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November 13, 2022: The Lens of Hope

Sunday School Activities

The Lens of Hope
Isaiah 65:17-25
Parkminster United Church – November 13, 2022
When I was 12 years old, I had a rather spectacular fall from my bike that resulted in me
needing surgery and two pins placed in my then dislocated hip. My favourite nurse at the
Hospital for Sick Children was named Mary – she reminded me of my grandmother, calm,
caring, and very patient. On one of her check ins with me she went to change the IV bag. As
she walked around my bed, she bumped her cart, and the bag of fluid began to roll off and fall
towards the floor. Thankfully, this IV bag was relatively versatile. It bounced a few times and
eventually rolled under the bed, but it stayed intact. Mary laughed as she chased after the bag
and was finally able to hang it. “Well at least these are no longer kept in glass bottles!” she said
as she started the new IV.
“Did you ever drop one?” I asked. “Oh yes,” she laughed. “What a mess that used to make.”
How things have changed.
How things have changed in medicine but also – when you think about today’s world and the
society that we live in – my how things have changed in technology, in communication, in travel
– the list goes on and on. Society is a living, breathing and constantly evolving and changing
entity. This feels especially true for the time we are living in now.
Society is also a very connected entity. And when one piece of it changes, the different pieces
around it must adjust to those changes as well. This is the reality of the world that we live in.
We know this –for we have all witnessed and experienced changes throughout our lives. And
we have adapted to those changes – sometimes without even knowing it. That is what the
pieces of society do – they adapt to the changes that are happening around them.
And the church is no exception.
The late Phyllis Tickle was an American author who wrote about religion and spirituality. A lot
of her focus was on the Emergent Christian Church and how the Church is changing. Tickle
argued that the church (not individual churches, but the Christian Church as a whole)
experiences a major change every 500 years. 2,000+ years ago, the birth, death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ shook a Jewish culture that was seeped in laws and traditions.
1500+ years ago – the Roman Empire declined and then fell. 1,000+ years ago – there was a
Great Schism that divided the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. 500+ years ago – the Protestant
Reformation rocked the foundation of the Catholic Church and from it emerged the Protestant
tradition.
And now, in this time, Tickle argued that we are in the midst of a great transformation.
Her theory that the church is in the middle of a great transformation, was not about churches
that are adjusting their traditions and structures. Tickle was not talking about churches that are
in transition or calling new minister. Tickle was not talking about churches that are
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experimenting with new worship styles and educational opportunities. Tickle was not talking
about churches that are changing their paint colors and updating their computers.
She was talking about the end of church as we know it – and a transformation into something
yet to be seen.
Those of you who have been members of this church for a long time have seen it go through a
lot of changes. But Tickle would argue that no one in our generation – whether you have been a
member of your church for your entire life or whether you have only recently begun to attend –
no one has ever seen a change like the one we are experiencing right now. This is not
something that is coming; this is something that is already happening. We are, as a society, but
also as a church community sailing amid uncharted waters; and much remains unknown.
I am not telling you something that you do not already know. If you look around, churches –
and people’s attitudes about going to and being active in churches – have changed.
We could look at this reality and feel unsettled. But scripture has something else to say.
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. “The
former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in
what I am creating.”
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” –we are not the first generation of
people to experience a major change in our lives, in our communities and in our churches.
Scripture shows us that throughout time God is constantly creating, moving, and transforming.
This particular text from the Book of Isaiah speaks about a historical transformation in
Jerusalem; it has undertones of peace, hope and community. But I think that something even
bigger is going on. And I think that it is absolutely relevant today when we think about the ways
that the landscape of the Church is changing. So often we resist or fear change but look at what
scripture tells us! Scripture tells us that God never stopped creating; that the God of creation in
Genesis is still actively creating new things in our lives today; that change is both inevitable and
hope filled.
Change can be a very scary thing. But change is also rooted in scripture. Jesus insists on calm
strength and truthful testimony in the face of change and the unknown.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says, when the earth shakes, and nations make war, and imposters
preach alluring gospels of fear, resentment, and hatred. One theologian interprets it this way:
“Don’t give in to despair. Don’t capitalize on chaos. Don’t neglect to bear witness. God is not
where people often say God is. God doesn’t fear-monger. God doesn’t sensationalize. God
doesn’t thrive on human dread.”
She continues, “So, avoid hasty, knee-jerk judgments. Be perceptive, not pious. Imaginative,
not immature. Make peace, choose hope, cultivate patience, and incarnate love as the world
reels and changes. Expect things to get hard. And then expect them to get harder. Endure
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even when they do. Know that God is near, no matter what the world looks or feels like. Speak
the truth, trusting that God’s Spirit is alive and present in our acts of bearing witness. Be
faithful until the end, because God is still — always and everywhere — a God of love”
For me, this is the great challenge of this time. Not simply to bear change, but to bear it well.
To bear it with the courage, calm, and faith that Jesus calls us to practice. In the course I took at
Conrad Grebel this past week, change was one of the big topics of discussion. Instructor Betty
Pries presented us with a visual that looked like the letter “U.” She reminded us that change
always brings us down before we come back up. You can’t avoid it. It will be painful. But it is in
that valley of the “U” where the fertilizer is. Where change encourages us to grow and thrive
and transform.
And do you know what else? God delights in new beginnings; God finds joy in new creation. “I
will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people.” Just as the God of Genesis looked at
creation and saw that it was good, the God of this time–the God that uses this community of
faith and others to reach out to the community and the God who calls each member of this
church into a unique and special ministry – looks at the creation that continues to happen and
sees that it is good. God calls us to be open to the changes around us – to act and speak out for
justice, for equality, for hope.
Change is a good thing. Change means that we are responding to the changes that are
happening around us and adapting our lives and our faith and our churches so that they are
relevant in today’s world. And this is so important for the world in which we live.
I read a commentary this week that talked about this passage in Isaiah and change as a means
of grace:
“We seek to participate in God’s new creation not as a means of earning it but as a way of
responding to God’s grace extended to us. Through our restored relationship with God and our
relationship with all of God’s creation, we are given new lenses of hope by which can
experience a foretaste of the new creation that Isaiah prophesies.”
What do you see through your lens of hope?
Just as we no longer use glass IV bottles to dispense fluids and medications, we are called to let
go of some of the things that defined our past. We are called to constantly discern what
continues to nurture and inspire us in our traditions and where is the spirit nudging us to be
open to the spirit of change and new ideas in our midst.
For many of us, this has been an emotionally and spiritually exhausting few years. We need
look no further than the daily news to see apocalyptic images scarier than any Hollywood might
produce. Creation groans with wildfires, hurricanes, and climate injustice. “Elsewhere,
individuals and families are starving, or living on the streets, or struggling in the shadow of
relentless war, or suffering racial or sexual violence, or attempting to cross a border because
the horrors they’re leaving behind are worse than the dangers that lie ahead.
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In this troubling context, it’s easy to despair. Or to grow numb. Or to let exhaustion win. But
it’s precisely now, now when the world around us feels the most apocalyptic, that we have to
respond with resilience, courage, and truthful, unflinching witness”
Look ahead, my friends with hope, and see God’s vision. See God’s new creation in you and
around you. May we be open to changes – but more importantly, may we be open to
transformation and may we thrive.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
Rev. Heather Power
Sources:
Johns, Mary Eleanor, Feasting On The Word, Year C, Volume 4, Page 29.
Tickle, Phyllis, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, 2012.
Thomas, Debie, By Your Endurance, 2019