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Sunday 5 March 2023 Lent 2

07 February 2023

Change and decay, or eternal life

Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17

By David Muskett

Anglican priest serving as Methodist Superintendent Minister in the East Solent and Downs Circuit

Context: a small faithful Methodist congregation in Hampshire at a service of Morning Worship

Aim: to communicate the challenge to re-package, renew and re-present the Gospel afresh in each generation

‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ is a quotation variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Henry Ford and Mark Twain.

In many church settings the view is often expressed that ‘we don’t like change’. It is not always tactful to point out that without growth and change we die.

To many people, especially in churches, doing what we’ve always done and getting what we’ve always got is to be encouraged. Surely, we should safeguard and communicate the timeless truths of God in every age?

But there’s a challenge hidden in the ‘in every age’ part.

In spite of the words of the hymn, change is not to be equated with decay. God is not some kind of aspic in which to preserve everything as we have always known it.

‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ is a challenge to re-package, renew and re-present the timeless truths of God for each generation. God calls himself by the present tense — I am. We are called to inhabit our own time as well as his eternity and present that eternity for each generation to hear and receive the truth of his love, mercy and calling.

Let’s start with Abraham. At 75 years old many people decide it is time only ever to do what they’ve always done. Abraham’s father had just died, and God told him it was time to be a pioneer, to move from Haran to an undisclosed destination and then start a family.

For most people that’s way too many major life events all at the same time whatever age they are.

God calls us forward, calls us to change, and calls us to do a new thing because he is to be made known in each generation.

Leap ahead several generations from Abraham to Jesus. One night Jesus is sitting there minding his own business, having his late-night cup of cocoa, maybe in conversation with John who’s beginning to doze by the fire, and there’s a quiet tap on the door. John struggles out of his chair, moaning about people who want healing or run out of wine and can’t get as far as the off licence, and complaining that they don’t seem to get a moment’s peace.

But this visitor is the famous theology professor from the university wondering if he might have a chat.

A summary of John’s memory and reflections on the conversation might be that Jesus told Nicodemus, ‘You don’t get to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom if you don’t start afresh and let God guide and send and call you wherever he wants you.’

That was how it worked for Abraham; that was how it worked for Moses and Joshua and Samuel and David and Elijah and Elisha and the prophets without exception; that was how it worked for those who left fishing boats and families and tax collecting booths to follow Jesus; and that’s how it has worked for generations since.

God wanted his ways and his love and compassion re-packaged, renewed and re-presented because he didn’t always want only what he’d always got.

And in this generation God still calls his people to re-package, renew and re-present his message of love and compassion and the eternal nature of his kingdom to make it known in this generation.

That applies to each congregation just as it applies to the whole church because each congregation is the whole church in its area. We too are called to be continually looking at the way the eternal good news of God is proclaimed afresh in this community.

God’s call to re-package, renew and re-present also applies to each person individually just as it applies to congregations and the whole church.

So, if Abraham can embrace the challenge to move to an unknown destination, just after a family bereavement, and start a family at the age of 75; and Nicodemus can be challenged to change his theological outlook to embrace a God who blows like the wind in unknown directions; then we too can embrace the challenge to open our mouths to those we meet among our families, friends, neighbours and colleagues and anyone who asks a question.

We tell and demonstrate how in Jesus we see God’s love and compassion which means that life is not all doom and gloom and despair because it doesn’t all end in death and decay and destruction. Jesus is life — eternal life — life in all its fullness.

Which, actually, is what the church has always done — but has always done afresh in each generation. Doing that, we’ll always get what we’ve always got — people who come to know the truth of the good news of God in Christ.

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