“Change, Change, Change”

Phil 3/Baptism

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

I don’t like change.

I find unexpected disturbances in my routine to be jarring. I don’t enjoy adapting to different ways of doing things.

I’m not usually excited when Dr. Lewis suggests singing an unfamiliar hymn and I am still a bit rattled by the complicated new list of Bible lessons that the Episcopal Church required us to read, beginning last year. And I tend to be skeptical of novel government programs—whichever side of the political spectrum they come from.

And although I recognized the need of our former Associate Rector to seek new horizons in her ministry, I was initially unhappy that Amanda would want to leave Incarnation and her successful work here.

Now I also recognize that my conservative temperament is limiting. Dr. Lewis does come up with beautiful new hymns. Amanda found a great job in North Carolina and, by the grace of God, we have been given a fine new Assistant Minister to take Amanda’s place.

Yet, in my traditionalism, I might expect that I could count St. Paul as being on my side. Paul has a reputation for defending a strict view of sexual morality, and in general, he would seem to have been another person who didn’t like change.

In fact, though, Paul was a revolutionary! He was the strongest advocate of opening the early church to converts from pagan religion. He traveled endlessly throughout the Roman world to form new congregations. And he never let those groups of Christians become complacent and self-satisfied—he was always urging them to do more to spread the Gospel and share their wealth with the poor.

Even though he could be dogmatic and moralistic at times, St. Paul knew that Christians always need to be ready to adapt their faith to new challenges.

One of his most useful and inspiring remarks about change is found in today’s Epistle, where he writes, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s comments note two essential aspects of coping with change. The first thing we need in order to work for “the call of God in Christ Jesus” is to forget “what lies behind.”

Now modern people might question this advice. From a psychological point of view, for example: shouldn’t we want to remember events in our childhood that marked us? And from an ethical point of view, shouldn’t we want to remember significant mistakes that we made, so that we won’t make them again?

And from a religious point of view, some remembering is essential to our faith. After all, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we “do this in remembrance” of Christ.

But Paul doesn’t mean to imply that we should forget everything. We should forget “what lies behind”—the past that is truly dead. We should cast away the baggage that keeps us from living life to the fullest.

Of course, we should learn from our mistakes. But if past mistakes keep coming back to mind again and again, we’ll be “haunted” by those mistakes, and we’ll be unable to accept the promises of God for the future.

As it happens, we Christians have a useful spiritual technique that allows us to bring to God the unfortunate things we have done and left undone. We call this technique, “the General Confession.”

In the General Confession, we acknowledge before God the “thoughts, words, and deeds” that we wish we hadn’t thought or spoken or done. We admit to the actions that we wish we had had the courage to perform. Once we’ve admitted these sins, they’re gone. The General Confession is one means of spiritual forgetting.

And after we have gotten rid of our inner baggage, we’re ready to do something with our newfound freedom. Here is where St. Paul’s second recommendation comes in.

Paul says that we are to “strain forward to what lies ahead.” We are to “press on”—to press on toward the goal of serving Christ as part of his fellowship. In other writings, Paul describes this goal as nothing less than transformation; he says that, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…”

“A new creation.” Looking backward is useful, but mainly as a basis for looking forward. To be changed by the spirit of God is to enter new spiritual territory.

Now I realize that this is a rather grand, and philosophical concept. When you have a deadline at work or you’re waiting for a subway, you aren’t likely to be thinking at the same time of pressing on to serve Christ!

Yet surely if God is going to lead you to transformed life in his Spirit, you should expect to see a practical impact. So, for example, if God wants you to be part of his new creation, you will expect the unexpected, and so you’ll be better equipped to handle deadlines at work.

You’ll embrace crises that arise. You’ll avoid panicking. And you’ll still have inner resources left over to relax and live the life that God wants you to lead.

Even while you’re waiting for that subway, you’ll view the disruption of your schedule as merely a minor bump on the much larger spiritual road to life in Christ.

For Christians, that journey officially begins with baptism. Baptism is our formal initiation into the Body of Christ.

And, as the person who is actually performing today’s baptism of young J. P. Weddle, I am particularly reminded of my own need to adopt a forward-looking attitude.

If I don’t like change, tough! I need to change my attitude toward change! I need to press on, so that God will give me, as the baptismal rite says, “the courage to will to persevere” and “the gift of joy and wonder in all works.”



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