Change is good; you go first!
Fifth Sunday of Easter Season
April 24, 2016
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I had the most interesting Friday evening this past week. I attended the Convocation of the new North East Region of the Episcopal Church of Connecticut. I’m on the Transition Team to help with the changeover from the old Deanery system to the new Region system. And so I attended the convocation in Ashford two nights ago, and tweeted like crazy with the diocesan hashtag, which is #ecct. You can look up all those tweets if you have any inclination.
The night was primarily a time of ice-breaking. It featured what the organizers called “dinner church.” Was it ever different from the usual Eucharist! We started with the gospel, then moved on to the Great Thanksgiving where we consecrated the bread and wine and had communion. Then we had supper, and ended with the Prayers of the People and a blessing from one of our bishops.
It was quite the metaphor for the organizational shake-up we’re experiencing right now in the church across Connecticut.
These convocations are being held for each of the 6 new regions, and our own Southwest Region Convocation is being held at Christ and Holy Trinity Church in Westport, Friday evening, May 13 & Saturday, May 14. I hope that a whole bunch of you will be able to attend that!
But even as this weekend held a lot of excitement, it also held a lot of fear for some folks. There was a lot of resistance to being asked to do something without a lot of direction from on high. I think there was also a fear of failure lurking in the dark shadows. But all in all it was a very successful and fun beginning to this reorganization effort.
Fear and resistance are absolutely predictable reactions to changing things around and doing something new. That reminds me of the sign I saw in a restaurant once—and that I’ve quoted here before. It said, “Change is good. You go first.” It must be something inbred in us by the evolutionary process. It must be something that helped the cavemen survive—this inbred wariness of The New.
But this resistance and fear may not help US grow. Usually we grow through stretching ourselves into The New. And that’s certainly the hope behind what’s happening in Connecticut. We’re being challenged to re-form our ways of being church—so that we’ll be strengthened, even at this time of consolidation and growing smaller that all the mainline churches are going through.
Our readings today are all over “The New.” It’s most obvious in the passage from Revelation. Our reading occurs near the climax of that book. We hear God say, “See, I am making all things new.” And that includes a new heaven and a new earth, and a new order in which God comes to dwell with his people forever on the earth. Read it carefully and with fresh eyes—because Revelation paints a different picture of the end times than many of us carry around in our heads.
God’s promise of newness in the Book of Revelation brings hope to people, families, countries, and the whole world—that at the consummation of all things, everything will be reNEWed. And there will be no room any more for suffering and pain and crying. And God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
Our Gospel has Jesus giving his disciples a NEW commandment—that they love one another. Now, God’s chosen people had that commandment given to them in the Old Testament already. But it’s NEW here because it’s in the context of the assembled body that came to be called the church. Jesus’ words are for the Body—love one another—and so shine forth God’s hope to a very needy world.
But it’s the story from Acts that really breaks open what it is to be in The New. The story is of how Peter comes to know that since Jesus’ resurrection, the world is made new. The old laws about diet and exclusivity don’t hold any more. Even Gentiles are eligible to be in the Body of Christ, no matter what they eat or with whom they eat.
Peter is shown without a doubt that God is doing a new thing now. God proved it not only through the vision Peter had but also by the Holy Spirit coming upon the Gentile household that Peter was visiting. That had to be God’s unmistakable seal of approval—how can you argue with that? God was breaking through boundaries that previously were sacrosanct.
This is a story not of conformation but of transformation.
The New is unavoidable. We’ve seen it in church over the years, haven’t we? An inclusion of women as ordained leaders in the mid-70’s, a new Prayer Book in 1979, inclusion of people of various sexual orientations as ordained leaders in the 90’s and the Oughts. And most recently we’ve seen permission given by General Convention for priests to preside at the marriage of persons of the same sex. The amount of change in our lifetimes has been astonishing.
In Connecticut now we’re dealing with a new organization of our common life. The Deaneries are being dissolved as of July 1, by act of Annual Convention. The Region structure is coming in, and will be functional the second half of this year. No longer will we be called the Diocese of Connecticut, but the Episcopal Church of Connecticut, ECCT.
The church is often a microcosm of the world. Our struggles to change and to be transformed under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and our bishops haven’t been entirely smooth. There’s been a lot of resistance and pushback, especially from Type A folks (like me!) who prefer a clear structure and schedule, and a roadmap for how we go through Change.
But sometimes the Spirit doesn’t seem to work that way. And we struggle with The New, and eventually we catch up with it. And then things change again.
That’s the way our lives roll out, isn’t it?
Will we take the opportunities that change brings in order to help us be transformed? Or – to use a phrase from the Book of Acts – will we, all our lives, be kicking against the goads? What a waste of good and holy energy!