We’re starting a new worship series this morning that I think is quite timely and that I hope will be helpful to all of us. The series is called “Change: The Only Constant in a Disciple’s Life.” Each week we’ll take a look at one or more of our spiritual ancestors – that is, people in the Bible – who experienced a change. Some of those changes were wanted. Some were not so wanted. As we look at the changes in their lives, we’ll explore what the application is for us and how we respond to changes in our own lives.
Why do I think a series on change is so timely and important right now? Well, I’m sure it comes as no surprise to any of us when I say: We’re going through a lot of changes right now. The entire world is going through a change as we begin to move into post-pandemic life. In addition to that significant change, we at Clairmont are going through some changes. We’re going through a change in pastoral leadership as we discern: Whom is God calling to serve as our next installed pastor? Asking whom God is calling to serve as our next pastor naturally raises the question: What does the future look like for Clairmont?
Notice – and this is really important – if you hear nothing else in worship today, hear this: Notice the question we are notasking. We’re not asking: Is there a future for Clairmont? Our Session and I are unanimous in wanting to communicate to our congregation: We see a future Clairmont. The question is not: Is there a future for our congregation? The question is: What is Jesus’ Kingdom-oriented future for Clairmont? My prayer is that, through this worship series, we’ll begin to answer that question.
Something else I want us to hear clearly at the start of our series. We know that over the course of the past year we’ve had some new people join us for worship online both here in Georgia and across the country, and we’re so grateful that you have chosen to worship with us. If you’re not a member of Clairmont or a member of our local community, you might be wondering: Is this a series just about Clairmont? No, it’s not. Why? Because change is not just something Clairmont is experiencing. Change is something everyone experiences. While at times in this series we might address issues specifically related to Clairmont, this series is for anyone and everyone who wants to discover how best to respond to the changes we face both individually and collectively. Because ultimately how we respond to change isn’t about Clairmont. It’s about Jesus’ Kingdom. It’s about how all of us as disciples – whether here in Decatur or in another state or another nation – it’s about how all of us together are called to bring about Jesus’ Kingdom on earth just as it is in heaven.
So let’s jump right into our series. We’ll be looking at two passages in Scripture this morning. In both texts, our spiritual ancestors are called to follow God to an unknown destination. Listen for God’s Word first from Genesis Chapter 12. Read Genesis 12:1-4.
Now turning to the New Testament, listen again for God’s Word from Matthew Chapter 4. Read Matthew 4:18-22. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
When I read passages like this in the Bible, I think, “Is this the Cliff Notes version? If so, can I see the unedited version? Because surely there was more to the conversation than this.” God told Abram to go to a land that God would show him, and without saying a word Abram just got up and went? Surely Abram said something in response, like, “Being blessed sounds pretty good. And blessing all the families of the earth? That sounds pretty good, too. But before I pack my bags, can you tell me a little about this new land – like, for starters, where is it?”
Whenever you or I have moved, we probably knew the exact address to which we were moving. Even if we hadn’t picked out our new home yet, we at least knew the city and state to which we were moving – or, at the very least, we knew the country to which we were moving. Abram didn’t even know that much. Surely, he asked a few questions.
Likewise, when Jesus called the disciples to follow him, surely they said something in response, like, “OK, first of all, who are you? Before I just quit my job and follow you, shouldn’t I know a little more about you? And shouldn’t I make sure I’ve got another job lined up so I can provide for myself and my family or have something to fall back on just in case this new gig doesn’t work out?”
But no. Without saying a word Abram left his country and his family, the disciples left their nets, their boats, and their father, and they all followed God. No questions. No hesitation. They just went.
My wondering about their side of the conversation probably betrays my own tendency to question God or hesitate to follow God’s call at times. I’ve been in Abram’s and the disciples’ shoes before, and, let me assure you…there was a lotmore to the conversation. After I graduated from Davidson College, I served on the Young Life staff in Shelby, North Carolina, for two years and then as a Director of Youth Ministries in Charlotte for three years – and I loved it. Yet as I grew in my relationship with Christ and my sense of call, I found myself thinking, “You know, I’ve played it pretty safe so far. I’ve spent the past nine years of college and ministry all within about a sixty-mile geographic range. If this really is God’s call on my life, then I need to be willing to go wherever God sends me.”
So I put my résumé on a youth ministries job site that night, as a sign to God that I was willing to go wherever He sent me. But I knew I really wasn’t. I was basically bargaining with God. I prayed, “God, I’m putting my résumé on this website to say I’m willing to go anywhere, but I don’t really want to go anywhere. So as long as we have a mutual understanding about that, we’re all good.”
As some may have experienced, when we begin to offer ourselves up to God’s call, God tends to take us up on the offer. The next day a search committee from First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, Virginia, called me, and soon thereafter Jesus would call me to be their youth director. Now moving from Charlotte to Norfolk wasn’t exactly the same as moving to another country, though it felt like it at first. If you know anything about Virginia, you know that Norfolk is right on that invisible geographic line that divides our nation between the land of sweet tea and the land of unsweet tea. I practically had to learn another language just to order at a restaurant. No longer could I order sweet tea. I had to ask for something called “presweetened iced tea.”
Change is hard for many of us. Change is a four-letter word to some of us. There’s no shortage of jokes about how many people it takes from a certain segment of the population to change a light bulb. The version of the joke for Presbyterians – the so-called “frozen chosen” – goes like this: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Change? What do you mean change?!
Some of us may like change. But how many of us can say we always like change? Probably not many. In fact, it’s been said that the only person who always likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.
And yet change is a constant in life. More specifically, it’s a constant in the life of faith. In Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1, faith is defined as follows: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Later in that same chapter, a chapter sometimes referred to as the Hall of Faith where the author lists examples of faith, the author cites Abraham as a prime example: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he set out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). Being obedient even when you don’t know where you’re going? That’s faith.
Change is a constant in life. It’s a constant in faith. So how do we learn to accept change, even if we don’t like it?
I chose these texts to start our series because I believe the changes we’re experiencing are a lot like moving to an unknown land. Unless you are 103 years old, none of us has ever lived in a post-pandemic country. Like other congregations, we’ve learned to live in a virtual land the past year. As we emerge from the pandemic and return to in-person ministry, we’re going to have to learn to live in a different land once again – a hybrid land of both in-person ministry and virtual ministry, where we are together in person while also seeking to remain connected with those we’ve reached through Zoom and social media the past year.
This past year we’ve proven that the church is not a building. As we return to the use of our buildings, how might God be calling us to use our buildings in new ways?
This past year we’ve gotten to know our neighbors in new ways. When we’ve been sheltered in place and when one of the few activities that was safe to do outside our homes was to walk around our neighborhoods, we’ve interacted with our neighbors more than ever before. Many of us met neighbors we’ve never met before. We’ve found new and creative ways to love our neighbor. As we move into a post-quarantine life, how will we continue to let that creative energy flow? How will continue to be an active presence in our neighborhoods?
As you’ve probably learned by now, when it comes to sermons, I tend to ask more questions than I provide answers. If ever that were true, it’s this worship series. Because if we’ve never lived in this new land before, that means there are more questions than answers. And if we’ve never lived in this new land before, that means I don’t know the answers. You don’t know the answers. None of us knows the answers.
But I’m convinced we can discover the answers together.
Here’s why I’m convinced. First, the title of this series “Change: The Only Constant in a Disciple’s Life”? Thanks be to God, that’s not the full story. There’s another constant, and His name is Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). No matter what changes we face, Jesus remains the constant in our lives.
The second reason I’m convinced we can discover the answers together is because of another truth of Scripture. Colossians 1:17 tells us Jesus is the head of the body, the church. That means I’m not the head of our church. Our Session isn’t the head of our church. Jesus – and Jesus alone – is head of the church. As head of the church, Jesus has the church’s best interests in mind. He’s got a bright future in store for us. Jeremiah 29:11, says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” The reason our Session and I see a future Clairmont is because Jesus sees a future Clairmont. It’s part of His plan.
But that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. When quoting that passage in Jeremiah, we tend to stop at verse 11. But God doesn’t stop speaking in verse 11. God continues in verses 12-13, “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart” (italics mine).
Just like Abraham, we don’t know where we’re going. But Jesus does. Jesus has a future for us. He has plans for us. Now we have to do our part: We have to seek him with all of our heart. We have to obey, even and especially when we don’t know where we’re going or don’t know what we’re doing. That’s called faith.
We’re moving into new uncharted territory with more questions than answers. As we move forward, if we make this our constant prayer – “Jesus, you and you alone are head of the church. Help us to obey and follow you” – I am convinced God will show us the way.
Each week of this series we’ll ask some questions for us to reflect on that week. I encourage you to spend some time each week of this series in prayer, beginning with the prayer we just said – “Jesus, you and you alone are head of the church. Help us to obey and follow you” – and then prayerfully considering that week’s reflection questions and how to apply them both individually and together as disciples. This series continues through Pentecost Sunday, a day when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and birth of the church. Pentecost is a day when we consider the question: What are God’s visions and dreams for us a congregation? My prayer is that, as we journey through these texts on change and prayerfully consider the questions they raise for us, the Spirit will reveal God’s dreams and visions to us.
So here are our questions for this week. Let’s start with some questions Abram’s story raises for us, starting with where we left off in Abram’s story. He’d just headed out for this unknown land. As he made the long journey, he probably had all kinds of emotions – we will, too. The excitement and anticipation of this new place and new adventure. The fear of the unknown. He probably also had some dreams: What might this next chapter look like?
Question #1 for us: As you imagine Clairmont’s next chapter, what do you dream it could look like? If we had a blank slate, if money or other resources were no object, if nothing is impossible with God – or rather, since nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) – what do you dream Clairmont’s next chapter could look like?
The second question might help us answer the first. God didn’t tell Abram much about what the future held. But God did tell Abram the purpose of that future: “I will bless you….so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). God didn’t bless Abram just for Abram’s own sake, but for the sake of all the families of the earth.
Abram was blessed to be a blessing. You and I are blessed to be a blessing. Our Clairmont family is blessed to be a blessing.
Question #2: What are the blessings God has given Clairmont, and how might we use those blessings to be a blessing to our community?
Now let’s look at the calling of the first disciples. To me the most significant line in the text we read in Matthew is this: “Immediately, they left their nets and followed him” (Mathew 4:20). What’s a net to a fisherman? A net was their job. Their livelihood. Their paycheck. If they couldn’t catch fish, they couldn’t eat. Neither could their dependents. As evidenced by the fact that their father Zebedee was also a fisherman, it was a family trade. A net represented the only life they’d ever known. The only thing they knew how to do. The only way they knew how to do things.
Here’s where they say we go from preachin’ to meddlin.’ Each of us has a net. Maybe more than one. Ever caught yourself saying, “We’ve always done it this way” or “We’ve never done it that way”? If a net to those first disciples was the only way they knew how to do things, so, too, our net today is the way we’ve always done things.
Listen to that verse from Matthew again: “Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”
Question #3: What nets do we need to drop? What nets do you personally need to drop in order to follow Jesus? What nets do we as a Clairmont family need to drop in order to follow of Jesus? What are those “the ways we’ve always done things” that we need to drop in order that Jesus might show us a new way to be a blessing to our community?
To recap our questions for this week:
- As you imagine the future/the next chapter, what do you imagine it could look like?
- What blessings has God given you/us, and how might you/we use those blessings to be a blessing to our community?
- What nets do you/we need to drop in order to follow Jesus and be that blessing to our community?
We don’t know what the future holds, but we know we have a future. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know the One who does. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He alone is the head of the church. May we call on him, pray to him, search for him, and seek him. May we have the courage to obey and follow, trusting that He will show us the way forward. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Prayer: Jesus, we do not know where we are going. But we trust that you do. Help us to keep in step with your Spirit – not to fall behind or rush ahead, but to keep in perfect step with you. Spirit of the Living God, melt us, mold us, fill us, use us. In the strong name of Jesus we pray, Amen.