A faithful way to deal with change

1 Kings 2 & 3

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Tara McGraw
Rector (2007-2015)

August 16, 2015

Our Old Testament reading this morning is so appropriate for St. Paul’s right at this time. Scripture has a way of doing that for us when we read it. As we read Scripture and pause to reflect on it, God speaks in our ear – the ears of our heart and soul – about the current circumstances of our lives.

In our Old Testament reading, David has been the leader of Israel for many, many years, and during his time God has been present in Israel: it has become firmly established: a country if you will, a political presence in the region, a participant in trade, a place of relative stability. I have been your rector at St. Paul’s for many years now, and during this time God has been present in St. Paul’s: we were firmly established before I came and we have continued to be.

We are a church that is a church family; our members genuinely care for each other, not just in words but in action. Through clergy and lay people alike, God’s comfort, touch and provision comes in pastoral care. Friendships are made here. Our financial situation has steadily improved; we are in good financial condition. Very importantly, we offer worship from funerals to Sundays, in which people can learn more about God, themselves and their walk with God, and people can feel God’s touch and God’s caring through us. St. Paul’s Christian formation programs allow people to deepen their relationship with God. Our outreach feeds the hungry, educates and provides for children here and abroad, and directly and indirectly meets individual needs of various kinds.

When I came to St. Paul’s, one of the biggest concerns was “We’ve existed a long time and the community doesn’t know we’re here!” Well, God brought us the Farmers’ Market and now we are the first name on people’s lips when asked about a church in East Naples. I’m pretty sure we are one of the most successful churches in the country in reaching through the cultural barriers to religion, to form deep bonds of affection with the many non-religious people of our community. We have done that through the Market and the many programs our space hosts: AA, Young Adult AA, Women’s Twelve Step, the VITAS bereavement group, Line-dancing, Tai Chi and Yoga. Our greeters, parkers, docents, shopkeepers and pancake breakfast providers have done that through their genuine warmth of hospitality and welcome. Furthermore, St. Paul’s is a church firmly established, indeed. St. Paul’s is worthy.

Now in our Old Testament reading, the king of the firmly established nation of Israel has died, and his son, Solomon, is succeeding him as the nation’s leader. It is a time of great change for the nation. Our reading teaches us a wonderful, faithful way to deal with change. So let’s hear its teaching, for St. Paul’s at this moment. And what is the old adage about our own individual lives: “The only thing constant in life is ….” Change. The only thing in life that doesn’t change is change itself. So let’s hear the Old Testament teaching about change for our own selves as well. Let’s dig in.

We handle change by taking time, before we get too far into it, to appreciate who we are and all we have. Our Old Testament story does this. It begins by recognizing Israel’s success and appreciating David’s part in it. David is mentioned 9 times in this story that is about David’s successor. This isn’t for the purpose of an ego trip for David – he’s dead—but rather, the fact is, by remembering the good that is past and recognizing the good that is current, we can see God’s hand has been with us. Especially in the case of a priest, whatever happens to God’s glory in the church is primarily God’s doing, not the priest’s – the priest merely partners with God as a willing vessel for God’s words, touch and will to come forth. As we are thankful for the good that came by God’s working in the past, we become confident that God will continue to work in the future, and we find more confidence to begin the change. It positively affects our attitude toward the change, making us hopeful of good to come. So should you be with St. Paul’s: very expectant of good to come.

So, deal with change by: (1) celebrating who we are and all we have before change began, (2) seeing God’s hand at work in our past, creating all we are celebrating, and (3) looking forward to good things to come from God’s hand continuing to be at work in the midst of the change and beyond.

Looking forward to good in the change allows us to safely and appropriately grieve for what has been cherished but will not continue in the change. Whether it is a person who has died or is departing, or it is a beloved home, a pet, a thing, a school or a job being left behind in a move, a relationship is ending. The love of the person or thing that made the relationship valuable causes grief at its ending. Grief is the painful side of love, but no one would choose not to have loved, not to have had the relationship, in order not to have grieved. It is important that we recognize our grief and allow ourselves to experience it. Because until we acknowledge the hole in our heart that grief creates, we cannot see how God is filling it. Solomon keeps referring to the hole left by the death of his father David at the very same time he is defining with God how he will fill the hole. When we begin to see that God is filling the hole, we can move from pain to peace and then to hope, as Solomon did.

So, let’s add to our list for dealing with change. We: (1) celebrate who we are and all we have before change began, (2) see God’s hand at work in our past, creating all we are celebrating, (3) expect good things to come from God’s hand continuing to be at work in the midst of the change and beyond, and (4) recognize and honor the grief that comes from what will be lost, so we can become aware of how God will heal it.

What is the first thing we read that Solomon does when he begins his walk into the change? He engages with God. He opens himself to God – Scripture says he “loved the Lord,” he abided by God’s laws, he worshiped God. He acknowledges God as present and active with him in the change. So although the focus of the Old Testament text seems to be about Solomon, Solomon’s focus is God, and therefore the real focus of this story about change is God. So it should be with us as church and with us as individuals. We realize we do not walk alone. We walk with God who knows the way. God is our guide into the good God has in store for us.

This is true especially when the change seems untimely or unwanted. When we as faithful people are faced with that kind of situation, we need to hold open the possibility that the situation is in fact ordained by God for us. In a fallen world, ultimately good things can come in bad packaging. In our Old Testament story, David’s death seemed untimely for Solomon. He doesn’t feel at all ready to be king; he says to God “I am only a little child.” But by the time the story is written, he has come to know that God ordained the time and ordained Solomon’s place in it, and much of Solomon’s confidence comes from this knowledge. But whether God ordained our own circumstance or not is less important than it might seem, because our faith in God’s power for the church and for ourselves is so great that we know God will bring good consequence from it regardless, if we open ourselves to walk expectantly with God through it.

So, let’s again add to our list for dealing with change: (1) celebrate who we are and all we have before change began, (2) see God’s hand at work in our past, creating all we are celebrating, (3) expect good things to come from God’s hand continuing to be at work in our midst, (4) recognize and honor the grief that comes from what will be lost, so we can become aware of how God will heal it and (5) actively look for where God is currently providing in the midst of change, and align ourselves with what God is doing.

What can you do best for St. Paul’s now? Pray. Pray for your Vestry as they work with our Diocese to select an interim rector or priest-in-charge. Pray for him or her. We don’t know yet who that person is, but God does and will transfer your prayers. Pray for him or her to discern God’s call to be with you and for God to facilitate the coming. Pray for God to use this occasion to shower abundant blessing on St. Paul’s. Engage yourself prayerfully and as a participant in the visioning for St. Paul’s future that can affect the Vestry’s later choice of the best qualities of a permanent rector to make that future a reality. Join a leadership group! Pray, too, for me, that in the time following my departure, the Holy Spirit will bring forth in me knowledge of what God’s new call is upon my life.

So, the last thing in our list for dealing with change is to use prayer to support the work God is doing and allow yourself to keep recognizing it so you can support it with your participation.

In summary, as we stand at the threshold of change, we look backward and see how God was present and active with us, we look around and see God present and active with us today, and align ourselves where God is working, and we look forward knowing that God will be active and present with us in all days and years to come. From this we find our confidence and our hope. Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (what was and what will be). And you are mine; be at peace.