We started out our IHS 2022-2023 program year with so much excitement. The potential for the new ways God was moving in our congregation was ecstatic. New people, new families, new children all began worshiping with us at IHS in the last year. New music filled our sanctuary with the gifts that our new music director, Jeff Nations, brought to bear in ministry, along with our dedicated choir, and the special musicians that joined us throughout the program year.
Our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Gutierrez, and his staff celebrated the gifts of our mission and ministry in a jubilee celebration in January along with so many members of the greater Upper Darby community.
We celebrated new and continued love in our midst with weddings on Sunday mornings. Christmas and Easter were each true joys in our community again. Our theme of rebirth felt very palpable through the joy of a parish community experiencing its own rebirth.
Now as we end the 2022-2023 program year, things have continued to change, and perhaps not in ways that we would like. Much of that excitement might feel less palpable given the heartache some in our congregation are experiencing, and with the anticipation of my own sabbatical leave from the parish. There is some tension. There is some apprehension. There is so nervousness at what the future might bring.
The truth is that whenever there is great possibility, those other things follow. Let's look again at John chapter 3, our theme verses for this year, from the Message adaptation of the Bible:
There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.” “How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”
Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit. “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”
Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?
“No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.
This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. These words ring true thousands of years later in our own day and age. Whenever God's change comes, it is impossible to predict where things will go. As the verses say, just like the wind you never know where God's Spirit will blow next. When we pray for change, when we invite God's change, when we invite something new to happen in our community, we have to both expect the unexpected, and expect that not all of it will make us comfortable. We also have to expect that some will run for the darkness.
God is doing incredible new things through our parish community and our presence here in Drexel Hill. God is doing incredible, new things through you, in your daily life, if you ask and invite him to lead you. If you seek God's purpose for your life, God will answer, but it may not and most likely will not be the answer you want or expect. It will be the answer aligned with God's will if you truly seek his will with a genuine heart to follow.
God's promise to all of Creation is this: he is making all things new. The home of God is among mortals, and that isn't just some pie-in-the-sky, someday promise. It is a promise for now. Jesus invites us to look around us and to truly, truly see that he makes all things new. You are being invited to look to your life, to your circumstances, to your community, to your family and friends, to your whole life and see for yourself the new work that the living Jesus is doing, the new Creation God is birthing into the world.
So I invite you to carry these thoughts with you into the summer months. Enjoy some time of refreshment. Keep joining each other in fellowship on Sundays to feast at the Table and on God's Word. Keep looking for the newness God is birthing into our little parish. And let us all together give thanks to God for all the changes, the good and the bad, and the good that God continues to bring out of both.