January 14, 2024
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
St. Luke’s UMC
January 14, 2024
A Little Help Here…
For Coping With Change
What’s happens to you when you hear that word? Do you find yourself getting a little resistant, even before you know what change is coming? Does it give you a knot in the stomach?
Most of us are change averse. We will deal with so much change everyday we get exhausted by the amount of change we face.
We can perhaps relate to what the Duke of Cambridge said in the late 1800s: “Any change, at any time, for any reason is to be deplored.” Or as the old saying goes, “The only one who cries to have a change is a baby.”
I learned about change tolerance when I went to my last church. I had been at my previous church for 13 years in the mountains in NC. The community was laid back. This was before texting and social media. The area was very stable and consistent. Low crime. A traffic jam meant more than 2 cars at a stop light. In the church we did lots of crazy things. We shook stuff up all the time. New elements in worship. Changing rooms where people met. Sometimes it ruffled a few feathers but by and large people went with it.
Then I moved to a church just north of Charlotte, a much more urban community, bigger use of technology, must busier and faster pace of life. I thought, “Wow, this church will really respond to doing things different.” That statement ranks right up there with the famous last words of a redneck: “Watchiss!”
I didn’t event start shaking things up that much before I began receiving emails, even after my first Sunday! “Why did you stand here when you preach? The previous pastor used to stand beside the pulpit and put his had on it while he preached.” “Why didn’t you pray at the end of your sermon. I found that very distracting and left feeling like the service was incomplete.” “You didn’t lift the plates up when you prayed for the offering, that was a miss in my opinion.”
Now I could have gotten defensive and felt like I was serving a hypercritical congregation, but I decided to take it on like a science project. What was this telling me about my congregation. I got to know people. This was in the middle of the housing and economic crisis in 2008—I’ll come back to this in a moment. I found that people were living on edge. They were dealing with a rate of change unlike anything in my previous community. In the workplace technology and policies were always changing, and many went to work everyday wondering if they were going to find out their company had been bought out and they now didn’t have a job.
Even retirees felt it. The growth of the community meant development was always happening. The main road in the community was under construction being widened. That meant at rush hour in the morning, starting about 7am, it took 45 minutes to drive 3 miles. Every weekday morning!
I discovered when people came to church they were so desperate for something unchanging, that the least little tweak in worship threw them off their spiritual horse.
Maybe you can relate.
In this series A Little Help Here we are talking today about Help for Coping with Change. At any time nearly all of us are probably dealing with some kind of change: change in our health, change in our workplace, change in location; change in family structure, change in technology, on and on it can go.
Our personalities have a lot to do with how we handle change. If you are an order and structure person and you worship at the altar of predictability, then change is not your friend. If you are adventurous and doing the same thing twice bores you, you probably welcome change more freely.
But our personalities don’t stay the same. Why? Because we…change! None of us stays the same. People who once loved change and being spontaneous can find themselves becoming change averse. And then a big factor is whether we initiated the change or it was forced upon us. The point is every person can face a change that is hard, and when that happens what spiritual help do we have to cope?
Our scripture reading today from the Book of Jeremiah is a letter. It is his letter to the exiles who were taken as prisoners of war from Jerusalem and Judah to the land of Babylon. Everything familiar to the people was stripped away. Many were separated from family. They left their homes. And they left their God. In a time when it was believed that gods were limited to the land where you lived, it felt as though they were now without spiritual resources.
This may seem a peculiar belief to us today, but can you feel when the ways we experience God get tinkered with? When changes are made to the worship service? When music changes or the way communion is served changes? Does it cause you to feel disconnected from God? We don’t have to physically go anywhere to feel spiritually lost.
If change has ever affected you in such a way then you know what Babylon feels like. You understand what it means to have gone through changes that leave you exhausted, afraid for the future, and frankly out of hope. And this is what makes Jeremiah’s message to the people astounding. He tells them to prosper in that place! Take wives and husbands, he says. Marry. Have children. Pray for the welfare of the place where you are, for if that place prospers, you will prosper.
Imagine how hard that must have been to hear! That in a place of unwanted change, a place you do not want to stay, a place in which the answer to your prayer would be to get you out of there, but instead you are told to pray that it becomes a good place. How hard would that be?
Psychologist say that we don’t really fear change, it is loss that we fear. Change usually brings with it a loss of some kind, so before we can ever get to a place of embracing change, we have to acknowledge loss and grieve it. One thing I wish I would have learned much earlier in ministry is that when a congregation experiences a significant change, there must be time for people to grieve. I’ve discovered there is so much truth in that. Because once you can grieve and accept a loss, you can start to embrace what change can bring. You can start to seek the good in that place, and even try to prosper there. Sometimes we have to lose certain things in order to gain others.
The rich young ruler needed to lose dependency on possessions in order to have a full soul. The prodigal son had to lose his inheritance in order to fall in love with his father.
Almost all change brings a loss, and that’s what we fear, but at some point we need to look for what the change can give us.
So back to the 2008 housing crisis at my last church. When the economy tanked lots of families found themselves struggling. Big mortgages, lots of debt, incomes down, even layoffs and job losses. Families were wondering how they were going to make it.
Well there was a woman in the church whose personal recession preceded the national one. Some years before her husband lost his job and had a major health crisis. They and their five kids had to down-size. They left a mansion and moved into a much smaller house. She learned lots tricks to save money and be frugal.
When the recession of ’08 happened and she heard other moms wondering how to make ends meet she started holding classes at the church on things like “how to use grocery coupons.” This may sound funny but many of these moms had not used coupons. Many didn’t even cook at home. They went out all the time. They learned about how to cook healthy meals economically. They learned how to save money, which stores have things like double and triple value coupon days. They would say things like ,“I can’t believe I haven’t been doing this for years!”
Some even remembered experiences like clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper with their moms when they were little. They recalled those being special times. They decided to get their own children involved. They also remembered times when their families would make big meals and share with neighbors and other times neighbors shared with them. Some got their neighbors involved.
What happened in this unwanted time of change, is that the loss became a gain. Some people said, “I don’t want to go back to eating meals at the country club and nitpicking whether the chicken is overdone.” Their loss gave them a new desire.
Jeremiah said, “Prosper in the place where you are.” Are you in an unwanted place of change right now? Are you finding it hard to embrace that place? Try these questions and see if they help you navigate this time:
--What have I really lost? Whatever loss this change has brought me, what is that loss? Name it. Identify it.
--What opportunity can be found in this change? Maybe as you name the loss, not just the thing, the job, the people, the house, but what those blessings did for you, you might discover other things that can fill that loss in a new way.
--Where can I see God in all of this? How can I claim God’s presence and blessing in this change I am going through, because no change is without God’s presence and provision.
Some changes are unwanted. They are forced on us without consent, but there is another kind of change. The change that should be wanted. The changes that should be welcomed. You see there are some things that are harder than changes we face, and that is things that don’t change.
Jeremiah, like Isaiah and all the prophets, made it clear that Israel suffered the Exile for two reasons: Apostasy, unfaithfulness to God, and Injustice. They disregarded the poor. They didn’t care for the widows and homeless. They tolerated too much mistreatment of foreigners. They didn’t change things they should have. And they suffered as a result.
So when Jeremiah wrote to comfort them and announce that in the generation to come, the exiles will go home again, it was clear that they were not to go back to way things used to be. Isn’t that what most of us want in a change? Just get life back the way it used to be? But Jeremiah warned them not to go this route. They needed to consider what should be different. What should be changed. What should be changed to look more like the society God intends where everyone is treated equitably, there is not disparity of access to public resources, where there is security for everyone. Every change brings with it the possibility to improve something, but this is why change sometimes has to come against our will. Because we are people who get settled in our ways. What is familiar is preferred to the unknown. And it takes those who are change-makers to shake us out of complacency in order to create a better future.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was put in prison in the Birmingham jail, eight white male Christian leaders of Birmingham wrote him a letter. They pleaded for King and the black community to be patient and go slow with their requests for change. King’s response in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” said:
“For years now we have heard the word ‘wait…this wait almost always mean never. (For) justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
We must see the need of having nonviolent (initiators) to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
Martin Luther King Jr was a change agent who forced the nation to move toward a better society. But would we have even heard of Martin Luther King Jr if it weren’t for another change agent? Rosa Parks, who refused to move from her seat in the whites only section of the bus. And would we have heard of Rosa Parks if it weren’t for
Who? You say? Her name is not as well known in the chronicles of popular civil rights history. But her story is critical. She was 15-years-old when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus nine months before Rosa Parks did.
She was just a kid but she knew what she saw going on around her wasn’t right. Not only were there things like separate water fountains, she remembered going to clothing stores and not being allowed to try on clothes before buying like white women could, because she was told black people were dirty.
The police came on the bus, kicked, handcuffed her and took her to the station and put her in jail. She remembered praying the whole way. She said, “Worried or not, I felt proud. I had stood up for our rights. I had done something not many adults had done.” Her pastor paid her bail at the jail. One the ride home she remembers him saying to her, “Claudette, I’m so proud of you. Everyone prays for freedom. We’ve all been praying and praying. But you’re different. You want your answer the next morning. And I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”
They say that Claudette’s actions gave a much older Rosa Parks the nerve nine months later to do the same. Claudette is remembered lie Rosa Parks, but look what God did with a little oil of a courage in a 15 year old girl.
Back of the most important changes in our world are usually ordinary people who simply act on what they believe is right. The point is God gives every person the ability and power to change things. To change things even when they are unwanted and forced upon us. And to change what needs to be changed. God give you that power today. God is the greatest change agent in history. God is always forming and reforming. Our whole Christian faith is based on the idea that we won’t stay the same. Transformation should always be happening in our souls and it should always be happening in our world.
You have that power!
So we are going to close with a reminder of the light God puts within all of us. Many of us recognize the song “This Little of Mine.” We think of it as a children’s song, but it is actually an African American spiritual from the 1920’s. It became a significant civil rights song. The original lyrics are a bit different than the ones in the children’s song. We’re gonna sing it the original way…