On Tuesday I did a bit of eavesdropping, on the CWF. When they gather in the chapel for their monthly meeting I usually slip in and sit on the back row and listen. They had a great crowd on Tuesday and I didn’t want to interrupt them, so I sat just outside the door and listened to them. They were sharing some of their memories of the CWF in past years and I enjoyed listening to them talk about people, some of whom I did not have the opportunity to know, and I could hear in their voices that wistfulness that we often have when we talk about the past. We talk about the past with a sense of the changes that have taken place, and that means the past always seems simpler and more attractive than the present, doesn’t it? That’s one of the reasons why we often long for the past and the way things used to be, because our minds filter out enough of the difficulties and challenges and stresses that existed back then to give us a very idealized image of the past. But it’s also because we are reminded of those whom we have lost to eternity.
Change is a topic that we should turn to on a semi-regular basis because, well, things are always changing and we need help coping with those changes. Today, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we remember the day of which we say the world changed. The world is indeed a very different place since the day fifteen years ago.
In thinking about change, I will read two passages of Scripture; one from Matthew’s gospel and the other from the book of Hebrews.
Matthew 9:10-17 and Hebrews 13:8 –
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Change happens all around us, and to us, every day. There is no escaping change, and that is not all bad. We all have things in our lives that we would like to change; something as small, perhaps, as an annoying habit, or something as large and significant as our vocation.
It is interesting to note then, that when we talk about change we often put it in a negative context. I wish things would stop changing we exclaim. Or, why can’t we leave things alone? Why does everything have to change? It’s not that things have to change; it’s simply that things do change. Almost all change is inevitable, and much of that change is for the good.
This morning, I want to come at this topic by asking three questions, because I like structure that is offered by an outline. I like to have a framework from which to work, and I believe that makes it easier for it to stick in your mind. While I was on vacation earlier this year we attended church and heard a good sermon, but when the service was over I couldn’t put my finger on what the message was or what the points were. I need some structure, and I assume it is helpful to you as well. I also like to move into the very personal. These verses of Scripture have some very deep meanings, and it’s easy to dig very deep into them, but I believe sermons are not the same as a Bible study, so I don’t generally dig down into the depths of interpretation. Sermons are more of a bird’s eye view, looking at a theme or a passage in a more generalized and thematic manner.
I will ask you three questions this morning, with each question moving out in concentric circles, further out from our own lives.
1. What does God need to change in your life?
Last weekend I had the opportunity to catch up with my college roommate. The last time we saw each other was in 1989. Needless to say, we had both changed a good deal in appearance since we graduated from college and since our last meeting. Back in those days we both had a lot more hair. Now, there is less hair and what remains of it is quite gray. We spent a lot of time, of course, laughing about things we’d done years ago and about how much we’d changed. We also talked about how quickly the years had passed, how fast our children had grown, and marveled at all the things that have become commonplace since we were in college – the advent of personal computing, cell phones, the internet, and the rise of all things tech. And we wondered, after considering the rapid passage of time, about how fast the remainder of our lives would pass. I mentioned to him that I was still thinking about a few changes for my life that I was thinking about and talking about when we were in school in the 70s. Imagine – decades later, and I’m still talking about it.
Now, notice what I did not ask in this question – I did not ask what do you need or want to change in your life, but what does God need to change in your life? Those are not the same questions, and they represent very different perspectives. I understand, certainly, that we cannot put ourselves into the mind of God and know what God is thinking, but to ask the question from a perspective of the divine causes us to look at the question differently.
In the passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus referenced the placing of a patch of new cloth on an old garment. To follow the analogy, all of us have some holes in our lives that need to be covered, holes that need some patching. What are the holes with which we need to deal? What kind of patch can cover those holes? Where do the patches need to go in your life? The wear and tear of life leaves us a bit tattered – sometimes more than just a bit – and we can have enough patches to make us look like a quilt.
I am looking forward to getting started with the Stephen Ministry training. I look forward to it because, to be honest, I’ve long felt inadequate when it comes to counseling people. One of the toughest parts of counseling is getting below the surface, because people generally like to stay on the surface, because it is less threatening; you can talk and talk and not really have to deal with the real issues.
God, however, is in the business of transformation and wants to bring needed change in our lives. C. S. Lewis uses the illustration of a living house, as he writes imagine yourself as a living house. God comes into rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
(Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, page 174).
We certainly want some changes to come to our lives. We need some changes to come to our lives. So what stands in the way of that change?
2. How can God use you to bring change to the life of another?
The difficulty, of course, is that we are so bound up in what is happening in our own lives that it seems next to impossible to move into the life of another person and help them.
And, to be honest, it can be a very tricky endeavor to step into the life of another person. People put up walls and all manner of resistance. We can see it in this morning’s passage with the Pharisees, for example. They were always attacking Jesus, finding fault, offering criticisms, and part of it was not only their resistance to needed change, not only was it because of their rigid legalism; part of it was due to the fact, I believe, that they were trying to keep the attention off of themselves. Attacking Jesus was not just because they disagreed with him; it is an age-old way of deflecting attention from one’s self so you don’t have to deal with what you need to deal with. Psychologists tell us this is a common practice in people who do not want to deal with the issues in their life that need to change. Any time they sense someone might offer help or constructive criticism, they begin deflecting, which generally involves a personal attack on the person.
As I mentioned that we need some patches in our lives, we must remember that others have some tears and some fraying that needs patching as well. It might be someone very close to you who needs you to step forward and help to bring change to their life. It is not easy, I can assure you, but it is very worthwhile. But always step into the life of another with grace, kindness, and with love. Those qualities really do make a difference. If people know that we generally care about them, most of the time – maybe not always – but most of the time, they will respond.
Where can you mend a new patch onto the life of another?
3. How can God use you to bring change to the world?
That’s a rather big statement, isn’t it? There you go – go on out there and change the world!
We want some changes to come to our world, don’t we? And we need those changes. But will you or I change the world? Perhaps not the entire world. Not everyone is a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Mother Teresa, the type of individual that comes along only so often in history. But we each inhabit a portion of the world where we can effect change.
We must be prepared to face the reality that change comes easily, even needed and desired change. When Jesus likened change to new wine in old wineskins, or a patch of new cloth on an old garment, he bore testimony to the often disruptive and painful nature of change. Throughout his ministry, Jesus faced the harsh reactions of the religious leadership as they feared what he had to say, mostly because it represented a level of change with which they were very uncomfortable. They had vested interests in keeping things the way they were, and they fought to maintain the status quo. We are not that different, as we fight against changes that can be both beneficial and needed.
The struggle for democracy around our world, for instance, has never come easily. We have engaged in wars in the effort to secure democracy for ourselves and for other nations. The effort to bring equality to all people has likewise not been easy. Imagine where we would be, however, without those who have led, prodded, and pulled us toward those changes. Our world – and the lives of millions of people – would certainly be the lesser without those efforts.
Don’t forget – some of those changes are orchestrated by God for your benefit, so let’s not be afraid to change!