Change is Hard

Scripture: Ruth 4:1-12 and Mark 7:25-30 – Preached on November 15, 2009

Some examples of change:

In Geography:
* Change Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador
* Change, Nepal

As an acronym:
* Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment (CHANGE), a civic organization based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

On TV:
* Change (TV series), 2008 Japanese television drama starring Takuya Kimura and Eri Fukatsu
* Change! (TV series), 1998 Japanese television comedy starring Atsuko Asano and Yuka Nomura

In journalism:
* Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, a journal published for The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching by Heldref Publications

In entertainment:
* Change (band), an Italian-American disco/R&B group active in the 1980s
* Change (also known as Clockwork and Jimmy and the Soulblazers), an American R&B group active in the 1970s
* “Change”, a song by Oingo Boingo, Blind Melon, Conor & Jay, Tracy Chapman, Bobby Darin, the Deftones, the Sugababes, Sons of the Desert, T Pain and Taylor Swift.

In poetry:

Many says, I want change
Want change in my time
Want change in my life
I want a change badly

I want change, many say
They pray for a change
They wish for a change
They look for a change

But they will not change
They just wait for change
It never happens to them
It will never ever happen
By mere prayer or wish
It must start from inside
With tons of determination

Change is not so easy
It takes lots of time
So it needs determination
The will to make change
The will to see change

Then only things will change
Then only time will change
Then only life will change

So go and get change
To see the bliss of change

Indian poet: Kranthi Pothineni

“Change is hard.” How I learned to hate those words. How I learned to embrace them. I learned to hate them when, early in my first years as a pastor, someone who was not very nice used to say them whenever he wanted to remind me that he was infinitely more experienced and that he had significantly greater wisdom than I did when it came to turn-around work. Whenever we sat in team meetings and I would raise a question or express a doubt about the pace of change, the intensity of emotions in those experiencing the change, or even the trajectory of the changes we were making, he could say: “Well, Debra, you know – change is hard.”

It took me a while, but once I was able to see and listen beyond that particular speaker, I came to embrace the truth of those words. Change is indeed very, very hard. It’s hard on the ones leading it. It’s hard on the ones experiencing it. It’s hard on the ones anticipating it.

And as hard as change may be, it seems that the God we serve demands it of us and calls us to lead change in the world. Scripture is full of stories about change. God’s people clamored for change when they were enslaved in Egypt, then when they were led out by Moses. When they realized how hard their new lives were going to be, on their umpty hundredth day of manna and quail in the wilderness, they cried out for God change things back to the way they used to be, lamenting their departure from the ample food and sufficient housing as slaves. Change is hard.

Again, the God’s chosen people cried out for change: God, we’re tired of this self-governing, tribal leadership format. Give us kings to lead us. We want to change our way of being a people so we fit in with the other cultures around us. Help us find a king. Sounds reasonable. Even very doable. Yet the actual lived experience was quite different. Some kings were great and those years were super terrific for Israel. Other kings – not so much. Those years of corrupt leadership brought punishment and exile on the people. Change is indeed hard.

A rich young man comes to Jesus, seeking to change his life so that his salvation might be ensured and when Jesus points out the path to ultimate personal transformation: sell all you have and give it to those in need – the man goes away sad. Such profound change required that he make lifestyle choices which would have a serious impact on his way of being. Change is so terribly hard.

When the Spirit was changing the hearts and minds of thousands of believers who wanted to be part of the blessed movement that was the beginning of the church, we read of a wealthy couple who couldn’t fully comply when asked to change the way they thought about personal property. While all the other members of that explosively growing movement were pouring all their personal wealth into the community storehouse, this couple decided to hang on to just a bit for themselves – just in case. This kind of radical change was way beyond hard.

As much as we might want to, it seems that there is no way to escape change. Even Jesus and Boaz – two men grounded in their cultural context, men of their times, even they were confronted with a need to change so that their lives, their work could move toward God’s horizon.

These days, we tend to think of Jesus as the ultimate change agent – and in the big picture, I think that’s true, but in the microcosm of the world that is contained in the snapshot we get from this morning’s passage, Jesus is having a hard time with change.

Yes, Jesus, change is hard.

In fact, if Jesus and Boaz were to be ranked on their openness to change, based on these two glimpses of their lives, Boaz would clearly come out on top. In these two stories, neither Jesus nor Boaz had any noble impulse for change. Jesus was working on what he felt called to do and Boaz was following the path that his ancestors had followed, setting the pattern for the generations to follow. What’s interesting is that in both these manly man cultures, the unlikely change agent doesn’t come from the traditional leadership source. Both of these men were essentially pestered into changing their planned course – by women.

For Boaz, and for the elders of that community, the two women who provide the impetus for a prophetic change that would reach all the way to Jesus Christ aren’t even women of power in the community. Naomi is a widow with no immediate family to care for her, and Ruth, a foreign widow, who is working among the hired hands to provide food for herself and for Naomi. These women have no voice, no power, and no savior unless someone graciously takes them in. For Ruth and Naomi, embracing the desperate need for change and then fighting for that change from within their community goes way beyond the “change is hard” reality. If the change they seek is not accepted, their very lives are at stake. For them, change means new life, but pushing for that change could kill them.

Similarly, the Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus is hoping to change his focus so that her child could get the life-saving attention she needs. This woman knows change will be next to impossible, but she is desperately seeking hope in any way she can find it. So she faces humiliation, experiences rejection and still continues to challenge the status quo even though it looks like Jesus’ mind is not to be changed.

There’s a strong message of hope in these two stories. To be sure, change is hard. But if we just say “change is hard” and stop there, we will simply move along the status quo path and continue to lament our many woes. If the pain we’re facing is overwhelming – if the risks seem unusually great, the work of changing course will be equally complex and may even feel life threatening.

Make no mistake: the work of being re-formed – of being transformed – those words we Presbyterians value to greatly – that work can indeed be painful. But what happens when we begin to look at change through hopeful eyes? What happens when instead of looking at the obstacles to change, we looked toward the horizon of God’s will?

Instead of being suspicious and fearful, we might try putting our trust in the one who has power, even over death. Instead of focusing on the fleeting concerns of the moment in which we find ourselves, we might want to turn our focus toward the lifelong accompaniment of God’s strength-giving Spirit. Can you imagine what might happen if we acknowledged and embraced God’s grace and God’s strength and allowed that power to help us turn away from our fears and move boldly into the change God brings to us? It is certain that we won’t find change is any easier to accomplish. But the joy that comes when we see the transformation revealed among us is overwhelmingly beautiful. Broken lives are healed! Resurrection happens! Outcasts are welcomed into a loving embrace! Change is hard! But the results are spectacular! Thanks be to God who pushes and pulls us with life transforming grace. Amen.

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