“Embracing Change: Traditions” – August 13, 2017

Rev. Bruce Lamb – Pentecost 10A

August 13, 2017 Sermon

Joint Ardsley & St. Paul’s UMC Worship

Isaiah 43:15-21

“Embracing Change: Traditions” 

Our faith is not practiced in a vacuum. Theologian Karl Barth famously said, “Take you Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” We see what’s going on in the world and pray and respond, and not turn a blind eye.

Friends, we belong to the Jesus movement. Jesus has shown us the way and what we witnessed yesterday in Charlottesville is not the way. Hard stop, Now more than ever we have to stay woke. We have to be awake. We have to have conversations and sometimes they are uncomfortable conversations about race and racism in America and dig deep below these situations. As we watched the events unfold yesterday in Charlottesville we are reminded that hate, bigotry, violence and prejudice are nothing new to the American landscape. While we should not be surprised, those that are Christ followers should find it incompatible with our Christian beliefs. Scripture expressly states in the Book of Genesis that God created us in God’s own image. We are all created in the image of God our creator.

As United Methodists, we have also taken vows and entered into a covenant that compels us to act in the face of evil. In our baptismal vows that many of us heard last Sunday when we celebrated a baptism, we affirm, when asked:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?               

         I do.

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

I do.

We are called to action through prayer, standing in solidarity with those being persecuted and always to be preaching and teaching love and inclusion and denouncing acts borne out of hatred.

Recently I read about the actions of one person leading to a collective movement to silence messages of hate. New Yorkers boarded a crowded subway car to find swastikas and other symbols of fear and intimidation drawn on the windows and walls. As the passengers looked in quiet disbelief, someone said, “Well, hand sanitizer has alcohol, and alcohol removes Sharpie.” Soon everyone in the car was using this liquid on napkins and tissues to remove the symbols. The actions of one person led to a moment of constructive community activism and engagement. One person can spark a movement of love and healing.

We need to actively name racism and work against it.

In our reading today from Isaiah God is calling us into the future. A future world without racism and hate, but a future of new things.

It is not on the past that the prophet wants the people to concentrate. The prophet wants the people to let the past transform their minds to look at the future. “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Throughout Isaiah 43 God drapes the promise of coming restoration in the imagery of his ancient saving deeds. The mighty, redeeming faithfulness of the Lord will sprout forth again in ways so grand and decisive that the former things of God’s saving work for Israel will seem only a prelude. Rhetorically addressed to exiled Israel, pining away in Babylon, God declares the truly new act which he is about to perform.

God is doing something new within this community just like God is doing something new within our community and as Jesus followers we are working to do something new in the world. A bold new thing filled with love.

What is about to sprout forth?

People often see Christianity as something stuck in the past, outmoded and worn out and the stories of the Bible as ancient history. But in Isaiah 43 God declares himself to be the sole author of that which is truly new. The newness that is coming out of Jesus Christ.

God is doing a bold new thing, but do you perceive it? That’s the question…are we open to trying something new. TRY. Try is the word. We have to try new things and be open to new things. However, no matter how much God is leading us to try out new things there will always be people that are not open to trying something new.

Tradition. Merriam Webster defines tradition as a customary pattern of thought, action or behavior. We are always adding to our traditions. New traditions are added in the life of our church everyday.

Pastor Joe McKeever, a retired pastor, has been in ministry for 30 years. He observed the following changes that he’s seen throughout his ministry: very few men wear neckties or suits to church anymore, on the altar you find all kinds of musical instruments besides just an organ or a piano, many people in congregations read scripture from their phones, in the announcements you hear of mission trips to foreign countries regardless of the size of the congregation, fewer and fewer hymns are being sung and new music is bring introduced and worship leaders are often wearing jeans or t-shirts. The times, they are a-changing and they are not through changing either and if you cannot adapt you may find yourself living in the 1950s.

Pastor Joe visited a congregation in Florida that he was not familiar with. As the neighborhood changed around them, most of their members have either passed away or moved. Since the church failed to make the necessary changes to reach people or try new things, but was stuck in the way things were done 20 years ago it was slowly dwindling away. The members of the church failed to realize that things worked to attract new people years ago such as pizza parties with the youth at the parsonage no longer work. So not long ago, the remaining membership mostly senior adults prayed about joining with another church in the community to come together and do new things. They were open to trying something new and make whatever changes necessary to survive and grow into the new direction God was leading them. They realized that they no longer had enough people to keep going, didn’t have enough energy with so few people to do ministry and wanted to do something bold to turn this thing around.

This takes great courage, let me say.

Most older churches cannot do this. The members are so wed to the ways of yesterday and the methods of the past that they prefer to let the church die rather than change and TRY something new.

Pastor Joe said the longtime members of that church in Florida are having to get used to a lot of change, but they are now thriving together. There is new life. Music is different and change in the worship and church programming took place, but the congregation trusted in the pastor to help them try new things and trusted that God would lead them wherever they went.

Pastor Joe said at that service the singing was great, the people were happy and friendly, and they were focused on ministry. It was a blessed service and they were getting it right. I wonder from Pastor Joe’s story what would happen if a member walked back into the newly merged church after being away for a year and saw the changes that had taken place.

Whoever heard of a church changing?  Churches are always changing. Only the dead ones don’t. And I know God is breathing new life into us, moving us forward. May I repeat that – church are always changing if they are alive.

Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church is attended by 20,000 people. Saddleback Church is known as one family with many locations. They have one name but have ministry locations all over the city.

How do we embrace change when we love our traditions and the way things have been?

#1 – Recognize that churches are always in a state of change if they are alive.

Every time someone joins your church or leaves it, the church changes. Every time member begins to get serious about learning and living the word of God, change happens. The church is never static, it’s ever never a frozen entity.

I am not here to give you what you want, I’m here to preach the gospel. I’m not a guest here to keep you comfortable and happy, but I am your pastor here to love you, each of you and here to guide us where God is taking us. We don’t know where the journey will take us, but we know that God is always with us along the journey.

This is uncomfortable for me to preach it as for you to hear it but we are called to the uncomfortable places. Sometimes you have to sit in the discomfort for that change to happen.
In the book of Daniel we see that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were uncomfortable and thought they were going to die in the fiery furnace but they held on to faith. In the times of discomfort and in change we grow the most.

#2 – You yourself are growing and changing if you are alive and obedient.

Just like our churches, our personal faith life is always changing. We are always to be growing on this journey. God does not call us to stay in the same place, but to move forward.

I grew up with traditions in the church – a certain kind of music, choir robes, psalms sung and more then grew past that. Later, my tastes change and to no one’s surprise, have changed again. As I matured in my faith I further realized that to worship God we don’t have to say particular words or sing certain songs but just surrender all. To let go and let God.

All to Jesus I surrender

All to him I freely give

I will ever love and trust Him

In His presence daily live

#3 – Are you open to new things? New ways?

 Are you not only to new things, but are you open to TRYING new things. Author Marie Sexton says in the book Between Sinners and Saints, “I realized something on the ride. I realized if I wait until I am not scared to try new things, then I’ll never get to try them at all.”

If you’re not open to trying new things you’re going to have trouble with Jesus. IN Revelation 21:5, Jesus said, “Behold I am making all things new.” Friends, he wasn’t just talking about heaven. He’s making us ever new right now. Psalm 92:12-15 promises that. “The righteous will flourish they will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green.”

In the midst of change, let us embrace new traditions along with the old because God is always changing us and leading us forward.

This is a wonderful and very necessary word for the Church to hear in this current age when there is so much change and upheaval. But in the midst of embracing change we know that the character of our god has not changed. God’s grace and power have sustained us in the past, will see us through the present and guide us into the future.

I am reminded of the poem “A Homecoming” by Wendell Berry:

…In the trust of old love, cultivation shows
a dark and graceful wilderness
at its heart. Wild
in that wilderness, we roam
the distance of our faith;
safe beyond the bounds
of what we know. O love,
open. Show me
my country. Take me home.1

“Safe beyond the bounds of what we know” is as apt a description of a faith journey as any I have heard. In times of uncertainty and fear, Isaiah 43 urges us to be alert for the signs of God’s continued presence, working to sustain and redeem even to this day and lead us to take leaps of faith and do bold new things. When our churches change, we grow with it. God has a lot of work for us to do not only here in our churches, but out in the world where there is hatred sowing love, and going forth to be vessels of God’s love.

Let us take a leap of faith together.