Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 19 (24), Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
September 15, 2019
Lessons: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people learn from God how to open their hearts, minds, and hands to change for the sake of the gospel.
Key Scripture: And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. Exodus 32:14
Why is change so incredibly hard? According to this week’s lesson from Exodus, even God is capable of changing God’s mind. But we humans, oh we humans, resist and fear change with amazing, heel-digging petrification. Be it a Fortune 500 company, the local school system, or your beloved congregation, the mere scent of change can be enough to upset the homeostatic apple cart. In many cases, our inability to face and move through change can be a death sentence for the very organizations and communities we love. Whether change is sought in worship times, staff reorganization, or in full inclusion of various groups of people, one will likely meet with resistance.
Bruce Henderson, a pioneering change agent and visionary in the business sector, wrote about the necessity of and challenges to change after founding the Boston Consulting Group in the early 1960s. In a 1968 article “Why Change is so Difficult” he wrote:
Success in the past always becomes enshrined in the present by the over-valuation of the policies and attitudes which accompanied that success. . . . However, with time these attitudes become embedded in a system of beliefs, traditions, taboos, habits, customs, and inhibitions which constitute the distinctive culture of that firm. Such cultures are as distinctive as the cultural differences between nationalities or the personality differences between individuals. They do not adapt to change very easily.
These characteristics are deep-seated and difficult to change. Frequently, this means that the organization becomes the prisoner of its own past success. Such individual characteristics become so much a part of the firm that any effort to change them is quite likely to be viewed as an attack upon the organization itself.
Not much has changed in 50 years! See any application to the current state of many 21st century Christian congregations? I sure do, and I encourage you to read the entire essay here. One of the key observations that Henderson makes about leadership is that visionary leadership needs to come at time when “the organization as a whole would ordinarily oppose the change.” Too often, this is when leadership, meeting opposition, retreats or entrenches leaving room for opposition to squelch the desired change.
But Moses dug in with God. Instead of retreating, he pleaded for the stiff-necked people God had called him to lead. Never mind that Moses himself would give them a mighty tongue lashing in very short order; he pled the case and God changed God’s mind. Imperfect as are we humans who are called to lead God’s people, we must remember to lean in when the going gets dicey if we hope to see the desired change.
Jesus, in this week’s gospel lesson (Luke 15:1-10), takes on the fearful and self-righteous religious leaders who are not happy with the way this radical rabbi is breaking rules and charting a new course. They’re grumbling because Jesus has drawn the circle of acceptability much wider to include (perish the thought!) sinners.
In typical Jesus fashion he holds a parabolic mirror up to their discontent to show joy in sinners restored to the community of faith. In fact, wipe those dour looks off your faces folks, when God’s people gather there should be rejoicing, celebrating, and feasting. What Jesus doesn’t clarify is who the restored sinner really is. Could it be you? Me? The grumbling Pharisee or Scribe? Oh yes, blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.
So what’s the good news for fearful and anxious folk this Sunday? God is always looking to celebrate the beloved community and those who are found, perhaps over and over again. Our Lord wants the party to be filled to capacity. And yes, even God is capable of changing God’s mind, so perhaps we should work on a little more neural elasticity when it comes to putting up walls, drawing lines, and saying who’s in or out. Open hearts, minds, and hands have a much better view than those who are curved in on themselves. Let’s aim for the big picture and celebrate the new things that God can do if we will but change.
If one were to take the temperature of your worship, would it be on fire with faith and joy, or would it be tepid and timid in its expression of the gospel? Consider ways that you can infuse more joy, hope, and heart into your gatherings. Change begins from the top, so encourage all who lead and serve in worship to cultivate an attitude of gladness and joy. You’ll find relationships may flourish and trust increase. All of these things will help pave the way for change that may need to happen.
Invite youth to read the gospel lesson and then ask them whether worship in your context resembles the kind of joyful party Jesus talks about. If so, what makes it so? If not, what might need to change? What might be the objections to such change? How might one faithfully and lovingly address those objections to help others move past their fears and anxieties? Consider picking one idea to craft into a proposal to take to your church council, vestry, or board.
This week’s focus verse is Psalm 51:10– Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Invite the children to learn this simple prayer, one that we use in our liturgy regularly. Help them to see how it links to their baptism and the daily dying to sin and rising to new life that we engage in every day. Invite them to think of this simple prayer every time they wash their face, wash the dishes, water the garden, or get a glass of water from the tap. Remind them that the Holy Spirit was given to them in baptism and is always with them renewing and guiding them in right paths. Finish with a simple prayer and blessing for each child.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Have you ever considered that being adaptable and open to change is an important aspect of stewardship? Consider this analogy: If we don’t exercise our bodies, we become stiff and inflexible. Exercising our faith muscles and being open to new things that God may be doing is critical—and good stewardship!
Stewardship at Home
How difficult is change for you? To some degree most of us struggle with change. We fear what we might lose. However, without the ability to confront and work through change we become stagnant and we may lose that which we fear anyway. Here’s a wonderful website with lots of resources to help you navigate change, become a better facilitator and leader, and begin to address your own concerns around change. Click here to explore the Training for Change website.
What one thing involving change (of mind, heart, location, etc.) are you willing to begin addressing this week?
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/09/losing-finding-remembering/
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/09/precious-in-gods-sight/
Images: Robert Couse-Baker; Kevin Manning; and Paul Bowman, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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