25th September 2011
Readings: Exodus 17 v 1-7
Matthew 21 v 23-32
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
The Israelites are grumbling again!
I’m off to a Ministries Council consultation later this week – and I’m sure the grumbling that will happen there will put the Israelites in the shade.
There’s nothing like a gathering of ministers for upping the stakes in grumbling.
UNLESS – it’s a gathering of Facebook users.
This week, Facebook, which is a FREE of charge social networking site, changed its layout and set up – and cyber space was filled with grumbling.
We just get used to things, whatever those things may be – and are not good at processing change.
Even when we would freely admit to the flaws or inadequacies in ways or routines with which we have become familiar, we still resist any change.
You may have heard on the news at the end of last week that scientists in Geneva are challenging the theory of relativity.
E = mc2
A constant of Physics asserts that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Even that Einstein formula is being called into question!
Although there are many more checks to be made to confirm this, it seems that nothing is sacred.
Nothing escapes the need for change.
The church, nationally and locally, is going through massive change right now - maybe it’s always been so.
But does everything have to change at once?
Perhaps it does
Few of us would deny that change is needed – but getting there is always painful.
And, it seems, any and every setback gives us license to complain and forget about all the progress that is being made, forget about the purpose of change – to get us to a better place – forget about why we’ve embarked on the journey – and long for things to go back to the way they were, even though we know that’s not right either.
Any change that is worthwhile comes at a cost.
Of course we manage transition really well in the church.
Whenever there’s even a hint of something changing successfully, we simply set up a committee to get to grips with whatever is happening and slowly and surely bring change to a grinding halt.
That is why I refuse to have committees progressing work here at Castlehill but insist on Working Groups – to do what it says on the label.
Community is hard work.
And change comes at a cost.
Even for those of us who wholeheartedly embrace change, there comes an impatience in the transition.
We may not like where we are.
We may have a clear idea of where we want to be.
But the journey there will always be painful.
And, along the way, there is always the temptation to long for things to go back to the way they were.
It takes a LOT of courage to stick it out and reach that promised land.
The history of every congregation, even one as young as Castlehill, is littered with the bones of those who have perished along the way – I don’t mean the saints, those we love and miss – I mean the folks who just didn’t have the stamina for the journey, those who became weary of the constant struggle, those who opted out, those who went off in search of something comfortably more familiar.
Not all of those Israelites who started on the journey out of Egypt made it to the Promised Land.
But, at crucial points along the way, when the grumbling reached fever pitch, God reminded them who was in control.
Bread from heaven.
Water from a rock.
Gifts in the right place at the right time.
Signs pointing forward, encouraging all who were in danger of giving up on the struggle.
Where are those signs for us today?
Where do we find God gently or not so gently reminding us that we too need to make quite a trek to get to where we need to be?
Where are the signs of God’s affirming and nurturing along the way?
Like the Israelites, are we asking: “Is God with us or not?”
Are we finding the reassurance that God is with us?
And, with that reassurance, are we finding the strength to carry on into territory that God has prepared for us?
I came across a picture the other day – an artist’s impression of the sanctuary when it was first built.
IT showed the church and hall and manse surrounded by fields with horses grazing.
What a transformation in the area around the church, a transformation that I know many of you remember and, more importantly, survived.
This church extension charge, built as a symbol of hope on the edge of an expanding town, has grown through the years to serve an ever expanding parish and is uniquely placed and uniquely called to continue to do that.
And , just as the landscape around the building has changed, so has the work that we seek to do.
Those halcyon days when a minister would be on your doorstep as soon as the removal van pulled up.
Or the days when your neighbour would invite you to a social in the church hall or to the young mother’s fellowship or when you’d be asked to come along to help build or paint or clean – those opportunities have become memories.
But still, there is no shortage of other opportunities.
Still our hope and vision as God’s people in this place is to serve the community around us and share the wonderful news of God’s love and presence in all of life.
Yes, that community is vastly changed.
And so we, the people of God today, need to find out how to continue God’s mission for this day.
The signs that we still have hope and vision are found, not in our words but in our actions.
That story Jesus told – of the two sons being asked to go and work in their father’s vineyard – One said he would go and didn’t. The other said he wouldn’t go and then did.
That story sums up our predicament.
Are we journeying with God?
Is God in our midst?
Do we still have faith in the vision and the promise into which God leads us?
If we do, then our actions have to match our words.
What we say in this sacred space must mirror what we do in all the places that God makes sacred in our community.
We cannot go back – no matter how much we might want to.
And the past wasn’t all that we have painted it to be.
So let’s re commit ourselves today to the hope and the vision into which God leads us.
Let us re commit ourselves by our words and our actions to engaging in the hard work that is community.
Let us recognize the gifts with which God surrounds us – bread from heaven, water from a rock and all manner of things in between and see these as signs that God continues to lead us onward.
And let us be strengthened by God to continue the journey.
COMMUNITY IS HARD WORK.
Thanks be to God.