By Rev. Doug Gray
Children have an amazing way of asking questions that cut through all the fluff of life to the core issues. One day, I was driving to work, getting ready to drop off Hannah at daycare when she asked, “Daddy, what do you want to be when you grow up?” How would you answer that question if you were asked? As I thought about it, I realized how much things have changed in our world. Fifty years ago, children who asked their parents that question could have received a firm answer: most of the time, whatever job you started after your education, that was it. We could say, “I am a fireman, a homemaker, a teacher, a plumber, a nurse” and that would be true all our lives. That choice defined who we were. Twenty years ago, the average worker could expect to be retrained five times, and now they don’t even have a statistic for it—so my reflection is not unique or even unusual. We live in a day when a single career spanning one’s whole life doesn’t happen very often, and multiple careers is normal. Change is upon us, all around us, even inside of us. How do we make sense of these changes? Where is the road of faith through our world? Our passages for today offer some critical guidance on change.
According to Gene Appel, pastor of a wonderful church in Las Vegas and author of a great seminar entitled “Successfully Managing Change in Your Church,” the Bible has two guiding principles for dealing with change:
1. Some things never ever change. We stand upon a rock that will never
move. In Hebrews 13:8, we read, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today
and forever.” In Psalm 102 we hear, “In the beginning you laid the foundations
of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish,
but… you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Jesus quotes Hosea
when he says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” The love and compassion, the
power and promises of our God will never end, nor will they change. The hope
of Jesus Christ who died on a cross for you and me, to make a new life possible,
these will never change.
2. Some things always change. In preparing for sermons, Paul used papyrus
and stylus. I use a laptop computer. When Paul preached, he shouted above the
sound of a market. I use a microphone. He wore a toga. Aren’t you glad I’m not?
And yet, if he and I are both preaching faithfully, our hearers hear the same
message, the same hope, the same challenge. As our world and the culture
around us change, we get to learn a new culture, new ways of expressing our faith,
and new ways of living grace-filled lives for Christ, in order to communicate the
Good News of Jesus Christ has for this new day. Gene Appel gave a great
illustration of this principle. Do you remember the Dairy Association’s wildly
successful ad campaign, “Got milk?” I love seeing all these hotshot folks
with milk mustaches. Well, the Dairy Association decided to take this
campaign to Mexico where it completely bombed. Why? When you ask
someone in Spanish “Got milk?” you are really asking, “Are your breasts
giving milk?” The expression of faith has to change to speak God’s love
to the new day.
But how do we deal with the change that comes?
First, God delights in freshness, change and newness. In our New Testament passage for today, when Matthew gives himself to God and follows Jesus, the first thing he does is throw a party, instead of fasting. The Pharisees and John’s disciples say in effect, “God only likes things the way we like things.” What a small box they tried put God into! Our God is creative. The God we know makes every sunset different and yet they are all spectacular. The God we know works it out so no two snowflakes and no two people are exactly alike. The God we know seems to revel in making octopus, platypus and pussy willows. Our God delights in pouring out new life, new wine and new ways into our world.
Second, because our God is always pouring out what is fresh and exhilarating, let us recognize that sometimes we can’t just fix up the old, comfortable wineskin; sometimes we have to get a whole new wineskin. Jesus says, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.” I have watched people and churches die that way, sad and confused as they work harder at what isn’t working and wonder why they aren’t getting anywhere. But they liked the old, comfortable garment of their life and worship. In sharp contrast, I cannot tell you how excited I am to be with you as we are charting our new course together. Look at the amazing changes that that have helped us become more relevant, more compassionate, and more welcoming to people who are new to God and spirituality! We are coming to the place where we need to take a deep look at ourselves. Are we resting too much on what we have been? Are all the pieces of what we do communicate the grace of God? I believe our best days with God still lie ahead of us.
Third, because our God delights in freshness and change, God will help us, guide us, strengthen, inspire us. Think about all the ways the word, “new,” is associated with God in the Bible. “Behold! I am making all things new!” “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”(2 Corinthians 5:17) “I will sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.”(Psalm 96:1) “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…”(Ezekiel 36:26) God wants us to succeed! God wants us to have the kind of lives other people dream about! God wants us to have a fellowship that people have dreamed of all their lives! God wants to pour new wine and new zest for life into our lives. God will show us how to navigate the waters of change if only we will listen.
My friends, we are living in one of the most exciting times in the history of this planet. We are seeing a kind of change that has come maybe two or three times in human history. The last time people saw change like this began when the printing press was invented in 1458, and the first thing printed on Gutenberg’s printing press in Mainz, Germany was the Bible. Fifty years later, Martin Luther would use the press to kick off the Reformation that would revolutionize political and religious expression. By the mid-1500s, Bibles which had been one to a town, were becoming common enough they could be one to a household. The whole society reorganized. The basic principles of science were worked out as a way to manage the dramatic increase in the amount of information. In the midst of all this change were people of faith. Indeed, Congregationalists were part of the critical mass of people figuring out how to study the Bible and worship the Living God in a way that brought out meaning and changed lives. What is different about change in our time is that the information revolution caused by the invention of the printing press was largely complete in 250–300 years (10 generations), where the digital revolution is likely to complete itself in three generations! We are practically sloshing in new wine! And we worship the God who has a plan for even this to make us greater, to draw more people into the loving arms of God, and speak hope and healing to all who are spiritually hungry.
When Hannah asked me, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” My first answer to Hannah’s question was, “I am doing what I dreamed of doing. I am a minister.” I realized that though the times have changed, the importance of that question is the same, and not just for teenagers anymore. It has become a question all of us must ask over and over. But underneath it is the question of faith, “God, what is it you want me to do with my life? Lord, am I a fresh wineskin ready for the new wine You want to pour into me?” No matter what changes might be swirling around us, I am convinced that for those of us who follow Jesus Christ, our answer can always be, “I am Yours, O Lord. May may life shine with Your love.”