I wonder if you would do something for me. Would you cross your arms. Now look at them carefully. Which one is on top? Which one as a hand tucked in? Now uncross your arms. Now cross them the other way. Put the other arm on top. Tuck in the other hand. How does that feel? What do you think it would take for you to change permanently change the way that you cross your arms? Given that crossing our arms is something we do to be comfortable, maybe even to comfort ourselves, to help us feel secure, how would it feel to change it, to be uncomfortable about how we cross our arms? What reward would be needed to get us to do change this one small thing?
The theme for this evening’s service is change. The songs and prayers, readings and reflections are here to give us an opportunity to think about change.
There has been so much change over the last decades. Perhaps more change than at any other time in human history. For some of us there is so much change that we have no control over that we defend very strongly the familiar things that we do have some control over. But even they change. Time passes and things that have stopped growing start dying. How can our faith help us to live with change? What demands does our faith put on us in terms of change? And what does all this have to do with unity or mission?
It seems to me that looking back to an important change that has already occurred, and forward towards a change that will happen in the future, can help us to start to answer these questions. It can help us to deal with and understand the change that is happening now.
The first aspect of change that I’d like us to think about is change that has already happened. As Christians, people who follow Jesus, we have been changed. We were separated from God by sin, and now we have been adopted into God’s family. How did that happen? By God’s grace we believed in the reality and power of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The seed fell to the ground and died. Then it bore much fruit in resurrection. The change in us was made possible by the resurrection change of Jesus. And this was all because of the unchanging love of God for us. God, in unchanging love, changed history so that we could become part of God’s family.
And something else happened at that point. The change was not just about us as individually, but it also changed our relationships with other people. We were made part of Christ’s body, which is the church. We were united with one another. In Christ we are one. This is not optional; it is a fact about who we are as Christians. If we are united with Christ in faith, then we are united with others who are also united with Christ.
The second aspect of change that I would like us to think about is the change that is to come. This is the change that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about. It is the change that will come at the end of time, when Jesus will return in glory. At that time we will all be changed, transformed. In some way there will be continuity with who we are now, but it will also be different. As Paul explains, that change will have to happen so that we can live in all the fullness that God has in store for us for all eternity. We have become children of God, heirs of the Kingdom, but in order to receive all that that entails, we must, and will, be changed further.
In the background to all this we have the same kind of ideas floating around. We have the idea of resurrection. Something must die, in this case our perishability, in order for new life to come. We also have the idea of God’s unchanging love. The idea that change is necessary for us so that we can experience more fully the unchanging love of God.
So, we were changed in the past, when we were born again into the family of God. We will be changed in the future, when we come into our inheritance. Both of these changes depend on resurrection, life following death, and on the unchanging love of God.
And so, now it is time for us to go back to where we started, with what we have learnt, and think about the change that is happening now. I don’t just mean at this very moment, but a slightly wider now. The now that includes this week and this year. It seems to me that the question facing us is, “In the light of the change that was completed in us at our new birth, and in the light of the change that will be worked in us at the end of time, how are we to live and change now?”
We might be tempted to try and avoid change because we want the security of the familiar and the well known. We feel safe with the people that we have known for a long time, people that we have grown up with. We are reassured by the rhythms that have been part of our lives for years. But, we cannot stop change. Like a little boy on the sand we can dig as many channels as we like to try and protect the sand castle but the tide is still coming in. If we are looking to the things of this world for our safety, security, and comfort then we will be disappointed. Time passes and things change. However, as we have seen, there is one thing that does not change. God’s love for us does not change. It will never be worn or washed away by time. It is deeper and higher, broader and longer than we can ever imagine. It will not let us go.
It is because we are secure in this unchanging love that we are free to embrace the central place of resurrection in our faith. “ unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
This saying of Jesus is so central to all of Christian life, and especially to how we think about unity and mission.
We’ve already seen that unity is not an optional extra for the people of God. We are one. But, sometimes it doesn’t look like it from the outside, sometimes not even from the inside. We speak ill of each other, we mistrust each other, we fail to love each other, not realising that we are self harming, cutting our own body, and worse than that, the body of Jesus.
Lord, have mercy.
How can we get out of these self-wounding habits, how can we change? By knowing that we are securely held in the unchanging love of our Father, and so being free to embrace the death of things that are dear to us, so that the church might be truly one and bear the fruit of that unity. I’m not talking about us all thinking, worshipping, and praying in the same way. That isn’t unity, it’s monotony. I’m talking about the church reflecting truly the diversity in unity of the Creative and Loving Three in One. The love that prefers others to self and dies to self that all might live.
It is true that change can threaten unity because people have a different capacity and desire for change. The challenge for those of us who want to engage with new things is to listen carefully to the caution of those who distrust novelty. The challenge for those of us who wish things could stay the same is to hear the call to move forward in faith and love. For those caught in the middle, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
Similarly, death and resurrection is at the core of mission. In unchanging love God sent Jesus into the world to free us and all creation from the slavery of sin and death. In the same way Jesus sent us to continue that work. Sure of God’s unchanging love for us, we follow the path that Jesus took, the path of death to self that the fruit of new life might be raised. For some of us that will mean serving our families, friends, and neighbours in a way that puts our needs and preferences in second place. For some churches it will mean changing the way that we meet and worship so that those we are called to reach out to might find a home. For some of us it means pioneering new ways of enabling people to hear and respond to God’s unchanging love. For all of us it will mean change.
We have been changed. We will be changed. We are changing. In all of this we can be sure that God’s love for us does not change. This is the love that brings life from death and which binds us together in unity and mission.