SERMON NOTES, EASTER 7, YEAR C (Preached at Grace Church/Kirkwood, May 12, 2013, the week before the parish merges with St. Matthew’s/Warson Woods)
There are those who say that there are only two things certain in this world: Death and taxes. I’d add a third to the list: There will be change.
A lot has changed in my life since I preached my very first sermon from this pulpit, more than a decade ago. My mother died, and my father moved into independent living. My daughters are now young adults. I’m divorced. I’ve had breast cancer, twice.
A lot has changed at Grace, too. Since I was a member here, you’ve said goodbye to one rector and welcomed a new one. Some of the friends I knew here have moved away, or died. And an even bigger change will take place next week, on Pentecost, when Grace merges with St. Matthew’s.
When I was a teenager, I watched breathlessly with the rest of the world as the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon. I talked about it with my great-aunts, born in the 19th century, and about all of the change they’d seen.
They went from horse-drawn carriages to the first automobiles to the age of the Interstate. They lived in a house converted from gas lighting to electric, and they weren’t children when they got their first telephone. They saw major changes come about in attitudes about women and racial relations.
For the longest time, I thought that their generation must surely have seen more change arrive more rapidly than any other in human history.
Now I’m not so sure. Now I think that distinction might actually belong to our own time, as changes, in technology – consumer, medical, military, and more – and in attitudes seem to arrive at the speed of light.
In recent weeks we’ve heard about how the disciples experienced a quantity and quality of change that would set even our adaptive heads spinning.
Some of them joined Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry, and have followed for the three years since. Some of them joined later, called to follow this teacher, this miracle-worker, this friend.
Jesus has warned them along the way that it’s a harder path than it might have seemed early on. In the days and weeks leading up to the entry into Jerusalem, he’s become more and more open about who he is, and about what’s coming. In the gospel reading we just heard, he concludes the long passage known as the Farewell Discourse. The next chapter records his arrest.
We have lived those changes along with the disciples in the last eight weeks: the grief and fear of Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, the joy of the Resurrection, the understanding that gradually came about as the risen Lord appeared to his companions.
Thursday was Ascension Day, the most-ignored mandatory feast day in the Church calendar, when Jesus led his followers out of the city, gave them instructions, blessed them, and, says the Book of Acts, “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
They will not see him again in this life. They are preparing for new roles. Those roles will become dramatically clear to them and to everyone within earshot next Sunday, on the Feast of Pentecost. From there, they will experience change which they could not have imagined, world-altering change in every sense.
Next Sunday Grace Church will also experience major change, when you merge with St. Matthew’s.
Both parishes have done all the right things: months of careful, Spirit-led discernment and discussions of what will change and what will remain the same: the name of the chapel will change; the name of the parish will not; and, at long last, Grace will have a patronal feast day as you adopt St. Matthew as your own. Congratulations! the Sunday closest to September 21 promises great weather for a parish picnic.
Both parishes have had tremendous leadership throughout the process, but there will still be areas of difference and disagreement. There will still be times when some will say, “But we’ve always done it this way,” and others will respond, “But we’ve never done it that way.”
Just remember that change is not only inevitable, it is necessary. We must adapt to it: If a shark doesn’t keep swimming, it dies. The trick is to guide the change where we can, so that it becomes a blessing to us and to all we meet.
Given the circumstances, I think the readings for today are highly appropriate. That’s especially true of the gospel reading, John’s recounting of Jesus’s farewell prayer.
He prays not only for the disciples listening to him there, but for all of us who will come to believe through their witness.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. … Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
In the weeks and months to come, the people of the new Grace will become truly one. The change won’t always be easy. There will be challenges – another certainty! – and some of them will come as a surprise.
But the opportunity is here to be a blessing, to one another and to the wider community. The opportunity is here, with the many gifts that you have been given, to make God’s love known to each other, and to the world. The opportunity is here to live Jesus’s prayer.
– Sarah Bryan Miller