August 18, 2019
I’ve heard it said that nobody likes change except babies with wet diapers. But I’m not sure about them, either. They usually make such a fuss about it, so maybe not even babies. Change is hard. For one thing, it takes us outside our comfort zone. And it causes us to wonder what was wrong with the old way? And, if we were wrong about that, what other mistakes might we be making?
Years ago, when Vicki Comstock was our organist/choir director, we had a tradition, here at St. Stephen’s, where the choir sang an anthem during communion. Now, there is a number of places during the service where the choir might sing an anthem. We sang ours during communion. As far as any of us knew, that was the way it should be because that was the way we had always done it!
Then, along came a brand new priest. And, guess what? He had a different
idea about where, in the service, the anthem should be sung. He felt that
music during communion should be quieter and more contemplative. It was hinted that the choir might be just a little too robust in our delivery, and, besides, everyone in the church should be singing at that time, in his opinion.
Some of us in the choir begged to differ with his assessment. You might
even say we got a bit huffy over it. But Vicki would not let us gripe or
complain out loud. So we kept our opinions to ourselves–mostly.
I wish I could say that, ultimately, we were gracious about making the change. I wish I could say that, in the spirit of making our new priest feel welcome and valued, we simply cooperated. I wish I could say that the change in where we sang the anthem during the service was a smooth and seamless one. But, sadly, I cannot really say any of those things.
I think one of our concerns was wondering if we had been mistaken in our order of service for all those years. In fact, when our curate at the time stepped in to act as a peacemaker, I asked that very thing.
“So, have we been doing this wrong all this time?”
“Not at all,” he said. “This is just how he wants it.”
So we all sighed one last time, and thus, a new tradition for our church began.
Change is hard.
But change is also good. It forces us to look at things from a different perspective. Our habits and ruts are comfortable because they are familiar. We know exactly what to expect, and we like that because it makes us feel that we have some control over things. But change means moving forward, growing, maybe letting go of some of that control, and heading into the unexpected. And that is not comfortable at all for some of us, but it can bring a new energy to everything because change means we can no longer operate on auto-pilot.
Leadership is one of those places where change is essential. We’re changing up the officers today in our Daughters of the King chapter here at St. Stephen’s. Being a leader means stepping up and taking responsibility for some things we might not particularly enjoy doing, but doing them anyway because it’s necessary. It’s a responsibility that the Daughters do not take lightly, and that’s why there’s even a service for it. When you make promises in front of your church, and you use the word “covenant,” as a verb, you know it’s serious business!
Jesus was looking for some leaders, but those pesky hypocrites kept showing up, and so he used fire as the image of the change he was bringing to Israel. Fire is serious business, too. Fire makes drastic changes that are pretty final, whether we like them or not. There’s no arguing with fire. And there’s no going back from it. There’s only moving on.
In one of his “On a Journey” meditations this week, Tom Erich said that Jesus’s fire was “not necessarily a wild raging fire of destruction, but a flame that would make all things new.” He suggested looking at it this way: “Think of the flame that warms the night, (or) the forest fire that periodically cleans out the woodlands to make room for new growth, (or) the flames that make steel and glass.”
That sounds pretty persuasive, doesn’t it? But the crowds in our Gospel for today didn’t see it that way, and they resisted Jesus’s change—probably for the same reasons the choir resisted singing that anthem at a different time.
Jesus’s words seem especially harsh today–not loving or healing or anything like “Peace be with you,” and “My peace I give you.” But time was running out. Jerusalem was looming closer and closer, and Jesus somehow had to shake his people out of their complacency. He was trying to force them out of their comfortable rut, but they were digging in their heels. It was time for a major wake-up call, but they were too stubborn to open their eyes to see the great cloud of witnesses surrounding them, and they were certainly nowhere near being ready to “run with perseverance the race that (was) set before (them).”
Change was coming, nevertheless. The signs were all around them, if they would only pay attention. They could be part of the change, or they could end up like the wild grapes in Isaiah’s vineyard, devoured and trampled by change.
Jesus loved them too much simply to let that happen. So he spoke his new words and formed his new community and gave them a new way of seeing God and heaven. But, as Tom Erich said, “Many found his change agenda (so) threatening that, in the end, they killed him to stop it.” However, even death would fail to stop the movement of this change.
There is a story about some sailors who had run out of water and were dying of thirst until the crew on another boat happened by and explained that they were anchored at the mouth of the Amazon River, and fresh water was actually all around them.
In our epistle reading for today, the Hebrews were told that they were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The crowds in today’s gospel were surrounded by the same great cloud of witnesses as the Hebrews, but they were like those thirsty sailors. They could not hear the stories of faith, and they certainly did not see Jesus as the “pioneer and perfecter” of their faith. They wanted a faith that freed and protected them and helped them to prosper, not one that would lead to all kinds of trouble and divisiveness. They wanted a proper messiah, not one that would lead them into danger and die a horrible death.
The society in which we live should be more enlightened than that of Moses or Isaiah or Jesus, and, in some ways, we are, but in many ways, we are just as troubled, just as scared, and just as broken. The disciples misunderstood a lot about Jesus, and sometimes they didn’t get along very well. We do that, too. We might wish that Jesus would settle things for us once and for all. We might long for a definite word or a conclusive statement that would tell us exactly what to do. In fact, it would be nice if Jesus would simply fix everything for us, but that wasn’t the way he worked back then, and it’s not the way he works now. Instead, Jesus challenged his people to read the signs.
His final days were rushing toward him, and he wanted people to recognize that his ministry had brought them to a moment of decision.
- No more daydreaming about the glory days of David and Solomon.
- No more wishful thinking about Judah’s powerful armies.
The Psalmist in our reading for today was pleading to be rescued, but the letter to the Hebrews and Luke’s scripture for today were calls to action. Jesus wanted God’s people to move forward with the same faith their ancestors had, to add their story to the stories that came before them. It is our decisive moment, as well, and, with God’s help, we can discern how our faith can be a force for change in this kingdom world.
Jesus calls us to lives of reconciliation, mercy, and justice. He never promised us that it would be easy or safe or comfortable. Our gospel reading for today makes it very clear that it won’t be any of those things. At the end of every service, when we ask God to give us strength and courage to love and serve him, we must remember that our service is to be the bearers of the Good News, because we are, all of us, God’s beloved. And so we have an obligation to go out into the world and proclaim that His unconditional and unlimited love is for everyone.
Erich, Tom. On a journey. Daring to live in reality. August 16, 2019.