These are the times that try men’s souls. So begins Thomas Paine’s The Crisis. His essay talks about choices and change. Matthew’s gospel tells us about the signs of the end of days. Paul, in the New Testament, tells us to persevere and train as if we planned to be in Olympic competition.
Here we are in 2017. Around us are wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6), (Luke 21:11) floods, fires (Joel 2:30 ff), earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, famine, family members quarreling (Matthew 10:21), drug abuse epidemics, climate change, divisions, violence in the streets, technologies that take control of our lives… If these are not trying times which seem to point to the end of time, I don’t know what is.
We can let the signs and the times overwhelm us. We can allow them to control our emotions, thoughts and actions. We can become immobilized. We can decide to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die (Ecclesiastes 8:15). We can also see possibilities. We can bring hope. We can share love. We can believe in ourselves. We can transform the impossible into great realities. Attitude matters. Our actions and words matter.
Look at the example of Jonah. He did not want to be hated by telling people the path they were on was leading to certain destruction. He feared they would mock him or worse. When he became inspired to preach, he condemned folks to violence and death, told them their egocentrism, greediness, apathy were their downfall. When he completes his preaching tour, he watches for God to destroy them. He feels smug, better than them, closer to God, right…
The people who listened to Jonah, responded to his message. They changed. They shared, learned compassion, became less wasteful, and prayed for forgiveness. Repentance showed in changed lifestyles. The path they had been traveling was altered and their painful and horrible end was avoided.
Jonah gets mad about that. And God says how can you be angry that these many people and animals were spared? You did your job well. You changed the world. Get up, there is more for you to do. There was hope for Jonah too.
In our world of negativity, constant change, hectic schedules, unrealistic expectations… We long for something to remain the same, someplace where we know what to expect. Many of us look to our houses of worship for that stability. It is not the church that provides stability, it is our God made known to us in Jesus Christ. Relationships provide our foundations and safe havens. We must have positive, growing relationship with Jesus, ourselves and others in order to remain sane, positive and hope filled. Houses of worship can be destroyed. History can be altered by the latest discovery or revelation. Relationship comes from a deeper more secure place. Relationship is what we are created for. Relationship must not be undermined by tradition, electronics, politics, disasters or fear. Relationship is fluid, relevant, interactive, uplifting, challenging… Jesus calls us to put what we believe into obvious practice in the way we live every day.
The church as we have known it, is not the church we are called to be. Church structure, organization, and mission – must be open to change, growth, new leading from the Spirit. God is calling us to a renewed sense of stewardship of our resources: time, money, volunteers, history, environment, our bodies, our minds and our souls. God knows change can be hard – but it is rewarded with renewed energy and hope.
(Acts 2:17) God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young will see visions and your old dream dreams. Even on servants will I pour my Spirit in those days.
We are called to let die what no longer serves us well (John 15:2). We are called to revive the hope that is ours in Jesus (I Peter 1:3). We all have a part to play that is critical (I Corinthians 12:12-27).
As the United Church of Christ seeks to remain faithful followers of Jesus Christ we change. This is happening on national, conference, association and congregation levels. Clergy are still teachers, preachers and prophets. Clergy are advocates, informers, activists….. Laity are a critical part of the body of Christ. All of us must be equipped, in constant training, self-disciplined, reliable… wise stewards of all of God’s gifts (Matthew 10). We bring those gifts to community. That community near and far, is the church (Romans 12).
Pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 4 & 5), be team players, never give up on yourself or others, take a Sabbath each week; engage in a lifestyle that witnesses to your faith, vision and dreams. Together we as the church are great and will save the world.
God is alive and well,
Rev. Linda Meredith