We find in the reading today from Isaiah a warning from God that new things are about to be done. Warning about new things coming is probably a good idea. No one seems to particularly like new things. We all love the old things. And yet we are warned in this same passage to “not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” This is a hard teaching for Episcopalians! In fact, even with lots of warning, change is still hard to deal with.
I’m reminded of this struggle we all have with change in a story line from the series “The Vicar of Dibley”. In the first episode a “woman” priest is sent to the parish as their new vicar. The initial shock left everyone silent. As some of the parishioners began talk about change they observed that there is good change and bad change and that is true in the world today. But what makes it so difficult is our inability to come to agreement on which changes are good and which are bad. This is reflected locally and in the wider world. It effects everything from what we do here at St. Peter’s when we make changes to what is going on today in the world wide Anglican Communion.
Make a river in a desert as it says in Isaiah and you are sure to find some who would find reason to complain. The river is not in the right place. Too many people or animals are around now. The environmental balance has been changed. There is now too much traffic. It used to be nice and peaceful and quiet here and now it is so loud and disruptive. And you have to deal with the mud.
Look at the Israelites, they were freed from slavery and provided manna from heaven and yet still managed to complain about it. The old times were better they said. We are sick and tired of this manna they complained. The very food sent down from heaven by God was becoming tiring to them. The grass always is greener on the other side! And I’m sure if we look in our own lives we will find plenty of times when we complained and perhaps the complaint was not really all that justifiable.
Why do people complain about change so much? I think it is because we mourn the loss of the familiar. The familiar is comfortable and easy to go along with. It doesn’t cause stress or anxiety. People also don’t like change because of the fear of the unknown. Change puts us face to face with something new. Something that may be unpalatable or undesirable. Or maybe just something that is different. Like a river in a dry place.
But there is something even more important in this passage today. God says that she is about to do a new thing and yet we do not see it. There are two things here particularly important. First that God is doing a new thing. There are some who would prefer, who pray for and who fight for God to only do the old things. There is no understanding or comprehension that God may indeed be doing a new thing in their life or in the life of the Church. Those who would paint God in a nice neat corner are only bound to be disappointed. Several weeks ago I spoke about how surprising God can be and is. Of this there can be no doubt.
The second part of that verse “do you not perceive it?” should be a warning to us. A warning to not try and fight against the new things God is doing. But this can be painfully difficult.
How do we know that all the new things going on now are from God? That is the critical question. Those against the new things clearly see the answer as no, they are most definitely not from God. Those in support of the new things clearly see the answer as yes, God is working powerfully among us. Personally I think that the Christian community would be in much better condition if everyone kept in mind that they just might be wrong. This sort of humility seems to be sadly lacking in many of the conversations in the Church today. An embrace of the idea of the possibility of error in my own thoughts would allow greater charity towards those we disagree with. It would also lower the level of strife for those fighting so hard for what they feel is right.
There is one thing that is very good about change, whether you are in favor of it or not. Change forces us to re-evaluate what is going on in our lives. And that is a good thing. It is healthy and an opportunity for spiritual growth. It can cause us either to strengthen the views we already held or be an opportunity for the possibility of changing them. Whether in the end the change was necessary or perhaps quietly done away with, self examination of our own lives and of our own, sometimes closely held beliefs is good.
Change forces us to wake up from the lethargy of the usual, of the common, and to look at things in a new light. That may feel like a dangerous thing. But it is life giving.
As Christians we are called to face change with expectation and hope. We need to view change with the expectation and hope that God just might be doing a new thing in our lives. So when we are faced with changes, we should not react with a gut level reaction to immediately reject it. Instead we need to think about it. We need to test it out.
Perhaps, just perhaps it can help us grow.