The translation is a bit different but you may have recognized today’s scripture as one that we quote during baptism services. Paul writes about an incredible transformation for those who have chosen to follow in the way of Christ.
“[when] we were initiated into Jesus the Anointed [the Christ] through baptism’s ceremonial washing, we entered into His death. Therefore, we were buried with Him through this baptism into death so that just as God…resurrected the Anointed One, we, too, might walk confidently out of the grave into a new life.”
Some translations use the phrase “newness of life.” So we too might walk in newness of life.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? There may be many times when we want to change the direction of our lives. Maybe we’re unhappy with our selves or our circumstances, maybe we feel trapped in a job or a relationship, maybe we just think that life could be better. Sometimes we look at rituals in our lives, like baptism or prayer, and expect miraculous changes to happen in an instant giving us a new life.
It’s not just in church. We hope that our New Year’s Resolutions or promises to go to the gym, to lose weight, to spend our money more wisely, will result in immediate changes, a newness of life that is quick and clear and obvious.
But, of course, that’s not really how that happens. Achieving a newness of life takes hard work and time. Usually, we don’t even recognize the rebirth when it’s happening. It’s only when we have time to look back and reflect that it’s evident.
I was ordained by the United Church of Christ a little over 5 years ago. The process took about four years and included (among other things) going to seminary, working as an intern and a hospital chaplain, writing an ordination paper, and a battery of psychological testing. A few days ago, I pulled out some of the paperwork that was collected during that time and I found the results of the psych tests. This series of achievement tests and behavioral inventories and clinical assessments gave me a glimpse into who I am … well, into who I was eight years ago.
As I read through the summaries, I realized that there had been a lot of change. Since those tests were administered, I’ve finished a Master’s Degree, I’ve had two more children, I’ve aged, I’ve worked in ministry. A few of the changes seemed obvious and outstanding but much of the change was subtle. Having this opportunity to reflect reminded me that I am a different person today than I was 8 years ago. That change didn’t happen all at once; the transformation was very gradual, almost imperceptible.
That’s the way that “newness in life” happens. It takes time. It takes work. Rituals and milestones like baptism may not bring the instant change that we hope for, but in those moments, we may hear a call to transformation, we may find the strength to begin the work that will lead us down a new path of resurrection.
As I prepare to head out on sabbatical in a few weeks, I’m focused on having this summer be one of those times of resurrection. I confess that there are times when I fall into the same naïve thinking – expecting to be miraculously changed the moment I step away from my daily pastoral duties on June 1. When I bring myself back to reality, I know that it will take some work. This summer will be one of intentionality as I deliberately reflect on the past ten years of seminary, ordination, and ministry, purposefully spend time focused on being a husband and a father, and intentionally spend time develop new habits of prayer and spiritual practice.
Preparing for the sabbatical has also given me a chance to reflect on the changes that I’ve seen in you. I felt called to MCC five years ago because I recognized a congregation that had put in hard work to heal some very difficult wounds. Since then, I’ve seen that work continue. I’ve seen a community who demonstrates a love of God in many different ways: sharing a love of music, generously helping others in need, supporting each other through prayer and meals and rides. This congregation is filled with strong, healthy, God-centered individuals who genuinely care about this church and this community.
And we’ve grown this way through hard work. You’ve come together in committee meetings to focus on the work that has to be done to run the church, you’ve committed to support the church financially, you’ve volunteered to teach and to sing and to paint and to lead, you have sought to discern God’s will at even the toughest of times.
Today’s annual meeting continues that growth. The annual meeting may seem formal and stuffy with all of its talk of quorum and motions and Robert’s Rules of Order but the Holy Spirit will be present if we allow her in. We can prayerfully use the warrants and the balance sheets to reflect on our commitment to worshiping God by serving humanity. And we can vow to support the slate of officers and committee members we’ll vote in these volunteers who are dedicated to doing the work of ministry in our church community.
Today’s annual meeting won’t be a moment of miraculous transformation. There are tough questions to answer and a deficit to overcome. When we vote to approve this budget and these candidates, a dove won’t come down from heaven to declare that we are blessed. But five years from now, when we look back at the investments that we have chosen to make, when we reflect on the continuing commitment that we’ve made to support growing ministries like the Cherub Choir and Sunday School, we’ll recognize the 2015 Annual Meeting as an important moment. Today is the day when we see the path ahead, when we recognize the way to Christ that leads to a newness of life for us and our church community.
As I head towards sabbatical, as we head into Annual Meeting, we’re given a great opportunity for reflection. You may not have a battery of psychological tests for yourself but when you look back on the past years of your life, how have you changed?
And as we head into our future together, where are you headed? How is God calling you to re-dedicate yourself to following the way of Christ, to following that path that you have been on since your moment of baptism?
As we continue our journey together, I pray that our eyes will see the work we have accomplished and that our hearts will remain focused on God as, together, we continue to walk in the newness of life.