It is so good to be with you once again. Those three months in 2019 when I lead you in worship were such a rich and full and happy time for me. I came to know and love many of you, so I was excited to accept when your deacons asked me to fill in during Rebecca’s sabbatical.
Sabbaticals are a wonderful thing! I had three during my long ministry, and they were all enriching, graceful times for me and my family. And, they were also good times for my congregation, as the lay leadership carried on running things smoothly in the absence of the Pastor. I believe sabbaticals are a win-win for both the Pastor and the congregation, and congregations that provide them are wise stewards of their ministry and their life together.
On her sabbatical Rebecca will rejuvenate and re-inspire herself for the next chapter in her ministry with you, and in the meantime, you will experience your church in a new way during this transition time.
For we are in a transition time. We have not yet defeated this horrible pandemic, but there is hope on the horizon. You are not yet back in your beautiful sanctuary, but there is hope that you soon will be. So, there is an unfinished quality to our life right now, and that is part of what I want to talk about this morning during this time of transition.
The Easter season itself is a time of transition. In the days between Jesus’ resurrection and his Ascension he appears here and there to the disciples, and it seems that they often don’t know what to make of it.
So, in our own time of transition, we have been struggling to make sense of it all. Struggling with how to live during a year of pandemic that has upset our lives. We have quite literally been dislocated, which is why we are not yet in our sanctuary, and why I am speaking to you remotely.
My theme for today is all about transitions. We have unfinished business, and we, ourselves, are unfinished Christians.
In the First Letter of John which we just heard, the writer says: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
“What we will be has not yet been revealed.” I like that. It speaks to the unfinished quality of our lives, but not in a scary way, for the hope is that we are in God’s good hands. And so, it gives us some security in the face of difficult transitions. It allows us to be open to God’s new future rather than yearn fearfully for a remembered past.
In John Wesley’s hymn “Love divine, all loves excelling” he has a line that says “finish then thy new creation.”
That is what we look forward to, a new creation. A transformation. We will not merely be going back to normal, we will be going forward to something different, something new. It’s an illusion to think that we’re going to return to the way life was before. There is no going back. The question now is how will we live in the new?
When I was with you two years ago, I shared with you that I had a catastrophic bicycle accident 21 years ago, during which I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. I still recall my neurologist advising me not to compare my new self with the way I was before the accident. She said, “Don’t compare yourself with the way you were before. You are going to live a different way of life, a new way of life. It will be your “new normal.” That concept of “new normal” has been very important advice for me, and I’ve lived in my new normal now for quite some time. My life and my new normal are always changing, of course, because that’s what life does.
It seems to me, that as we return to a new way of life after the pandemic, we have a great opportunity to discern what is good about our lives and should be retained, and what is broken about our lives and should be discarded.
There’s a Tracy Chapman song that has a line in it that goes like this:
“The whole world’s broke, it ain’t worth fixing
It’s time to start all over, make a new beginning
There’s too much pain, too much suffering
Let’s resolve to start all over, make a new beginning.”
The pandemic has exposed much of what is wrong in our country. We have seen ugly hatred that was hidden before. We have seen the wide disparity between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the disinherited. We have seen disturbing political extremism, deep racial inequality, and great divisions among us over how we should move into the future as a nation.
So, it’s not only us who are unfinished, there is a lot of unfinished business to be done in our country and our world.
I once saw a bumper sticker that says, “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” I like that.
The good news is that God is still working in us and through us to bring us closer to what God would have us be. No matter what our age, God isn’t finished with us. God loves us just as we are, but loves us too much to let us stay that way.
So how shall we move into God’s new future? The second part of our text from First John is very reassuring to us. The writer says “what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
“What we know is this when he is revealed, we will be like him for we will see him as he is.”
We will be like him. That’s something to look forward to. To love as Jesus loves, to serve as he serves, to have his compassion and kindness. That would be something, wouldn’t it? It will take a transformation, a new creation. One of the church Fathers said, “God came to be like us, that we might become like Him.”
And to be like him means we can face the future in faith, knowing that it is God’s future. As Christians we can be open to a new future, a new creation, both in us and around us. So, this time of transition can also be a time of transformation: personal transformation and societal transformation. And your congregation can be an instrument of both, as God works in you and through you.
One of the interesting things in the Gospels is the way the Risen Christ is portrayed. In his glorified body he appears to the disciples suddenly here and there, but he is neither an apparition or a ghost. The writers take great pains to portray him as very human. In our text today from Luke we see Jesus appearing to the disciples on a beach. Jesus says to them, “I’m hungry. Do you have anything to eat? That fish looks good. I’d like a bite.”
How much more human can you be then looking for food to enjoy? My two-year old grandson, Gideon, really loves his food. And he has what my children call food FOMO. Do you know what FOMO means? It’s the letters for “Fear of Missing Out.” Anytime someone in our house is eating something Gideon will toddle over and inquire, “What is it? Can I have some?”
I think of Jesus on the beach asking for a bite of fish as something like Gideon, the very human desire and appreciation for life in all its fullness.
That’s good news, because Jesus, our savior, doesn’t just save us in some disembodied, spiritual way. Jesus saves us in a fully embodied, fully human way.
For Jesus didn’t come to save our spirituality, he came to save us, every part of us, our souls and bodies, our sexuality, the way we use our money, the way we treat the poor, the way we order our society. John’s Gospel says, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and it is to us as embodied persons that God comes embodied in the flesh of the man Jesus.
As we contemplate our new future in this time of transition let us remember that it is still Easter. Jesus is alive and shares our human life in all its fullness, in all its grandeur and misery. Jesus wants us to be transformed, to live in faith not fear, as we move into God’s new future.
You have much to look forward to. Your pastor will return energized and inspired to walk with you into the next chapter of your life together. You will return to your beautiful, newly renovated and transformed meeting house. You will have some new staff members to help lead you into the future. You will see each other again in person.
And in all these things you will have the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, who abides with you always, and goes before you into God’s new future. Amen.
(I preached this sermon in virtual worship o April 18, 2021 at the United Congregational Church of Little Compton, RI. To view the service on YouTube go here. Photo by R. L. Floyd)