This time of year is one of transitions, of change. Summer vacation is over. Now’s the time for school. Now, sure the excitement that is the first day of school can be invigorating —will everyone like the new teacher? will there be any familiar friends in class? And then there’s the all important one—how much homework will there be? Can I get an amen?
Sometimes change is fun. hard. For example, I’d be willing to bet that for those of us who have already had a first day of school and for those of us who are about to have a first day of school, there were or will be no issues getting up and getting to school on time.
But that second day… or even the third day? In order for everyone, parents included, to get up on time it means changing patterns and going to be bed at a decent hour—not that i’ve had to learn that one the hard way, or anything….
We have made some difficult changes this week, namely in our office staff and our child care. And while I do not relish one bit saying goodbye to long time employees of this church and I did not want to say goodbye to someone who has been on of my dear friends for 9 years, this is an opportunity to be invited into change. No, we didn’t look for it—it came to us because of decisions Atlanta Public Schools made in terminating their contract with us for our gym.
But there is an invitation to something new here. For example, our new bookkeeper is the same bookkeeper of the preschool. Not only does this make sense from accounting standards point of view, but it is also good as this is a tangible reminder that we are one and the same organization. Also, our new office manager, working around 15 hours less per week than Jerry did. Part of the reason of this is financial. Part of it is because she is also the office manager at Epworth. Regardless of what decision we ultimately make regarding a vital merger with Epworth, this new hire is again a recognition of both responsible stewardship and a reminder that we as United Methodists are connected to one another.
So, why all this talk about change when the text for the week was yet one more reading on Jesus being the Bread of Life? Ginger Barfield made the observation that implicit in this part of John, the essential character of the relationship between Jesus and the crowd or, here, Jesus and the Jews turns to one of challenge, one inviting to change.
Yes this is an invitation to change that is personal.
One that happened to me, several years ago, was that I realized that in my evolving progressive sensibilities I had become something of a zealot—I had gone from being a theologically conservative zealot to a theologically progressive one. And one is not much better than the other. Both were exclusive.
And the invitation for me to change was to allow for room at the table for others, even if they were not theologically or socially progressive, because no one has the corner on truth and we need to listen to each other.
For example, our evangelical friends have it down really good that at the core of who we are as Christians is a relationship with Jesus that changes our lives.
This is a message Christians need to hear, as well.
Now I would say that the progressive lens to that claim would add that to fully and truly embrace this claim is not being hateful or dismissive to people living with other creeds or claims to truth. In a world where there are far too many voices dismissing people simply because of difference, we need to hear that word.
Ginger Barfield added this question in her observations on this text, “ what in the context of our own congregations needs turning upside down before we can hear and understand and be drawn to Jesus’ words?”
I immediately thought of Mr. Sim Walton. As it was related to me, Sim was on Trustees when the decision was made change this sanctuary. Initially he didn’t like it. Why? I don’t know. One could only guess. But he came to Rex with a sketch and an offer to build this pulpit. And in doing so, he was telling both his pastor and his church that change was okay.
Over the coming days, weeks and months there will be more change. One way of looking at this, or any, change is meet it, resist it, and repeat the old mantra, “same good. change bad.” And while there’s something to be said of tradition and continuity, there’s also a caution that we don’t become so fixed that we are not open to what Jesus would have us do as we live into God’s Kin-dom breaking in to our lives.
Another way of of looking at change is to embrace it, albeit reluctantly. Again, I wonder if this kind of response to change is faithful to an understanding of how grace found in Jesus works, how we grow over the course of our lifetime, how none of us are finished products… and if none of us as individuals are ever finished products, the same can be side of our communities and institutions.
A final way to look at change is to receive it, and embrace it with a sense of enquiry, of exploration, of creatively imagining new possibilities with each other and with God, probing around, to discern where are we challenged to go so that we might hear Jesus’ words anew, where we might go so that we might receive our bread for this day, and where this day will take us to receive our bread for the next, repeating as we are led on the journey that leads us to not simply the next meal but the bread that truly abides, that truly lasts, that truly brings life.