Change comes inevitably into all of our lives. Changing the picture on the corner of the Pastor's page is not one of those. I just thought it was time to retire the narrow little church building, supposedly illustrating The Narrow Way. I doubt anybody got it anyhow. I like picture of the Baptismal font with the flowers and the cross. I hope it is a comfortable change for you, who read this newsletter.
Not all change is comfortable. Rose and Walt have transferred their membership to their new church home in Illinois. That is not a comfortable change for us, although I hope it is for them, or soon becomes one. For us, it is the departure of long-time friends, and our little congregation shrinks a little more. It reminds us about how life in this world is often about change.
I remember when change was exciting! I was young and every change seemed to say that I was growing up and the world was opening up to me and I was eager to see what lay around the next corner. I have looked around enough of those corners to know that I am not going to enjoy every discovery. I can wait to see what is coming next, now. I no longer greet change with the "Oh Boy! Something new!" mind-set. It is, more often, "Well, here we go again", that goes through my mind. I have discovered by personal experience the truth of the proverb of Solomon (Eccl. 1:9), That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun.
But change is real. Sometimes it is real painful, and sometimes it is real pleasant. Sometimes it just is. But it is always change.
We Christians have an advantage. When we endure change, we don't have to go it alone. We have one another, of course, but even more, we have God going with us. He is providing the changes of our lives, so we know that where we go and what we must put up with is a blessing, even when it is a blessing in disguise.
Others don't have that comfort as a resource to turn to. They simply have to endure. Or not. Some choose to quit, other withdraw, and some hide in drinking, in drugs, or in withdrawing into their shell and becoming hermits of a sort. These approaches each echo one of the major philosophies of human history. Epicureans hide in the passionate pursuit of the uniquely wonderful experience. Stoics hunker down and try to endure without being touched by the changes around them. Nihilists quit - losing themselves in drugs and drink, and, sometimes, in suicide.
The child of God has a mission of sharing the Gospel, however, and cannot afford to be sidetracked by the experience of change. We are, after all, the product of change. God changed the world by stepping into it and becoming one of us. Since we live two thousand years after than momentous event, it is easy for us to miss just what a transforming event Christ's coming has been. We live in the world that resulted from that great big change.
The world before Christ was a brutal place, for the most part. We see echoes of that brutality in the middle east, where Islam has dominated for so long and the influence of Christ has been muted, but even there it is present to some degree. Southeast Asia is another place where the influence of Christ has been resisted for a long time. We see some of the brutality of the world without Christ in those cultures where the individual is of no particular value. Those who came before, the ancestors, are treasured over those who exist today. That can only happen where the individual is without value in their own eyes, and life appears to be without meaning. It is societies devoid of those two values that typically produce willing suicide bombers and where people treat one another as utterly disposable. The pagan notion of reincarnation assists in enabling people to cast aside the value of living out the lives that they possess.
Do we see people even in our society who cannot value their own lives or the lives of others? Yes. Typically such people have abandoned the values of our culture and rejected Christ before they can get there. Our society is quickly working out a conscious rejection of Christ, and with that rejection we see a concomitant rise in pagan values and pre-Christian brutality toward others, but the fact that we see these changes and mark them as a deterioration indicates the profound changes that God worked in our world by coming among us and claiming us and giving us the value of His chosen and redeemed!
Before Christ came, parents would leave unwanted children out in the open, naked and unprotected in the elements, to die or be food for the predators and scavengers of their world. The practice was even clothed in their society in a sort of respectability. "Pater Familias", it was called in Rome. Some societies sacrificed their children for good crops or good weather, or to appease whatever they conceived of as their deity. The Bible mentions Moloch, and when it talks about causing their children "to pass through the fire", they are speaking of sacrificing them by burning hem to death in the furnace of the altar of their false god. Christ, and the influence of those who followed Him in faith, put an end to those practices, and made things like abortion things to be frowned on and rejected.
Human rights and the value of the individual are ideas that arose from the Reformation. Public education came from the Christian notion that everyone needed to be able to read God's Word and to find, for themselves, the wonderful truths of the Gospel. Hospitals and orphanages were most often the product of compassion inspired by Christ and His great love for us. That such institutions were not merely reserved for the rich and powerful was part and parcel of the influence of God in our world, motivated by His love for us and His valuing of all men, not just hose who could buy value or wring it out of the world around them by brute force.
Modern Science was a consequence of Christianity - that is, of Christ entering our world on our behalf. He taught us about the love of God. Jesus gave the entire creation a value it had not possessed in the mind of man before by taking part in it by means of the Incarnation. Jesus redeemed the creation itself. He did not pay for nature's sins. Nature did not sin as mankind had. But nature had been subjected to corruption and decay for the sake of sinful man, and it, too, rejoiced to see Christ, and yearns eagerly (as St. Paul points out in Romans 8) for the revealing of the sons of God - which will happen at the final day of the resurrection of all flesh. Nature suddenly became something of value and subject to the care of God, in the minds of men. Jesus even addressed the value of the world around us by speaking about how not even one of those nearly valueless sparrows will die without the knowledge and attention of the heavenly Father.
Before Christ, the nature of reality was thought to be capricious and incomprehensible, just like their concepts of their deities. Although modern science often traces itself back to Aristotle and his ilk, Aristotle was a philosopher, not a scientist. He never conducted an experiment. What he achieved in so-called "science" was accomplished by reasoning his way through things, but not tested with a single experiment. Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics - and a monk - set out by experiments to discover how it was that our faithful (and therefore somewhat predictable) God did things, or had arranged for things to happen. God's good will and faithfulness translated into something like his discoverability. You could try things and test Him out and God would be so regular, we could figure stuff out. And Mendel did. Even Einstein asserted that he wanted to be able to think the thoughts of God after Him.
Those things, which ultimately resulted in our science and our technology, in which we find such convenience and modern comfort, are all parts of the outworking of the great change which came about when God sent his Son into the flesh to become one of us and part of human history. Our cultural values concerning human rights, and opposing abuse of one another and sexual abuse of children, arose out of that great change, and the religion that it spawned. Before Christ, to abuse was the right of those with the power to do so, and sexual abuse was just part of life, considered by many to be a perk of power or position. You may notice that as the forces of those who oppose Christ gain power in our societies, those evil attitudes are gaining new momentum again. It is not a coincidence.
These outward changes are so many and so varied that one might well make a career of searching them out and establishing the connections and extolling them. They are the lesser changes, however, in the grand scheme of things. The greater changes are changes that mere ideas could not accomplish. The pagan world around would not celebrate the more important changes, or even probably consider them worthy of note, but they are truly the stuff of miracles. They are also of eternal value.
Those changes, of which I speak (or write), are the changes in us. We who believe each have been changed. We begin life as enemies of God, devoted advocates of sin, and God works a change in us. He does that work through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through His Word. In my case, as in the cases of many of you, this change was accomplished in Baptism. Baptism is not simple water, but the water used by the command of God and connected to the Word and promise of God in that use. By means of Baptism, God connects us to Christ on the cross and we die with Him (Romans 6:4-5). We are also united with Christ in His resurrection. We are, following our Baptism, no longer slaves of sin or enemies of God, but dead to sin and alive to God. Paul even writes that we are now "a new creature". The old is gone! Behold, Paul writes, the new has come.
And that is what counts. Paul writes to that effect in Galatians 6:15. What matters is "a new creation". That is, you should pardon me, change we can believe in. The change is a real change, but, like much that is real, it is not always perceived by us. That is because God wants us to walk with Him by faith. One of the biggest problems that people have is that they often feel the need to be in charge and see something or feel it. God, on the other hand, wants us to trust Him and go on the basis of what He tells us. In His Word, He tells us about the changes I have been describing, but the evidence of our senses does not confirm the things God says.
So, we have to deal with a world that seems very much different that God would have us believe it is. He would have us believe that we are alive for eternity because of Jesus Christ. That isn't what we see. We bury Christians (most generally after they die), and they tend to stay buried. We don't see their life continuing, and we have no evidence of resurrection, except that one case reported in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, and we did not see that one with our own eyes. God tells us that the world exists for us, and we own the world, but we don't experience that ownership in the way we would like to, or in a way that is legally demonstrable. Jesus tells us that He is with us always, even to the end of the world - but we don't see His presence or feel its effects. We are told that we are of the household of God, adopted into His family, but we cannot show the world around us the reality and benefit of that family relationship. We are to walk in those realities by faith, and not on the basis of sensory data.
So, possessing a reality that is not open to casual observation, we have hope. It is a hope that makes this life make sense. It is a hope of meaning and value. It is a hope that changed the world by changing the people who live in it. The change in us, from those who were without hope and without God in this world into the children of God, fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God is the biggest change - and those only change that has eternal effect. It is the change that makes all of the other changes of this life that we must endure worth the trouble. The change from dead for eternity to alive for eternity in connection with Christ is the most significant, and the most difficult to accomplish. It is the one change that requires the power of God to create, and the continuing power of God to sustain.
And you and I have that change within us, by the grace of God. It is the change that makes it ultimately unimportant that Walt and Rose have moved to Illinois, for example, because before long, we will be together again, in glory, before the throne of our God, singing His praises together again. So, we face the changes. We grow older, we face the challenges and changes of life. God grant that we do so, together when possible, to the glory of God in Christ Jesus!
Yours in the Lord,
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