parkdale united church

429 Parkdale Avenue, OTTAWA, Ontario K1Y 1H3

January 2019

About Change

 

We don’t need to make January 1 each year the only time we contemplate and commit to new resolutions. Of course we all know that, but somehow it is tradition, and so many of us make these resolutions in earnest, but we have to confess that there is also a kind of ‘wink-wink’ in there. Deep down we know this new resolution is not going to last….and somehow we seem ok with that.

 

We acknowledge on the one hand that change is inevitable and on the other hand, that change is hard. The truth is, our attitudes to change are complex. Benedictine Sister and scholar Joan Chittister writes that the “traditional model of change – willed to the Western world by the Stoic philosophy of Greece, the patriarchal values system of Rome, and the ascetical tradition of Christianity – calls for the dogged endurance of pain. This is a ‘stiff upper lip’ standard that represses hurt and sacrifices the self.”1

 

Chittister argues that a healthy notion of change is not stoically enduring pain or whatever, but rather being “transformed by the possibility of new beginnings”. Change, even that which is unbidden, is an invitation to growth and new vistas of reality. There is gift hidden in both what is chosen by way of change as well as what descends upon us by forced circumstances. This does not deny the pain and sense of loss usually accompanying change. Rather, the search for gift and new beginnings in the midst of change is a defiant and a humble manoeuvre that proclaims that pain, loss and circumstances are not the last word in our lives. Change is an eternal constant; it signals movement. How we cooperate with God to curate that constant movement is of utmost consequence.

 

As we know, change is not something only passively received. There are times in our lives and the life of the world when change needs to be provoked. It could be in social and political movements. It could be in family dynamics. It could be in congregational life. It could be in a romantic relationship; or a friendship. It could be in our spiritual lives. The provocation of this kind of change aims to improve the way things are, or more likely, to radically transform ‘business as usual’.

 


Jesus was all about provoking change and transformation through his life, teaching, death and resurrection: love God first, love your neighbour; love your enemy, love yourself. To some of the religious leaders, Jesus says “You brood of vipers…you have neglected the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness”. Jesus says “If you want to be my disciple, you need to take up your cross and follow me”– or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message version of the Bible: “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.”

 

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says “Repent and believe the good news”. But what does it mean to repent? The New Testament Greek word translated as "repent" is METANOEO. It has two parts: META and NOEO. The second part, NOEO, refers to the disposition of your inner self, in a sense it is your "default setting" toward reality. The first part, META, is a prefix that means movement or change. META, or "change," plus NOEO, or "disposition" means "to change your disposition towards life and reality, to have a transformed default setting about what's important." Jesus is suggesting that when our default setting is changed by God’s Spirit, it shows, as we "bear fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8)

 

In chapter five of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus utters what are called six antitheses. For instance, he says: “You have heard it said to those in ancient times....but I say to you...” In doing this, Jesus was not saying that what was previously said about the law did not matter, or did not have value. Rather, he was introducing a fuller, more expansive interpretation of God’s will, over against all previous understandings. He was going to the deeper spirit of the law and bringing fresh light to it. Jesus was not so much introducing a new law as he was inviting those who would follow him to a new and deeper way of love and life.

 

With the dawning of this New Year, 2019, might it be an opportune time for all of us to experience personal, social and spiritual change, and with it, new beginnings?

 

So how about this:

 


You have heard it said...

You will never amount to anything. You are a loser and according to the way the world works, you will never measure up.

 

But I say to you....(says God)

Listen closely and well to me. You are already a huge “somebody” to me. I love you and I am always with you. You matter so much to me. Let me help you become all I intend you to be.

 

You have heard it said...

You don’t need God to be a good person. Just live your life without all that spiritual stuff.

 

But I say to you...

Why are you so afraid of my love for you? Don’t believe everything others have said about me. Come on. Get to know me for yourself. I’m game….are you?

 

You have heard it said...

You have to just forgive and forget...

 

But I say to you...

Oh forgiveness is a great thing indeed. But wait a minute. Do you understand why you are forgiving, and what you are forgiving? Don’t just do it automatically without thinking about it. Forgiveness is a gift that is offered to an offender for a wrong that has been done. It does not say the wrong didn’t happen, but rather that it won’t dictate your choice, or revictimize you, or be the last word. And another thing, don’t get all bent out of shape if you can’t forget it. Pray and I will help you bear the memory and sometimes, even eventually forget . Trust me. I will give you the strength to forgive. Remember how much I forgive you and others.

 

You have heard it said...

We will always have poverty and injustice and oppression so why get worked up about it?

 

But I say to you…

Well, well...someone hasn’t been reading their Bible well enough. I think I laid it out pretty well in Deuteronomy chapter 15. In verse 11, I am saying: When there are poor folk around you, help them out. Be generous...you can give to missions or agencies and shelters that help them, and get involved yourself. But remember I say in verse 4 that there wouldn’t be any poor if everybody kept my commandments and practised justice, and compassion and equitable economic distribution… I require justice and active alleviation of oppression...Unrealistic you say...we’ll see about that! By the way, what do you think Jesus’ life and way is all about?

 

You have heard it said…

Well, this year has got to be a better year than the last one.

 

But I say to you...

Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. That all depends on your interpretation of better. If better means you won’t have any pain or suffering...  sorry, not going to happen because that is life. If better means moving on to another relationship, well let’s see. How much time have you spent figuring out what happened in the last one; and particularly your role in it? If better means a different job and/or more money, well how will you be different because of these? Will you have more joy? Will you be more generous? Will these enable you to spend more time and energy on what really matters? On the other hand, if by “better” you dare to include me more intimately in your life...well now you are talking. If you mean that with my help you will be more honest about your fears, you will do something about all those grudges and all that anger you are carrying around, that you will actually commit to regular prayer, worship and involvement in a community of faith, that you will grow in your caring and compassion for others... well...now you are talking. You will be guaranteed a “better” year. I am with you all the way.

 

“There is, then, a gift hidden in …change. It is the gift of beginning again: conversion.”

—Joan Chittister

 

A blessed New Year greeting to all of you

 

Anthony

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1. Scarred by Struggle, Trans-formed by Hope, by Joan D. Chittister