When a vision is born, sometimes it comes as a thief in the night, a moment of brilliant inspiration that must be written down. Other times it comes in a trickle over time, with many sources contributing to the eventual outcome. In today’s passage we hear from the prophet Isaiah, who as mouthpiece of the Lord must tell Judah and Jerusalem their animal sacrifices are no longer acceptable. I wonder how that went over to the original recipients…
“What?!? Wait, aren’t there numerous laws in our scriptures delineating specifically different kinds of animal sacrifice to show our devotion to God? Portions of harvest, the best of the flock, all that kind of thing? Don’t those serving in the Temple live off the food left over from our sacrifices? Isaiah, what kind of teaching is this!?! We can’t go against what the Law says; we done these things since the time of Moses! We can’t change the Law! Isn’t it written in stone or something? We must uphold the… ‘Tradition!’”
Looking back over time, and considering all three of our scriptures for today, I think there is an interesting theological theme that can be teased out; one that initially might seem mind-blowing, but on further reflection I find extremely refreshing. It is this: God changes. The mind of God can change. The will of the Lord can change. The heart of God can be moved in a new direction. That is a powerful theological concept.
Presbyterians, in our Reformed tradition, may be able to grasp this a little bit easier than some; our own understanding of the human-divine relationship is couched in terms first set down by Jean Calvin long ago in Latin: “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda;” which best translated means, “the Church reformed, always being reformed.”
Anna Case-Winters, reflecting on it nearly 20 years ago in Presbyterians Today, wrote:
“This motto calls us to something more radical than we have imagined. It challenges both liberal and conservative impulses … It brings a prophetic critique to our cultural accommodation … and calls us to communal and institutional repentance. It invites us, as people who worship and serve a living God, to be open to being “re-formed” according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit.”
Today I interpret that to mean as we look at the world, the nation, our community, and this church with and through the eyes of Christ, we can change to better meet the needs of those around us. Change should not be a scary thing, but a fulfillment of our spiritual discipleship as we constantly look to God in discernment for how we might best serve the Lord in this place, in all things, in all we do.
I find it more than coincidental that this theme comes up in the revised common lectionary for this particular Lord’s day. Session will be meeting this afternoon after church to discuss the next chapter of ministry opportunities for this church. Any interested parties are welcome to attend and share their thoughts; there is no need for membership on Session or for formal membership of this Church. It is a brainstorming gathering, which eventually could bear fruit impacting the whole community for good. We welcome your involvement in our discernment process. Potential outcomes this afternoon may include an eventual Session decision to adopt some of your outreach activities as purposeful missional objectives of this church’s ministry.
The Presbytery of which our church is a part is already interested in our community involvement; and eagerly waits to hear what we will do next. I am even pleased to tell you that on multiple occasions I have been encouraged to have our church consider applying for grants to assist in funding specific ministry activities. I have to smile and think, “Somebody’s knockin’ at your door…somebody’s knockin’ at your door…O pilgrim, somebody’s knockin’; somebody’s knockin’ at your door….”
I will say, however, that grants would not cover all of what the Session may wish to discuss and adopt as a way forward, for example, a replacement building for the Fellowship Hall. Therein, however, lies a chance for us to both invest in and prove our ownership of future potential as we seek to focus our missional activity in this community and its wider affiliates; affiliates such as the PCT Trail Angels, or perhaps Trout Lake Care, or both. Creative entrepreneurial partnerships are only the beginning of what we could do.
Now, Wise Ones among us at this point might want to say, “Whoa, boy, slow down a bit, you might be rocking the boat just a bit too much;” and they might be right. Naturally it is difficult to think of change with any calm equanimity. We are creatures of habit; we like things to stay the same, myself included. On occasion, however, it is good to hear a prophetic voice, no matter how uneasily. Consider Isaiah’s position. Or, for a more contemporary voice, one vocal jazz ballad reminds us:
“Everything must change. Nothing stays the same. Winter turns to spring and everything must change…”
Yet that, however, begs a question. How might a group of visionaries of any and all ages look change in the face and step forward into the unknown? The writer of Hebrews speaks to this.
“1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.” (My emphasis)
If I were to be so bold, the Christian Church as a whole is like unto Abraham in this moment of history. So, too, perhaps, are we. With all this in mind, let me reflect back to you the words of Jesus as recorded in this day’s reading from Luke:
32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…35Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit…37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes….”
If momentous times are afoot for the whole Church, than so too for this congregation. With encouragement, with blessing, what might God do through you? How might this congregation build a legacy of faith for generations yet to come? What are your dreams? How might those dreams in turn serve God best? In all we do, in all we dream:
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Anna Case-Winters, “Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda: Our Misused Motto,” Presbyterian Mission Agency, accessed August 10, 2019, https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/ecclesia-reformata/.
Questions for Reflection
What does it mean to be ready for Christ’s coming? In what sense is the coming of the kingdom like “a thief in the night” (Luke 12:39)?
Household Prayer: Morning
Holy God, at your word the sun rises to greet us, and we are new each morning. Be with me as I begin this day, that my faith would be reckoned righteous by you, and my works find favor in your sight. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Holy God, at the setting of the sun your love brings judgment, and I know of my need for your grace. Help me to be more faithful to justice, more truthful in love, and ever mindful of your mercy. Amen.