinners!

Within this framework of forming disciples for mission, Jesus responds to his critics by sharing three parables. Please notice the relationship between the new and the old in his words.

"He also told them a parable: 'No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, 'The old is good'" (Luke 5:36-39).

Jesus seems to suggest that if you don't get it right between the old and the new, you can ruin both! In other words, the mission is hurt! And mission isn't as easy as saying everything new is good, and everything old is bad. NO! Jesus affirms, like wine, "The old is good."

So mission, if we are following Jesus, will mix the old and the new, and wrestle with both. Luther Seminary is now working on many new innovations and strategies. At the same time, we are committed to preserving the "old" wine of our evangelical core and our gospel witness. Getting it right with the old and the new defines true discipleship for mission.

Keep us in prayer as we embrace the promise of new wineskins while delighting in the old wine of God's gospel for us.

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