11/17/2013 sermon: Change, fear, and God

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
26 Pentecost, Proper 28, Year C

Change, fear, and God

There’s a joke I’ll bet you’ve heard some form of. The joke goes something like this: “How many Episcopalians are required to change a light bulb?” The response, the “correct answer,” is, “CHANGE?!”

We don’t like change, do we? Especially now, when—sociologists tell us—the rate of change is changing, the rate of change is greatly speeding up. Maybe we can handle a few changes—minor changes—if they are parceled out in small, well-spaced-out doses. But to live life today in our culture is to experience a lot of change, all at once, with new changes to the old changes coming before we can even comprehend the last new reality.

No, we don’t like change. A person in church—not this church—once told me that he came back to church because he remembered church as the one place in his life where nothing changed. You can imagine how long he lasted.

Do you know that my neighbor, the Rector of a church of another denomination in Springfield, is installing a kiosk in his narthex that is both an ATM cash machine and a way to accept credit card giving? Oh my!

If the thought of an ATM in the narthex makes you nervous, I can imagine that today’s lessons probably also are not very comforting to you, either. In Isaiah, our Old Testament lesson, we hear God say that he is about to create “new heavens and a new earth.” This message would have been very comforting, I suppose, to God’s people returning from exile. God is going to make all things new, going to restore things the way that they should be; justice will reign. Alleluia!

Did you notice that the “new order” looks a lot like the old order? There will be death—just not death before our time. There will be work, but justice will reign. We will get to live in the fabulous houses we build, get to drive in the Express Lanes we construct, get to wear the designer clothes we sew, and eat the food that we prepare for others. This all sounds like the here-and-now, until we remember that Isaiah says the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the snake will “bite the dust.” This is where we begin to suspect that Isaiah is talking about the END TIMES, those last days when God will restore all of our fallen creation to its original sin-free state.

When will God do this? We don’t know. But we humans have an existential fear about the END TIMES. We wonder, “Will making ‘new heavens and a new earth’ hurt?” What about those of us who are living on the old earth? As flawed as our old earth is, this earth is the only one we know. Talk about change fear! How will we live to tell the tale of all this change?

Maybe this is why those who devised our lectionary for today, those who chose the lessons, included Canticle 9 instead of a Psalm. What could be more reassuring, more comforting, than the First Song of Isaiah?

Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust in God and not be afraid.”

See, Isaiah knows that creation of “new heavens and a new earth” is a good thing, yet we will fear the change. So Isaiah reminds us that this is GOD who is the change-agent, God who is turning our world upside down. All will be well, and all will be well, and all will be well.

There is a delightful song based on this canticle—I’m sure that you know the one that I mean. I first became familiar with this song when I was Senior Warden at an Episcopal Church not too far from us in our City of Alexandria. We were between Rectors, we were a week from beginning a new preschool year, our Interim Rector’s arrival was a month away, and our new school director quit.

Did I mention that the income from the school was at that time keeping the church open? “Surely, it is God who saves us; we will trust in God and not be afraid.”

Did I mention that the income from the school was at that time keeping the church open? I hummed this song A LOT that fall, then got the whole church doing what THIS congregation at Resurrection is so good at: PRAYING. Then a whole lot of miracles happened. A very talented young woman right out of graduate school showed up and asked for a job in our school. “Can you RUN a school,” I asked her. God bless her, she was so young and I so desperate, that neither of us ever envisioned her as anything but the God-gift that she turned out to be.

Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust in God and not be afraid.”

What about our church, our Church of the Resurrection? Are we change-averse? Do we fear our annihilation as God does whatever new thing God is doing with us? Where do the concepts of change, fear, and God intersect in our life?

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus told his disciples—tells us today, “I will give you words.” In other words, “Live by me, not by fear.” Whatever change is coming to you in your life, fear and God are incompatible. Perfect love casts out fear. Trust in God leads us to a place beyond fear—not a place of denial, but of complete assurance that we can, indeed, trust in God and not be afraid.

But—despite the change, despite our fear—we do have to do the work that God is calling us to do.

CRes1Do you know that a couple of months ago a pastor of an English-language Pentecostal congregation showed up at our door and asked us if we would be willing to let him and his people use our facility? A third outside church, in addition to our own, sharing our space with us? We would have to be crazy to say “yes.” Did I mention that this congregation wants to use our space on Sunday and Thursday nights from 9 to 11…….. PM? Did I mention that they were willing to donate just the amount of money we needed to help balance our budget?

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.

And God says, “Trust in me and not be afraid.”

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