given on Sunday, June 1, 2012
Change: Me, the Church, or Both?
Try as I might, I cannot figure out why things change when they do or why they do not change. Sometimes changes come from natural events such as a tornado, a volcano, a hurricane, or a drought or flood. We know these disasters occur due to the atmospheric and oceanic conditions, but when they happen we are left asking why.
Even the changes that develop directly from the action of our human decisions are not understood. Change almost becomes a force of its own once one decision is made and the proverbial ball begins to roll. When change is good, everybody suddenly praises it although only a short time before they were condemning the decisions.
Change is inevitable, as we all know; but it can destroy as well as improve situations. The results of change are often different from different perspectives. Changes may be immediate or may take generations to affect. The one thing we cannot deny is that change is going to occur whether we like it or not.
As Missouri Methodists pack up from their communities and join together for Annual Conference, the dichotomy or two opposing forces are coming together—do we change or do we not change. The diversity of the conference attendees has broadened over the past six or seven years in which I have attended. Still the entire 1500 plus members can be divided into two camps: the ones fighting to change and the ones fighting to remain the same.
Imagine yourselves sitting in the rooms with the Apostles. In the course of less than 60 days, the events have completely unnerved them. They really believed that things were going to change under the leadership of this one man, Jesus Christ. They had completely changed their lives to join him in the shift from the old ways to the new ways. And suddenly everything changed again and their leader was gone. At that moment change seemed impossible, but the baptism by the Holy Spirit changed things again.
Remember the verse, Matthew 19:26, Jesus was talking to the rich young man who wanted to know what he was to do. After Jesus told him to sell all he owned and join them, the young man, saddened, walked away. We do not know any more about the young man, whether he followed or not, but Jesus uses that situation to teach a new lesson to the disciples:
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (the NIV)
With God, all things are possible. With the baptism by the Holy Spirit, the tasks that we are called to do can be done because God has equipped us with the tools to make the impossible, possible.
Change may be inevitable, but change can be good. There is no way anyone of us would give up all the changes in our lives and return to the pre-industrial lifestyle of our ancestors. We would not give up the washing machines and dryers, the engines propelling the tractors, trucks, and cars through the fields and the roads. We would not give up the phones, whether land-line or cell, because our lives depend on communicating with others who live miles and miles away.
This forces us to face the question that has been asked of generations: What would Jesus change about me, about the church, or about both in order to continue making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?
The Apostles and the earliest followers who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry could see a big picture of a transformed world. They accepted the changes from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The work to transform a world filled with paganism, archaic traditions, exhausting legalistic structures were changing the communities being touched by those working together teaching, healing and worshiping.
Are we? More importantly, am I? Each one of us needs to ask that question of his or her self: What would Jesus change about me? What am I doing that is making disciples of Christ? What am I doing that is transforming the world? What am I doing in my home, in my community, and in my church that is being a disciple of Christ?
Peter faced a congregation of the earliest believers in Christ. They were frightened, unsure, and frozen. What were they to do? As Luke explains in Acts, even the Apostles were questioning whether or not the change to the New Covenant. But the Holy Spirit was within them, they were to proceed with the change.
Peter set out to convince them to move forward:
“. . . So now what do we do?”
“. . . Get out of this sick and stupid culture!”
And when the crippled man was healed by Peter, he turned to those around him and continued to tell scold or rebuke those in the crowd:
“. . .The very One that Pilate called innocent, you repudiated. You repudiated the Holy One, the Just One, and asked for a murderer in his place. You no sooner killed the Author of Life than God raised him from the dead—and we’re the witnesses. Faith in Jesus’ name put this man, . . . healed and whole right before your eyes. . . .”
The crowd was waffling between following the changes implemented by Christ and returning to the Old Covenant’s traditions. This was a critical point in Christianity’s history. If they had failed to change their ways, the Church probably would have never have transformed the world.
Today, we are in the crowd. We are hearing not only God’s words in the scripture, but we are hearing God speak directly to us through the Holy Spirit. He is equipping us to continue transforming the world by loving one another. He is assuring us that all it takes is the faith of a tiny little mustard seed to change not only ourselves but our world.
Peter told us:
19-23Now it is time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing, to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely Jesus. . . .
God has tried since the beginning of time to provide a perfect world for us. He tried with Adam and Eve, he tried with all the tribal leaders, the priests, and all the figures recorded in the Old Testament. But he did not give up on us. Peter even referred to Moses’ testimony:
“. . . ’Your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from your family. Listen to every word he speaks to you. Every last living soul who refuses to listen to that prophet will be wiped out from people.’ . . .
And he adds even another ancient reference repeating the words of Abraham:“. . .’By your offspring all the families of eh earth will be blessed.’ and Peter continues, “But you are first in line: God, having raised up his Son, sent him to bless you as you turn, one by one, from your evil ways.”
Today, as we ask ourselves the question what we need to change in our own lives, we also need to ask what we need to change as a congregation, as one of the many small, medium, large, and mega churches of the 21st Century, that will make disciples of Christ and will transform the piece of the world in which it resides.
We are today’s disciples. We are equipped with the Holy Spirit. We have the strength, the skills, the God-power to do whatever we can do for whomever we can in any way we can for all that we can. We are Methodists who know God loves us from our birth that we are filled with grace that grows and spills over to reach out to others.
We should never question what God asks us to change. We never give up trying. In fact, we should look forward asking God to guide us in changes that will continue to make new Christians all joining together for the transformation of the world.
Today, hear the question. Think about the question. Reflect on the question. When we meet again, let us look for the changes within ourselves and the changes needed in the Church to do God’s world because through him, all things are possible.
Dear God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Change frightens us and paralyzes us.
Change threatens our comfort and challenges us.
Change is difficult but the results often glorious.
Guide us as the Church meets as a whole this week.
Guide us as we reflect on the question we must ask.
Guide us as we make decisions necessary to continue your work.
Thank you for providing us the strength to change.
Thank you for equipping us to make changes.
Thank you for the promise that our changes will transform this world.
May we hear your words, your ideas, and your encouragement
As we work together to make more disciples of Christ. –Amen