facebook Google + Instagram Twitter YouTube RSS News
United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

God is Still Speaking

Exodus 14: 15-22

God is Still Speaking

October 30, 2016

Revs. Elizabeth & Seth Carrier-Ladd; Rev. Dr. Susan Cartmell

Pilgrim Congregational Church

 

This passage is widely regarded as the oldest in scripture. I know that the creation stories come first in the Biblical lineup, but this story is the one scholars believe has the most ancient roots. It was this story of the parting of the Red Sea that people told around campfires before there was an Israel, or a sense of Hebrew identity. It was a formational story about hurried food that could not rise and anxiety that could not be put down. It is a brave story about poor slaves who challenged the world’s most powerful people and prevailed, but the price of their freedom was to become nomads, people on a journey. That journey defined our faith because it was on the road to freedom that people learned about God, discovered how to pray, found community.

This image of Moses parting the waters shapes our ideas about God. It informed the way that the Hebrews thought about themselves; they were a people on the move.  The story lingers in our collective imagination in the Church and reminds us that God meets us on the journey. It reminds us that people of faith find God when they strike out in new directions, and take new risks, and confront their fears in order to find a new path. From the time of Moses, right through to Jesus and Paul these Biblical people were always t their very best when they were daring new things, and challenging each other to new adventures.

Today we are celebrating Reformation Sunday. It happens to be 499 years since Martin Luther nailed his these to the door of the Wittenburg Church, starting the Protestant Reformation. Luther was striving to call the Church back to its roots, to remember the excitement of crossing into new territory. He criticized the entitlement of the Roman Catholic Church and started a whole new way to express our faith. As Protestants, we have build a fundamentally new way to be in community by protesting entrenched power where ever we find it in church and state.

In the United Church of Christ we believe that God is still speaking. Faith does not mean much if it is not relevant to our lives here and now in the 21st century. There is a lot of concern about churches losing members. Statistics show that 4000 – 7000 churches are closing every year at this point.

Church historian Phyllis Tickle has written convincingly that the church is going through a time of great metamorphosis. Every 500 years the church re-invents itself. I believe this is a time of enormous spiritual hunger and the church is changing all around us. It is a little scary but I imagine that Martin Luther took his heart in his hands when he started the Protestant Reformation.

When I was in seminary I took a course on ministry to Millenials – people 18-30. I had to survey a bunch of people in that age range about their beliefs and faith practices. It was a cold day in January and I decided to go to an ice cream shop in Boston which is a gathering place for young adults. It was packed, and I went from table to table asking for help with my project. What I found surprised me. Dozens of people filled out my survey that afternoon. They were eager to talk about faith. I never found anyone who actually belonged to a church, though one woman was dating a woman rabbi. They all had stories. One barrista stayed after work to talk to me about his art; he paints saints in new ways. Another shy woman thanks me several times for including her, and offered her blessings on the project.

That day I learned that people are hungry for faith, but the traditional ways of doing church are not reaching this younger generation. I don’t think that is because the Church is dying but because we are in the middle of a huge transformation, another reformation.

Rev. Seth Carrier-Ladd 

I have to tell you, I miss the 1950’s.  The 1950’s were a golden time for me.  Normal back then was a heterosexual household with a working husband and a stay at home wife, and wow was it awesome that we had all those stay-at-home mom volunteer hours to make my day run smoothly.  They’d show up, they’d make the food, they would run most of the committees.  I mean, I know feminism has been a good thing and all, and empowerment and equality for women is totally in line with my values.  I’m just a little nostalgic, that’s all I’m saying.  The other thing I miss is having Sunday all to myself.  It used to be that I was the only thing happening on Sunday mornings – my human beings, they kept Sunday morning free of all other activities, and it was church or bust.  Now some people did stay home, but most folks… they came me to visit me, or one of my many brothers or sisters.  Sunday morning was sacred.  Now, I have to compete with soccer practice and football games and cable tv and a bagel and the morning paper… and and and… the list goes on and on.  Those were the good old days.  And life was so predictable.  Everyone came home at the same time, it was always easy for my humans to schedule meetings, because evenings after meals were always free.  *sigh* I tell you.

 

These days families are all so busy.  The women are working too, and yeah, I know that’s good.  And the kids have all these activities, left and right, and they’re schedule in the afternoon and evenings and Saturdays.  And on Sundays.  That’s the tough part to swallow.  Human beings these days, they just have no problem scheduling any activity they want on Sunday mornings.  It makes me sad actually… I don’t get to see some of them as often as I would like.  And the technology.  Don’t even get me started on the technology.  All these conversation that used to happen on my grounds, either inside the building, or on the front steps, or in the parking lot.  So many conversations are just gone, lost to MySpace and AOL online.

 

Susan:  Hey church, I think you mean Facebook and Instagram…?

 

Oh right.  That’s the new stuff these days.  Anyway.  Technology.  It’s changing things too, and I’m not sure for the better.  I miss the good old days.

 

*****************

 

Now, I don’t know if the spirit of the church is actually nostalgic for the 1950’s or not.  Maybe church spirit present is actually a fan of change, and is chomping at the bit to move forward into the next millennium.  But I can tell you that the human beings who run churches across the country, many of us are stuck operating our churches like it’s still the 1950’s.  We have a volunteer-driven model where the volunteer hours are not available in the same way anymore.  Many of our retired folk have picked up some of the slack, but it’s unclear if that’s a sustainable model to lead us into the future.  Especially when our families are so busy that they are increasingly finding it difficult to make time for church – often finding it hard to make time for Sunday morning worship even, let alone the committee work that is required to make our churches run.  The numbers that Rev. Susan quote are no accident – 4,000 to 7,000 churches are closing each year, for a variety of circumstances I’m sure, but at least in part because we are struggling to keep up with the times.  Whether it’s using an old volunteer model, or having a hard time adapting to how busy family life has become, or by being slow to adapt new technology that would help church be more accessible to some folks in our younger generations – we have been slow to adapt.

 

And adapt we need to, because as the cliché goes, the only thing constant in life is change.  And it is one of the great myths about church that church has always stayed the same.  The reality is that the church has only survived for two thousand years because it has been willing to adapt and change.  With a key caveat – adapt and change does not mean losing the core of who we are.

 

Let me give an example.  There was a church in Washington, D.C. a few years ago which was healthy and vital and had welcomed many new young families.  And one of the strongest traditions of this church was that it held a potluck dinner every Wednesday evening that everyone in church came too, that had become in many ways the center of church life, outside of Sunday mornings of course.  The problem was, this church was physically located in downtown, and many of the new families lived out in the suburbs, and getting there on Wednesday evening was just getting too hard.  With the kids’ activity schedules, and the traffic at rush hour, Wednesday-evening all church dinner was starting to fall apart.  The church elders, met to address this very concerning situation, and in a very forward-thinking move, they decided that the important thing about Wednesday all-church dinner was that members of the congregation gather and break bread together, and share fellowship, and that if it couldn’t happen at the church all-together anymore, it could still happen in smaller groups.  And so Wednesday all-church dinner became Wednesday zip-code dinners, where members of the church who lived in the same zip-code all picked a home to gather in, and came together for smaller potlucks.  And so, while the Wednesday all-church potluck died a graceful death, the core values that were the bedrock of that particular format of the church’s shared meal lived on in the zip-code dinners, which continue to this day.

 

As wonderful as how church used to be was, we need to start figuring out what church is going to become, while retaining the core part of our identity, beliefs, and values, so that we can continue to grow and thrive in the 21st century.  Nostalgia is fine and good, but if we’re going to make it, we can’t live there.  We have to move forward.

Elizabeth Carrier-Ladd

I know one or two things about change.

A few years ago now, I left a ministry, got married, moved to a brand new city, bought my first house with my new spouse and got pregnant in the matter of – I kid you not – 3 months.

It was intense.

Now, these were all wonderful, welcome changes.

But it was so much at once.

Then I made the most profound change of my life thus far – I welcomed the first of my children in to the world.

Becoming a parent drastically shifts your reality.

It changes you at your core.

And I was still getting used to my family including my new spouse, Seth – never mind us sharing our lives with this perfect, completely dependent little being.

After all of that, we were yearning for some stability.

So we talked and talked about how wonderful it will be to just get used to what our new lives looked like.

We talked and talked about how nice it will be to not change anything for a year or so, to let ourselves catch up with the major changes we had experienced, to allow ourselves some time to adjust.

We talked and talked about this while we learned how to reorient our lives around the most incredible responsibility of our lives.

We made plans for exactly how long we would wait before having our next child.

We made plans for the best time in the church year to have another baby so that it would disrupt our work the least.

We made all sorts of plans as if we had complete control over how these things happen. (And we really thought we did.)

And you know what they say about how God reacts to human plans?

They are hilarious.

So, in the midst of our planning and talking, in the midst of our illusions of control, when our daughter was 7 months old, we discovered that I was 2 months pregnant.

There would be no break.

No chance to catch up to the changes we were experiencing.

No time to adjust.

Just a few months to figure out how on earth we were going to parent 2 children, 14 months apart.

Just a few months to prepare for the next major change that was coming down the track.

But the truth is, most major shifts that come into our lives don’t even give us a few months to react and prepare.

When we lose a job, or a loved one.

When we receive a startling diagnosis, or we make a new start like going back to school or changing careers.

Life changes quickly and sometimes without any warning at all.

This is just the nature of things.

We like to think we have control and yet, we never know what will come or when.

Change is the only constant of our lives.

It is the only thing we can truly depend on.

Our lives will change.

In subtle, slow ways like growing older and in bigger profound ways like retiring or welcoming a child or moving or saying farewell to a relationship.

It’s just the way it is.

But here is something else that is true.

The tools that God gives us to make sense of our lives are changing, too.

Revelation continues to unfold all around us.

God still speaks, in a quiet voice reminding us that we are beloved when we question our own worth, and in a scream urging us to take a risk that could bring us new life.

It is easy for me to see revelation in the changes that I’ve experienced in the last few years.

God is written all over the faces of those precious children, and God is in their sweet kisses and their giant hearts and the way they look at me like I am the whole world.

It’s easy to see God in children.

But God speaks through so much more.

God continues to give us stories and experiences and people who will help us to heal, to grow and to make meaning of our lives.

We can see God in the exploration and curiosity of science and discovery.

We can see God in the swirling cosmos.

God is in the hand of a friend when we are hungry for a loving touch.

God is in the push of a seemingly unwelcome change that leads you towards something much better than you ever imagined.

God continues to move in glorious, mysterious ways that can help us to find a way to take the next step on our journeys, as risky as they feel, whether we are taking steps forward as individuals or as communities of faith like this one.

If we can listen, if we can open ourselves to the revelation surrounding us, God will help us move forward.

God will help us to find the core of our lives and the core of our communities that we wish to hold tight to when change comes.

For though all life is change, though the world is changing rapidly, though our human concept of God has changed considerably over the years, though how we do church is changing, the core of God, the core of all that is good and transcendent and holy remains the same.

Let us hold on to that which does not change:

The power of faith

The hope of community

The fire of commitment

The beauty of the natural world

The blessing of new life

The possibility of growth

The joy in gathering with faithful people to ponder lifes biggest questions and celebrate the wonder and majesty of God.

Let us hold on to that.

 

Pastoral Prayer  from Where Cross the Crowded Ways by Earnest Campbell

Hear us O Lord as we pray for the Church, your church:

  proclaiming a better gospel than it has ever lived;

  panicked by the boisterous winds of change;

  imitating the world in its dependence on wealth;

  ashamed at times of its beginnings: the cup, the cross, the towel;

  and yet still the community of grace, loved and kept by you.

 

Give to your church, O Lord, the courage that comes from 

  knowing that Christ means to win that for which he died;

  the faith that comes from hearing your Word;

  the commitment to serve, born and nourished in community;

  the quality of life that comes when the cost of discipleship is 

  known and the strong rise up to answer “Yes”.

 

Revive your church, O God.

Revive your church through us, we pray.

 

 

Posted: Sunday October 30, 2016

Return