Sunday, February 15, 2009

Practicing change

I promise, dear readers, to not make this a habit - posting sermons. But here is today's sermon. You can also hear the audio version (with ad libs) on the main St. Paul's website.

I am posting this because it is about the topic of change, and this cannot help but be the topic of conversation at St. Paul's and everywhere we go in the next year. Here you are...

Practicing Change
By the Rev. James Richardson
6 Epiphany - Feb. 15, 2009

Sometimes simplicity can get complicated.

Take Naaman, who we meet in the Old Testament lesson today. Naaman is a soldier who is very sick. The prophet Elisha tells him to go wash in the Jordan seven times. But Naaman goes away angry. Surely it must be more complicated than this. Things are not as he expects them. When, thanks to a lowly servant, Naaman finally catches on and changes his attitude, he washes and is healed.

It was as simple as Elisha said.

Or take the nameless leper who is healed by Jesus. Things are not as he expects. Jesus heals the leper and tells him to go to the Temple to be washed, and not talk about what he has seen. Of course, the healed man goes out and blabs to everyone, and soon large crowds descend upon Jesus.

Simple change is rarely simple.

These biblical stories, and others like it, are at their core meant to push us off kilter so we can see God’s blessing more clearly than we have seen before. These stories are designed to change our conventional thinking, and sometimes conventional thinking is more complicated than it needs to be. Sometimes we need a jolt out of our comfort zone so that we can see God more clearly and love more dearly.

The apostle Paul is driving at the same point in his letter today, but coming at it from a different direction. This idea of running the race is not about being the fastest or the first past the finish line.

Rather, Paul is talking about how we run the race of life. He implores us to buck up, and learn how to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s like the old joke: How do you get to Carnagie Hall? Practice, practice, practice, just like an athlete practices. It is about growing up by practicing change so that change will not overwhelm us.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change and why it is so difficult. We live in a world undergoing tremendous upheaval and change. The economy around the globe and here at home is changing in ways none of us yet comprehend. Life around us is full of change and much of it can be overwhelming.

I know many of you are undergoing big changes and challenges in your life and work or in school, or in your family, or with your health.

In my own life, I have undergone a great deal of change in the last year: changing jobs, and moving across the country to answer your call to be your rector. Lori and I are very much on a steep learning curve in this, our new community. Change is fatiguing and not always the adventure it is cracked up to be.

It is tempting to come to church looking for a refuge where nothing changes. Indeed, the Church is often characterized as the “rock,” suggesting it just sits there as a lifeless stone.

We do need to hold to that which is good and right in the midst of the changes and chances of life, and there is much that is good right here in this church worth holding and celebrating.

Yet, we should not see the Church as an inert clump of stone. The church is alive, it is an organism, and the church is changing, both here and everywhere.

In our own Anglican Communion and its American branch, the Episcopal Church, there is much conflict over change. The conflicts are sometimes playing out in with ugly arguments, name calling, throwing Bibles at each other, and in lawsuits over property. It also comes out as arguments over who should be ordained, or whether we should create rites for same-sex marriage, and a raft of other issues.

Our parish is not immune to those disagreements. We are a large parish and we have people who disagree and disagree deeply on all manner of issues, large and small. How we disagree is as important as what we disagree about.

We can see those disagreement as a cause for alarm, or, we can see it as a reason to celebrate because we are learning to thrive by living in the tension of our differences. We are practicing change together, and that is one reason we are a healthy parish, full of people committed to caring for each other and for the world around us.

I believe there is a holy spark here at St. Paul’s that can show others how to model healthy change in the rest of the church and the world. It is why we have been invited by Bishop Lee to be among a handful of parishes in this diocese that will be part of the “Windsor Listening Process” to develop a model of dialogue for the the diocese and the Church at large.

To practice change requires walking lightly through change, and not taking ourselves so seriously all the time. That is not always easy. It requires not worrying when something doesn’t work and moving on. And that requires practice, just as Paul suggests an athlete must practice to a run race.

And here’s the good news: We don’t have to do this alone. We can find strength together, as a community of faith, and discover together how new growth and resurrection will come to each of us, day by day.

When we do, we cannot help but spread healing and hope into the world beyond, and we have no greater mission than that.
One more thing: You don’t have to agree with a word I say or a thing I do. No matter our differences, we all come together each and every Sunday to share in the bread and wine of our Holy Communion, and it is that unity of sharing in the presence of the Holy that we are made a Holy people.

And it really can be that simple.

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