Jesus Christ the same . . .

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”—Hebrews 13:8

Foursquare Gospel

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this wonderful verse wielded as a weapon, a sort of catch-all against any change in the Church or its members. As though because Jesus is changeless, the Church should be too.

But if the Church is changeless, then Jesus can’t be. Because Jesus Christ came into the world to “seek out and save the lost,” to call sinners to repentance, to ask us to change–daily! If we (and the Church made up of sinners like us) stop changing, then Jesus has changed–the One who is eternally the same, persistently calling us to be ever more like him, ever different than we were yesterday, ever open to the moving of the Spirit–can only let us stop changing if he changes. But he doesn’t. And that’s good news–because it means we can change, even when we’re not particularly excited about it.

It’s no revelation that the pace of change continues to accelerate. That’s threatening to some of us most of the time, and to all of us at least once in a while. Who can keep up? When things change so fast, there is less and less that we feel in control of, less that we can count on, less we can cling to for security. The world shrinks and intrudes ever more into our lives. There’s no keeping it out! Only a few decades ago, we (or at least we who were not marginalized by our race or income level) could easily control what media came into our homes, where our children went to school, how our medical care was handled, whom we let into our neighborhoods, who got to see our personal information . . . the list is long. Our control over such things is diminished or lost altogether. We can argue over whether that’s good or bad, but regardless, it’s real.

There is however one place where we can continue to exert a great deal of influence, even control. Our congregation. That’s a blessing. And a curse.

If we show up with enough enthusiasm, trust and relationships, we can move a whole congregation into new mission and ministries. If we use just the right threats, talk to just the right people, say just the right things, we can put a stop to just about anything–especially change. Change just for the sake of change is foolish. Opposing change only because it’s change is more foolish still. But we cannot not change. Where would be the faith in that?

How is change handled in your community? Is it discussed, avoided, feared, embraced? How can we call on the Christ who is indeed the same yesterday and today and forever–to make sure that we aren’t the same but are ever deepening our faith and growing our witness?

8 Responses to Jesus Christ the same . . .

  1. Deb Hammer says:

    I am not sure how much I can speak on change in the community as I can talk about change in myself. When I think about change, I like to refer to it as “growing edge”. What is my growing edge? How can my growing edge help be the change in the community that can lead us to be followers of Christ. I feel I can not change if I just stay where I am and just become a couch potato. If I want to grow closer to Christ, I will find ways to nourish my soul with bible studies, praying, and spiritual practices like meditating in God’s word. When I nurture my soul, change comes very naturally. For if I open myself to God, I become very willing to wait and see how God will work in and through me. With an open heart and mind, God can lead change that can be truly amazing!! Change does come with fear and avoidance. Just as Jonah was swallowed by the whale in his avoidance not wanting to follow God’s words, often times we feel just like Jonah. Run and Hide? Well, I am to a point in my life that I don’t want to run any more, I would rather say, “Here I am God, Use Me”.

  2. Michael Ostrom says:

    Change is the order of the day at Grace Lutheran Church. As a church undergoing a “redevelopment,” it has thus far meant taking on new ministry initiatives, investing the gifts of our congregation in the needs in our immediate neighborhood: developing co-curricular after school clubs, welcoming and supporting new immigrants, supporting the families and loved ones of military veterans, hosting faith conversation with young adults. To see this list of new undertakings, it looks like we handle change pretty well. But this is the EASY work; all it requires of us is a little extra time, energy, and compassion.

    The change we’ve hardly begun to entertain with any seriousness is how to more fully welcome the “other” in our worship life. To do this is to tread on sacred ground and mess with what many of our current members deeply cherish. But worship in a post-Christian society is fast becoming spectator sport, I fear, especially in liturgical churches like Grace, and even among our members (those who can’t sight-read music well). With no experience with or knowledge of scripture, liturgy, or hymnody, and nothing in society to reinforce our engagement with these things, how can we better help people participate in these life-giving treasures? I have a hunch that the change required here may prove the proverb, “Less is more.” We may need to slow down and do less in order to have the time to teach people and help them catch up, so that the word of God may “dwell richly in them.”

    • Tobi White says:

      Michael,
      I appreciate your emphasis on ‘less is more.’ Of course, anything that is less means that something has to go–and no matter what that something is, it’s going to be sacred to someone (or many someones). At the same time, with decreased incomes in most congregations, it’s impossible to maintain the ‘what we’ve always done’ mentality. Thanks for lifting that up for us–and thanks to Bishop Maas for the encouraging words of hope in the midst of change.
      Tobi

  3. Sara Jensen says:

    Great questions… I first started to realize how hard it was for congregations to change when I worked with you. Thank you for your leadership and mentoring, on this and other subjects. In my current congregation we are dealing with several distinct issues that are forcing us to look at change (an aging, unwelcoming building, a change in Minnesota marriage laws, a realization that we aren’t as hospitable as we thought and tension between baby boomers and younger folks regarding power and leadership). I see all four of the options you suggest present in my congregation. Some people want to discuss, some want to avoid, some are fearful and others are running forward and embracing the new. We have been trying to be as transparent as possible, even talking some things to death, trying to build consensus and make decisions as best we can. Following one’s conscience has become a theme here in regards to some theological topics and that satisfies many, but not all. At the same time it is clear that the Spirit is urging us toward community outreach and that has been agreeable to most everyone. That is exciting to see. So – we cling to God’s promises and move forward in faith even though it’s bumpy sometimes.

  4. Michael Ostrom says:

    This may not be a novel thought, but I wonder if, for the sake of change and leading change in our congregations, whether a number of us clergy (although not necessarily exclusively clergy) need to ask ourselves whether we have become “institutionalized.” In the course of weathering a rather significant middle age crisis, I’ve had to seriously consider whether I could be employed outside of the church. Could I, say, return to my old job as a social worker or a restaurant server and work in that environment again, and do so happily? If somehow I could get myself hired, could I function in a more “worldly” work environment where you need to creatively engage the public or die?

    Lately, I’ve judged myself to have become just that, “institutionalized,” and I wonder if a bi-vocational call wouldn’t be helpful for me personally and professionally, and therefore helpful to the life of the church as well.

    • brianmaas says:

      I think there’s a danger in every field and every endeavor of becoming “institutionalized,” and the Church (and we who comprise it) are especially prone to that. I’m not sure, though, that having honed one’s skills and steered one’s priorities to serving the Church (or any other body or movement) to the point of not being able to perform well in another vocational field means one has become institutionalized. I spend a lot of time preaching and presiding, and I work hard to do those things well. But they’re not skills that are highly sought outside of the Church. Yet I don’t think that makes them institutional skills. On the other hand, when my priority in preaching and presiding becomes stirring up financial and other support to preserve a structure, I can be certain I’ve become institutionalized. Here’s another area where language and intention matter–are we seeking to “make disciples,” or “find new members”? Are we hoping to “engage in mission” or “meet the budget”? Are we handing on the Tradition, or simply being traditionalists? As humans, we are prone to institutionalization, but self-examination remains the best guard against it.
      None of that, incidentally, is to argue against bi-vocational pastors–we will see more and more of them as the Church adapts itself for mission in the 21st century. As with all other movements of the Spirit, that development will bring both great gifts and significant challenges.

  5. Roger Hector says:

    We aren’t the ones to change. Jesus didn’t conform to the society of his day. He gave them the teachings of his father. Most of those didn’ t follow societal norms. We cannot change to make everyone like us. That will be following false prophets and worshiping idols.

    • brianmaas says:

      Roger: my apologies–I replied once, but the post didn’t “take.” You’re right, of course, that we shouldn’t simply conform to society–just as we shouldn’t change just for the sake of change. On the other hand, if we think we are exactly right just as we are, we’ve made the status quo an idol to worship as surely as if we followed some false prophet. As Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Rom 12:2). To be transformed, to be renewed, is to be changed. We must resist conformation even as we aspire to transformation. It’s a difficult but powerful and creative tension.

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