Wednesday, April 03, 2013

New Beginnings

Joshua 5:9‐12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16‐21
Luke 15:1‐3, 11b‐32
Sermon audio is available here for up to one month.

In the congregaIon I served before coming here the officers and staff all received an assessment of gifts through a company that specialized in organizaIonal dynamics. Many of you have probably done something similar if you work in a management capacity with a large firm or corporaIon. It was very insightful, and I think it helped us all understand each other’s motives and perspecIves.

Without boring you with the details of it, one thing that I learned about myself (that everyone who has had a five minute conversaIon with me already knows) is that I am a change maker. What I did not realize at the time is that most people are more interested in consistency than change. Not only that, but change without purpose is really very self serving. So, there you have it. That is my Achilles' heal exposed. That is the disgrace that God rolls away from me again and again.

Finding ways to make changes that are moIvated by God’s will that others can also live with is the new beginning that I seek. I tell you this because I believe that the scriptures today are telling us about the need for confession before God and the new reality that we become a part of once we recognize the arms of God that are already embracing us.

You see, new beginnings do not look like we think they do – or like we want them to – because for something to be truly made new it can only be made new by the maker. Sure, we may fashion things into new purposes. We can build things and say, “We made that.” But for something to be truly made new it takes a change from the inside out. It takes transformaIon and metamorphosis. It takes the will of God to inspire and to unleash what is already inside.

I think that is why I love Paul’s words to the church in Corinth. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creaIon: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliaIon.” Wow. There is so much to take in this passage!

I actually spent a whole summer in 1999 starIng everyday by reading and praying over this passage. I was leading river trips on the Shenandoah for Camp Glenkirk. Every day on the river we would look for larvae that began life underwater and later rose in the air to remind ourselves of the way that forgiveness sets us free from self absorbed lives hiding under rocks and conditioned by sin. We would talk about the waters of bapIsm and the new life of the flying insect released from captivity.

Every river trip started with the same speech about how to care for the river, their equipment, and each other. They were taught how to read the current and avoid getting snagged on the rocks because the river was low and the probability of getting hung up on rocks was high, and they were told that they had two choices 1) get mad at each other or 2) find a new way to love.

The river trip became a metaphor for the church, and we soon found that every day was a new opportunity to be transformed through frustraIon and into love. Every rock became a chance for a new beginning. Every bug became a symbol of grace and new life.

None of these were the new beginnings that any of us had in mind, yet they were the ones God provided for us to enjoy. I think that is why the idea and experience of starting over with a new beginning is so terrifying. It is a change that we do not initiate and a process we do not control. This congregaIon has entered into a new process – one that is actually called New Beginnings – and some will say it is just another self study, or mission study, or something to make us feel better (or worse) about ourselves.

And any of those criticisms might be true – if that is all we want it to be. If we don’t want to get burned again by getting excited over things that others do not support, if we feel like we’ve already done everything doable with the same results, if we don’t believe we can do anything more than what we are doing – well then, that’s all it will be.

But if we are willing to see ourselves as a part of something larger than our individual limitaIons, if we are willing to believe that a new beginning does not look like we expect, if we are willing to confess our limitaIons to God and to listen for God’s calling to something that is truly different than we expect, want, or believe to be possible, then we might be on the road to becoming something new. “See, everything has become new! And this is from God”

And it all starts with confession. The confession of the Prodigal Son states, “Father I squandered your wealth. I am not worthy to be your son, only take me as a servant.” The Prodigal Father’s confession states, “My beloved child, all that I have is yours.” And the Prodigal Brother’s confession states, “Why don’t you love me like you love him?”

In Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal, the author reflects on hours of meditaIon in front of Rembrandt’s painting of the same name, and he found himself in all three characters. He found in each character a wastefulness and recklessness. And most importantly he found a God that makes all things new through demonstrating the same forgiveness and love that we are to put in pracIce. Here’s what he found more specifically:

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures— and to avoid the many temptaIons to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”

That’s what the waters of baptism represent for us. That’s what larvae, and rocks, and all of creation sing about. Come to think of it, most of you know that there is a river that flows deep underground right under the front porch. Some time back the foundation was secured, but the question is – do we see the potential for drastic change as a threat or as a promise?

That’s what we need to wrestle with as we talk in our small groups and as we discern God’s presence together. We don’t need to come up with dynamic programming. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to be open to the thing that is within us that God is yearning to transform and make new – the thing that is already inside of us waiting for the will of God to inspire and to unleash.

Congregations who have embraced this process have done things that range from feeding the homeless to opening a coffee shop that doubles as a worship space on Sundays. Whatever we do, we cannot expect the program to save us. Only God will do that.

So, as we continue in our journey toward the celebraIon of the crucifixion and the resurrecIon of Jesus, let us conInue to look deeply within ourselves, to confess our need before God, and to be moved and formed by the embrace of the one who is constantly making all things new. Amen.
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