“Autumn Brings…Change” (Part One)
Isa. 43:15-19 & James 1: 12-18
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Sept 23, 2018
As we begin our conversation on the various things that come along with autumn, we begin with perhaps the most obvious feature of autumn… change. The days are shortening, the temperature is cooling and the leaves are beginning to fall. Change is in the air! Perhaps your heart, like mine, feels led to turn to song. “Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange. Ch-ch-changes.” It was in ‘71 that Bowie released that song. It was following decades of massive changes: the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. The world was beginning to embrace change as it pertained to our understanding of colour, gender, culture and sexuality. People like King, Parks and X are among so many change-makers who passionately brought change and the world became a new place. Being re-born in brave new ways. Ways that were liberating, and scary and so multi-faceted. Apart from large scale communal changes, changes can also occur individually. I remember bringing home a newborn baby and coming to realize the myriad of ways that new life would change our lives. Changes can be profoundly difficult and painful too. I remember when my marriage ended, the pain and hurt of how these life’s changes would come to emerge and unfold. Many have been touched by the pains of illness and realized the changes that will later come. “Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange”. David Bowie sung wisdom to our human condition, indeed. 2,500 years earlier in a different continent, he might have even made it into the book of Psalms.
We listened to two different scripture readings that Rev. Mary ready for us. The first one came from a time when the Israelites had been living in captivity in Babylon and they received good news of change from the prophetic words of Isaiah. Living under the regime of Babylon, Isaiah spoke about the nature of a God whose way is one of ushering in liberating change. A God who freed them from Egypt in days of old, bringing the advent of freedom; a God who allowed the waters to be parted and brought freedom. And a God whose way continues to be liberating change in the present. Isaiah prophecies: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” This new thing was the liberating change from Babylonian slavery and their longed for return to the Promised Land…their return home. When we look at this text, I would like to suggest that one of the key component pieces that underlay the people’s relationship with their God was trust. There was a deep and faithful trust in God. A trust that they would come through the other side of the changes God was bringing as newly liberated people. 2 ½ millennia ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted the only constant in life as being change, and this nature of God journeying beside us through the ebbs and flows of life became a deep and faithful understanding of God’s presence in our lives.
For us at Northwood, this has been a part of our very beginning, hasn’t it? It will be 25 years ago this coming June that our two founding congregations of North Surrey and Fleetwood choose to become an amalgamated people of Northwood. As the winds of change blew you formed a new identity: Northwood United Church. You began a quest for a new home and found it here at 8855 156th Street and the winds of change began as a fund raising campaign began, building started, and 20 years ago this past June, the winds of change brought you to a new spiritual home…right here. The faith community has welcomed some and bid farewell to others. Wonderful leaders have expressed their ministries and the winds of change continued faithfully. Isaiah prophesied: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Those were not just words about God’s coming change to liberate the captives. These were also words that you experienced here at Northwood ~ God’s ‘new thing’ right here around us, within us…bringing change. God’s change is alive!
The second text we heard comes from the letter of James. Speaking to the early church that were constantly facing trials and temptations from the world around them, James encourages them to live consistently with what they have learned through following Jesus’ Way of compassionate justice and peace. And in their faithful following as Jesus’ community, the ultimate change is that they themselves are being changed; they are being remade, rebirthed, into what James describes as a “kind of first fruits of God’s creatures”. Science tells us that we are an organism that is constantly remaking itself: oxygen being pumped through our veins, cells regenerating themselves and in the course of 7 or so years the entire body has regenerated itself into a new living organism. Long before science discovered this, James envisioned our birthing as being a “kind of first fruits of God’s creatures”. How does that make you feel? To understand your changing self in such a profound way? Have you ever considered how you are being birthed and rebirthed? Think about someone close to you…how are they a gift to you? To others? To the world? Then imagine yourself…and how you have been birthed…and all the changes that have continued. How are you a gift to others? How are you a gift to the world? The reference here to “first fruits”, of course, has biblical roots all the way back to the Hebrew practice of honouring God first with our bounty that change brings. For an agrarian culture that lived off the land, the practice of giving the first fruits of the field as an offering to God was an act of devotion and worship. They would acknowledge God’s providence by giving back the first that came from the field. In our living, it is a similar rhythm of acknowledging all the changes and growth that God blesses us with and returning the first back to God ~ perhaps in how we serve, how we live, how we love. We faithfully live out this type of first fruits teaching by sharing dimensions of our time, talent and treasure. As our lives changes, so do our gifts ~ our first fruits and we offer it back to God in the ways we live and share the growth changes that we are blessed to possess.
Last Sunday, we heard from Deborah Richards, a member of this congregation who has been elected to serve on the incoming General Council Executive (the highest level of our church) commencing in January. We heard from Deborah about the massive amounts of changes ~ some that have occurred already ~ and many that will commence in the New Year. These changes are among the first fruits of a new and emerging church as the ways of old begin to pass away and the ways of new begin to emerge. Yesterday, our Fraser Presbytery (our regional body that includes churches from Hope all the way into the Fraser Valley to Langley, Surrey, and Delta) and we talked as a body about these changes ~ and how the first fruits will be arising to allow God’s work to be done in new ways that previous structures did not allow in the past. One powerful part of the day was the introduction of a model of change theory which looks at how a new model emerges from the old. It is not just an ending of one and the beginning of another. But it is more of an extension of new ways which have been growing and emerging over the past decade or so ~ new ways of ministry emerging / ways that have been deepening our expressions in ministry. At the same time, existing ways have been changing and transforming. They have been laying the ground for the change ~ the first fruits ~ which is the new church emerging.
This, of course, is happening all the time. The challenge ~ always ~ is for us to have the ability to see it. Perhaps that is why Isaiah added that question at the end of his prophecy asking if we “perceived it”. He began by saying “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth”. Yet he does not end there. He concludes the verse asking: “do you not perceive it?” God is always bringing change in our lives, in our community, in our church, and in our national body of the United Church. As the seasonal calendar shifts over to reveal the shades of autumn, the early setting of the sun, and the cooler temperature, we are reminded of this God who brings change ~ that one constant in our lives / in our world ~ and God yearns for us to offer up the first fruits of this growth in our loving service.