Changing, and Being Changed

A sermon on Annual meeting Sunday.

Last night a friend posted a photo on Facebook of rack at a store with something blue, triangular shaped, quilted, and embroidered with flowers hanging on it, and said, “I think this ‘hat’ at the Good Will is actually a mislabeled tea cozy.’ 
 The first comment underneath was, “What’s a tea cozy?” and he had to go on to explain that it’s a cover you put on your tea pot to keep the tea from cooling too fast – and not the tea pot you boiled the water in on the stove, the ceramic one you serve the tea from.  
Neither the employees at the Good Will nor the friends on Facebook knew what this thing was even for. Becausein life, things are always changing. 

Last night I updated the church website with new photos. I didn’t mean to, I was there for something else, but I took a second and really looked at the photos for the first time in a long time.  And I was dismayed at how outdated they were.  Nearly every photo had people in it who are not here anymore. They’ve moved in on their journeys, are with new communities, connecting to God alongside different people, fulfilling baptism promises to different children.  Or they’ve died and been buried.  Or they’re in assisted living and unable to remember who they are, much less who we are.  
The kids in the photos are becoming teenagers and the babies are becoming kids, and there’s no more choir, and we stopped doing 5thSundays at St. Joe’s.  All these photos were obsolete, showing a different LNPC than the one in front of me right now. 

Time moves so fast, and life is always, always changing, and isn’t it so strange to be human?  It's so strange to want to so badly to belong and to be always trying to figure out how and where you belong, and whether you still belong, and how to help other people belong without losing your own belonging.  It’s so strange to want so badly to be ok, to be good and safe and whole and right, and ok, and it’s scary to wonder if you will be ok, or how long how will be ok for, or what you will do when you’re no longer ok.  

All week long I found myself wanting to label Jesus’ townspeople in this passage. What jerks, what idiots, fickle fools who one minute think he’s amazing and wonderful and the next minute, literally want to kill him.  
Apparently we’ve always been bad at not getting what we want.  
How like every twitter war between conservatives and liberals, and liberals and liberals and conservatives and conservatives, every new cultural scandal and celebrity disturbance and dramatic political development.  The rise and fall of darlings to demons is a regular affair these days.  

We think we’re in it against each other, that there’s only so much love and acceptance and security to go around, and some people have had more than their share for too long so it’s time to take it from them and give it to others. We think belonging can be bestowed and withheld, that it can be lost, and it can be earned, and that somehow, it is ours to police.  And that’s not new either.

Jesus didn't’ belong to them. He belonged to the whole world – the Magi figured that one out when he was still a toddler.  But his own people have yet to get this.  And they think that if he belongs to other people, then they must be getting the short end of the stick.  They should get first dibs on the miracles; they raised him, after all.  
But before they even get to say it, Jesus takes the words out of their mouth.  No doubt you’re thinking,Why not a little kickback for the hometown, Jesus? At least do for us what you did for others! But that’s not going to happen.  No prophet is welcomed back home – in fact, let’s talk about the prophets –in each of these two stories – they healed one person, and that person was an outsider.

And the people's excitement and admiration turn to seething fury.  How dare he? Who does he think he is?  Rage fills them. They want to destroy him.  If others get God’s gifts and God’s blessings and the miracles and all the rest of it, what do we get?

Jesus doesn’t belong to us. He belongs to the whole world.  The Church, even we ourselves, this church, it doesn’t belong to us.  It belongs to the world.  It is God’s vessel of love to the world; we are that. That is who we are.

This year LNPC is 97 years old.  Along that path the congregation built and then added on to this building in a time when nearly everyone in the country went to church. It was designed to perfectly meet the needs of the 500 people who regularly gathered here.  It had classrooms for the different grades for Sundays and Wednesdays, and a much-used fellowship hall in a basement that everyone could get to on their own two feet. 
Over the years, as the church changed, the building’s uses changed with it – classrooms became a library, then a gathering room, the chapel a yoga room, one Sunday school room a sewing room, then back to a Sunday school room.  And now we rattle around in this big space and do our best to give it away to the community.  
And I bet those who were here in the 1960s couldn’t even have imagined that their building would one day hold artists and dancers and nursing moms meeting with their babies, and a neighborhood group and theater groups and other congregations.  Goodness!  And in a few weeks the country of Senegal will have an election polling station here, and just this week another congregation is asking about using our basement, and we still can’t seem to find enough ways to use this building to its fullest, or enough money to pay for its mounting needs, while at the same time, more and more people are being blessed by the gift of this space that we are entrusted with, and we’re doing a not half bad job making a stylish and functional hat out of this tea cozy.

Clearly we cannot, and should not, be trying to use this building for the reasons and ways it was built to be used.  That reality no longer exists, not in America, and not in this congregation.  And we do not have pews full of people for whom giving at least a tenth of their income to the church is a routine, no-brainer thing because church was the only charity game in town.  And even if we did, would we want people to give all their giving-away money to keep up this building and maintain this institution, when they could be feeding starving children or digging clean wells or giving homes to people without them?  
It’s a strange time to be church.  
It might make us wonder if we are going to be ok, or how long how we will be ok for, or what we will do when we’re no longer ok.  

The eager hometown crowd filled with ideas and expectations gazed starry-eyed at Jesus and didn’t hear a word of what he said.  What he said is, God is always, and already, and even right now, today, in this very place, in the business of setting captives free, and healing people, and bringing freedom to the oppressed and this, now, is the year of the Lord’s favor, the year of Jubilee-  that is, the year when all debts are canceled, and all who have made it big are brought down and all who’ve been brought down are lifted up. 
Jubilee was an actual thing, the compounding of the weekly Sabbath day of reminder and reorientation, building up to the seven year Sabbath where the land rests and people live off what they’ve saved to remember and return to the truth, and now the seventh of thatyear – the biggie – after 49 years everything there is goes back to the start.  The giant reset button year.  The computer crashes, all data is lost, all people are once again equal, nobody better, nobody worse – you don’t get to keep what you built up and you no longer have to scrape by. 
Remember? We all belong to God and we all belong to each other.  
It’s not just words, Jesus is saying, this is real. It’s really the way of God that is always breaking in.  
And it’s here right now.

Each one of you came here today.  You woke up and got dressed and ate breakfast and got in your cars and decided to come here. You made two dozen small choices in this direction, any one of which could have shifted the outcome.  You chose not to stay in bed, not put on sweats and chip away at your to-do list, not to turn the car the other direction and do the grocery shopping instead, but to come here.  
You came here because you believed there was a reason to be here.  Even if it was just out of habit, underneath of that somewhere, you believe this is a worthwhile use of your precious, limited time. You thought you could receive something, or give something, or feel something, or learn something.  
Thank you for coming here. For bringing yourself through those doors.  That’s not a small thing.  When we come together, God meets us.

This thing we are doing – believing that God is real, trying to practicing trusting that this is so, reminding each other that it is, talking toGod, even when it feels illogical, listening to stories from a book written centuries and cultures ago as though it has something important to do with us, doing these strange, ancient rituals with bread and juice, and these institutional formalities with words like ‘elders’ and ‘ministry’ – this thing we do here is part of what tells us who we are. It is part of how you live out your unique personhood and your belonging in the world.  By coming here, you say – this is what I choose to help define my life, to be known as, to shape me in some way.  Even as things change, this is something timeless and deep and it matters.  

Maybe it’s been a while since I said it, so it bears saying again, really strongly: This is God’s church; it is not ours. It’s not ours to protect or preserve, not ours to innovate or adapt, not ours to save or keep.  We are here to give it away.  To share ourselves, to love the world, to serve our neighbor.  This is why we exist as a congregation; this is who we are. God’s Church came way before us and endures way after us, and as we say every communion and will again today – we are one teeny little expression of the Body of Christ for this one particular time and place, different than it was before and different than it will be later, and letting God make us into just what is needed here and now.  

Our security, and our hope, and our belonging, do not reside in what we’ve built, and they don’t reside in what we can control or preserve or maintain. 
Our security, and our hope, and our belonging exist in in God.  
This is not words or ideas. 
This is a real, living being, the source of all life, whose power mostly sneaks in weak and unassuming and surprising ways, and who doesn’t care about bigger and better and winning and making a name for yourself or coming out on top or succeeding or ensuring your place is secure, but instead built in a reset button, lots of them, in fact. And has no qualms about using them regularly.  
This is the being who marched into his own hometown, told them what God was up to, said, I know what you’re wanting, but it’s not going to happen. Get with the picture, pay attention, join in what God is doing
It’s not going to be what you thought, most likely, or even what you wanted. 
But it is what you need. It’s what the world needs.  
And they nearly threw him off a cliff for that.  
But that doesn’t make it not true.

Change is an inevitable part of being alive.  
But transformation, resurrection, life- these are Jesus things; this is what the Holy Spirit does in us, to us, and through us.  It is what God is already and always doing.  Not just now, not just all of a sudden.  Every moment, always, God is bringing newness and life and hope into our world, into our lives. Sometimes it just takes us a while to catch on and join in.  But that doesn’t mean God isn’t already and always doing it.  

This is why we got out of bed and came here today. We believe this is so, Lord, help our unbelief.  And we want to experience it.  You and I come together here because we are choosing to be changed by God, toward God, toward life. 
And it’s not going to be what we thought, most likely, or even what we wanted. But it is what we need. It’s what the world needs.  

The Church is God’s vessel of love for the world. God is doing this and it will continue. But what that looks like, and how that happens, is not the same as it was in the past, and it will be different in the future.

For our part, here and now, I think it’s about being brave enough to welcome Jesus. The real Jesus, not the Jesus we wish he would be.  (And remember, we meet Jesus, who is God with and for us, when we are with and for each other).  And it’s about praying for the courage to recognize and grieve any misguided expectations and desires that might keep us from seeking Christ and what he might do to change us.  And it’s about resisting the urge to scramble for survival, or grasp for what used to be, or compete or compare to try to belong or be ok, and instead it’s being extravagant and excessive in acknowledging the belonging of others, and confident and certain of our own.  And it’s telling each other the truth, and working out our disagreements in love – no literal or figurative hurling off of cliffs. 
And as we keep showing up to this, we will listen, and get better and better at listening, deeper and deeper, so that we hear the voice of God in each other, and can be the voice of God to each other.  And all the while, this is about trusting that the Church is, and always will be, God’s vessel of love to the world.  And so with resilient joy and unchecked hope, let’s buckle up and go along for the ride.


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