Thursday, July 2, 2015

Good news is not always welcome

 “You mean to tell me they changed the Hymnal too?!??”

That was my friend Christopher’s response. I had just showed him something he hadn’t seen before: The Hymnal 1982. And just before that, he’d shown me his beloved copy of … Hymnal 1940. I kind of laughed at him. And called him Rip Van Christopher. It had been so long since he’d been to church that he ‘missed the memo’ on all the changes after the adoption of the 1979 prayer book.

Rip Van… was actually kind of appropriate. Just imagine how Christopher would have felt if he’d gone to sleep, beloved prayer book and hymnal in hand, in 1770 or so, and woke up in 1790.


The response was shock – anguish – even disgust. Certainly disorientation.

Not immediately – but once they got to the prayers of the people. And the prayer for the king was replaced by a prayer for the president. President? What’s that? Some kind of meeting facilitator? Is there a whiteboard in the house? Some group-process newsprint? What is going on!!?

Change happens from time to time. Even in the church.

Once at another parish we had a visiting preacher who reminded us of the things that last – and made a helpful statement. First: the things that last. He pointed out the font. The water of baptism. That’s one. I held up the chrism for sealing the new convert as Christ’s own forever. That’s two. He talked about the bread and the wine, the sacramental elements of the Eucharist. Three and four. And, he said, we have each other – and the Holy Spirit. As long as we have those things, we will be okay. Sigh of relief from the congregation.

Sigh of relief, for they were very anxious, and somewhat angry. They’d be proud to throw tea into the harbor – but woe on he who suggests a change to the – oh, god, can’t say it – building.

But every once in awhile there comes a time of change. Even to the hymnal. Or –

In the summer of 1776 the pastor of Christ Church, Philadelphia, I am told, got the news from down the street, from the building now called Independence Hall:

When in the Course of human events…”

And so he took out his pen and his prayer book and found the places in the prayers where the sovereign and the royal family were mentioned, and he struck out “king” and wrote “president”… so I am told.

What a shock it would have been to a man reared on the prayer book of 1662 – and its strong foundation in an established church of England. And now only just over a hundred years later, with the memory of King Charles’ head and the ghost of Bonnie Prince Charlie thought safely laid to rest, there was an upheaval – a revolution.

From now on, no established church at all – not yours or mine.

We can only imagine …

… Imagine a world when something new was coming into being, and something old was lost.

Maybe it isn’t that hard after all. Not this week.

Sometimes we lose something precious – and sometimes, when we realize what we are going to say good-bye to, we are glad to see it go. It could be a practice – or it could be an attitude. It could be a prejudice. Or an unexamined presumption.

No matter.

Time to let it go.

In times of great change, we can be mourners of the past or midwives of the future.

That is what the preacher said to us that day five years and more ago, in another parish.

We are in the midst of change. All our lives.

Sometimes like my friend Christopher the change comes as a shock, the cherished object suddenly an heirloom of a past. A past we hardly knew as past.

Disbelief? Comic incredulity on our faces… but it’s gone.

How are we to live now?

Imagine him coming home, the son of Mary, coming home to Nazareth. We all know him, the carpenter. We know his brothers – name four – and his sisters. We know the little house where he grew up, the stone across the door, the Roman pavement out front where he’d play in the street, as a little boy. And now he says the world is about to change. He, of all people.

Where did he get all this?

What he says to us is worse yet – outrageous!

Repent – and repent means turning. Change your ways.

This repentance will not be televised, or announced in the town square. It will begin within you.

It will go beyond you. It will gather thousands to riverbank and hillside. To hear him of all people proclaim the good news.

Good news, my friends, is not always welcome.

That is certainly the case with Jesus, that day in his hometown.

He even wisecracked – in response to their incredulity – with the commonplace, a prophet is not without honor except in his own country.

And he had brought the message home. They did not know him as a prophet. They did not know him as a messenger of God. They knew him as a little boy. And as a man handy with his hands.

But now those hands were at other work than carpentry. They healed the sick with a touch. They cast out demons. They carried the good news with them of the coming of the kingdom of God.

It goes beyond “strike out king and write president”. There is more going on than replacing one George (the Third) with another (Washington). It is a whole new way of being.

Strike out self and write Messiah. Strike out empire and write Shalom. Strike out sin and judgment and write love and grace.

War – and write peace.

Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Acceptance – and welcome – of the stranger, and of yourself.

Where there was no trust – most of the people of Nazareth that day Jesus came home – there was no healing. Only where there was trust – where people believed in him enough to come to him – did Jesus do any healing work that day. From there, however, he went on – and took disciples, students, with him.

We know that to them he gave authority – and they carried on the work in his name.

Out there in the villages they found belief, and trust, and hope – not everywhere – and they brought healing, cast out fear, and said the words of hope, and of change.

Change – turn – repent. And believe. And know that the kingdom has come among you.

Peace be with you. Shalom.

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 1979)

"... thy kingdom come..." click on: Herbert O’Driscoll – 10:30 Service January 31, 2010

"Repentance is turning."--Mary Herring.

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