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    Aug 11, 2019

    The 9th Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 12:32-40

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,

    the conviction of things not seen.  Hebrews 1:1

     

    We Episcopalians are people of many things…

              We’re people of the book – or perhaps, books…

                       The Book of Common Prayer

                                 and the Bible.

    We’re a denomination that was born in conflict –

              in the crucible of reform.

    We’re people who believe in the primacy of Scripture

              but do not underestimate the importance of reason,          

                       and experience, which we understand as tradition.

    We are people who especially respect and enjoy tradition.

              We get the importance of ancient ritual.

    We know that a deep understanding of who we have been,

              and who we are,

    can be captured in time tested spiritual and liturgical practices –

    ceremonies and services which provide grounding, stability –

    and even a sense of who we might become.

    I’ve known and appreciated this on a personal level for many years…

    first understood on the day of my father’s funeral –

    some 40 years ago.

    He died young – at 51;

    I was ten days shy of my 24th birthday.

    And I was my daddy’s girl. 

    I felt as if the universe had suddenly imploded –

    that I was surrounded, overwhelmed, enveloped by a chaos,

    that would never end. 

    I felt that way until my mother, my sisters,

    my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and cherished friends –

    all walked together down the center aisle of our church –

    behind the white draped casket –

    saying the well-known prayers, singing the beloved old hymns.

    Although I was not sure how it would happen,

    I knew, I knew…

    that in the performance of the timeless rituals of Eucharist and Burial –

    rituals my father had loved and taught me to love,

    in a scared place we had inhabited together,

    that somehow the world would right itself in time

    and we would all be just fine.

    Yes, we are people who know the comfort of our ancient ways –

    Who find life, hope and renewal in them.

    And that is all well and good –

              Meet and right, we might say.

    We’re also people who can get too attached

              to the “ways things have always been.”

    …which sometimes makes us people who fear and resist change.

     

    You know the old joke about us Episcopalians, right?

    “How many Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb?”

    “Change?” the punchline goes –

    “My grandmother gave us that lightbulb!”

    So there it is, that word, change,

              like those others that strike fear into the hearts of Episcopalians – words like evangelism, tithing, or

    “we’ve got a very stubborn stain in the fair linen…

              These words raise a variety of anxiety-based responses

    in good and faithful Anglicans.

    Nope, God’s frozen chosen do not like change.

    This is ironic and presents a problem…

    because we seek to follow a God who is all about making change.

    God is, has been and as far as we can see, will always         

    be in the business of transformation, of growth,

    of inviting positive change

    as God works out God’s dreams for the world.

     

    From the moment God determined to create all things,

    it was about fostering change:

    bringing order out of the void – out of nothingness, to something:  

    separating dark from light,

    distinguishing and giving unique purpose

    to things that crawl upon the earth,

    swim below the seas

    and fly throughout the skies.

     

    As God created and began to live out a relationship with humanity,

    God was all about making change.

    God said to Abram and Sarai,

    “I will be your God and you will be my people”

    and immediately began changing everything –

    the rules, their expectations and even their names. 

    I bring you a new Covenant,

    God told the first chosen people…

    In other words,

    pay attention, people – things are gonna change.

     

    Through the millennia, speaking through sages and prophets,

    God reminded us again and again,

    “See, I am doing something new – won’t you please perceive it?”

     

    God came to earth taking on human form –

    quite a big change, I would say –

     and began to lay out how things needed to be different.

     “I did not come to be served” Jesus told his disciples, “but to serve.”  

    “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Oh, yes and “Love your enemies” too!

    “You must lose your life to gain it.”

     

    We seek to follow a God who is all about change. 

    But we often illustrate Newton’s first law of motion –

              that bodies at rest remain at rest…

    until an external and equal force incites it to move.

     

    So when a significant change occurs –

    like the retirement of an ordained leader after 30 years –

    people react.

    And they react in some predictable and detectable ways.

     

    I’m fond of saying that people in the midst of a big life change,

    People undergoing a major transition in church,

    act like cats when you rearrange the furniture.   

     

    Cats are very much like Anglicans –

    they struggle mightily with changes in their environment.

    They act out what they are feeling:

    …some come out fightin’ - spitting and hissing, scratching with claws; …some make their consternation known in other, less combative, but equally effective ways –

    Let us say, they make their mark,

    on the carpet (always in secret until it is way too late)

    or depositing a lovely hair ball on Grandma’s antique,

    hand-crocheted duvet cover.

    Some hide away – hunkering down in the vanity in the guest bathroom

    coming out only under cover of darkness to drink or feed;

    …some will embrace the change with enthusiasm –

    seeking a new adventure, an intrepid journey into the new;

    and some become incredibly needy –

    forcing their way onto laps, or around necks,

    constantly and vociferously demanding

    to be petted, fed or tossed a paper ball to chase.

    Some will run away and never come back.

    People in transition –

              people in a congregation undergoing transition        

    will demonstrate all of these behaviors –

              well, symbolically that is.

    Because, whether change is welcome or not,

              Understandable or not,

    requires some adjustments,

    and it is hard…

              we’re bodies at rest you know- who would prefer to remain there…

    so we all need to find new ways of coping and adapting.

     

    This is what makes the time of transition in a parish

    so interesting so exciting, so challenging, so frustrating

    and sometimes so very painful.

     God is doing something new

    and we’re all doing our best to find ways of getting on with it.

    So transition time is a tender time…

              a time in which we need to look out for one another,

                       to be extra patient with each other and with ourselves…

    and it is a time to rely upon our faith…

              the assurance of things hoped for,

              the conviction – the sure and certain hope,

    in things not seen – at least not seen yet.

    And despite all that can be problematic during a transition time,

    there is good news for us today. 

    Because when change comes –

    when God starts doing something new,

    God shows up to help us through it. 

    Transition is exactly the time when God shows up –

    and perhaps because we’re vulnerable at such a time,

    we may be more open to the notion

    that God is working, sight unseen,

    on our behalf.

    Transitional times, then,

    When we open ourselves o the possibility that God is at work

              Even when that work is not yet visible,

    Well, those times can be holy spaces

    for us to learn and practice the work of faith –

    the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

     

    The world is being changed – prepared for God’s purposes –

    Always, behind the scene –

    made from things that are not visible,

    says the writer of the letter to the Hebrews. 

    But things that are nonetheless happening all around us.

     

    In my work with parishes in transition between one rector and another,

     I have often been comforted and delighted

    by an image that came to me once in a dream.

    I was worried about whom we would find to serve

    in a parish with many challenges.

    This worry would often literally keep me up at night and disturb my sleep.

    But one night I dreamed

    that out of our eye-sight, behind the scene, if you will…

    God was crooking a finger at a priest in another town;

    whispering in the ear of that priest

    in God’s still small voice…

    “it’s time to think about your next call;

    consider a new parish,

    somewhere else….”

    and God would go on to describe,

    in general terms, the parish into which we were seeking

    to place a new leader.

    I stopped worrying after that…

    recognizing that while we did our work…

    reflecting on the history of the place.

    discerning the skills, characteristics,

    talents and experience needed for our new rector,

    dreaming about our future,

    there was God, already on the job…

    inviting the one with whom

    God wanted us to do be doing something new.

    And I knew, God would provide the strength for us

    to be quiet enough, be prayerful enough,

    to be aware enough and awake enough to perceive it.

    In times of transition,

    God shows up and brings astounding new things to bear:

    ancient nomads receive a land of milk and honey;

    ancient wives give birth to children named Laughter –

    whose descendants become as numerous as the stars. 

    People of different races, languages, traditions, and life styles

    come together as one around a table

    with simple gifts of bread and wine,

    and begin to change the world for the better – together!

    The everyday world is being transformed, is growing,

              yes, being changed through the process of transition

    into the realm, the very kingdom of God.

    So during this time of transition,

              here at Holy Trinity,

    I will be speaking with you about many things.

    But there is one message for you

    that is more important than all the rest.

    This message is not my own,

              but has been handed down by the faithful in countless ways

    through the years -

    this message is a central part of our tradition 

              and captured in the words of Psalm 33,

    which is one of the selections of Scripture in the lectionary for today:

    “God fashions our hearts and understands all our works” says the Psalmist. 

    “The eye of the Lord is always on those who fear him,

    and those who wait upon his love.”

    “God plucks our lives from death,

    and feeds us in times of famine…

    God is our help and shield and in God we put our trust.”

    It is in this God, the divine change maker,

              The transformer of old things into new,

    In whom we put our trust.

    The time of transition has begun. 

    We have some distance to go together before we see the outcome. 

    We may, in fact, not like change or even do it so well.

    But here is our God, who is doing something new

    right here in the midst of us.

    Working all around us for an amazing future -

    One we could never begin to ask for or imagine.

    Fulfilling the promise of our efforts at faithfulness…

              providing for all that we might hope for,

    delivering on those things unseen which are the best for us.

     I have really only one message that will make a difference

    Through these days…

               – and if you remember nothing else that I ever say to you,

    remember this –

    God is with us, and acting.

    God is with us, and acting.

    God is with us - and acting.

    And that is all that we need to greet the changes of the future.

    That is more than enough.