Wednesday, 15 October 2014

God of the new

I remember a professor teaching a class on anxiety and I remember them saying something very interesting. They showed a list of things that cause anxiety, and on the list was the word “change”. The professor explained that it can be bad change (like the death of a loved one), or it can be good change (like a better job).  Change (good or bad) produces anxiety. Something that is new, is a change. (does that make sense?). If something is new then it is different than what had been. A new car, a new technique, a new dance, a new relationship, all of these are changes that can provoke a bit of anxiety in us. So something that is new, can automatically produce anxiety. So what we try to do to get rid of the anxiety is to get rid of the new thing and go back to something familiar, old, and comfortable.
This is actually one of our problems with God. Our God is constantly up to something new. This also means that for many of us God is going to constantly be making us anxious and nervous. God is constantly doing something new in our lives. God is constantly teaching us something new about ourselves, or He is teaching us something new about Him, or something new about following him. If you seriously read the Bible you will constantly be confronted with learning something new about God, or about what it means to follow God.  If we are earnestly seeking to love God, then we will constantly be confronting something new.
            Now I’m not saying that new is always good. I’m also not saying that new for the sake of new is good. But it does seem to be the case that God is into doing new things.  God is always doing something new. When God created the universe, it was a new thing. God Called Abraham and Sarah into a new place, and to start a new nation. Jesus speaks about new wine not fitting in in old wine skins.  Jesus speaks about a new covenant. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about a new birth. Jesus gives his followers a new commandment, that they love one another as he loved them. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. In Revelation we read about God creating a new heaven and a new earth. (My prof. from seminary, John Bowen, brought my attentions to all this newness in the Bible). God is always up to something new. God is not static. God is always ahead of us blazing a trail for us to follow. We are always playing catch up with God.
One of my Professors at seminary once asked how we visualize God. What picture comes to mind? You might have Michelangelo’s painting come to mind where God as an old man with white hair and a big beard reaches out to create Adam. It has become a stereotype- God as the old bearded man in the sky. My professor, John Bowen, pointed out that when God revealed himself most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ he appeared as a 30 year old man at the height of his powers. Jesus does not present an image of God to us as one stuck in his ways and nervous about change. Through Jesus we see a God who is on the move and leading us on new paths. 
As a God that is about newness and change we might be constantly in a state of anxiety. God is challenging. God will challenge you to change your character. God will challenge you to get involved in a new ministry. God will challenge you to deal with your emotional wounds to enter a new state of emotional health. It has been said that Jesus brings discomfort to the comfortable.
            In our reading from Exodus 32 God has brought the Hebrew people into something new. They had been slaves for hundreds of years. And now they have been rescued through a series of miracles. The people who had no power as slaves under the foot of Pharaoh now had the power of God rescuing them. They left the life of slavery they knew and were on their way to a new land and were being made into a new people.  God gave them a law to show them how to be this new people. At this point in our reading Moses has been on top of the mountain with God and the people have grown impatient. They gather around Aaron and they say to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." They ask for gods to be made, and Aaron collects gold from them to create a golden calf.  They return to the worship they knew in Egypt. But, God told them not to create a graven image. God cannot be limited by a visual form. God was calling them into a new way of worshipping. God was not just another god among the Egyptian pantheon. God was showing them a new category of God. God was breaking their image of divinity and replacing it with something new. The people were avoiding the anxiety of something new by returning to old comfortable ways of worshipping. They may have left the physical place of slavery, but that slavery was still in their heart. They were comfortable as slaves. God was calling them to something new, but that new thing produces anxiety even if it is good. Constantly the Hebrew people will grumble against God and Moses yearning for Egypt. Their whole time wandering in the wilderness is about God trying to get the slavery out of their hearts so that they will be able to enter the new Promised Land as God’s new people.   
            God enters into a new relationship with this people. God even allows himself to be hurt by their actions. God allows himself to have a level of vulnerability. He has essentially married these people and now so soon into the relationship they have damaged it.  God opens Himself up to be influenced by their actions, and by the words of Moses.           
            God hasn’t stopped doing new things, and we haven’t stopped wanting comfort. We sometimes resist newness in the desire to resist the anxiety that newness brings. In our individual lives if we are seeking God we will be drawn into new understandings and new actions. As a church, if we are seeking God we will be drawn into newness. That means that the Church will be in a constant state of change.
Now I have another assignment today, which is to talk about the Reach campaign, which the bishop has called us to.  The Reach campaign is an opportunity for us to dream a bit bigger. It is a chance for us to wonder what new thing God might be calling us to. This will challenge us in all kinds of ways. It will challenge us because some of us will be called to get involved in new ministries perhaps working with youth or children, or perhaps offering care for the suffering. We will be challenged to think outside of our own parish and do some new things as a group of churches, as a diocese, and as a national church. We will be challenged to perhaps a new level of generosity. But, I also recognize that this can come with a certain level of anxiety.
But, regardless, we are being asked to do something new. Some people have very generously offered their time, talent, and treasure to this campaign. Ed Paul has volunteered to take on the ministry of being our fearless leader. And there are others who are very generously offering themselves to this new thing. It is not an easy thing to do. It is a new thing for most of us who are involved in the campaign. They have been asked to visit others in the parish. This is a new thing that can cause a lot of anxiety. Some of you have been contacted already and have had a visit with a member of the Reach team. Many more of you will be in contact with a team member and they will be giving you the opportunity to be involved in something new.
I ask you to please be gentle with those who are contacting you. They are doing something that can be quite anxiety producing. Please be gentle with them. Regardless of how you feel about the Reach campaign we are still called to love each other and to treat each other with respect.  Those who are volunteering their time for this Reach campaign are doing so out of a love for God and a love for God’s church. They believe that we are being called into something new, even if it produces anxiety. God is calling us forward into something new. God is calling us to do something more than just survive by paying the heating bill and keeping the church roof over our heads. The church is not called to just survive. The church is called to be a blessing. It is called to movement- and to mission.          
When someone contacts you from Reach please receive them in the Spirit of Christ- as a brother or sister. Receive them in love and respect. You might not agree with the Reach campaign, but as Christians we are called to treat even enemies with love and grace, so how much more our own brothers and sisters in Christ. You might have a problem with me, or with others in the congregation, or with the diocese, or the national church, fine, but please receive those contacting you with love and respect.
It is truly okay to disagree with the Reach campaign. Those who are contacting you are not there to push you. They are there to give you information and to answer questions. They will let you know what we are planning on doing at St. Timothy’s as a part of the Reach campaign. They will let you know what the diocese plans on doing as a part of the Reach campaign. And they will let you know about what we plan on doing on the national level.  The people who will be contacting you are there to offer you an opportunity to be a part of this new thing. They will invite you to consider giving a gift.  It’s not an easy thing to ask people because newness causes anxiety. So please respond when people contact you. Even if you respond with a “no thank you I’m not interested”. No one will think less of you. We don’t want to cause resentment or hurt.  You don’t have to believe in it or even give to it, but please respond when they approach you and hear them out. … Sometimes that anxiety can become excitement if we offer it to God.  
I am very thankful for all those who are helping with the Reach campaign, and I am very thankful for those of you that have so generously offered your treasure to support this new thing.

I do believe that God is up to something new at St. Timothy’s.  God is constantly up to something new. In each of our lives he is calling into newness. He’s calling us to take one more step in following him. He is challenging us to constantly grow and mature. He’s calling us as a congregation to discern where he is leading and it is always going to be a new place for us. And that new thing will cause us anxiety, but if we offer that to God in trust he can transform that anxiety into excitement. We will learn that wherever God is leading us, he is leading us into a new place, not for His benefit, but ultimately for ours. More than anything he desires us, but he loves us too much to leave us where we are. He wants to lead us closer to him as we learn to have our souls shaped into the image of Jesus. amen  

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