Something New

X I AM DOING A NEW THINGX RUN TO CATCH UPX SOMETHING NEW IN JESUSX SOMETHING NEW IN THE MONASTERIESX SOMETHING NEW IN THE REFORMATIONX SOMETHING NEW IN DEMOCRACYX SOMETHING NEW IN FREEDOM FOR ALLX WHAT NEW THING IN 21 CENTURYX GREAT EMERGENCEX CELL PHONES INTERNET PAPAL RESIGNATIONX GIVING UP SOMETHING FOR LENTX CHANGING WORLDVIEWSX PREMODERN UMPIREX MODERN UMPIREX POSTMODERN UMPIREX REVOLUTION OF THOUGHTX NEW THING ANCIENT SPIRITUAL PRACTICESX DISCERN WHAT GOD WANTS US TO DO AND BECOMEX OVERCOMING NOT MUCHSLIDE 3: I AM DOING A NEW THING
Our scripture this morning comes again from Second Isaiah. Remember he was a prophet writing to the Jewish exiles in Babylon approximately 550 years before Jesus. His purpose was to give hope and inspire faith in a people being held captive far, far from home.
“I am doing a new thing,” said God according to Isaiah! The new thing God was up to was bringing the Jewish captives in Babylon home to Israel. The military might of the Babylonians had been crushed, and God was going to do a new thing by making a way in the desert for his people to return to their homeland. Many of the Jews were afraid. The journey would be long and arduous across mountains and deserts. And when they did arrive they would find their homeland in ruins. Isaiah had to offer encouragement and hope for the exiles to return home.
SLIDE 4: RUN TO CATCH UP
God is doing a new thing today! God is always doing new things. We are almost always lagging behind where God is moving in the world, and we need to run to catch up. God is offering us hope and encouragement if we will undertake the journey into a new and uncertain future.
SLIDE 5: SOMETHING NEW IN JESUS
In the First Century God was doing a new thing in Jesus and the church. You have heard that it was said, “and eye for an eye, but I say to you love your enemies.” God was doing a new thing in Christ to show us the way to the Commonwealth of God.
SLIDE 6: SOMETHING NEW IN THE MONASTERIES
During the middle Ages when books and learning were disappearing and faith was sinking into superstition in Europe, God was doing a new thing in the monasteries where books were copied and the faith was preserved.
SLIDE 7: SOMETHING NEW IN THE REFORMATION
During the Reformation when the Church had become powerful and corrupt God was doing a new thing through people like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli spreading a new expression of faith based upon the written word of God.
SLIDE 8: SOMETHING NEW IN DEMOCRACY
And then as the people known as Congregationalists migrated to the New World God did a new thing by establishing participatory democracy in those early congregational meetings. And that notion of freedom and democracy advanced during the American Revolution to include representative self-government.
SLIDE 9: SOMETHING NEW IN FREEDOMN FOR ALL
And then through the American Missionary Association born out of the desire to free slaves, God was doing a new thing seeking equality for all people, men, women, blacks, whites, native Americans, Asians, even gay and straight. God has been doing a new thing among us.
SLIDE 10: WHAT NEW THING IN THE 21ST CENTURY?
The question we must face in the church now in the 21st Century is what new thing is God doing in our time in our world? Almost all churches are hemorrhaging membership. Church budgets have been stretched to the breaking point, and many congregations will be dissolving in the next twenty years. The new thing God may be doing is saying: “change or die.” Become faithful in following the way of Jesus, or your institutions will collapse. Something new is not necessarily good news for the institutional church. Learn, pray, seek humility and faithfulness like St. Francis, adapt and grow or die.
SLIDE 11: GREAT EMERGENCE
Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, seeks to document the tremendous cultural upheaval all around us, and how that is affecting the church. Her theory is that about every 500 years or so Western Culture experiences a massive displacement, and after about a 100 years of uncertainty and upheaval new cultural forms and new expressions of faith emerge on the other side. The last great upheaval according to Tickle was the Protestant Reformation. She claims that we have now entered into another great cultural upheaval, another great reformation, and we cannot even begin to predict in what form our social institutions especially the church will emerge from this cultural transformation.
SLIDE 12: CELL PHONES, INTERNET, PAPAL RESIGNATION
In case anyone is not clear we find ourselves in the midst of dramatic change think about these questions. Forty years ago, who would have predicted most of us would be carrying around phones in our pockets and pocket books? Thirty years ago how many of us had heard of the internet? Fifteen years ago who would have imagined we would be surfing the internet on our phones? Three months ago, who would have predicted a Papal resignation?
SLIDE 13: HIGH BAR FOR GIVING UP SOMETHING FOR LENT
Speaking of Papal resignations one Cardinal was heard saying to another, “Benedict certainly set the bar high for giving up something for Lent!”
SLIDE 14: CHANGING WORLD VIEWS
We live in the midst of changing worldviews. The Reformation and Enlightenment were the shift from a pre-modern worldview to what we now look back upon and call the modern worldview. This was the world of Newtonian Physics — the predictable world of mechanical laws of nature – the shift from the established authoritative revealed truth of tradition to observed experimentally verified scientific truth. The shift to this objective worldview was powerful and gave us the wonders of science and technology that gave humankind flight, sent us to the moon, multiplied the yields of our crops, an explosion of medical technology that has lengthened our life spans and completely transformed our communications and media.
SLIDE 15: POSTMODERN
We are now on the cusp of a new emerging worldview, sometimes labeled postmodern. One of the first signs of this new emerging worldview was Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the subsequent development of Quantum Physics. Einstein told us that everything is relative to the position and velocity of the observer. The only constant is the speed of light in a vacuum. Quantum Physics discovered that at the level of sub-atomic particles there are no objective observers, because the act of observing, consciousness, changes the outcome of the experiment. And the study of elementary particles now suggests there are no “solid objects,” but everything is made up of vibrating patterns of energy.
SLIDE 16: PRE-MODERN UMPIRE
An analogy that tries to express the difference between pre-modern, modern and postmodern world views uses baseball umpires. The pre-modern umpire would say he calls balls and strikes as they are – according to universal and accepted revealed principles handed down from tradition.
SLIDE 17: MODERN UMPIRE
The modern umpire would say he calls balls and strikes, “as he sees ‘em,” based upon objective observation and experimentally established rules.
SLIDE 18: POSTMODERN UMPIRE
The postmodern umpire, she would say, “they ain’t nothin’ ‘til i calls ‘em.” Everything is subjective. The umpire is a participant and not simply an observer. We are changing how we see and think about our world, and that will change how we respond to faith.
SLIDE 19: REVOLUTION OF THOUGHT AND CONSCIOUSNESS – RESHAPING THE CHURCH
We live in the midst of a revolution of thought and consciousness. If we refuse to recognize how those changes are affecting the church, then we are dooming our congregation to irrelevance and eventual extinction. One of the technological innovations that made the Protestant Reformation possible was a revolution in media — the printing press. Today once again we are experiencing a transformation in media brought about by computers, mobile devices and the internet. How these changes in communication will reshape the church we can only begin to imagine. How congregations choose to respond will determine their futures.
SLIDE 20: NEW THING – ANCIENT SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
God is doing a new thing! Verse 18 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” It always helps to know where we come from, how we are connected to our roots. Indeed, the Great Emergence, seems to be calling many congregations to renew their connections with ancient liturgies, symbols of faith and spiritual practices. There is a renewed interest, even a hunger, for ancient spiritual practices, meditation, prayer, chanting, prayer beads, walking the labyrinth, but always adapted in new ways and new forms. God is doing a new thing!
SLIDE 21: DISCERN WHAT GOD WANTS US TO DO AND BECOME
The call to a re-visioning process at United Church is our opportunity to figure out what God is calling us to do and become in the Twenty-first Century. We need courage and faith to step into a planning process that will seek to discern what new thing God is doing among us. I hope everyone in the congregation will respond and participate in this planning process. And remember our task is not to just talk about what we like and want, we are being called to a process of discernment, where through prayer, discussion, more prayer and study we seek to discern what God is calling us to do and become in the future.
SLIDE 22: OVERCOMING “NOT MUCH”
It would be easy for us to say, “Oh, well, I’m not concerned about that, because I may not be here in ten years anyway.” Beth and I were talking the other day about the potluck this congregation put on almost 13 years ago on the Saturday evening before my candidating sermon, just before you voted to extend a call to me.
I was asked to make some remarks, and I talked about how important the next years would be in determining the future of United Church. As a way of offering a challenge, I said, “How much would you be willing to give of yourself to pass on this unique legacy of faith to a new generation?” Then someone, in a stage whisper loud enough to be heard in the back of the room, said, “Not much.”
It is time to move beyond “Not much.”
It is time to invest ourselves in discerning what God wants us to do and to become as United Church. When you receive a call to attend one of the small group meeting, attend and participate. Sometimes God speaks through the least expected member of the community. Join us in helping to bring United Church into a New Future!

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