Rev. Daniel Irvine
(2 Kings 4.8-17, Ps 89.1-9, Rom 6.3-11, Matt 10.34-42)
There is an old joke that was used by Rowan Atkinson in his role as the oblivious vicar in the movie Keeping Mum that goes: How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?
To which the answer was a rather perturbed… “Change!?”
I guess it might be a little unfair to pick on Anglicans when most people tend to shy away from change, or even avoid it at all costs!
But I guess the stereotype of the stuffy Anglican so preoccupied with “the way we have always done things”, or even worse, “how things used to be” has left enough of a cultural imprint on our society so as to make Atkinson’s joke funny.
It works because to a certain extent it rings true with our experiences.
After all, change is not easy. It takes enormous amounts of effort and large quantities of mental as well as physical, and even spiritual energy.
Not to mention the risks that enacting change often entails.
The cost and the risk is such that most human beings will naturally be inclined to avoid change as much as possible, until we absolutely have to, and then only begrudgingly.
But there are times when embracing and accepting change is critical for our future growth and evolution, both as individual human, as a church community, and as a global species.
In those critical moments, change, even if it is difficult and hard to accept, can mean the difference between merely surviving or actually flourishing, it can mean the difference between relevance and fullness of life, or insignificance, or worse, extinction.
Take, for example, the cautionary tale of Kodak.
In the late 19th century George Eastman took a risk to invest and develop an idea for film roll that revolutionised photography. All of a sudden anyone could own a camera and take photos without hugely cumbersome equipment and their own developing lab.
So successful was the idea that the company he created, Kodak, became the leading name in photography worldwide and by 1976, 85% of all film cameras and 90% of all film in the USA was Kodak.
However, a year earlier one of their engineers, Steven Sasson, had developed a prototype for what would become known as the digital camera.
But the Kodak executives dismissed the idea, claiming that no one would ever want to look at pictures on a screen…
…Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012, after a slow and gradual decline into irrelevancy because they were not willing to embrace the change of something new and different.
Our readings today also deal, in various ways, with the theme of change. Of its acceptance…and the struggle against it.
Our Old Testament reading from the book of Kings has its origins in the stories preserved by a particular band of prophets who were diametrically opposed to any change or innovation that the monarchs of the Northern Kingdom might introduce.
They were included in what is known at the deuteronomic history, compiled by the Judean exiles in Babylon as a way of trying to explain how they had ended up losing everything. They looked back to an almost fictional past where they thought everything was perfect and then sought someone to blame.
Much of the blame, as far as they were concerned lay with wicked kings like Ahab and Omri. But they failed to note that it was under these monarchs that the Northern Kingdom experienced it greatest success, wealth and quality of life. In fact many of the great buildings that were later attributed to Solomon were actually built by Omri.
Change had come, but instead of trying to harness and direct that change for the good of society as a whole, instead of pointing to the plight of those most vulnerable, those oppressed and abandoned, these “pre-historic” prophets simply remonstrated against the new, that it was not as good as the old, and now both they and the Northern Kingdom they antagonised are long gone.
Our reading from the New Testament also speaks dramatically about change. This time though it is an internal change which takes place in the hearts and minds of those who welcome the gospel.
Specifically it speaks about the symbolism of our baptism, where in our dying and rising with Christ our lives are reshaped to reveal a new freedom, a freedom from Sin and death.
Not that we magically no longer sin or die, but that we are now free from guilt and shame and fear of such things and so are able to grow and continue to change, becoming more fully the people God has intended us to be.
It is possibly one of the most significant changes a person could ever go through and should produce incredible shifts of perspective in how we view and interact with the world and with each other.
So significant, in fact, is this change, that when Jesus spoke about those who would come to accept it he warned that its cost would be very high.
That it would divide people on fundamental issues, that it would set those who accepted it apart from the world, it would make them stand out as beacons of love through their lives of renunciation and because of this it would cause divisions, even amongst families.
Make no mistake, this division and setting apart that the gospel brings is what is meant by the “sword”, not some twisted interpretation that tries to justify war or violence.
Yet, despite the enormity of this change, we have all hopefully experienced it and embraced it, at any rate you are all here today.
We have also all had to cope with a lot of extra change in the past few months, often quite profound change, as we have been shaken out of our buildings and away from our traditional rituals.
We have been challenged to remember that Jesus is encountered in and through the believing community, not simply in bread or wine. This is what is means to say that Christ is met in the Church.
Now this is a real problem if you think that the Church is a building!
It is foundational to our faith that Christ is most readily thought of as present to us in the celebration of the Eucharist but this presence is there to enable us to more fully make him present to others through us!
If we are not following through on our end of the deal then we are – to a certain extent, wasting our time here each week!
Christ is to be found in the day to day life of the Church – as we change, mature and develop we become more aware of ourselves and more conscious of Christ within us, uniting us, filling us and guiding us.
We must speak for Christ who lives on in our community, we must give voice to Christ, give hands, give expression to his love, constantly seeking to recognise his presence everywhere we go and in everyone we met.
I challenge everyone to stop and consider what we have learned these past few months and to think about where that learning might lead us.
As restrictions continue to slowly ease are we simply going to go back to how it was or are we going to look for the opportunities we have been given to grow and to change?
Will the extent of our change be to do the same things that we have always done but with a camera stuck out in front of the ten o’clock service?
Or is there something more we should be taking from this pandemic?
Now I am not pretending to have all the answers or to possess a magic bullet that would solve all the problems that we face, but I am trying to think about it. And I feel that if we all devoted some serious time and prayer into thinking about what God might be calling us to do then together we might find some direction and be guided by the Spirit.
After all we have seen some great work begun in terms of being in touch more with those who are isolated; we have seen people caring more, opening themselves up to new things.
How are we going to continue this work? How are we going to reach out to the next generation and encourage their participation?
Because without them all the good we currently do will stop once we reach our graves, something we may not like to think about but something that is inevitable for us all.
We need to stop and thing and understand why we do what we do. Why does our Parish Council exist? Why do we brave the cold to gather here together on a Sunday morning? Is it just because it suits US and we like it? Or is there something more? Something that we need to share with others?
Ultimately we need to ask ourselves are we more concerned about ourselves and what we like, what is comfortable and familiar to us, than about finding new ways to express God’s love to others?
Are we tempted to say that if I like a particular style of worship then I will go and worship? But if not then I won’t?
Is it all about ME?
I invite you all to carefully and prayerfully consider what changes is Christ calling us towards?
What is he calling you towards?
What risks is he asking us to take?
What is he asking you to do?
For the Church of which you are a part.
For the neighbours amongst you in each of your communities.
For the world on which we all live together.
Do we accept the challenge and embrace change, whatever it may be?
Or do we follow the example of Kodak and slowly peter out into extinction?
So let us pray:
Almighty God, please help each and everyone of us to be attentive to your Holy Spirit as we go about our lives. May you lead and guide us all into a brave new future and help us to both discern and to make those changes that are needed, both in our own hearts and lives, and in our church and community, so as to help make your kingdom a greater reality for all. Never forgetting the rock on which our faith is built, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.