Opting Out of 'the System'
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Jer 31:31-34 John 12:20-33
Easter is just two weeks away and the story of Jesus' earthly life is nearing completion. The Scripture passage we heard this morning indicates that Jesus knew his time has come. His earthly life was drawing to a close. We learn that 'his soul is troubled'.
He knows that he will be crucified and it may not necessarily, what he wants, but he knows it is his destiny. It is why he came here. He was troubled, but he knew what had to be done. He did what he had to do for the greater good.
When Jesus talked about the judgment of the world, he was not talking about God's creation, but rather, that judgment of that which was separate from God.
Biblical scholar, professor, and author Walter Wink describes a new use of the word 'kosmos' in the gospel of John. He says that this kosmos is a world apart from God(1). Author Charles Campbell elaborates on this idea and calls this kosmos, or world, 'the system'. (2)
This secular world—or 'the system' has a different ruler. Jesus tells the crowds that the system will change...the ruler of this world will be driven out and that Jesus would draw all people to himself. Jesus would be a ruler...in a different system.
Today, 'the system' may be as obvious as government, or organized crime, or any establishment that keeps 'isms' such as racism, or sexism in place.
Much of 'the system' appears innocuous. It has been deemed a benefit to have our health care tied to our employment. Credit cards lure consumer with introductory short term low rates. Websites allow you to publish personal information and photos—of yourself, or your friends (without their consent or even knowledge).
The grocery store near my mother's house recently changed ownership. Systematically, they have been replacing the longer-term employees with younger, less experienced help. Steve was 'let go' recently. His wife thinks it is because Steve is 65. They told him it was because he made too much money...at $8.50 an hour. My mother is not happy with the way the new owner is running the business. I suggested that she shop elsewhere.
We can choose not to participate. We have the ability and the right to 'opt out' of things. We can 'opt-out' of receiving mailings or emails or calls from the bank, or cable company, or insurance agent.
Whenever we choose not to participate in 'the system' today, we may call it 'opting out'. When we choose to live in a way that supports what we believe instead of what the rest of the system believes or expects, we may be regarded as different...or difficult.
Some people opt-out of eating genetically modified foods and choose an organic or macrobiotic diet instead. Some opt-out of sending their kids to public schools and home school instead. Some do not vaccinate their children and instead treat their illnesses with homeopathic remedies.
Jesus saw 'the (oppressive) system' clearly...and he opted-out.
Throughout his ministry, and even in experiences with soldiers, Jesus was peaceful. Through his non-violent actions, He exposed the system for what it was.
Today, in exposing 'the system' there may be some personal risk, such as losing one's friends, or losing one's job....or losing one's life.
Today, as in the time of Christ, opting out of 'the system' often necessitates that we also opt out of the fear of doing so. This does not mean that fear is not present, but it does mean that we do not let it stop us from doing the right thing.
Jesus said his soul was troubled, but he did not call upon God to save him from what he had to do. In fact, he said it was for this very reason that he came. Martin Luther King did not let fear stop him. King and his marchers had dogs set on them and they had hoses turned on them. Television cameras picked it up and showed the rest of the country what was happening. King went to Memphis and endured many threats.
In a speech, King said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. However, I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”
The Mountaintop speech was delivered on April 3, 1968. Just before the sun set the following day, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stepped out onto the balcony of his hotel room...and was shot dead.
Forty years later, on November 4th, 2008, Barack Obama became the first Black United States President. He said, “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.” That change may not have come without the efforts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. On November 5th, 2008, the headlines read, “A Nation Changed”, “Historic Change”, “Change Of Course”, and our own Boston Globe said, “Historic Victory”.
There have been other historic victories, too. For example, the case of tobacco companies paying out a three hundred sixty eight billion dollar settlement in 1998. That case was tried, in part, because of the bravery of a former tobacco company executive who effectively 'blew the whistle' on the industry and exposed their dangerous and deceptive practices.
Dr. Jeffrey Wigand was a very highly compensated Research Director for Brown and Williamson, the parent company to 16 cigarette brands. He became aware that the cigarette industry knew that nicotine was addictive, that they were putting known carcinogens into cigarettes, and that they were targeting children. He opted-out and exposed 'the system'.
In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on February 4th, 1996, Dr. Wigand said, “I felt an obligation to tell the truth. There were things I observed that I felt needed to be told.”
In response to his actions, Dr. Wigand had threats against his life and the lives of his children. Subsequently, he and his wife divorced. He did the right thing for the greater good, and, in the process lost his status, his paycheck, and his family. In speaking of the troubled times following his actions, he said, “Do I think it's worth it. Yeah, I think it's worth it.”
The movie inspired by his life story is called “The Whistleblower,” but Dr. Wigand does not like that term. In an article by Chuck Salter, published in 2007, Wigand says that the term implies disloyalty. He said, “...I wasn't disloyal in the least bit. People were dying. I was loyal to a higher order of ethical responsibility."
Do you think that Jeffrey Wigand wasn't bothered by what he calls “systematic” and “aggressive” attempts to discredit him? Do you think that the threats didn't bother Martin Luther King? Do you think that Jesus was happy about the prospect of being crucified?
There have been many who were all troubled by what they saw in the system and they worked to change it, despite the personal risk and ultimately, loss.
About two thousand years ago, change came to those who consciously chose to follow Jesus, despite the risks, despite the persecution. The Roman rulers didn't count on this. They thought that by getting rid of Jesus, they were getting rid of the 'problem'. They thought that they could scare people into submission and into silence.
At the time of the crucifixion there were small sects of followers in Jerusalem and Galilee. Today, it's estimated that there are 2.1 billion Christians adherents worldwide; including those countries such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan where Christians are still persecuted(4).
Yet, change has come. We, who put our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, know change has come. The Kingdom of Heaven is a place without hatred, fear, or oppression. The Kingdom of Heaven is a place where peace, kindness, and helpfulness abound. Love reigns.
You have 'opted-in' to Christianity. You recognize Christ as the Supreme Leader. Is there an opportunity for you to opt-out of an earthly 'system'? Could it be speaking up when you witness injustice? Could it be bringing your own utensils to cookouts this summer in order to cut back on the plastic that will inevitably end up in a landfill? Could it be refraining from purchases at very inexpensive stores because you know that child labor was involved in manufacturing of the products? Might you do this despite the financial risk, despite the risk of ostricization, and despite the emotional or physical risk?
Those who love their life will lose it. Those who want to keep what they have, be it standing or power or possessions, will, in the end, lose. Yet, those who hate their life in 'the system' and, because of that work for change, will have eternal life with Jesus.
Like the grain that falls to the earth and dies, one person may also lose something. But like the grain which dies and bears much fruit, it could be that one person's loss may yield a large gain.
May the promise of Easter, which brings hope and new life give you the patience, peace, and power opt-out of any oppressive system and choose instead to allow yourself to be part of the process of change...all to the glory of God. Amen.
Sowing the Seeds of Kindness
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Isaiah 55:10-11 Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23
There are some among us who are getting ready to make the annual trek to the garden nursery or the big box store to pick up annuals for planting in flower beds, window boxes and decorative patio pots. There may even be some among us who are already tending little seedlings near a sunny window.
The first time I planted something, I was about four years old, using a tiny little index finger to push a seed into the soil inside of a paper cup. Just far enough down, but not too far! Then, there was the waiting and the watering and the waiting. Weeks later, I was rewarded with golden marigolds.
We spoke last week about consciously considering our bodies as temples to God. That is, intentionally using our thoughts, speech, and action to glorify God. How you think, speak, and act matters. As you sow, so shall you reap.
In 1990, I lived just outside of Brighton. It wasn't far from Coolidge Corner in Brookline, so that's where I went one Saturday morning, for an eye appointment. I went to an eye glass store that had opticians on staff.
While I was waiting for my appointment, I observed an elderly man come in and ask for help. He'd lost his glasses and he wanted to replace them. He lived across the street and he was sure that he'd purchased his glasses at this store. I heard him give his name and address, but they couldn't find his record.
I heard the representative say that without his file, they couldn't help. What I observed is that they wouldn't help him.
After my appointment, I went home and burst into tears. I remember telling a friend, “I wish there was something I could have done.” My friend said, “You still can. Call him.” My friend and I decided that we would take that elderly gentleman to get his glasses replaced and that we'd pay for them if need be.
I found a place that would take the appointment later that same day and then I called the man from the store. I introduced myself as someone who had been in the store that day and offered to help him.
I guess my sincerity and his very real need prompted him to accept my offer to pick him up and take him to another eye doctor.
I remember that the eye doctor asked about “the program”. I didn't understand. He clarified that he wanted to know “what organization makes arrangements like this?” (What group has an investment in eye care?) When I told him that I just happened to witness an unmet need, he looked at me strangely. That look spoke volumes. (Who just gets involved in another's struggle? What would possess you to call a stranger and offer to help? Why would he trust us enough to get in the car with us? And how could we possibly consider paying for this man's visit and glasses?)
In the parable Jesus told, the sower goes out to sow. Heis being intentional about what he is doing. He has a plan to scatter seeds, broadly, in order to grow more of what he has.
He begins on a path and though he doesn't intentionally sow seeds on that path, some fall there. Might this mean that our actions, as unintentional as they may be, could have ramifications? Others do observe our behavior.
The seeds he drops along the path don't grow. They are useful to feed the birds. Could it be that the “established path” is not fertile ground for what this sower is sowing?
Jesus explains this as hearing the word and not understanding it, thus not being able to apply it.
There were also seeds that fell on rocky ground. It's not that they didn't grow, but because their roots weren't deep, they got burned by the sun. Is this rocky ground our culture today? We send quick emails and texts rather than make calls and have personal conversations. Is our communication all shallow or are our relationships strong and rooted?
Jesus explains this as hearing the word of God and understanding it and living a spiritual life...for a while...until it becomes hard to do. Maybe someone you know gave up something for Lent...and then it got hard to live without the coffee or credit card or that person was having a bad day and “needed” that candy bar.
Implicit in sowing the seeds that bear fruit in our lives is that seeds have potential, but they need attention. You need to deliberately cultivate what you want. A spiritual life requires attention. You take care of your body by exercising...and you need to keep your spiritual body in shape by staying connected to God so make time for spiritual practices everyday. If your body is a temple to God, that connection to God resides within.
If the plant had deep roots in good soil, it would have endured even though it was burned by the sun. When we occasionally get burned by something or someone in life, our sense of connection with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit helps us to survive and rebound. The more grounded we are, the faster we recover.
In the parable, there were also seeds that grew amid the thorns. It's not that they didn't grow, but that other things grew in that garden, too. Ideas are seeds and we plant them everyday, but when our thoughts are scattered and our focus is fleeting, we are cultivating a lot of things in that garden...and not all of it is beneficial to us. When we turn our attention to things like money, status, and power; we can crowd out or choke the tender shoots of a spiritual nature.
Jesus describes the seeds with the thorns in this way: it's like a person hearing the word of God, but that same person gets so caught up in worldly concerns that energy is diverted from the plant and it fails to grow.
Fortunately, we have the seeds that fell in good soil. They're the ones that brought forth grain. The crops were all different sizes, but all far more than the seed itself. These seeds (or ideas) came to fruition and produced something. The potential for growth was present in all the seeds, but only the ones planted in good soil yielded something that was beneficial to the sower and to others.
Jesus says that the seed that fell in good soil is the person who hears the word of God, understands it, and applies it to the realization of a large gain.
And so it is that as you sow, so shall you reap.
Ten years ago, I moved to California. My brother-in-law made the cross-country drive with me. He's a truck driver and he's used to driving all day. He's also very handy, so I felt that we got into any trouble along the way, he'd be able to get us back on our way. We drove about 14 hours a day. (Well, truth be told, he drove about 10 hours, I drove about 4.)
A couple of days into the trip, after a long day of driving, we stopped for dinner. Ben was showing me his special glasses. They were some sort of flexible metal, he explained, and when you twisted the sides, they didn't break. He bent the frames to illustrate his point...only instead of retaining their shape, they snapped. Right in half--over the bridge of the nose. He duct taped them together as best as he could.
The next day was Sunday and we went to several mall eye places, none of which could help us. Early Monday morning, we found an eye doctor and explained the situation. Rather than try to sell us frames; he went to a donation box, found a similar shaped frame, popped Ben's lenses in and sent us on our way...all at no charge. That optician's kindness helped us continue on our three thousand mile journey, safely, with peace of mind, and without an excessive unexpected expense.
Until I was moved to write this sermon, I never considered the possibility that I had reaped the benefit of the seeds of compassion and the seeds of kindness that were planted some 20 odd years ago in Brookline.
Now, imagine with me, that instead of a four year old planting seeds in paper cups, Jesus is the sower, planting the seeds of his ministry.
There were those on the established path who heard him, but didn't understand. There were those very influenced by the culture. They heard Jesus and understood his message. They wore their crosses for a little while and then they stopped. Instead of being deeply rooted in Christianity, they were rooted in current culture and they simply went on to follow fads.
People of God, we can be the good soil. When we are grounded in God, when our faith has deep roots, and when we hear, understand, and apply the word of God; our lives will bear a fruitful harvest of more compassion, kindness, peace, and love.
Finally, let us remember that Jesus said he would rise up and gather all people to him. Jesus, the Sower, will reap the final harvest. Blessed be and Amen.
Back to Basics: Living Our Faith
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Exodus 20:1-17 John 2:13-22
The calendar tells us that it is still winter, but just a few days ago it was 63 degrees and we felt the promise of spring. Our liturgical calendar tells us we are only a few weeks into Lent, yet with every day that passes, we feel the promise of Easter. In the scripture this morning, we heard foreshadowing of the Resurrection. Jesus said that the Temple could be destroyed and He would raise it up in three days. We know the Easter story and we know He rose on the third day.
If you take just two things away today, I hope they are these: an appreciation for the Ten Commandments (in their time and in our time) and an awareness of how you can live in such a way as to be a temple to God.
So let us get back to basics and talk about how to live our faith. Commandment number one is “You shall have no other Gods before Me.” Exodus was written in a time of traveling tribes and people of different backgrounds were being assimilated into the culture. In addition to leaving behind any other gods (small 'g') they may have had, the first commandment essentially says 'no kings shall come before me and no emperors shall come before me'. Today, this means, nothing comes before God. Not money. Not cars. Not jobs. Not status. God comes first, period.
The Second Commandment is “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” This notion of worshipping God without some sort of clay or stone or wooden figure of a person or an animal set Israel apart from other neighboring religions. In fact, while Moses was up on the mountain getting the Ten Commandments, didn't Aaron make a golden calf for the people to worship? God was not happy about that! We are to worship God, not a statue. Pay attention to what you can tend to idolize....a job...hobby...celebrity...then remember the commandment not to idolize things.
Commandment Number 3 is “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God”. In Biblical times, people believed that using God's name actually invoked God's presence and caused something to happen. This commandment reminds us to keep God's name pure and holy and to use it only with intentions that are pure of heart, otherwise we are taking the Lord's name in vain.
The 4th commandment is “Remember your Sabbath day and keep it holy”. We’re supposed to devote a day to God. Not a hour on a Sunday morning, but a day. How do you keep the Sabbath holy? Do you find time in the day for meditation or prayer or reading scripture? Do you devote time to family and friends, rather than television or the Internet?
This commandment also reminds us that we need to rest. God made the world in 6 days and then He rested on the 7th. Whether we’re working at a professional occupation, or donating our time in public service, or cooking meals every day; we need time to rest and regroup.
God gave us these commandments out of love. These are for our best interests. When we keep a hectic pace, we’re not doing ourselves a service—we’re worn out, worried, always trying to get somewhere else, and trying to do 5 things at once.
In the New Testament reading this morning Jesus referred to his body as a Temple. No doubt His was! And as disciples, we can attempt to make ours Temples, too, reflective of doing God's holy work here on earth. So honor yourself enough to give yourself a rest every now and then.
Commandment number five is to “honor your father and your mother”. The message is to respect those who brought you into this world; those who nourished you; those who took care of you, and those who have taught you. Certainly this includes our physical parents…and may include family members…and school teachers…and friends…and even our ‘mistakes’. Honor that from which you’ve learned. Honor those things that have shaped you into the person you are.
The Sixth Commandment is “You shall not murder”. In the literal sense, this meant don’t purposefully take another’s life. I would suggest that this commandment also has other implications. Unless there is real danger involved, don’t tell someone that what they’re doing is wrong, just because you don't believe in it. When I lived in California, I had an assistant at work. She spent $300 to buy a ‘starter kit’ for some vitamin supplement that she was trying to sell. She was very enthusiastic about the potential sales of this product.
Others in the office put down her efforts because they did not believe in the product. In doing so, they were also putting her down. Do not kill their hopes and dreams. Tell people things that will make them feel positive. Do what you can to keep people’s vitality up.
The seventh commandment is “You shall not commit adultery.” Its literal meaning is that you should be faithful to your spouse and honor your covenantal relationship. I think it can also mean more than what meets the eye. An adulterous relationship implies broken covenant, deception, and disrespect. In a marriage today, both partners start out as equals. When another party is brought in, it becomes two against one. In addition to the literal meaning of this commandment, I believe it also suggests ‘balanced relationships’. Anytime something becomes more important that the spouse, the relationship is out of whack.
Commandment number eight is “You shall not steal.” In Biblical times, this meant everything from stealing property to stealing people. Today, stealing is taking anything that does not belong to us. It is wrong. I think that this commandment also has other meaning. It is about more than just taking a physical object that does not belong.
The commandment about stealing applies to everything: things, time, and credit. If you and a partner work on a project together, but your partner is not there when it has recognized, don’t forget to give credit where credit’s due. Don’t steal another’s time—if your daughter is home from college and you know that your daughter wants to visit her friends in town, don’t ‘guilt’ her into spending all of her time with you. (Not that anyone here would do that…but I know someone who has been known to!)
The Ninth Commandment is “You shall not bear false witness against a neighbor.” It literally meant that, if questioned, you were supposed to tell the truth about people’s character. If you said something that was not true, you bore ‘false’ witness. Today, we say do not lie.
If you are tempted to tell a lie, perhaps you should examine the motivation for why you want to say something that is not true. Did you tell the phone company that ‘the check is in the mail’ when, in reality, it wasn't even written? Why? Is the issue behind the lie that you did not have the money? Is the issue that you weren’t a good steward of your time and just didn’t get to it?
Often, when we are tempted to lie, it is because there is something that we did not do. I would say to look at the possible lie and examine the circumstances that made you want to tell that tall tale. Then make a correction in the circumstances.
We have arrived at the last of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not covet...anything that belongs to your neighbor.” You are not supposed to want something that’s not yours. Why is this so important?
From the literal perspective, envying something that belongs to another could lead to bearing false witness, stealing, killing, the breakdown of relationships, disrespect, and not having priorities in order, just to name a few of the possible negative impacts.
In addition, our thoughts lead us to action so if we’re obsessing about wanting something that doesn’t belong to us we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Coveting puts the focus on what you don't have and points to specific lack, whereas considering what you want puts energy behind creativity.
We just explored the Ten Commandments. Those commandments were given to the children of Israel while they were making their way to the Promised Land. No doubt the faithful knew of these commandments. On that fateful day when Jesus went and overturned the tables in the Temple courtyard, perhaps the faithful were inside the Temple, much like we're in church today, considering the Ten Commandments.
In the New Testament passage, the faithful have come from all over to the Temple. Because many traveled from far away, it would have been difficult to bring their sacrificial animals along. Because many came from distant places, they had currencies from other lands. For these reasons, there were booths selling sacrificial animals and there were tables where currency was exchanged.
I expect that thousands of sermons have been preached about greed, but I want to focus on something else in the passage; something quite profound as we approach Easter.
Jesus said, “destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days”. He knew the Temple took almost fifty years to build. The temple of which he spoke was his own body. Everything Jesus said and did—all of his teachings and all of his actions were to the glory of God. He didn't say, “destroy me and I will overcome death.” No, the focus was on his father: our God.
Jesus rightly saw the Temple as God's house. He then spoke of his body as a Temple. In this season of Lent, we contemplate our lives and our relationship with our triune God.
How we think, what we say and how we act are important. Are we living in accordance with the Ten Commandments? Things like our speech, the direction in which we walk, and whether we're extending our hands in helpfulness all matter. Each of us can be a living temple to God.
This morning, I have illustrated several examples of living our faith as God commanded us to do. In the days and weeks ahead, as we journey through Lent, how might you follow Christ's example of doing everything for the glory of God?
How might you live your faith? How might you, through thought and speech and action be a Temple to God? Blessed be and Amen.
New & Improved, According to the Label
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Mark 8:31-38
Rev. Estelle Margarones
While walking through Shaw's at the Pearl Plaza the other day, several labels caught my eye. “New and improved” seemed to jump off of boxes and jars and bottles. Many of the labels had bold typeface, often punctuated by exclamation points. These little words were enclosed a circle with jagged edges. So many things were “new and improved”, according to the labels!
What I find interesting about this is that if it's new, how can it be improved? Doesn't the fact that it's “improved” lead you to believe the product has had a previous incarnation?
What's new? Is it the product? The package? The placement? Is it a different size or shape? Does it have a different color, texture, or taste?
Ove the years, I bet we've all tried our share of “new and improved” things.
If you liked the BBQ sauce before, you'll love it now with it's 'richer, bolder taste'. And those paper towels in your kitchen are now 'even stronger'. The tissues are 'softer' so you won't get a red nose to go along with the cold. Your kids will love that there is 'more fruit flavor' in the juice drink you serve.
When it's “new and improved”, something is different about the product. It may be that it's more visually appealing. Perhaps it's tastier. Maybe it's more eco-friendly. It could be a better value. It could simply more useful.
In general, when you read a label for an “improved” product, the manufacturer assumes that you are familiar with the product.
The company assumes that they have a relationship with you, upon which they are making improvement. They believe that by branding their product in such a manner, that you will purchase it and become a repeat consumer. Thus, the assumed ongoing relationship is exponentially expanded.
I want to talk about labels for a minute. Labels differentiate one product from another. They entice you with pictures of the contents as in these 'serving suggestions'. They make you feel like a kid with the characters they use as you see on this this box of M&Ms. Labels give you slogans like “the number one choice of choosy moms”. They may tout the benefits of the product. Who knew that you could get as much calcium as an 8 oz glass of milk in one packet of cocoa mix! Labels may describe the product. This product isn't hand soap. It's actually a “silkening beauty bar”.
You and I wear many lables. We are children, parents, grandparents, working professionals, retirees, volunteers, chief cook and bottlewashers. We are Christians. But, by far, the biggest label each of us wears on a daily basis is our name.
Our name is what differentiates us from others. It's how our mothers called us in for dinner. It's how our teachers called us for attendance. It's how we sign our legal documents.
Relationship is implicit when we consider names. We have no need to call ourselves by our own name. Names are used in relation to others. Even the fact that we have a birth name denotes relationship because as infants, we couldn't speak or choose our own name.
It's very significant that in Scripture we heard this morning, God chose to give Abram and Sarai (pronounced Suh-rye) new names.
In fact, God even has a new name in this passage. For the first time in the Bible, we are introduced to God Almighty (El Shaddai, God of the Mountains). Abram becomes Abraham which means “father of a multitude”. Formerly barren Sarai becomes “Sarah”, a woman who will give birth to nations.
The name change is part of the process in which God affirmed his relationship and established a covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
Today we still change our names when we have events of of ceremonial—and covenental—importance.
In the marriage ceremony, many couples publicly declare their covenental agreement to love, honor, and respect each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in plenty, for as long as they both shall live.
Many women take their husband's last name when they get married.
Some women, and some men, chose to hypenate both names. I know of one man whose new wife was the last person in her family. Had she changed her last name to that of her husband, her family name would have disappeared. In order to keep the family name alive, her husband changed his last name to hers.
Christian baptism is another event of ceremonial and covenental imporance. Oftentimes, a new name is given to the baptized. In this ritual, a person becomes part of the universal church. Baptism involves shared promises, including God’s faithfulness, and the promises of your parents, godparents, or even the church community.
Last week, we talked about following in Jesus footsteps during this Lenten season. Ours is a long walk. We don't go from Ash Wednesday to Easter overnight. Change comes over time. Perhaps that's one reason why Abraham and Sarah are ages 99 and 90, respectively, in the Scripture.
Maybe we catch up with Abraham and Sarah in a time when they're moving at a more leisurely pace. In this time in their lives, they're not running around trying to manage two jobs and little league, and the PTA, and the book club. They're at a reflective period in their lives.
Over the course of their lifetime, they've made mistakes along the way. Yet, still, God Almighty engages them in a covenant. Perhaps this is to show us that you don't have to be “Superman” or “Superwoman” to be showered with God's attention.
Perhaps this show us that change can happen anytime, it's never too late. For what does God Almighty say to them, but something to the effect of, 'I am establishing a covenent with you. You (formerly barren) Sarai are now Sarah, who will bring forth nations.' God may as well have said, your past is over. You have a new future with me. With me, you are 'new & improved!'
You see, new hope is born of this covenant. New hope comes from a relationship with the Divine. We can certainly do things with God that we cannot do alone.
We can be made new in God. We can be improved through our relationship with God. This will mean different things to different people.
For a homeless person, this might mean having a place to live.
For an addict, being made new may mean sobriety.
For the heartbroken, it could mean new love.
For the lonely, it can mean friendship.
For the grieving, it's possible that it means peace.
For the unemployed, it's likely that it means a new job, or new skills, or time to devote elsewhere.
For the hard-hearted skeptics, 'new and improved' might mean a willingness to be open and trusting.
We heard in the Scripture this morning that it's not about worldly things. It's about Godly things. When you see worldly things in the supermarket, may you remember that my words were about God and our relationship with God.
My friends, it's not only supermarket items that can have a “new and improved” label. God made a covenant with us. He will be our God IF we will be his people. Every time we remember and rededicate ourselves to our covenental relationship with God, we, too have the promise of becoming “new and improved”. Blessed be and Amen.