Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference
Service of Ordination & Commissioning, June 15, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20
Pre-sermonic hymn: “Changed” (A wonderful change has come over me)
What a wonderful change has come over me. Changed. I’m so glad he changed.
I have a background in psychology. I was a School Psychologist for 17 years before going into full-time ministry. When you have a background in psychology you tend to see a little crazy everywhere you go.
I see a little crazy in the church, and I don’t think I am seeing things. Does anybody else see a little craziness in the church? I do not mean to offend anyone who suffers from mental illness. There have been times in my life that I have sought counseling and needed treatment for anxiety and depression, so I don’t mean to offend anyone.
There is a difference between mental health concerns and being crazy. It would be an insult to persons with mental illness to compare their behavior with some of the craziness there is in the church. Mental health concerns are just like any other disease, as in large part, you don’t have much control over it. But crazy is crazy. We bring crazy on ourselves.
And there is crazy in the church. There are times in the church when our thoughts or actions lack reason. There are times in the church when we say one thing and then do another. There are times in the church when we profess one thing and then then act in ways that defy our profession. There are times in the church when we sing one thing and then act as if we don’t even know what we just sang. There are times in the church when we pray for something and then act against our own prayer. There is some crazy behavior in the church.
Ordinands, I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to you. I hope you knew what you were signing up for. There is some crazy behavior in the church. Sometimes it is as if we have a double mind, as if we are unstable in all our ways. There are many things over which we are crazy or double-minded in the church.
We are double-minded over resources. We don’t act as if we believe our God shall supply all our needs according to God’s riches in heaven. We are double-minded over mission. We don’t act as if Jesus commanded us to Go and make disciples. Rather, we like to stay and have ready-made disciples come to us.
I could go on, but the thing over which we are double-minded in the church that I want to talk about today is change. Change. We sing, “What a wonderful change has come over me.” But try to change something in the church, and see how wonderful it is.
In case you are still skeptical, let me make my case. We are double-minded, and it is crazy. Scripture says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” But we say, “When I come to church I expect everything to be the same. I don’t want any surprises.” That’s crazy.
Scripture says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.” But we say, “We have been getting along fine. Why do we have to change now?”
Scripture says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” But we say, “You can do what you want, but if you change anything, I’m taking my marbles and my tithes and offerings and going home.”
Scripture says, “I am confident in this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. But we say, “My grandmother didn’t do it that way.”
Scripture says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.” But we say, “Who moved my cheese and who stole my church?” We are crazy.
Scripture says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” But we say, “We already tried that, and it didn’t work.”
Scripture says, I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? But we say, “We have never done it that way before.”
Do we believe in the inspired word of God?
God created this universe to be in a constant state of change. God created individuals to grow, change, and evolve. God created organizations to grow, change, and evolve. God created The United Methodist Church to grow, change, and evolve.
Ordinands, know that if we follow God’s will–remember God created us to change–if we follow God’s will, The United Methodist Church, as it is today, will not be the same United Methodist Church when you retire.
We are celebrating 50 years of being The United Methodist Church. Praise be to God that we are not the same church we were 51 years ago. Some of you remember what the Methodist Church was like 51 years ago. Some of you have read about it. Fifty-one years ago, Bishop Johnson and I could not have been serving as bishops in the same jurisdiction. Thank God for change. Praise God that we are not the same church we were 63 years ago, because 63 years ago neither Bishop Johnson nor I would be serving as bishops or even as elders in any jurisdiction. Thank God for change.
Change is a blessing from God. Change is our sign that God is still moving. The winds of the Holy Spirit are still blowing; and Jesus Christ is yet alive. Change is a blessing from God. And God invites all of us into the creative process that produces God- ordained change.
But to you commissionees and ordinands, today we affirm that God has uniquely called you to be leaders in this process. You have been called to be change agents. You have been called to be leaders in inviting the church into God’s creative change process.
You have not been called to lead us into stagnation or the status quo. You have not been called to help us hold on. You have been called to lead us into God’s preferred future for The United Methodist Church, and that means change. God never intended for anyone or any organization to stay the same. God is still on the move. The winds of the Holy Spirit are still blowing. Jesus Christ is still alive!
If we try to hold on and keep something that is supposed to change the same, bad things happen. I won’t name them, but we all know a celebrity who has a bad facelift. They tried to keep things that were supposed to change the same, and now they can’t move their mouths. Their faces always look like they are in a windstorm.
When you try to keep things the same that are supposed to change, bad things happen. You lose your flexibility and ability to respond to the winds of the Holy Spirit. You can’t authentically smile when something gets good to you. Or you get stuck with an angry face and you can’t move from that place of anger.
When you try to keep things the same when they are supposed to change you become apathetic. You lose your enthusiasm for everything. Some of us know of young people or folks who were new to the faith, who came to the church with great enthusiasm and zeal for ministry. But rather than allowing them to organically change us, we made them get a facelift. And they became apathetic and lost their zeal for ministry.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, ordinands, commissioned folks, resist the facelift. Embrace the change that inevitably comes because God is still on the move. The winds of the Holy Spirit are still blowing, and Jesus is still alive.
Don’t shy away from change. Look to see where God is moving and go with God. And be agents who counsel others against the facelift; but rather, counsel the people of God to be sensitive to discern the will of God and then to embrace the movement of God.
Cooperate with the will of God. Seek God’s way, and a wonderful change will come over us.
If this prospect of change still frightens you, know that in the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty of change, God’s character stays the same. God will always be faithful and God will always be in love with the church.
If this prospect of things not being the same has you concerned, know that God has plans for us. Plans for our welfare and not for harm, to give us a future with hope—even in the midst of being in a season that feels like exile; even in the midst of being in a season where we feel as if we are in a strange land, and we are not sure of our future; even in the midst of all of that, God has a plan. God is working the plan, and that plan is for our welfare and not for harm, to bring about a change that will give us a future with hope.
My prayer is that all of us will become more comfortable with change because one day, whether we have had a facelift or not, a change is going to come, and it is going to come in an instant, in a twinkling of an eye. There will be no time for a board meeting, a commission’s report or a General Conference vote to discuss or resist the change. The change will come in an instant.
And there will be a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth will pass away. We’re going to get new robes. We’re going to get some new shoes. We’re going to get a new body. There are going to be some new people worshipping with us. One day we are all going to say, “Looked at my hands and they looked new. Looked at my feet and looked new too.”
And when Peter asks you what you think of your new body, I don’t want you to say, “We’ve never done it that way before.” I want you to be able to declare with conviction, “A wonderful change has come over me.”
Photos by Sabrina Daluisio and Rev. Steward Warner.