Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Paradigm of Change

Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Proper 16 + C + 2016
The Paradigm of Change  
All Saints’ Hampton, SC
21 August AD 2016

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29                                                                                                                
Luke 13:10-17

As you know, I work with the elderly in hospice as well as younger people.  Whether this story is true or apocryphal, I do not know, but it is a bit funny.  Three sisters of age 92, 94 and 96 live in a house together.  One night the 96 year old draws a bath, puts her foot in and pauses.  She yells down the stairs, "Was I getting in or out of the bath?"  The 94 year old yells back, "I don't know, I'll come up and see."  She starts up the stairs and pauses, then she yells, "Was I going up the stairs or coming down?"  The 92 year old was sitting at the kitchen table having tea listening to her sisters.  She shakes her head and says, "I sure hope I never get that forgetful." She knocks on wood for good measure.  She then yells, "I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door."  And we have been told there is nothing new under the sun ….

The prophet Isaiah reveals the mind of God toward his people in a verse so significant that I have a calligraphy graphic of it over my desk at work.  Let me share these words from the prophet this morning: See, I am doing a new thing!     Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)    See, I am doing a new thing!   Does this text surprise us?  There are many verses in scripture that speak of the unchangeable nature of Our Father in heaven: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.(Heb 13) “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Malachi 3:6) The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.(Psalm 33:11) and many, many more.  There is a certain comfort in the unchangeableness of God.  We tend not to like change.  We prefer the familiar, the reliable, that with a proven record or at least what we are used to.  It’s like the joke: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? The answer:  change?  CHANGE? Who said anything about  CHANGE?  Yet, in order even for things to stay the same: thing have to change!  

Our Bible is full of promises that all require an element of change.   The Jews of Jesus day, at least the hierarchy, were repulsed by the very idea.  Hence we have the reading from the gospel of Luke this morning.   

There is good change and not so good change.  God’s unchanging character is from the fact that He is perfect.  In Romans chapter one Paul writes: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. 

We however have lost the perfect nature that God established in our parents at the beginning and from that brokenness we inherited in the fall of the human race. Since that moment, God has been planning: salvation, restoration and wholeness for those who would be his people.

If we watch the news, if we are even simply aware of all that goes on around us in our culture, our town, our neighbors and even in ourselves, we realize that as Scott Peck once wrote:  Life is difficult. Worry not!  God has a plan.

We read from the book of Hebrews of that first change with the children of Israel as they fled from Egypt seeking the Promised Land.  We like they are also seeking OUR PROMISED LAND!  The moment that changes the paradigm for them here is Sinai:  At Sinai they covenant with God.  The law is given. God has been affirmed as their God and they have been claimed as God’s people.  Change!  Something new has been born!  You may remember however that that change was a bit of a painful process.  God calls Moses to the Mountain, the people are forbidden to so much as touch the mountain until Moses had come down.  When he finally did, he and his companions hear the sound of celebration in the camp. 

Moses comes down and finds a huge party with celebrating and dancing and a large golden statue of  a calf.  The people may have left Egypt, but they also brought Egypt with them.  Change is bound to have some bumps in the road. Moses is enraged and casts the newly hewn tablets, written with the finger of God to the ground and God judges the people with a plague until judgment has been accomplished  

That is enough of the history, but then we come to the book of Hebrews.  The writer says that God has done a new thing in Christ.  What the old covenant could not accomplish through human will power, God has accomplished in the atoning death of His Son.

We see the beginnings of that in the gospel.  Jesus was teaching in the Synagogue on the Sabbath day (Saturday) and he sees a woman who is apparently listening to him stooped over by an affliction to her back.  She does not reach out to him, but he already knows her heart and his leaves his teaching for a moment for a touch of the hand of God.  There is no fanfare, simply the touch of the Master in a very non theatric healing. 

The theatrics come from an official of the synagogue.  He accuses Jesus of violating the Law of the Sabbath; this was human work according to this man.  Jesus turns the word work around.  He points out the human hypocrisy in that if one of the animals that the people owned was in need on the Sabbath, would they not reach out and take care of it?   Jesus points out the necessity in this case is not to do no work on the Sabbath, rather, it is to do the work of God. It is necessary that God work to heal one of the descendants of Abraham on the Sabbath. 

It is God’s work the synagogue leader was rebuking, not the labors of a man!  He was actually revealing the Lord God on the Lord’s Day.  He was counter punching what the official thought he should do much as God did when he spoke through the prophet Hosea saying: I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. (Hosea 11:9)  When we priests and prelates over the years have tried correcting a good deed, we might remember this.  God deals with each of us according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus through His Spirit.

The official was going to set Jesus straight, so to speak, but the Word of God set him straight. Jesus was illustrating the actions of the covenant that God was about to establish through Jesus.  We read these stories and know then how we are so to follow the Son of God in word and deed. The God who shows up in this text does not even throw the synagogue official out of the kingdom. Jesus instead gives a profound of object lesson. He does not lead us out of our fellowship, but more deeply into it.  Jesus widens the circle of God’s healing love by affirming the God of the Sabbath rather than making the Sabbath itself the point of it all. If we honor the God of the law by loving obedience, is it not more glorious?

It is this of which Hebrews speaks.  We have come through Jesus to a place of joy and acceptance.  Not to a mountain that we must not touch but to Mt Zion, the City of the Living God.  Not to the King whose subjects we are, but to the sovereign who is Our Father: the heavenly Jerusalem. 

This is a place that is not under the Law which demands compliance and condemns, but the all things new creation under sovereign grace!  Sometimes this simply scares us!  We sometimes fear the freedom of grace.  It’s not how our world works!    This new relationship and new way of being in relation to God should not give us reason to cease in our profound respect and honor for God our Father, but should help us to live into the eternal now which is ours in Christ Jesus.

Where does our strength and power come from in the Church of Jesus Christ?  It is Jesus by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. While we live out this life of heaven inside and the earth without, let our work grow out of love and not fear, out of a desire to model Jesus, not a fear of not measuring up.

The act of grace is superior to the law. Grace is a new paradigm, a new way of thinking, a new pattern of living. It is all of grace.  God plus you always makes a majority. So when we are victorious or when we fail, let us trust ever more deeply in the sovereign and unconditional love of the one who has won our souls by His cross and resurrection. We are united as one under grace; let us honor that unity that gives glory to our God.

We prayed in the collect:
rant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; we live out our new citizenship, let our joy be full and our confidence be in the knowledge of whom we represent and who we are. We are changed, being changed and are sent forth as change agents in the Name of Our loving Christ.  Episcopalians, let us learn to love CHANGE!