Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Surviving Change, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on Jeremiah 291,4-7

Surviving Change

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/25/2015

Based on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7


        How many of you have cell phones?  How many of you see them as a blessing?  How many of you see them as a curse?  How well do you understand all the functions on your cell phone?  How many times have you upgraded your cell phones over the past decade?  I want to show you a few of the cell phones that I have owned over my life time.  The first phone that I ever had, I made myself!  (show two tin cans with string attached)  This was the only thing I could afford at age 5! 

At that time the only type of phones we had were hardwired.  Then with the advent of the satellite we were able to talk wireless via what we now call a “cell phone.”  Like computers, cell phones have undergone many changes.  The first mobile devices looked alot like walkie-talkies.  But over the years they slimmed down to the size of the palm of your hand.  The oldest cell phone I have in my possession today is what we call a “dumb” phone.  All I could do on it was talk and for an extra fee, I could send or receive a text message.  The phone that I have had for the past 4 years is what we call an Android, or a smart phone.  This meant I could pay for unlimited calls, texting, and it has a camera where I can take pictures and actually send them to someone.  

This week I upgraded my phone to a Samsung Note 5.  I understand that people should respond with “awe”!  I have no idea what all it does, but I understand that with the correct “app” it will actually wash dishes!  Do you know that I don’t even have to send pictures via text or e-mail if the recipient is standing next to me.  All I have to do is hit a button on my phone, they hit a button on my phone, we place the phones together, they vibrate and voila, the picture has been exchanged.  Needless to say, there has been a lot of innovation since my tin can phone to my present phone.  It was tough enough to learn how to operate my last phone, but for this one, the merchant is offering 3 levels of classes (intro, intermediate, and advanced) to learn how to use it!  This new tech-knowledge is so overwhelming, I’m wondering “if I’ll ever understand all of the capabilities of my new phone.  

This morning I want to focus on surviving change.  Just because we know that change is inevitable, it doesn’t necessarily make it easy to adapt or accept.  In this morning’s text we find Jeremiah speaking to a people who were carried off from their home land, to a land far, far, a way.  It is a story of the Southern Kingdom, Israel, being carried off to the land of their captures, the Babylonians; a land where a different language was spoken, a land peculiar in behavior, a land with different ways of looking at life; a land with unfamiliar gods.  

How does one survive when life is totally disrupted?  Psalm 137 asks, “How can we sing the songs of Zion (of praise)”, when change feels like being carried off into a foreign land, where every aspect of life is so totally different than what one grows up learning and understanding? Within this particular reading, Jeremiah tries to address these questions as a way of giving comfort to those in the midst of change, and also as a way of giving hope toward a better future.

While living in Rock Springs, Wyoming, I had the privilege of becoming friends with a Jewish couple.  The wife, Liesel came to this country at the age of twelve as a refuge from Germany, because she was simply born a Jewess.  One evening at dinner Liesel wanted to show off a quilt that had been made by a friend, from pillow slips that Liesel’s mother had packed in Liesel’s suite case as she and her sister fled to Holland months ahead of their parents leaving Germany.  These particular pillow cases had been a part of her mother’s trousseau.

Liesel’s story of her family coming to America is a story that closely reflects the writings in Jeremiah. Their first home in America was in New York City, in Harlem.  Not only were they foreigners in a new land, not understanding the language very well, they were one of the few white families in the neighborhood and they were Jews, where even in America you were not well received.  They were very much like their ancestors, finding themselves having to cope in a land that was totally foreign to them.  At one point, Liesel’s mother made the comment to her husband, “and for this we left Germany?”   

How do we survive dramatic changes in our life?  Jeremiah speaks to those who physically had been carried off to a foreign land, but there are differing empires, those Babylon’s within our life’s that make today’s lectionary reading personal to us. Empires with names like fear, materialism, consumerism, violence in the home, mental illness, even loneliness to name just a few.  There are times in our lives when changing circumstances dictate our having to leave what is familiar to us and plunges us into a land that is unknown.  

There are all sorts of events in our lives that demand a change in what we are use to experiencing.  There are changes in our lives that sometimes we bring upon by our own actions, or times there are changes that are brought through the actions of others.  Most of you are aware that there are major changes occurring in my life with the ending of my time as your pastor.  When changes occur in a pastor’s life, those changes affect not just the life of the pastor and family, but also the life of the faith community that is being served.  Uncertainly, confusion, anger, possibly joy are but a few of the emotions that occur within the life of the congregation during these changes.  When we find ourselves in the midst of major change the question of, “how long will we have to put up with uncertainty” is at the top of the list of concerns.

As a faith community, questions like: how long will it take to get our next pastor; do we need to hire an interim or can we get by with pulpit supply as we search for our next settled pastor; what are we going to look for in our next pastor; what behavioral changes must we make as a faith community in order to move forward in our ministry are but a few of the topics that will need to be discussed as a congregation.  Change often seems painful in the process, but when seen as an opportunity to examine the positives and negatives, the end result will be a stronger and more productive community.

When God was telling the Israelites who had been carted off to Babylon to: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens; to marry and have sons and daughters; and pray to the Lord for peace, because if peace prospers, they too will prosper.  God was saying, do not just sit and complain and moan about how bad things are, but get in and make the most of it; in other words become the solution. 

For myself, I feel very much like the exiles from Jerusalem.  I am entering into a time of unknown territory.  As I leave Mountain View, I do not know where I will be moving to next.  But I do know that by embracing change, coupled with the knowledge that God is walking with me, I will survive this change and find myself in the setting that God see’s for me. 

So as a faith community, look for opportunities that will help you prosper and above all, pray to God and thank God for the unseen new opportunities, for it is through God’s guidance that prosperity will occur.  Change comes to us whether we want it to or not.  But the secret to successfully surviving change is to trust that God is in the midst of all the confusion and uncertainty.  Change provides opportunity for spiritual growth if we trust God enough to openly and honestly explore the possibilities.  In this way we can “sing the songs of Zion.”   Amen