Rewritten — Worship Series for Fall 2017
Together we will explore the transformational power of God through the stories of people in the Bible whose lives—and names—were changed forever by God. As we meet Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Naomi, Daniel, Peter and an unnamed woman, we will discover how God rewrote their stories giving them new names and identities that were in line with God’s call on their lives. Inspired by the books Namesake and The Rewritten Life: When God Changes Your Story by the Rev. Jessica LaGrone.
Creative Commons licensed photo by Thomas van de Vosse https://www.flickr.com/photos/78831492@N03/8645069389
God doesn’t always hand out blessings on a silver platter. Usually, we have to take some initiative; we have to respond, stretch, do something or expand how we are being in order to fully receive what God has to offer. And even the growth and stretching is a gift.
The description of Jerusalem’s walls and gates broken and burned touched Nehemiah’s heart, and he recognized, in himself, the gifts of intelligence, leadership, courage, political connection and savvy that he could use to respond and make a difference. All of us have been affected by many, many images of devastation and need in our community. Each of us has been given a unique set of gifts, abilities and passions. Matching those gifts, abilities and passions to needs out there, and boldly applying them to do our part — especially with an eye to the most vulnerable in our midst, according to our faith values –, will not only result in a just rebuilding and flourishing of our community, but a deepening of our connection with God and with each other.
People of faith conduct themselves differently in times of crisis. They are not superhuman; they will tire and they will make mistakes from time to time. Those who focus on encouragement — that is, on giving courage to others — will be a living testimony to the God who is our source of hope.
On this rock I will build my church,” Jesus had said. And so he did. With a man named Peter, a man named Simon – a man who wasn’t perfect, whose transformation, as Pastor Jessica LaGrone writes, was “more like a slow cooker than a microwave” (The Rewritten Life, p. 94). A flawed human being, more like you and me than we might want to admit, simul justus et peccator, rock solid and stumbling block, building block and blockheaded, bold and faithful and putting his foot in his mouth. Simon. Peter. An expression of hope and character in both his names.
We may not always emerge from our trials unscathed, but if we are faithful, we will not be alone. Many are the siren calls that urge us to leave behind our spiritual disciplines; many are the attractions of modern-day idols, such as wealth and power, status, luxury and nation. We who are Christians have the name of Christ embedded in our name. May we allow him to take first place, and may our actions bring him praise and glory — and may not only we, but others, be transformed in the process.
How quick are we to blame God for the bad or hard things in life? How quick are we to believe that blessings are the result of our own intelligence and drive? Or how often do we ascribe serendipity to coincidence or mere “luck” rather than open our eyes to God at work in our lives? Not because we deserve it, but because God is love, and God is always working to squeeze good out of calamity, often through the kindness of others. Bitterness is not meant to stick on anyone.
What seems stuck, what seems set in its way, does not have to stay that way. Hold onto God and don’t let go. Let God change your name. Let God rewrite the story of your life. It may not be an easy wrestling match. But it will be worth the effort.
We can learn from this ancient story that transformation and new life can take time to work on us. We are always works in progress. The only way to obtain patience is to exercise it. The only way to gain strength is to be challenged and stretched. The only way to access courage is to face fear. These qualities of character are seldom achieved overnight, but are, rather, the procurement of a lifetime. We make mistakes and missteps along the way. We are human. We are not perfect. Yet God is with us.
How do you find peace of mind — and how do you preach peace of mind — knowing that storms will inevitably come? The Lord is near always. To remind us to do the right thing, to comfort us in times of stress and trial, to give us the strength and courage and peace we need to be God’s hands and feet in the world.
Jesus’ practice of taking time for listening to God in the chaos — and in the stillness — kept him from succumbing to disorientation, kept him from just reacting to all the demands, robotically going from one need to another, getting sucked up and getting life sucked out of him. His practice kept him moving steadily forward into the mission God had given him, so that his actions would be impactful to an entire world and not that of just a few. My prayer for you, and for me, is that we may not only survive life’s stress and storms, but thrive — and not only for our own good, but for the good of the world, and for the sake of God’s kingdom.