Lent 5 (C)
A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 28, 2004
Text: Isaiah 43:18-19
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Change has been on my brain lately. Maybe it’s the warming of the weather and the arrival of spring that’s done it. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m driving a different car now than I was at the start of the year that got me thinking this way. Could be it’s that furry-faced new addition to my family who’s done the trick. Whichever of the many changes has gotten to me most, the fact is that I’m very aware of change from old to new at this particular moment.
As I’ve thought about change and observed my own reactions to it, it’s struck me that we humans seem to be of two minds about it. On the one hand, we crave change. We’re addicted to it. We often find ourselves bored with our humdrum little lives and wishing for some excitement, some variety, some change to come along and fire us up again. We look for things that are new, experiences that are fresh in order to help us feel more alive. Variety, as we are often reminded, is the spice of life. We need to get that fix in order for the same-old-same-old of our lives to seem bearable. What I’ve seen is that when we seek change, when we’re the ones who are making the changes happen in our lives, we usually experience change as exciting and essential to our lives.
On the other hand, we humans are also creatures of habit at heart, and we fear change and resent it when it is forced on us from the outside. Something that might have been a refreshing change of pace in our lives if we had chosen it freely can become an annoying, frustrating burden on us when it’s forced on us by the boss. Changes that could have been an exciting adventure if we had set out to have such an adventure can turn into a terrifying cloud of uncertainty and doubt when they catch us unawares.
And so we find ourselves in the odd situation of longing for some changes, and resenting others. Maybe we even find ourselves wishing for one change, and then getting bent out of shape when someone forces us nto that change when we’re not ready for it. We’re of two minds about change, and no mistake there. We love it and we hate it.
I remember one night several years ago. I was a camp counselor that summer, and my new friends and I were just finishing our two weeks of training. The sessions were over for the day; it was getting late, and the moon was large and bright in the sky over our woods. A handful of us put on our hiking boots and started out for a quiet spot we knew. The old, abandoned railroad bridge that was our destination had been built solidly many decades ago, and so we settled in between its sturdy trusses to stare up into the night sky. Then we began to talk.
(The best conversations always happen when you’re stargazing, I think – there’s something about sitting in the darkness and taking in the sparkling lights that frees you up to say what’s really on your mind.)
And so my counselor friends and I talked about what was really on our minds. We talked about the many discouraging and scary things we saw happening in the world. We talked about wars and famines. We talked about poverty and depressions. We talked about the terrifying ability we humans now have to utterly destroy ourselves and God’s world along with us, at the touch of a button.
And we talked about how we longed for all of this to change, to be made new somehow.
It seemed to us that our world had somehow gone past the point of no return. Things had gotten so bad that there was no way even the best and smartest humans could ever straighten them up. If Jesus didn’t return to set things right before too long, it seemed, there might not be much for him to return to at all. But what a change it would be if he were to return this very night, to do something new!
It was a thought that both excited and scares us. It still excites me most days, and scares me quite a bit of the time, too. Because when God does something new, it means that change is in the forecast – change that I won’t have control over. Remember how people like you and me have two different minds about change: we long for it, and we fear it. Just because I long for the changes that God promises will come doesn’t mean they don’t scare the dickens out of me.
Now, they don’t scare me for the reasons you may be thinking of. I’m not afraid of some tribulation like the Left Behinders preach, and I’m not worried about worried about which way the cosmic scales will tip when my life is placed in them – I have God’s word that I’m his, and anyway, it won’t be my virtue that will tip the scales, but the grace of Jesus Christ that’ll do it.
No, those things don’t scare me. What scares me is simply the change itself. Probably it scares you, too, to think about the entire world being made new. What does “new” mean? What does it look like? What will this new life be like? How can it be that I’ll never be bored or irritable or nasty when God makes me new? How new can God even make someone like me? Will you be able to recognize me, or is my whole identity so caught up in the sin that God is getting rid of that there’ll hardly be much of the old me at all in the new me? Do I get any say in the matter? All this change sounds like it might be a good thing, but can’t we do it on my schedule, when I feel I’m ready for it?
Scripture tells us over and over again that God is bringing about change, right now at this very moment. The Revelation says that he is making all things new. Today’s reading from Isaiah proclaims that God is doing a miraculous new thing among us. Change is coming, and our human nature is to fear it, even while we look forward to it.
I want to encourage you today to let go of your fear of change…at least when the change in question is the Gospel change of God making all things new. Some human changes are good, and some are bad, but the changes God’s making as he recreates us and the whole creation are not just good, they are for your good. It’s good for you to be made new. It’s good for you that everyone else is being made new, too. It’s good for you that God is doing this new thing and that he’s making these sweeping changes in your life day by day, because if he weren’t, it would all be over.
The choice for a fallen people isn’t about whether to change or not. It is whether the final change will be one that transforms us into God’s redeemed sinner-saints who will live new lives with him forever, or whether that final change will be the eternal light-into-darkness of the grave.
Change comes to us all. Whether we fear it or seek it, change will happen. The changes of this world, of our day-to-day lives, might be good or bad, but the changes that God desires for us and is working on us are the very best thing possible. Open your hearts to them, dear friends, and submit yourself to becoming a new creation in Christ Jesus. He is making all things – including each one of us – new in order to bring all things – including each one of us – into his kingdom forever. Amen.