Rector's Blog: God of Transformation
One day God changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah. While this moment may have been coming for a long time, and while in retrospect, it may seem obvious to us why that name change happened – how it signified a deep transformation in their understanding of themselves and marked a pivotal moment in their relationship with God – there’s no way they woke up that morning knowing it would be the last day they’d be Abram & Sarai. It was likely just another day until God showed up and made everything new.
The last Sunday I went to church before the pandemic, I did not know it would be the last. I did not know how much would change, how much I would change, how much the church would change. I did not know that our staff would change. I did not know that some of our parishioners would never step foot in the building again, or that 15 months later, others would step foot into the church for the first time. I did not know how important our digital ministry would become, or how all our ministers would have to completely change the way they did their jobs. I did not know that we would change service times and locations. In short, Sunday March 8th, 2020, was going to be just another Sunday for me. A good day, sure, but a momentous day? I had no idea.
In retrospect it seems obvious that this moment had been coming for a long time. That this new virus was spreading across the world was not a secret, that it had reached our shores was not a secret either.
But that's not all.
When I went to seminary 14 years ago, we were already inundated by think-pieces about how the church was changing, about how attendance was declining across denominations, about how important online connection, worship, and ministry were going to be, and how Sundays as we knew them were going to go away. What’s happening now feels new, and it is new – but it’s been coming. By the time Abraham & Sarah got their names, they were 24 years into their covenant with God. Their lives were already changing, had already changed.
This past Sunday, during the 9am worship service, we participated in a liturgy of renaming for one of our parishioners who is transgender. In the liturgy we acknowledged and honored our parishioner’s past, the name they’d been given at birth and in baptism, and then we enveloped ourselves in the Scriptural stories of Abraham & Sarah, and Israel and Paul and Peter - people whose names were changed in radical acceptance that God was doing something powerful and life-giving and liberating in their lives. We said twice during the liturgy on Sunday that, “This name is the culmination of a journey of discovery and, at the same time, a new beginning."
In our parishioner’s case, they knew their name would be changing that day because we scheduled it together. But I did not fully grasp how the words we all spoke together would articulate the transformation we are all experiencing together. The culmination of a journey of discovery that is, at the same time, a new beginning. When someone is baptized, we tend to think we’re watching something happen to them. But the truth is we are all changed by someone’s baptism. We are not who we were before they became a part of us. Likewise, this Sunday’s liturgy, while dedicated to one parishioner – was meant for all of us and spoke to a change that God is bringing about in all our lives. Together we prayed this prayer:
Blessed are you, God of growth and discovery; yours is the inspiration that has altered and changed our lives; yours is the power that has brought us to new dangers and opportunities. Set us, your new creation, to walk through this new world, watching and learning, loving and trusting, until your kingdom comes. Amen.
This prayer shook me on Sunday. Not only am I being transformed, but God is in that transformation. Together we uttered the words, “O God, in renaming your servants Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Peter, and Paul, you gave them new lives and new tasks, new love and new hope.” New lives, new tasks, new love, and new hope. This is where God is right now.
As we look to the Fall, to our new schedule, to our programming, to our ministries and our presence in the world, God is pushing us to recognize that we will never be what we were. This change has been building and developing over many years, however sudden it all has felt. The God of growth and discovery has altered and changed our lives. Our following Jesus has brought us to a new beginning. We will continue to call ourselves Church of the Redeemer – but our understanding of who we are when we say that has forever changed. The Love of Christ in which we are all rooted and grounded is the same unchanging Love that redeemed us in the first place, but we are being sent into a different world to serve all people with a new sense of humility, compassion, and faithfulness.
God of transformations, you set us free to change and grow, even while you hold us close in love and grace, in Christ’s holy Name. Amen.
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