Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Change and second chances

(The message this past Sunday was the result of a pulpit swap between the New Ark UCC and the UUFN.  It was an interesting experience preaching from a source other than the Bible.)

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.

When apparent stability disintegrates,
As it must—
God is Change—
People tend to give in
To fear and depression,
To need and greed.
When no influence is strong enough
To unify people
They divide.
They struggle,
One against one,
Group against group,
For survival, position, power.
They remember old hates and generate new ones,
They create chaos and nurture it.
They kill and kill and kill,
Until they are exhausted and destroyed,
Until they are conquered by outside forces,
Or until one of them becomes
A leader
Most will follow,
Or a tyrant
Most fear.

Create no images of God.
Accept the images
         That God has provided.
They are everywhere,
         In everything.
God is Change—
Seed to tree,
         Tree to forest;
Rain to river,
         River to sea;
Grubs to bees,
         Bees to swarm.
From one, many;
         From many, one;
Forever uniting, growing, dissolving—
         Forever Changing.
The universe is God’s self-portrait.

There is no end
To what a living world
Will demand of you.

Kindness eases Change.


         These verses were written by 15 year old Lauren Olamina, the main character in Octavia Butler’s book, Parable of the Sower, published in 1993. One of a handful of female black science fiction authors, Octavia Butler also wrote speculative fiction—stories based on our society’s current trajectory and what could possibly happen in the not-too-distant future. Parable of the Sower begins in the year 2024 in a fictitious town 20 miles north of Los Angeles. There are three intersecting classes of people: the super wealthy who control electricity, water, and food; the poor middle class who live in walled neighborhoods, grow their own food if they can, homeschool their children because they have to, some with at least two families in one house, struggling to hold onto the way it used to be; and the homeless, most of whom are drug-addicted, illiterate, and violent, who scavenge whatever they can to survive.

         Lauren and her family, along with a dozen or so other families, live on a cul-de-sac in one of these walled neighborhoods. The wall is 20 feet high with lazor wire and glass fragments on top of it. The wall has a gate that is locked 24/7 and only residents have a key. Lauren and her Baptist minister father are black; he and his wife Cory, who is Hispanic, have four young boys. Most of the other families are also an ethnic melting pot. Everyone looks out for everyone else, including an armed nightwatch after several robberies. Everyone in the neighborhood owns firearms and is trained to use them. Police and firefighters are paid in cash by citizens who can afford their fees. Water costs more than gasoline, except no one drives anymore. A trip to the grocery store can cost a few thousand dollars if you have it. And it rains about every six or seven years.

         Lauren has rejected her father’s god. In the world she lives in, God as Love has failed. If there is any higher power in the universe, a power over which we have no control, it’s change.

Change has no feeling for us—God just is. Inexorable and indifferent, and yet God exists to be shaped. Lauren writes, why is the universe? To shape God. Why is God? To shape the universe. And it’s this philosophy, this belief system that helps her survive when her world inevitably falls apart—inevitably because God is change. When change occurs, we can resist it or we can submit to it, adapt to it; we can shape the effects of change on our lives.

         It’s not unlike the first four of the twelve steps. When all hell breaks loose, when the bottom falls out, when we can’t control events or people around us, or even ourselves, we admit that God is God and we are not. Two, we come to believe that there is a power that can and will restore us to sanity, because all our efforts have proved otherwise. Three, we submit ourselves and our lives to that power as we understand it. Four, we make a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves, because in our efforts to control people and events around us, we’ve wounded some folks along the way, including ourselves, and we need to participate in our own healing.

         Of course, the steps don’t stop there. All of the first four can happen in our own minds and hearts and remain there. Which is how we talk ourselves into and out of a great many things. So we take the change out into the world and make it public.
We admit the wrong turns and injuries to ourselves, to God, and to another human being. In church talk we call it a prayer of confession or a prayer of reconciliation. And with it comes forgiveness, a second chance, grace, the assurance that there is nothing we can do that makes us or anyone else unworthy.

         Our nation is going through some major changes, many of which we are resisting and we should. But all this resistance is having an effect on our hearts and souls. We’re all in danger of becoming less graceful, less forgiving and flexible, less adaptable. We think we have to be the mighty oak when we need to be more like the willow or the aspen with interconnected roots. Perhaps we cannot always shape the changes that happen, but we can shape ourselves to be the person we need to be, the community the world needs us to be. Which requires self-reflection, that fearless and searching moral inventory.

         This fellowship is going through some mighty changes of its own. One verse we heard this morning, “When apparent stability disintegrates, as it must—God is Change—people tend to give in to fear and depression, to need and greed.”
Our limbic brains can take over, convincing us that we must fight or flee. We our ability to be objective is hampered; we have difficulty looking at events and people and our own actions as if a stranger was looking in. Much of the change we experience is a consequence of our choices and actions. And so this morning I included a prayer of reconciliation in the service as well as a response to remind us of the sovereignty and transformative power of grace.

         Usually in such a time of transition between pastoral leaders, it is good to have an interim minister, what I like to call church therapy. I have served twice as an interim minister and know both the healing interim ministry can bring and how destructive it can be when it is forgone. Knowing that an interim pastor may not be possible in this situation, I have a pastoral prescription for you, which you can do with as you wish.

         First, you continue to have a prayer of reconciliation and an assurance of forgiveness in your worship every week while you are in this period of transition. Why every week? Because it would be too easy to talk yourselves out of it if you required it less often. Self-examination requires self-discipline, which is true for communities as much as it is for individuals.

         Second, to make those prayers meaningful and powerful, look at your history. The truth is, this change began long before it happened, before it became visible to everyone. It happened before *******, maybe even before his predecessor. The seeds of change are planted where we least expect them to fall. Now you have a second chance to change what happens next.

         And third, make “Kindness eases change” your personal and collective mantra. Remember that in Hebrew, kindness means mercy, grace, acts of lovingkindness, chesed: unlimited, undeserved, and unconditional.
The prophet Micah tells us all that is required of us is to make justice, love kindness, and walk humbly—do your part and let God be God. And it is from kindness that second chances can grow well, we can experience redemption even in tumultuous change, and it is through kindness we come to know that we are all worthy, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or not done.

         “A sower went out to sow some seed; and as they sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell upon rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bore fruit a hundredfold.” (Luke 8: 5-8)

         May it be so. Amen.

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