(a sermon for June 6, 2021, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Isaiah 43:15-21)
It’s actually a scene that’s repeated itself several times over the years, but this was one of the first times I ever recall it happening: it was during our summer vacation time up in northern Maine, and Lisa and I had stopped for lunch at a local diner we used to go when we were first married, and I was but a young pastor. As you can imagine, there was a lot of nostalgia involved in this for us, and the great thing is that this place was just the way we remembered it: the food was still good, the ambiance was everything you’d expect from an Aroostook County diner (!), and almost immediately all the great memories of the times we lived up there were fairly well bursting forth!
But then here comes the waitress to take our order; she’s writing everything down when suddenly she stops and looks rather intently at us for a long moment. Then her eyes pop open wide and she says, “Mr. Lowry! Mrs. Lowry! How are you?” And then – no doubt noticing the blank look on both Lisa’s and my faces – she adds, “It’s me… don’t you remember? I’m Stacey… Stacey from Sunday School!”
Well, in our own defense, she did look familiar… but even all these years later I have to tell you that to me at that particular moment this certainly couldn’t have been the Stacey I remembered! The Stacey I remembered was about “so high,” was in the fourth grade and sang in my little Junior Choir at the church! But then, of course, it hit me (like a ton of bricks, I might add) that that had been ten years – a full decade – before! The one I remembered as a shy little girl who loved to sing was now a bright and personable young woman living on her own, going to school and waitressing to make ends meet. Well, it was great to see her and to hear how she was doing; and as I recall, lest we think these things don’t matter, she immediately sang Lisa and me a verse of “O Fill My Cup, Let It Overflow!” But I also have to confess that the whole experience left me a little… sad. I guess somewhere in my addled brain I had mistakenly figured that even though Lisa and I had most certainly gotten older in the years since we’d left Houlton, that group of Sunday Schoolers was supposed to stay little kids forever!
But, of course, we all know time… and, as it turns out, life… isn’t like that!
Whatever else can be said about it, life is always moving. It’s fluid… life is always and ever about change; the undeniable truth that nothing stays the same for very long. The little children who just yesterday, it seems, were decked out in their bathrobes and tinsel angel wings for the Sunday School Christmas pageant are graduating high school and, ready or not, are about to take on the world. And it’s not just kids, either; I think you’ll agree with me here when I tell you that it doesn’t take a whole lot of years to discover that the people you know aren’t always the people you knew! And I’m not just talking about grey hair and expanding waistlines; time has a way of shifting circumstance, attitude, and also the manner of relationship. Simply put, people come into our lives, they become a part of the community we’re in – sometimes even part of our families – but then, seemingly without warning and often without a clear explanation, these they’re gone. So often it seems that no sooner than we finish saying “hello” in this life we are forced to say our “good-byes,” and it’s rarely, if ever, easy.
The bottom line is that change is difficult! But change is also a necessary part of life; and moreover, change can be a good thing. In fact, change is central to how God intends for our lives to be.
Our God, you see, is a living God. That’s the message we’ve heard proclaimed over the past couple of Sundays as we’ve celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and as we’ve pondered the wonder of God coming to us in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a blessed Trinity. Our God is… alive… it’s as simple and as utterly wonderous as that! And as such, God is a God of motion: of activity, of involvement, and action in matters of the world and the happenstances of our lives, yours and mine. God does not settle in one spot; God does not exist in one way for very long. God is ever leading us, ever guiding us, ever pushing us at times into something new.
And that’s always been true! That’s made clear in our text for this morning from Isaiah, in which our Lord says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert… to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” As I said before, God is never about to stand idle but has always sought to move us through the wilderness so that we might find the new and fresh ways of living that he intends for us. Age and time, geography and circumstances – those things by which we tend to measure our lives – actually matter very little when God is on the move. Who knows what “new thing” God will do next? Who knows the vista along which God will lead us today and in the days to come? What wonders await us just beyond the next horizon?
The fact is, we don’t know!
Not yet, anyway… but that’s the mystery of our lives, the uncertainty and anxiety of it, but also its adventure, its wonder, its meaning… and its fun! Wherever we go along the journey – individually, as families, as a community, and most especially as a church – in and through all the changes that come to us as we go the glorious truth is that we go not alone, but in the presence, power and loving shelter of the Mighty God who is leading us there for the sake of joy and purpose, for becoming all we are meant to be, and so that “we might declare our praise.”
Seems to me that this is a good thing for us to remember, most especially today.
Like I said before, life is always moving and change is inevitable… and that’s certainly been true for us here at East Church these past 14 going on 15 months, hasn’t it? I mean, who’d have imagined back in March 2020, when we decided not to hold in-person “for a couple of weeks,” that we wouldn’t be back together in this sanctuary until today? I remember back then worrying about having to cancel a bean supper (!) and feeling so badly about not being able to hold Easter services, presumably for the first time in the church’s history! But even that was okay… surely, we all reasoned, this whole Covid thing will be over soon and things will be back to normal by May or June at the absolute latest… but of course, that wasn’t to be; and I’ll confess to you now that there were moments, especially early on in the time of pandemic last spring when I had some serious concerns as to how our church could possibly weather this strange and unprecedented storm we were facing.
But then something happened… actually, it was always happening (!)… our ever-living, ever-graceful, ever-loving God was on the move.
As in days of old, once again God was here and doing a new thing that was springing forth in our midst even when the world around us seemed to be spinning out of control! God was alive and moving, and as a result this amazingly wonderful and faith-filled “little church that could…” did! We learned how to do worship online, and not only did this provide a means for us to gather together on a Sunday morning, in the process we’ve welcomed new friends into our church family from literally all over the country. And we learned how to find new ways to reach out to one another: phone calls and “appropriately distanced” visits, along with a plethora of “Goodie Bags” have been shared with members, friends and neighbors – even occasionally their pets (!) – as a way of connecting with those who had been shut in or feeling isolated all through the long months of quarantine. Our mission projects, both locally and nationally, continued on, no matter what; and your giving to the work of this church remained strong, with the help of “beanless” bean suppers, “pond paddles,” a couple of outdoor yard sales (see you on Saturday, folks!) and most of all your continued support of several “Lift the Gift” challenges.
Over these past 14 months together we have truly embraced this wonderful, glorious truth that yes, we are the church… no matter where, or how, we meet. And it’s all happened by the graceful power and love of the living, moving God in our midst; and also, I have to say, because of YOU and the many ways your faith has shone forth so brightly and so boldly. Speaking as your pastor these past nine years, and as a member of this wonderful church family, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for both… and I thank you and I thank the Lord…
… and I’ve got tell you, I’m truly excited for what happens next.
I don’t know who studies these things, but apparently, it’s been proven that if you take a goldfish that has lived its life in a little glass fishbowl and turn it loose in a pond, the goldfish will not swim out into the pond that now surrounds it; in fact, the goldfish will likely just keep making the same small circles it always swam when it was in the goldfish bowl! True… the circles in which the goldfish swims will never get any wider; researchers even tried to throw rocks into the pond in hopes to “inspire” the goldfish to expand the limits of their swimming, but at the very most the goldfish would merely swim around the rock!
The goldfish, you see, had been conditioned to think small! Which is amazing when you think about it: this little fish now has this vast pond surrounding it; there’s virtually no limit to where that fish could go… but because it was always small, it will always live small. It will never be moved to venture out into the vastness of the pond.
Well, beloved, the good news of this and every day is that God did not create you and me to be goldfish!
God gives us the vastness of this huge pond which is called life and living, and he tells us to go forth and swim… and even more than this, to go forth and swim with joy! And though we don’t know what the future holds or what exists beyond the next horizon – indeed, if this past year has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected (!) – we can all take comfort and joy that we can swim, because we know that God is on the move! Even in this very moment, right here in this beautiful sanctuary, God is doing a new thing in and through our lives; yours, mine, and yes, in the life we share as the church of Jesus Christ. God is making a way in the wilderness of fear and hopelessness in which we find ourselves mired; God is making rivers in the desert of uncertainty so that we will always know the true refreshment of his love and care. God is alive and helping us to be alive as well, so that we might have faith in all things, and be bold enough to venture out into the vastness of the pond to experience the great adventure of life; that we might encounter the very one who encounters us with something fresh and new, something that will lead us to declare his praise!
Thanks be to God from whom all our blessings flow, and with whom our great journey is just about to unfold!
Amen and AMEN!
© 2021 Rev. Michael W. Lowry. All Rights Reserved.