Called By Scripture To Change

So I have admit – I was a little scared to preach this sermon.  It challenges the church structure that exists, which is a scary message to hear, but one that I also think RCC is ready, not only to hear, but to live out!  Let me know what y’all think …

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 17, 2013

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Called By Scripture To Change

We were cleaning out the office this summer and I came across this.

{Hold up floppy drive}

I have three questions:
1. Who remembers using these?
2. Who thinks that they worked well when they were the best means of storing and transferring files?
3. Who would use one today?

Back in May I was hospitalized for a few days and being given IV fluids. One morning, one of my nurses – an older woman, well past the typical age of retirement – came in to change the IV bag. As she walked around my bed she bumped her cart and the bag of fluid began to roll off and fall towards the floor. I gasped, jumped and tried to grab the bag before it hit the ground, but I was not fast enough.
Thankfully, a bag of saline is relatively versatile. It bounced a few times and eventually rolled under the bed, but it stayed intact. My nurse laughed as she chased after the bag and was finally able to hang it. “Well at least saline is no longer kept in glass bottles!” she said as she started the new IV.

As she checked the machine and took my vitals, we began to chat about her early nursing days. She described a time when nurses wore white uniforms with skirts, when they were not responsible for as many patients as many of them are today, when charts and records were kept on paper and in files and when IV fluids and medications came in glass bottles, glass bottles that did not bounce quite as nicely when you dropped them on the ground.

“Did you ever drop one?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she laughed. “What a mess that used to make.”

My how things have changed.

My how things have changed in medicine and file storage, but also – when you think about today’s world and the society that we live in – my how things have changed in technology, in communication, in travel – the list goes on and on. Society is a living, breathing and constantly evolving and changing entity.

Society is also a very connected entity. And when one piece of it changes, the different pieces around it must adjust to those changes as well. This is the reality of the world that we live in. We all know this – whether we are young, old or in between, we have witnessed and experienced changes throughout our lives. And we have adapted to those changes – sometimes without even knowing it. That is what the pieces of society do – they adapt to the changes that are happening around them.

And the church is no exception.

Phyllis Tickle is an American author who writes about religion and spirituality. She focuses especially on the Emergent Christian Church and how the Church is changing. Tickle argues that the Church (Church with a capital “C” – not individual churches, but the Christian Church as a whole) experiences a major change every 500 years. 2,000 years ago, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ shook a Jewish culture that was seeped in laws and traditions. 500 years later – 1500 years ago – the Roman Empire declined and then fell. 500 years later – 1,000 years ago – there was a Great Schism that divided the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. 500 years later – 500 years ago – the Protestant Reformation rocked the foundation of the Catholic Church and from it emerged the Protestant tradition.

500 years later, Tickle argues that we are in the midst of a great transformation.

When she argues that the Church is in the middle of a great transformation, Tickle is not talking about churches that are making small adjustments to their traditions and structures. Tickle is not talking about churches that are in transition and calling new pastors. Tickle is not talking about churches that are experimenting with new worship styles and educational opportunities. Tickle is not talking about churches that are changing their paint colors and updating their computers.

Tickle is talking about the end of Church as we know it – and a transformation into something yet to be seen.

Those of you who have been members of this church for a long time have seen it go through a lot of changes. But Tickle would argue that no one in our generation – whether you have been a member of your church for your entire life and or whether you have only recently begun to attend – no one has ever seen a change like the one we are experiencing right now. This is not something that is coming; this is something that is already happening.

Our church is almost 300 years old; and while that is much older than many churches in our community and throughout the country, it has yet to experience that 500 year transformation. We are, as a society, but also as a church community sailing in the midst of uncharted waters; and much remains unknown.

I am not telling you something that you do not already know. If you look around, churches – and people’s attitudes about going to and being active in churches – have changed.

You could look at this reality and feel unsettled. But scripture has something else to say.

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” – as it turns out we are not the first generation of people to experience a major change in our lives, in our communities and in our churches. Scripture shows us that throughout time God was constantly creating, moving and transforming.

This particular text from the Book of Isaiah speaks about a historical transformation in Jerusalem; it has undertones of peace, hope and community. But I think that something even bigger is going on. And I think that it is absolutely relevant today when we think about the ways that the landscape of the Church is changing. So often we fear change, but look at what scripture tells us! Scripture tells us that God never stopped creating; that the God that created the earth in Genesis is still actively creating new things in our lives today.

In this morning’s second scripture reading, Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, we hear a plea – a plea to remain vigilant and active in faith and not idle. “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” Paul knew that the Church could not afford for people to remain idle in their faith; for people to be complacent throughout out the years.

Now when Paul talked about an active faith, much of what he often wrote about – and therefore much of what we often talk about – was outreach to the poor, hospitality to the stranger and healing to the sick. But there is more to an active faith than that. Part of being vigilant and active in faith is being also relevant and accessible to others.

And the Church must evolve and adapt to changes in society in order to make that happen. The Church must evolve and adapt to changes in society in order for it to be relevant and accessible to others.

Be active, Paul says. Embrace your faith; journey with it and not around it.

Paul’s letter reminds us that we cannot afford to be complacent in our faith. But more importantly, I think, is the message that our churches cannot afford to be complacent in their faith. God not only calls individuals, but he also calls churches – communities of faith – to minister throughout the world; to be relevant and accessible to all. That is our call. That is what our creating God calls us to do.

“Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”

Change can be a very scary thing. But change is also rooted in scripture. God may have rested on the seventh day, but he never stopped creating after that. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is radical proof of this constant creating. And the lives that we are leading – our stories – further proves that the Gospel is still being written.

And do you know what else? God delights in new beginnings; God finds joy in new creation. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people.” Just as the God of Genesis looked at creation and saw that it was good, the God of the 21st Century – the God who built and sustained this church, the God that uses this community of faith to reach out to the community and the God who calls each member of this church into a unique and special ministry – looks at the creation that continues to happen and sees that it is good. God looks at the changes we make as we seek to live out his call and sees that they are good.

Change is a good thing. Change means that God is still with us, that God is still creating among us. Change means that we are responding to the changes that are happening around us and adapting our lives and our faith and our churches so that they are relevant in today’s world.

And do you know what? We have the tools to do this. “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us.” That still-creating and still-speaking God is constantly moving and working through us; opening our eyes to see changes as they happen, opening our hearts to respond to those changes and opening the grips of our hands so that we can truly and effectively reach out and serve in this generation.

I read a commentary this week that talked about this passage in Isaiah and change as a means of grace:

We seek to participate in God’s new creation not as a means of earning it but as a way of responding to God’s grace extended to us. Through our restored relationship with God and our relationship with all of God’s creation, we are given new lenses of hope by which can experience a foretaste of the new creation that Isaiah prophesies. {Mary Eleanor Johns, Feasting On The Word, Year C, Volume 4, Page 294}

What do you see through your lens of hope?

Just as we no longer use a floppy drive to store documents and glass IV bottles to dispense fluids and medications, we are called to let go of some of the religious structures that defined our past.

And that is okay. That does not mean that they were not once effective and necessary. It just means that things have changed.

Look ahead, my friends, and see God’s vision. See God’s new creation in you and around you. Be active. Be relevant. And be accessible. And live out your faith.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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