Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
April 1, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
There's a jar sitting on the counter of a Pike Place Market shop. A sign leaning against it says, "Afraid of change?" "Leave it here."
Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to lay our fears down so easily? Those fears that hound us when we feel jolted by change moving through our lives; the anxieties that grab hold of us when we sense something new is arising in us.
Moving into unknown territory often makes us hold on tenaciously to the past or at the very least we use the past as a place from which to re-imagine our future.
""Remember not the former things, neither consider the things of old" we hear from Isaiah this morning. Not remember, not even consider? The prophet seems to suggest that the new does not appear from the elements of the old but arises from the death of the old. Something happens in the moment of total surrender to the unknown and letting go of the past that creates space for God to do something new in us.
That space of new creation is mysterious and veiled; we cannot predict just when and how something new will be born or reborn. It "springs to light" meaning it comes out of the darkness of the mysterious chaos that we often experience as out-of-control turbulence threatening the stability we value.
There's a Family Circle cartoon, which shows a young boy defiantly standing on the beach between his wonderful sand castle and the large wave coming towards it. "Go back, go back," he shouts, pushing his hands towards the ocean.
Sometimes the change coming towards us is simply too big to stop and we're forced to watch the destruction of something we've created and valued. It's so easy to stay focused on what has been destroyed for we often aren't sure what to do next. But, when we do that we short-change our imagination's ability to create another beautiful castle more suited to the person we are now becoming.
Sometimes the destruction itself gives new life. Howard Thurman notes how the seed of the jack pine will not be given up by the cone unless it is subjected to sustained and concentrated heat. In the midst of the ashes left behind in a forest fire the seed stirs to life. "It is not too far a field to suggest that there are things deep within the human spirit that are firmly imbedded, dormant, latent and inactive. . . there they remain until our lives are swept by the forest fire: It may be some mindless tragedy, some violent disclosure of human depravity or some moment of agony in which the whole country or nation may be involved. The experience releases something that has been locked up within all through the years." Such a release can shake our very foundations but we have the possibility, as difficult as it may be, of responding in a life-affirming way. We do not do it alone.
"I am doing a new thing" says God in the Isaiah passage. The source of the new thing is something Eternal, neither old nor new itself. In the passage from Corinthians we hear: "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, all things have become new."
God often does not work from the same script that we do; our limited ideas of what can be new and where it will come from can trap us into just dressing up the old rather than having a whole new garment created. God weaves strands into our lives from worlds unknown to us; oftentimes worlds which we have shut out by old decisions and old exclusions. Many of those decisions were based on the best information available to us at the time. However, often times our past decisions were guided simply by uninformed and unquestioned history. Listen to this story:
Mary had the extended family over to her house for Easter. As was the custom, she was preparing a ham for their dinner. As she got the ham ready, she sliced off both ends of the ham. Her 6-year-old son watching said, "Why do you cut the ends off Mommy?" Mary hesitated and then answered honestly, "I don't know honey, it's something I learned from my mother; it must be the best way to do it." Being a typically curious and not easily satisfied 6-year-old, her son asked the visiting grandma why she always cut the end off the ham. "It's the way my mother did it, honey," she answered, "I think it helps it make good juices for basting." Later, after dinner, the family went over to the nursing home to visit the boy's great-grandmother who could no longer venture out. Ever true to his quest, the boy asked his great grandmother about cutting the ham. She was silent for a moment, wrinkling her brow as she remembered back. Then she said, "Oh, yes . . . I remember. We only had one roasting pan in those days and it was simply too short for the ham so we cut off the ends to make it fit."
This is a light-hearted story but has an important truth in it. One danger of becoming attached to the old is we no longer question why we are doing things the way we are. We continue to make accommodations in our lives for reasons that are no longer valid or no healthy.
"Do you not perceive this new thing?" says God, suggesting that we cannot; that it is hard to discern this new thing originating with God. The new life that comes from our Source is generated from a love that is beyond whatever else we have experienced. We're not sure we believe it's possible. We're hesitant to make ourselves vulnerable and trusting to receive such a love.
There is an old song that says, "Looking for love in all the wrong places; looking for love in all the wrong faces."
Such a love comes only from God and yet we continue to look elsewhere for it. We cannot be freed into new life when we give our soul to other gods or are held captive by the expectations of others.
Often we think the newness of God's love concretely experienced in our life will look like the newness for someone else. We miss understanding that God's word of love is expressed uniquely in each one of us. God gives to us the word that we each need to hear.
There is a story of how the spirit of a famous guru appeared to a small, discordant community of monks in need of healing. All the monks had seen the spirit come out of the wall one day long enough to utter just one word. But each monk had heard a different word:,br>
The one who wanted to die hear live.
The one who wanted to live heard die.
The one who wanted to take heard give.
The one who wanted to give heard keep.
The one who was always alert heard sleep.
The one who was always asleep heard wake.
The one who wanted to leave heard stay.
The one who wanted to stay, depart.
The one who never spoke heard preach.
The one who always preached heard pray.
Each monk experienced a new awareness because of how they perceived the word spoken to them.
How open are we to hearing God's unique word spoken to us? How willing are we to risk following that word and be made new? Willing enough to live with the doubts?
Albert Huffstickler wrote this poem called The Edge of Doubt:
There's always that edge of doubt.Even now, when you cannot yet see your way out of darkness, a light is gathering power within you. Give up certainty, give up former things. Trust that a way is being made in the wilderness and rivers will appear even in the desert.
Trust it. That's where the new things come from.
If you can't live with it, get out because, when it's gone you're on automatic, repeating something you've learned.
Let your prayer be: save me from that tempting certainty that leads me back from the edge, that dark edge where the first light breaks.
"Even now it is springing to light," says God. Even now when you have given up hope.
God gives us the freedom to choose.
Even Jesus had the freedom to choose whether to return to Jerusalem where his enemies awaited ready to torture and kill him. He did not hold on to the former things; he trusted so much in God that he went forth with his fears and doubts towards a chilling unknown.
Jesus died showing us how to live. How to willingly be made new. How to love God so much that nothing else matters.
This morning we gather around the table for communion to experience life made new as we fill our thirsty souls with the cup of blessing and our hungry hearts with the true bread of life. May we come to this table willing to be made new. Amen.