Questions We Ask God - "Must I Change?"
I Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51
"Amy I called Coach Vermeil this week."
"I noticed in the paper that they apparently made an oversight on scheduling the game today for 11:30. And 1 called the coach up thinking he could push it back an hour or so for us."
''Yea, so what did he say?''
"Well, he said he just worked there.''
"Oh, yea." (Laughing)
"And he didn't have anything to do with scheduling and that I should talk to the Rams President, a Mr. Shaw."
"How did that go?"
Well, I called him. It's a little harder to get through to him. And he said that he just worked there, too."
"He said that I should talk to the team owner. And then I realized that when I was in Columbia, Stan Kroenke was a member of the church that I served there, so I would just call up Stan to see if he couldn't have the game pushed back an hour so it wouldn't interfere with worship.''
"Sure. So, what did he have to say?"
"Well, I called up Stan and I got his wife and we talked about their kids and everything for a while and then I said, ‘Stan, wouldn't it be okay if we started the game an hour later?' He said he was just the minority owner!"
"Oh, really. You're having a rough time. So who did you call then?"
"Well, there's that woman in Los Angeles, the majority owner. Hard to get people in Los Angeles, but I finally got through to her and I said it would be even worse on the West Coast with worship and the start time of the game and that surely they could move the game back to 12:30 maybe even 1:30 or 2:00 to accommodate the West Coast. She said that the league was in charge."
"Oh yea, so what did you do?"
"This is getting harder than I thought it was going to be. I just thought a phone call or two would solve this problem. So I called the NFL offices and I sort of got handed off like a football from person to person. I finally talked to Paul Tagliabue and he said he just worked there. He said that Fox Television really controlled when the game started and I would have to call them."
"So, how did that go?"
"Well, by this time I was not going to be deterred in my "errand of righteousness." Do you have any idea how many menus you can go through in talking to Fox? (Everyone laughs.) I went through about 40 or 50 menus, ‘If you want to talk about this, push that.' I finally got through to a human being and worked my way through the system and got to the person in charge of scheduling for Fox and he said that I really should have called earlier! He said in order to get the start time changed for today that I would have to call about 1500 network affiliates and the CEO's of about 25 companies that had bought advertising time in the game and get their permission to change the starting time. Well, by that time it was 8:45 this morning, and I didn't have time to call them all!" "It's not going to happen is it?''
"I'm afraid not."
"Can you preach the second service?" (Lots of laughter.)
Change is hard. It really is hard. If you think getting a game time changed is hard, I read something not long ago about change that I thought you might be interested in. Did you know that the railroad gauge for railroads in the US, the width of the tracks from one to the other, is 4 feet, 8½ inches? I knew you would want to know that! But did you ever wonder why? Railroad gauge for American railroads is 4' 8½" because American railroads were basically begun by the English railroaders and in England the gauge is 4' 8½". Did you ever wonder why? Well, apparently before they had steam trains in England they had trolleys and the gauge of the trolley rails was 4' 8'' because the people that began the trolleys had been wagon builders and the standard gauge for wagons in England was 4' 8½" because the old roads in England were Roman roads and the ruts in the Roman roads were 4' 8½”. And the reason the ruts in the Roman roads was 4' 8½" is because the gauge on the wheels of a Roman chariot was 4' 8½", Why? Because that's how wide the rear end of two Roman war horses was!1
Change is hard, isn't it? It's amazing how complicated it gets and how challenging it is to change things sometimes. Years ago in another church I served, I once had a parishioner that was sort of angry at me for changing too many things. He came to me and pounded his fist and said, "I want you to know I'm 100% in favor of progress. I just don't want all this change!''
Change is tough, it really is. We like our ruts, don't we? Whether our ruts were made by a Roman chariot or whatever they were made by, we like the ruts that we're in. We like things predictable, Change is hard. If you ever doubt that, try to change your spouse. I don't mean to change spouses, don't misunderstand me, change your spouse) Actually one may be easier than the other! Change is hard.
Yet this January we are talking about some of the gutsy questions that we'd like to ask God. One of them is, "God, do you really want me to change?" To be a Christian, must I change, must I be different, must I turn around, must I go through this tough work of changing? And I think, of course, the answer is "yes." It isn't that God doesn't love us as we already are, that's a given. God loves us the way we are. God's love for us isn't dependent upon whether we change or not, but there's something about the love of God for us in Jesus Christ that makes us change.
Our two scripture lessons this morning are going to help us think about change today. The Gospel lesson was the call of two of the disciples. And if you read through the Gospel and you read about these people who became the disciples of Jesus, you will notice that every one of them had to change dramatically in order to be a follower of Jesus. None of these folks were people that were sitting around with nothing to do; they weren't people that didn't have a life already. They already had a life. Some of them were disciples already, but of John the Baptist, and they had to change who they followed. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were businessmen. They had inventory; they had employees; they had boats; they had customers; they had a business. They had to change. Matthew the tax collector was probably the most affluent of the disciples. He had the great job. Nobody liked him because of his job but he had this nice, secure income. He had to change. Paul on the road to Damascus had to change. So do we. There's something about the way God loves us unconditionally in Jesus Christ that if we get it, we allow that surpassing love to soak into our souls, it turns us upside down.
This is the weekend of the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr.'s birth and one of the things that was said about Dr. King was that he was the "drum major for freedom." And I want to ask, "To what kind of drummer are you marching? What are the drummers of your life?" If we're honest, who sets the tempo for our life? Is it the market? We as Americans are going a little crazy with the stock market. We are proud and excited about the collapse of Communism and we think the free market is everything. Is the economic marketplace the drumbeat of our life? Are market forces the key motivator of your life? How about a sports hero, a movie star, a politician in this election year, where do we find our star to follow? Where do we find the drumbeat that makes us march?
If we're honest, we have to admit that we march off behind all kinds of pied pipers, all kinds of drummers. And still Jesus of Nazareth is saying to us as he said to others, "Follow me. Don't find your salvation in the market or in a political ideology or in a hero of some sort, follow me." And if we take Christ seriously, he's going to make us different, isn't he?
Think with me a moment about those first followers of Jesus. They were called disciples. What does disciple mean? A simple translation is student. A disciple was a student. And so we might ask ourselves, what is Jesus teaching us and what are we learning about Christ and what are we learning then about ourselves?
There's a wonderful story about one of the followers of Gandhi in India and this somewhat disillusioned follower of Gandhi came up to him one day and said, "Sir, last week you said this but this week you said something different, how can I follow you when you're so inconsistent?" And Gandhi said, "I've learned something since last week."2 Have you learned something since last week, or have you or I been too satisfied with the way we know God or Christ? Change is hard. When we learn some things then sometimes we're put in a position where we have to make adjustments. Change is hard, but I'm saying to you that change is woven into the very nature of Christian faith. To grow, to learn, to develop, to follow a different drummer. Do we hear the call to change?
There is a second text that we read today, not just the call of the disciples, but also a text from the Old Testament about another call, a call of the prophet Samuel. And if we had until about game time next week, I could tell you all about Samuel and what he was up to and what was happening, and what happened afterwards. It's a long complicated story, go home and read it in the Bible after the game! But the story of the call of Samuel is not just an invitation for this young boy, Samuel, to change but Samuel became the pivotal agent in a massive social and political change of his time. When God called Samuel, he wasn't just saying to Samuel, “adjust yourself as an individual,” but rather God was setting in motion, a series of events that was to transform ancient Israel from a confederation of loosely organized tribes into a nation with a central government and a central leadership and a king and Samuel was the pivotal player in the transition of the whole society. Israel went from a society that was barely held together at all to a society that had a king, an army, and a bureaucracy. For the first time Israel became a real nation. This was a radical change. Not just a change of a person but a change of a whole society and culture was initiated by this call to Samuel. In our own time, we too are not just about changing us, not settling for a rampant individualism that says, “If I fix me or Christ fixes me, that's all there is to it." No, it's hardly even the beginning.
None of us here can fully appreciate the incredible transformation in American society between the time of the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott long ago in the mid 50's. Remember Dr. King is the only private citizen in our country that is honored by a national holiday in his name. The only one. The only one that wasn’t a government official or president or some other elected official. Dr. King lead an enormous change at some levels and hardly visible change at other levels of our society. The most terrible outward forms of discrimination, people being unable to vote or to enjoy public accommodations, those sorts of things, have radically changed. But don't we have to admit if we're honest, that race is still a terrible open wound and God must cry over that wound?
And think of all the other wounds in this world. Newsweekmagazine talked about millions of children in Africa who will be orphaned because of the AIDS epidemic there. I cannot imagine it, millions of orphaned children. Don't you think God wants the world to change? And all the gaping wounds in our world. Do you think for a minute, for a millisecond, that God doesn't want us to be a part of the great campaign to take the kingdom of this world to make it the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever? God wants us to change as individuals and as a people. It's hard, but by the grace of God, the old theme song of the Civil Rights movement can still come true. By the grace of God we can overcome hunger and sickness and hatred and poverty and despair. We can overcome because we can and by the grace of God we shall change. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Dr Carl L. Schenck Manchester United Methodist Church
1. From an article by Clark Cothern in the Winter 1998 issue of Leadership magazine.
2. Quoted in the 5/1/94 issue of Homiletics.