For the past few weeks, we have been thinking about two contrasting ways of experiencing our life in the world with God. With the story of the fig tree two weeks ago, we compared a way of Retribution where God merits out the future based on what we do or do not deserve, — in contrast with the Way of caring and cultivating where God is a gardener — doing all God can do to help a fig tree bear fruit.
And last week we explored the story of the prodigal son and compared the “bad behavior” of those willing to break with social convention and to rejoice in what was lost as being found; in contrast with whose could not let go of their construction of what was right and wrong, a construction that very well may have kept them from God’s grace.
Each week we ended with the question, “What paradigm, what way of being with God in the world are we going to choose?”
Today the contrast continues and the choice again is before us again.
Do we live asserting that “There is nothing new under the sun”? That “What is past is prologue”? That “What has been will be?” Or are we willing to entertain the radical possibility that God may be about to do a new thing — that we are to look for it, to perceive it!
But before we go any further, let us pray: may the words of our hearts and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen
The Roman Catholic Church, as you know, was on center stage this week as the Cardinals put on their vestments and stepped deep into their tradition to choose a new leader , and in the hopes of many, a new trajectory for the Catholic Church. And as the Pope, the first Pope Francis, the first Non-European Pope, the first Spanish speaking Pope stepped onto the balcony that day, thousands cheered.
While many of our Catholic brothers and sisters now wait to see if this new Pope will bring the change they desire, those of us in the Protestant Tradition are also in the midst of profound change, on the cusp of something new. We too are in a time of transition.
Phyllis Tickle who has studied and written extensively on this time of transition we are in, what she calls this Great Emergence, claims that the church particularly the mainline north American church, is in the midst of a great rummage sale. She sees a surge of restless Jesus following people who are no longer content to simply do what has always been done and believe what has always been believed, and be church in the way church has always been. Instead she sees these restless Jesus following people rolling up their sleeves, and putting on their work gloves in order to dig into tradition, pry into practices, crack open beliefs and sort through all that has accumulated, in order to discard that which no longer serves, dust off and perhaps refurbish that which needs a little updating, embrace anew what serves and discover gems that have been long forgotten.
And what is remarkable asserts Tickle is that this great rummage sale, well it is nothing new. In fact it is quite predictable, for it seems looking back in history that every five hundred years the church has had one.
Five hundred years ago from now this rummage sale was called the Great Reformation and it birthed Protestantism distinct form Catholicism.
Five hundred years before that it was called the Great Schism birthed the Eastern Orthodox church of Constantinople as distinctly separate from the Roman Catholic church.
Five hundred years before that the dark ages birthed a “reconfigured form of monasticism that functioned not only as a way of private holiness but also as a way of societal and political stability.”
Five hundred years before that the crucible time of Roman Imperialism birthed Christianity as people tried to make sense of the public ministry, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection of an itinerant teacher and provocative preacher named Jesus; and reconfigured Judaism as it was shaken to the core as the Holy temple was destroyed in 70 CE.
And five hundred years before that the exiled people of Jerusalem, a drift in the strange culture of Babylon birthed a new Hope midwived by the prophetic utterances of Second Isaiah. Second Isaiah whose words we heard this morning: words that hearken to a time of slavery under Pharaoh that birthed deliverance and a new life as covenanted people of God.
Five hundred year cycles of cleaning out, washing way, followed by a surge of generative, spirit lead energy building on what was while also creating something new. After Exodus comes Genesis — every five hundred years.
And so, the thinking goes, now is our Exodus. Now is our Genesis
“ I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?”
So how do we live into what is emerging? How is it that we perceive the new thing God may be doing? While many churches are struggling to figure out their relationship with or proximity to what is emerging, I truly think we are already living it. I truly think that the founder of this church had a touch of second Isaiah upon them. For the emerging church I would argue looks a lot like the church we have been, the church we are and the church we are becoming.
And what is that?
Well it is a community defined not by a commonality of commitment to right belief but on a commonality of commitment to right relationship. A community not under the authority of clergy but where as our bulletin asserts each person has the right and responsibility to minister on behalf of all. A community that values scripture deeply but also values the lived experience of God with us now. A community defined not by denominational difference but by the unity the Holy Spirit that animates all. A community not defined by place but by purpose.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like this community?
Now that is not to say we do not have our own rummage sale to conduct, our own closets to sort through and basements to clean. But I do think we are very much a part of the new thing that God may be doing. There is something very generative going on in this place. Did you hear it in the incredibly beautiful and heartfelt words of Beth, one of our new members last week how there is something happening here. Something of God is here. “Something is springing forth.”
Next Sunday we will step into the seminal Exodus and Genesis story of our faith as we enter Holy Week. We will witness Jesus refusal to relinquish the good news of his living even if that costs him his life. He will be delivered to the cross. But we know how the cross story is not the end. Exodus births Genesis. The cross opens to the empty tomb. Something new is born.
Next Sunday we will also begin our stewardship campaign were we reflect on this community and our place within in, as we recommit ourselves to each other and to God as we walk together into the future of this beloved church.
And so as we draw close to that seminal Exodus and Genesis story of our faith even as we live into the Exodus and Genesis that this five hundred year cycle bequeaths us now, I ask you “From what do you need to be delivered in order to step into that which may be waiting to emerge?” “What no longer serves?” “What needs to be put into that rummage sale or heaved into the dumpster so that there may be room for what is coming.” Here is the gift that this time of emergence offers: do we need to hold onto what we have known about ourselves, about the world or about God if it is what we have known is no longer life-giving? Perhaps instead in this hinge time, this great rummage sale that we are having, we can trust God – the creator, to create us; Jesus the Way to lead us; and the Holy Spirit the wisdom to inspire us so that we too can become something new!
What a time! What a time to be part of what is emerging! What a time to be the Union Church in Waban. Thanks be to God. Amen.