Sermon by Pastor Dan Woodman
Isaiah 43: 6-8
2 Corinthians 5:16-18
A New Thing
No one ever said change is easy. We are somehow programmed, hardwired, to settle in to the status quo. It’s comfortable. It’s predictable. It’s safe. It’s normal. But is it good? We hear the phrase “new normal” a lot nowadays. And, it’s generally a negative comment. Some have said the intensity and animosity of our political discourse is a new normal so we might as well get used to it. Is that a good thing? I don’t think so. Is that a status quo that one can feel comfortable with? I sure hope not! On the other hand the term “new normal” can mean something positive. It can mean new opportunity to look at the old status quo with fresh eyes. New normals are not something over which we have control. It is change that has happened outside of our individual ability to influence it. It’s a social phenomenon. What we do have control over is how we respond to it. And, what meaning we can derive from it. As I stand in front of you we are together experiencing a new normal in the life of Franklin Federated Church. How we respond to that change is rich with opportunity and promise. There is change. There is challenge, and there is just maybe some anxiety. How will it be without Charley around for the next three months? For my part I could not be more excited. We will journey together as we experience this new normal. We will explore what it is that makes us a community of faith. I will encourage you to look at things differently. We all tend to take normalcy for granted. That can be stifling and inhibiting without our even knowing it. This is the part of change that is good. Some things will be the same and some will not. Charley and I are two very different people. Some might say that Charley has pretty big shoes to fill. I think that’s true but that is not how I see the job. I have different shoes, and am very comfortable wearing them. As your pastor for the next three months I want you all to know that I am here to listen, to support, to share, to comfort, and to lead. My phone number is posted. I will be here every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday (except for the first two weeks in August). If you need me outside of that time just call the church office or email. We are all of us very different and that is God’s intention. We are each uniquely created in God’s own image. We each have special gifts that are like the threads of a tapestry which, together, create the amazing richness and multicolored splendor of God’s kingdom. We have a microcosm of it right here in this faith community. We have our own unique and special Franklin Federated tapestry. The best part, though, is that this tapestry is constantly shifting and changing. It is far from stagnant. Members come and members leave. People are baptized and people pass away. Our missions focus can change as the needs dictate. Our building and grounds evolve as folks have so generously donated to the restoration campaign. There are new and different connect groups. We have a new church administrator. Lois is not Lisa nor should she be. Lois is Lois and brings her own unique skills and gifts to FFC. And the list can go on and on. But our tapestry is just as rich, even richer in fact, as we evolve together. The image may shift and change but the threads remain the same. Each of you is a thread. You are a critical part of the fabric. Your thread is important. The image that is the Franklin Federated tapestry changes because it has life. It has your life. This is an exciting time for this church, but I know it does not come without tension and anxiety. We have the opportunity to look at the tapestry of this church with fresh eyes. We have the opportunity to look at our individual threads with objectivity as we look at the space from our past, to our present, and to our future. One of the ways we will be doing that is in a series of messages from yours truly.
You may recall that Charley had a conversation a while back with the UCC chairperson of our association, Kelly Gallagher. She suggested we all consider three questions as we take stock and assess where we are. He listed them in the Connections newsletter back in March. We will take a look together at each of these questions in more detail over the next three weeks. It’s kind of like stepping out of our tapestry and looking at it as we consider the following: “Who Am I?” “Who is my Neighbor?” and, “What is God Calling Me to Do?” These are not questions for which I will provide the answer. The answer must come from you. But I will try to help you to consider ways you might think about these things. It is something that I think about regarding myself all of the time. We will look at the Bible as a resource. These questions are all dealt with there; in lots of places and in lots of ways. In order for us to have solid answers to these things we need to look outside ourselves, and I can think of no better place than the inspired word of God for a starter. Not only are these great individual questions but they also interrelate with each other. In fact you can’t answer one completely without considering the other two. “Who Am I?” This is a question that goes to the essence of our existence. But, don’t we assess ourselves relative to how we see others, and who it is God means me to be? “Who Is my Neighbor?” From the moment we’re born we are constantly learning to differentiate who we are from others. This may seem so simple but it is so complicated. And, how does God fit into that? Look no farther than the Golden Rule. “What is God Calling Me to Do?” It’s pretty easy to follow directions when they are clearly in front of you. But, what if they’re not? How do you know the directions you think you are getting from God are the right ones? Wouldn’t it be great if just like Google maps you could simply enter where you want God to send you, and boom there you have your choice of driving directions, biking directions and even a walking route? The answer here too lies in our understanding of the other two questions. Each week we’ll focus on one question but rely on the others to help us. So, that is a kind of preview of coming attractions.
But let’s return to the new thing for a moment, and let’s look at it in the context of our scripture reading. In Isaiah we hear “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.” That is not to say we disregard or forget about Charley What’s-his-name. What it does suggest to us is that God is in the business of creating newness all the time. For historical context this was written as the exiled Israelites are about to be freed from Babylon and return to Israel. God has never been separated from them or their journey. Just as God is never apart from us or our journey, God makes a “way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” So, despite whatever hardships or anxieties we might have over a change in our circumstance, we have company and direction from the One who loves us more than we can ever know. And, as we look at Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth we are even more assured about newness. When we accept Christ as our redeemer we become reconciled to God. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new! All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” What is the “ministry of reconciliation?” We have been entrusted with this free gift of redemption, of grace, through the sacrifice of Jesus. We have been blessed. God has drawn us ever closer to God’s self through this amazing gift. So, however we might feel unsettled about new normals, and no matter how we might mess things up with not knowing what we are doing, we can be confident that we are understood and we are loved. There is nothing that we might feel that has not already been experienced by Jesus. Jesus gets us. When we are armed with that knowledge there is nothing new under the sun that can keep us from God’s everlasting and unconditional love.
Let us pray.
Loving God we thank you for the opportunity for new experiences. Help us to be mindful that we are yours. Help us to help each other as we embark on this new chapter at Franklin Federated. Help us to grow as we consider who we are, who our neighbor is, and how we can best serve you. We ask your blessing on Charley and pray that this time might be fruitful for him and for his family. May he return to us rested, restored, and invigorated. We pray all this in the holy name of Jesus. Amen.