Wednesday, February 25, 2009


     The story from the Old Testament this week is one of mystery, one of surprise, one of amazing teaching, and one of great comfort. The story itself takes place outside time and space from the perspective of a faithful Israelite. Those who have read Kings and Chronicles note that the events in their history take place during the reign of particular kings. Yet our story this weekend takes place after Ahaziah has passed (1:18) but before Jehoram has ascended the throne (3:1). Sure, as students of history, we can figure the years, but given the context of how most stories in this book are related, we should notice that something is different.

     Another big difference is the location of the events. Most of the stories in Kings and Chronicles take place in the land of Israel, the Land promised to Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and the rest of the matriarchs and patriarchs of Israel. Yet, this story does not. We see a good bit of wandering as Elisha follows his master around, but the main even occurs outside the Land. The main event occurs after Elijah stops the waters of the Jordan and crosses back over outside the Land. Elijah and Elisha cross back over to where the people swore their covenant with God in Deuteronomy, to where God acts in mighty displays, and to that place thought of as the wilderness.

     So, why the emphasis on time and location? In one sense, one of the messages conveyed in this passage address a concern of the people of God no matter their location and no matter their time: change. Change is one of those events which matters to people no matter where and no matter when. We as American Episcopalians can probably understand this better than most. As Episcopalians, we are taught and trained that change is to be feared. Don't change the music. Don't let people serve on the Vestry without at least a decade of membership so they can learn how things ought to work. Heaven help us if the clergy leaves; he/she is the best thing to have ever happened to this parish. Don't change the order of worship. Don't upset my life. As Americans, we have a sense that we are entitled to that lack of change. I could choose to go to a changing church, but I choose to go here, to this church that does not change.

     God, of course, understands far better than we that change is always happening in our lives. I have joked above about us American Episcopalians hating change, but look at our lives. We have a new President for the first time in eight years. Eight years is quite a span. Heck, Karen and I have had three kids in that time frame. How will the President react to certain events? How will he govern? What campaign promises will he try to keep? Which ones will he jettison immediately? Questions like that run through our minds over this change, and we have not even touched upon the significant change that his election, as a minority member, heralds and confirms about race relations in our nation. And, although most of us are Iowans, nearly all of us have watched the change foisted upon our brothers and sisters across the river with the actions of their now deposed governor and his appointed Senator. Oh, lest I forget, there is that economic recession thing that is causing some changes in peoples' lives . . .

     At least our beloved church is immune to change, right? At least we as American Episcopalians can find that one place of surety, that one place that has no change in our chosen location and denomination of worship, right?  In the last two months a couple more dioceses have voted to disaffiliate from our General Convention, one of which is just across the river. We have been so affected by the economic malaise that the Executive Committee has crossed the MDG's line item off the triennial budget. We made such a huge statement about that being our focus and publicly called upon secular governments to follow our example. Now, with no fanfare, no apology, no accounting, no pulpit thumping, we have given them up for a season.
Well, at least our parish is immune to change, right? I mean, we are comfortable with what we have right here. Except for the fact that we will elect new members to the Vestry this week, some of whom may not have the required time put in "learning about how we do things at St. Alban's." Except for the fact that we will have to make some hard choices on the budget if non-pledgers and non-participants decide not to include themselves in the mission of St. Alban's. Except for the fact that we have to deal with personal traumas such as death, job loss, unexpected relationship problems, illnesses, addictions, and a list of other possibilities.

     Yes, change is a part of life. Yet, for the Christian, change is not something to be feared. Change, as scary and haphazard as it may seem to us, is still subject to God's sovereignty. And change is always furthering God's plan of salvation history. No matter how bad the change might seem to us, He is constantly at work in our lives. Job losses, relationship failures, illnesses, addictions and all those personal changes can be redeemed by the very God who redeemed us on the cross and conquered death that we might live for ever! The Church picked up on this understanding early, though perhaps we must needs be reminded from time to time. Bishops sat at the feet of bishops who sat at the feet of bishops who sat at the feet of one of the disciples who sat at the feet of Jesus. We read God's story, His story, to remind ourselves of His mighty acts, His amazing grace, and His unfathomable mercy. Even when things seem utterly hopeless and loss, such as at Christ's death or Israel's exile, He acts to redeem and to save His people.

     Part of our mission, part of our obligation, is to remind the world that the vagaries are not in control. The Creator who loves us each as a perfect Father ought has worked and is still working to bring all His children home. We are no more trapped by change than we are trapped by our circumstances. He is always able to overcome and to transcend anything in our lives. In a world fretting over change, is there a better message to relate?  Is there a better story to tell?

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