Here are my "feverish rantings," aka my sermon written during my bedrest and given this am (my dear husband gave it that description - upon learning when I wrote it, not after hearing it). I went off script a lot in the delivery but this gives the general idea. It would help a lot for you to read the texts real quick so I'm providing links (hopefully they work).
Lectionary Texts: Psalm 126, Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:8-14, Luke 20:9-19
As many of you know I was back at my parents’ house in Iowa last week, and I spent as much time as I could with my niece. Vallarie is 21 months old, and she’s walking and talking and turning into an adorable little person. I learned something from Vallarie that I think we all know deep down inside: it’s no fun to change! While I was there, she got all off her schedule and was cranky most of the time. Since we ate out a lot, she had to sit in boring restaurants instead of her own house. And when it came time to changing her – that is, her pants – whoa, nelly. This child was not in favor of that! She’d scream and kick her little feet and wiggle all around. But when it was over, she was always happier.
It’s kind of a silly example, but it shows that we’re creatures of habit, aren’t we? Sometimes we’d rather stick with something bad – even a dirty diaper! – than go through the discomfort of change.
In our Psalm today we read about a change in the fortunes of Israel. The psalmist asks God to restore the fortunes of Zion, so they can laugh and shout for joy again. The psalmist longs for the good old days, when even the other nations could tell how good they had it, as God’s people. We know from the book of Exodus that the people of Israel could be a little bit…whiney. Not unlike a two year old. They even asked to go back to slavery in Egypt when things got tough! God had changed their fortunes, but it didn’t suit their expectations, so they weren’t satisfied. I wonder if this psalm is falling into that old pattern a bit, the habit of not being happy with the present and instead wishing for better days, either behind or before us. The time of change was uncomfortable – it’s no fun to change.
Our reading from Isaiah mentions that time of the Exodus as well: “the Lord makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.” Yeah, that sounds pretty good, huh? The Lord took care of Israel’s enemies. The good old days.
But Isaiah goes on to say, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” Sure, that was great what God did, but don’t dwell on it. Why not? Because “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I will give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Whew! That’s a pretty amazing promise! What God has in store is so powerful that it’s going to literally alter the natural course of the earth.
Which brings us to another truth about change: it can take a long time. Sure, God could put rivers in the desert with a snap of the fingers, but let’s say he’d choose to work with the natural environment he created. It would take centuries for a river to form in a desert – maybe longer! It would mean changing rainfall patterns, currents, even habitats (hence the wonder of the animals – they usually notice before we do when things are changing in the environment). God tends to let this incredible ecosystem that he’s set up work things out naturally, so if he’s promising a river in a desert, he’s not necessarily promising quick change. The end result will be refreshing and wonderful, but the time it takes could be enormous.
So if it takes, say, five years to put in a prayer and meditation room – that’s not so bad compared to a river in the desert, right! Could be about as difficult, though.
Isaiah’s prophecy that God was doing a new thing was fullfilled by the coming of the Messiah. After all, when Jesus came, God turned the world upside down. It was definitely a new thing. In our gospel text, Jesus’ parable also speaks of the coming of the Messiah (himself).
So what happens in our gospel story? The owner wanted his produce. But the tenants on his land had gotten pretty comfortable there, thinking they owned the place. After they’d beat up several of his servants, the owner of the land switches it up, makes a change, because nothing had worked so far. He sends his son to collect. He thinks they will respect him. But the tenants were only confused. They actually thought that killing the owner’s son would make them receive his inheritance! How crazy is that? They were so thrown by the change that they were not thinking straight.
This often happens when things change. Maybe a change is for the better, but we don’t see it. We may misunderstand what God is doing, and we may respond inappropriately. Thinking about these tenants, I remembered probably the biggest change in my lifetime: 9/11. Our country was thrown into a state of fear (rightly so) and we let a lot of changes happen that maybe weren’t so good for us. We were so thrown by the change that we couldn’t think straight. And now there’s a lot of mess to clean up. But to fix the mistakes, to change back or go forward, is also frightening. Change can be disorienting and downright scary.
Our epistle also talks about change. Paul has seen an incredible change in his life – and he realizes how good it is. It’s so good that his own past is like rubbish. Here he’s not saying that Judaism is bad, he’s just saying Christ is so much better that it makes that good look like garbage. What a new perspective!
Paul had been an awesome Pharisee. In the verses just before our reading today he says, he was “blameless” as to righteousness – he says he did everything right! And he did it out of love for God – he followed the best route he knew to God’s pleasure.
But when he found Christ, his world was so rocked that he says all the wonderful stuff before had been trash compared to the new thing. Paul recognizes that the new and the old can’t go together – he had to lose the old, and regard it “as rubbish” in order to “gain Christ.” Jesus said new wine can’t be poured into old wineskins, or they will burst. Paul is saying the same thing – when the new comes, the old becomes doesn’t work anymore. Isaiah says it too: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.”
So what do we do after we’ve forgotten the old? Paul answers, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
What is our heavenly calling? What new thing could God be doing among us, right now? Our bishops have been in the paper a lot recently, claiming that God is doing a new thing in our church. Is he? Or closer to home, just look around you: this congregation is changing. We have not one but two babies. There are more young people. There is a lot of diversity.
I mentioned our new prayer room. Building it means we had to let go of our ideas about what that space was for and release it to be a place for meditation and silence. We talked in our first Thursday night Lenten series about singing a new lyric in the Lord’s Prayer: “Who art in heaven” instead of “Which art in heaven.” That means we have to let go of our comfortable, habitual language, and instead really think about what it is we’re singing, and whether that matches what we believe. Last week, the vestry decided to begin ordering fair trade coffee, and that meant deciding as a congregation to support hardworking farmers instead of only looking for the cheapest price. That means letting go of our thriftiness, and instead seeing ourselves as part of a kingdom in which we take care of our brothers and sisters around the world.
Wow! You guys are doing pretty great with all these changes. Maybe you didn’t even know they were happening. What I am wondering is if these little changes are all some kind of preparation. Do you think God might be planning a very big new thing for St. Barnabas? I don’t know. But what I do know is that if God wants change, it will come, whether we are ready or not. All we can control is how we will react. Our hearts’ softness, our minds’ preparedness, our bodies’ willingness to get to work.
So if God wants us to move forward, forgetting what lies behind, how will we react? Will we, with the psalmist, long for the good old days? Will we misunderstand and reject the change that’s really good for us, like the tenants in our gospel parable?
Or will we seek out what God is doing? “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Isaiah said the change would be so great that the animals and the earth would be amazed! Paul says that what he had before was really good – but he took the leap and now what was before just looks like refuse, because the new thing is so much better.
I don’t know what changes God is calling our church, or our city, or our denomination, or our country to. I don’t know what changes are going on in your life. But my prayer is that we will be open to letting God change us. That we will discern together as a community how, and where, God wants us to change. That we will not ignore what is before our eyes when change starts coming, but “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
And I pray that what comes will be so surpassing great, that everyone – even the jackals and the ostriches – will honor our amazing God.
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