Sermon for 5 Lent, Year C
Based on Isa. 43:18-19 & Phil. 3:8-14
“Change and Newness”
In our first and second lessons today, we are grasped by a reality which many people have great difficulties accepting. The reality I am referring to is change and newness. The writer of our first lesson no doubt shocked, surprised, and perhaps even offended his audience—the Israelites who were living in exile und the Babylonians—when he said: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” The apostle Paul also places great emphasis on the reality of change and newness, by saying: “but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Ever since it’s inception, the Christian Church has wrestled with change and newness. On the one hand, there were and still are conservative Christians who generally have a negative attitude toward change. They tend to be suspicious, skeptical, critical and even downright hostile toward change and newness. They value what is old and traditional more than everything else. Often they say: “We are very comfortable with the way things are; we see no reason to change.”
This sort of attitude toward change and newness has serious problems. It can, and often does, lead to a fortress mentality. People then insist on making sharp distinctions between we and they. The we people soon retreat from the world out there in order to preserve the old and the traditional. It can also cause people to be so content with the way things are that they close their minds and hearts completely—refusing to learn anything different or new. In its extreme form, conservative Christianity resists and seeks to destroy all change and newness—calling it bad or the enemy or evil.
For example, when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published, there were some people who were so offended that they called it the work of the devil and in some cases, even burned this new translation.
On the other hand, there were, and still are, liberal Christians who generally have a positive attitude toward change and newness. They tend to embrace change and newness with open arms. They are very optimistic about change and newness. They actively seek out change and newness. This sort of attitude toward change and newness also has serious problems. It can value change and newness so much that whatever is old or traditional becomes the enemy, evil, obsolete or irrelevant. It can be so open, tolerant and idealistic about change and newness that it no longer discerns between what is good change and what is bad or harmful change. In its extreme form, liberal Christianity can be so conformed to the world that the central, unique message of the Christian faith is lost or seriously distorted.
The middle way combines the best of conservative and liberal Christianity. It accepts change and newness as a reality, which is at work in every aspect of life. The world of nature is always in the process of change and newness. Our earth is a planet always on the move. Human beings are always physically in the process of change. The same is also true of us spiritually. We are pilgrims on a journey of life. We are disciples; which means that we always have something to learn from our Teacher—we never attain the stature or excellence of Christ. We are always in the process of becoming Christians as Soren Kierkegaard put it.
This middle way accepts the reality that some—not all—change and newness is necessary and good. It employs the gift of discernment to distinguish between good change and bad change. With discernment, it also accepts what is valuable and good of the old and the traditional. It does not retreat from the world as a way to remain secure, smug or comfortable. It is actively involved in the world without being conformed to it—trusting and hoping that God is at work in the world in and through us—even in spite of us.
We, like the ancient Israelites in exile; can fall into the temptation of being so deeply entrenched in what is old or traditional that we miss out on or are completely blind towards change and newness. We may be so hopeless about the future that we fail to see or accept change and newness, even if it is right in front of us. We, like the ancient Israelites, may be afraid of change and newness—because it threatens to do away with our escape back into “the golden olden days.” It is also too unfamiliar and we don’t like the unfamiliar. Whatever our reasons for avoiding change and newness; our first lesson today challenges us have hope for the future—to see the change and newness that God is bringing about—to become involved in it.
In our second lesson, Paul is addressing all Christians who fall into the temptation of coasting. Some Christians point to their past accomplishments, thinking they have finally arrived so-to-speak; thus, they can now sail through the remainder of their lives on the strength of what they have done in the past. They believe that they’ve progressed as far as possible. They know it all and they have done it all.
Paul is saying a resounding “NO!” to such Christians. He is saying we cannot rely on our past accomplishments—however great—as a security blanket. The Christian life is a pilgrimage—a discipleship of discipline—a moving ahead involving a life of change and newness. It is similar to the athlete running a race; if the runner looks back over their shoulder; he or she may very well lose the race. It is, as Paul says, a pressing on, a straining forward to the goal and prize of Jesus Christ.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit scientist, suggested that in addition to thinking of God as beyond us, we might also visualize God as being ahead of us in the ongoing development of creation.
May we be led by God into a new hope-filled future for the whole creation; in which we embrace positive change. May we perceive the new changes, which come from God, and thereby strain forward to a more peaceful, just creation transformed by Jesus Christ.
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