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“Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing”
(Bob Dylan, Times They are a Changing”)
These lyrics written by Bob Dylan in response to the Civil Rights Movement, speak to one thing we can all still relate to: Change. We get excited about it but dread it all the same. Change is to make radically different; to give a different position, course or direction to (Merriam Webster). At all stages of life we are confronted with changes that take us in a new direction because of a physical growth or limitation, a relationship change, a graduation or new grade to begin; a shift in career, our family or the culture around us.
A beloved seminary professor once told me- all change involves loss and all loss must be grieved. This truth has helped to raise my awareness of all the many feelings and questions that arise when change occurs in my life. Many changes can be, for the most part, beneficial- getting out of a bad relationship, getting married, becoming a parent, graduating or reaching the end of a period of mental or physical suffering. But even with the best changes, there is a loss to be grieved. When a child gets their driver’s license there may be much rejoicing with the change that you no longer have to drive the carpool, but there is grief over the precious time that was once spent talking about life as you drove home together. As a transition is made into a new home or assisted living facility, comfort may be found in a safer home or joy found in a new community but there is grief over what once was, old neighborhoods, old friends and old memories that make a house a home. Acknowledging change, can be to receive abundant joy while simultaneously grieving a loss and dealing with new anxieties or demands.
The disciples of Jesus are faced with a huge change as we encounter them in the Gospel of John. During what is known has Jesus’ “farewell discourse,” he notices the disciples’ anxieties rising and the magnitude of the change before them and so he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” But still they fret, “How will we know the way?” “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied!” Have they not been paying attention, Jesus wonders? Jesus reassures them that he will prepare a place for him and that through him they have learned the way. He has been a glimpse of the living God for them. By listening to him and participating in the miracles, the radical hospitality, and the conversations in community- they witnessed who God is, what God promises for the world and how their lives had been changed as a result. But now, with the biggest change of all ahead, they must prepare to live out their faith with the blessings and difficulties that would come after Christ’s death.
The early Christians that we encounter in 1 Peter had experienced significant changes as well. As new Christians converts, they were an isolated minority who was learning how to live a different life in the midst of a pagan culture. Following Christ meant an earth shattering shift in their identity- for once they were not a people but now they were! Their new identity had some wonderful consequences- community, guidance and the knowledge of God’s everlasting mercy and love. However, they also faced hostility within the culture and scorn for the new ways of life they were taking up.
“Oh times they are a-changing.”
Like the earliest followers of Christ, we as Christians today face a host of changes in our lives, culture and church. Just sit back and think how much the world has changed since you were born…. Even for our high school seniors, the world has changed a lot since you were born. Sure y’all have never known a life without internet or smart phones, but even the iPhone has changed dramatically since it was created 10 years ago. The accessibility of information and choices has brought us new ways of living, traveling, and communicating but sometimes at the expense of connecting with our authentic selves, our neighbors or even God.
As post-Easter people who live in the wake of Christ’s death and resurrection we live our lives not removed from but immersed in the changing world. But as God’s people we also live drenched to the bone in God’s promises of hope, love and forgiveness which will never change. I find it powerful to look back over the years and see how much has changed but yet how much with God and God’s people remains the same. The font and the table stand as visible reminders to us each week of who we are as people of God- people that have been forever changed by Christ’s sacrifice AND who God continues to empower to BE the people of God despite the mistakes we make.
“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.”
To be God’s people is to be individuals who are knit together in a community, grounded in the love of God and the freedom and forgiveness that we have received in Christ. To be the family of God is to hold each other up when one of us falls, to nurture, pray for and love one another even when it’s difficult. To be the people of God is to welcome all into the family just as Christ did and to center our lives around God, the cornerstone, rather than around our own plans or wants. To be the people of God means that we can never shake the truth that God’s unconditional love pursues us all the days of our life AND that we can never shake the responsibility God has given us to point each other to that truth and to the way of life Jesus showed us.
Being claimed as God’s people changes our identity and our lives and this comes with many blessings and many difficulties. But if it were easy to BE these people, would we even be here? If it were that easy to remember we belong to God in our daily life, would we still gather together? If it were that easy to roll with the changes of life and still be faithful people of God, would there be such a thing as church? Many things can make us stumble in life, from our own personal struggles to the burdens placed upon us by larger systems of the world. We know all too well that living in this world can make us forget who we are and to whom we belong. Life can put our stomach in knots, make us question where God is in all of this and leave us waiting for that one change we hope will finally make all the difference….
[Message from Gillum Owen, Graduating High School Senior & DPC Youth Elder]
Recently, my life has seemed like a giant waiting game. And I’m not a fan of waiting. I’m waiting to finish high school, I’m waiting for exams, I’m waiting for vacations, but most importantly I’ve been waiting to decide on a college.
I’ve always had my sights set on one school. But, I applied, after being convinced by my mom and counselors, to 8 schools. It was late November and I finally decided to do what I could to start the waiting process of college and hit submit on all 8 applications.
It was only a matter of weeks until acceptances began rolling in and my hopes began getting higher and higher. I was elated.
Months and months began to pass by. Acceptances continued their way into my mailbox. 5 acceptances, 2 waitlists, one rejection. One of those waitlists being my number one school.
My elation hit rock bottom. Remember how I said I hate waiting? Yeah, a wait list means more of that. There was about a week of grieving the waitlist, something I had to do on my own. I felt as if I had a pretty speedy recovery from the grieving process, but of course I still had to hold onto those words of uncertainty in my heart.
I think what speaks to me most about our scripture readings today is that I have felt and experienced all these things so recently and they are still weighing heavy on my heart and my shoulders.
In the John Passage, verse 3 speaks of God preparing a place for you and leading you to it. I will admit that I haven’t allowed God to do so until as of recently. I went and prepared my place at my number one school. I visited, I toured, I became friends with students, a fan of many local restaurants and boutiques, I became attached without letting God have his say. I wouldn’t open my mind to the possibilities of the other colleges I applied to. I didn’t even give them a chance to show me their beauty and what they could do for me. I didn’t let God prepare the place I needed to be, I took it upon myself.
When reading the 1st Peter passage for the first time, I had a flashback to Pinterest. I pin bible verses online and keep them safe in my board until I need them in the future. A couple of months ago, before many college’s decisions were made public, I pinned verses that come up earlier in 1st Peter, “now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… may result in praise glory and honor of Jesus Christ when he is revealed.” I liked how these verses spoke of grieving the trials in your life and still having strong faith. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this room who has experienced some test of their faith in their lifetime. It’s tough. And, it’s so easy to cave into pressures in the world and just simply let go of your faith. But, as my principal said at our Pre-Commencement this past weekend, “nothing that comes to you easily will be good for you.” I’ve struggled with my faith so much since that waitlist announcement in March. I’ve questioned many things but most importantly, I feel like I’ve had the most rapid growth in faith over these past few weeks. If I were to plot it on one of those growth charts at the doctor’s office, it would clearly show that I went from the 75th percentile to the 99th percentile in a VERY short period of time.
I decided to not take the easy route. I decided to start praying, not for what I wanted to happen ultimately, but for God to put me on the right path and to go and make a place for me wherever God felt it be. I also decided to start praying for God to not make my life easy. I wanted to be tested, I want to have struggles because without them how will I grow?
I owe a lot of my faith journey to this church. DPC has given me such a firm foundation. I’ve learned what it looks like and means to be a family together in this congregation. I’ve learned what it looks like to wait and to struggle with faith but to trust in God and have relationships in this congregation to fall back on. The people of this church offer me a cushion, somewhere to go when times get rough and I do start questioning my faith. I truly believe that just as God will make a place for me at a college, God has made a place for me here at DPC. I know that God will be sure to find me a place at whatever college or university I go to that will keep me firm in my faith and I will always know that I have a place here in this gorgeous sanctuary whenever I return home.
So here I am, May 14th, still waiting, but I hate waiting a lot less. I don’t fear what’s yet to come. I know that wherever I will be in the fall will be where I am meant to be. So take the undecided in the bulletin next to my name as more of an “Excited to see what God has in store for me.”
[Rev. Allysen Schaaf]
Brothers and sisters, YOU are the people of God. Whether you have grown up in this church or are here for the first time. Be awakened by the change that God has made in you by calling you precious, beloved people of the living God. Be unsettled by the incredible changes- both the joyful and the troublesome- that this identity brings. While preparing for our senior recognition sunday this week I have been digging through old church photos, in these and in my time here at DPC I have seen how you have nurtured and loved each other from the early days of the Westminster Fellowship to the ways you mentor and love our young people now; from the ways you make sure to let our college students know they are loved, to the ways you visit our sick and older homebound members. Sometimes we struggle and often there are losses to grieve, but we are God’s people nonetheless. So hear this Good News as news to receive and news to extend to all you meet- once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Allysen Schaaf & Gillum Owen, Graduating High School Senior
Decatur Presbyterian Church
May 14, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030