Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15
Luke 16: 1-13
Fall is coming and (achew!), I think I am allergic to change. With winter and summer, you know you have arrived. Its either hot or cold. But Fall and Spring? Those are the seasons of transition, of itchy and achey and sneezy change.
Anyone else here allergic to change? Maybe some of us like change- and good for you- you brave adventure seekers, you who somehow know that things are always changing and we might as well get used to it. But others of us like things to stay how they are, thank you very much.
But I have been thinking about change, and change in church, differently lately after a conversation with a wise friend. I said to my wise friend; “change is hard.” And you know what he said to me? “Ahh, but deep change is happening under the surface all the time- it helps when we can talk about it openly.”
Friends, experts say that the religious landscape is changing rapidly. That church is changing rapidly, that God is revealing new things, new ways to follow our teacher, savior, leader Jesus, in this day in age. 20, 30, 40 years ago, no one worked on Sundays, everything was closed on Sundays, and everyone went to church.
Now church is one of the MANY things one can do on a Sunday morning; we can sleep in, we can take a hike, we can go to a sports game, we can read the paper with some coffee—well, you can, I can’t. Point is, people are finding God in unexpected places; not just the church. And this is great news—God is everywhere! But it calls us- as church, to question “well, what does it mean to be church together, not just go to church?”
And when we start asking questions, well, things start unraveling, and things start to change. And (achew!), I am allergic to change.
The parable from the Gospel of Luke today takes place in a context where money is of high importance. The story is about managing and mismanaging resources and Jesus actually praises the manager of the rich man’s estate for squandering or mismanaging the money. He then makes a distinction between the “children of this age” and the children of light”—and urges both of these sets of children to not hold too tightly to wealth, because it prevents us from worshipping God.
But the word that stuck out to me is “dishonest wealth”- Jesus is resigned to the fact that the ‘children of this age’ will create friends and exchange value- by means of dishonest wealth. He says, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
What is our honest wealth? What are the resource we have here, that are always renewable, that are a source of relationship with God, a type of wealth? The parable warns that we, the children of this age, have lost that eternal perspective of who God is and who we are in relationship to God. We think of God as somewhere else, in the Kingdom of God, perhaps we get to touch it after we die. But we can access true riches, this parable says, by being in relationship with each other and with God by means of honest wealth, here and now.
The renewable and renewing resources, remind us that Jesus died and was resurrected and through God all things are made new. Honest wealth, faith in God and relationship with each other through this faith, renews us, changes us, gives us eternal life in this life, and all of these are renewable resource that cannot be squandered.
We live in a world that calls us in so many different directions- saying ‘find meaning here’ or ‘this will make you happy or fulfilled,’ or ‘be afraid of what you don’t have,’ but the voice of God and the voice of Jesus cut this noise, and remind us of the renewing, renewable resource of abundant life. The gospel transforms us. The gospel doesn’t allow us to remain the same in every age, in every season, and as Ecclesiastes says, to every thing there is a season.
So maybe if we have relationships by means of honest wealth, if we are all talking together, praying together, listening to the voice of God together, we won’t be so (achew!) allergic to change. So maybe change isn’t just an evil plan to make us all unstable and feel out of control and sneezy. Change, and transformation, and renewal are at the core of the gospel message. Maybe change is being honest about who we really are in each season. Maybe change is really just finding the renewing truth of the Gospel, that once it gets a hold of us, will never allow us to be the same. Because it proclaims life abundant, in the face of death and violence. It proclaims renewal in the face of ‘we have always done it this way.’ Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change. So to be perfect is to have changed often.”
Can we say, instead of “there is lots of change happening,” can we say, “we are taking time, in this season, to be honest about who we are. About being church. About what the world needs. About taking time to understand our call to follow Jesus in this time, and place.” That type of changes doesn’t make me ….. sneeze.
In a couple weeks are going to begin doing what Jesus did- getting in small groups, in groups of about 12, as he did with his disciples, and talking about God together. We are going to listen deeply to each other and to the voice of God and vision for the future direction of this church.
While this is happening, I think God will change us. Earlier this month the New York Times, that newspaper that some people are sitting at home reading with coffee right now instead of coming to church, came out with an article called, “Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness,” that researches who have been studying loneliness take as it seriously as a human need as hunger, or thirst- human contact, or the lack of it, is a public health issue. Small Groups will bring us into contact, Godly contact with each other.
As we vision together this Fall, we will articulate more deeply who we are together, but we will also get to know each other better. We will ask each other at the end of each Small Group session, “how can I pray for you this week?” We will invite God into our lives and into our relationships, and this is sacred, transformative, culture shifting work. This is honest wealth. As we vision together this Fall, God will change us, and surprise us.
Can I tell you a story? It happened on Friday after writing and reading in my study all day, I saw that the sun was setting and I thought; I want to go see the sunset! The last reaches of the golden sun into the night. I thought of the highest hill I could think of and I remembered going apple picking behind Lyman Orchards, so I got in my car and drove to that hill. The bright sun was in my eyes as I was driving, and when I got to the hill, the sky was still blue, but the golden orb of the sun had already sunken behind the hill. I had just missed it. I was a little disappointed, but it was still beautiful, so I walked around, looking at the landscape. This is one beautiful piece of earth we live on.
And after about 40 minutes of walking and looking at the pear trees and blueberry bushes without fruit, I saw a glistening from the other side of the hill, behind me, something that caught my eye. It looked like the sun was reflecting off a round building on the top of the hill. I squinted my eyes to try to understand this golden dome. And as I did, I realized it was growing.
Instead of coming to the hill to see the sun set, I was going to see the moon rise! And what a gift it was- big and orange, FULL too, Friday was a Full Moon- and I giggled and ran to the car to get my phone to document it. Photos of exquisite nature moments never come out as good as the real thing. I came expecting one thing, and God surprised me with another. And I almost missed it.
If you are like me, and your expectations are pointed in one direction, allow God to surprise you, with a rising moon at your back. I want us to approach the Visioning process the Fall this way. I have a hundred and two ideas for the future of this church. But if they come from our expectations, and not our hearts listening to each other and listening to God, we are going to be out of luck. I want us to pay attention to the things that are being whispered behind us, to the things we don’t expect to find, to the things that surprise us, to our honest wealth. As we become more deeply ourselves in this season, this season of Honesty-God will speak to each one of us.
The future is as bright as the promises of God. Jesus hung out with the unhangoutables. The people that if anyone else was seen with might get made fun of or looked at funny. The lepers with spots on them, the people labeled as sinners in the society, Jesus made a point to hang out with the most lonely, the most unexpected, and ministered to the world through these relationships. Let us, gather in groups of 12 like Jesus, and minister to the world in our relationships.