May can be a hard month. It is full of excitement, graduations, confirmation, baptisms, vacations and summer programs. These exciting events also signal a change in life, values and priorities. As children, we define our self by whose children we are, what family we grow up in, what grade we are in in school, what street we live on or church we attend. The tension between the excitement of achieving a long term goal and having to identify a new direction, identity or purpose can be palpable. We may jump at the next activity that we hope will offer meaning or purpose. We may even attend college or choose a major simply because we are expected to. A person might rebel against their family in an effort to establish their independence.
My father shared with me once that his parents often told him he was “special” but they never told him why or what made him special. A philosopher once said “If you do not know who you are, the world will define you.” As those transformed by Christ, the Gospel compels us to be part of transforming others: individuals, communities and worlds. To help them define who they are, and why and to whom they are special. To help others find meaning and purpose in what they value and believe in beyond being identified by the activities they do. In order to do this, we must know the answer to those questions about our self. Rites of passage like those listed above, signal a transformation that is taking place. In order to provide the stability needed for a fruitful transformation, there must be something or someone the person is grounded in.
Everyone goes through change and rites of passage. Some we plan for and some happen unexpectedly. Some of these disruptions follow a natural progression and some are very abrupt. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us that God’s contact is usually disruptive. God’s encounter with the mother of Jesus was certainly disruptive. When God visited the Magi and asked them to go to King Herod to inquire about a new king, that news was not received warmly. Churches that continue to grow and thrive often see that they have experienced several encounters like the ones described by Matthew. Some evolve slowly over time and others seemingly overnight.
Matthew’s gospel also reminds us of the importance of having something stable to hang on to during these rites of passage. When Jesus calmed the storm, he asked his disciples, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26). When a man brought his daughter to Jesus for healing, the man openly expressed his faith, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live” (Matthew 9:18). When two blind men came to Jesus, he asked, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). No matter if the disruption is a long hoped for rite-of-passage or a sudden unexpected tragedy, God and God’s kingdom provide the stability we need to make the transformation.
Jeff Woods in an article in TheParishPaper.com, December 2016 issue, talks about how a congregation in Nebraska recently witnessed God’s disruption by walking their neighborhood. Neighbors became concerned about these strangers walking their neighborhood and asked what they were doing. The neighbors were quite surprised to learn that church members were simply trying to better understand their neighborhood and the people in it. As it turned out, the apartment residents welcomed the disrupting church members and had spiritual questions that they were too intimidated to ask anyone else. Through this, the church members learned as much about God as their neighbors.
God walks with us through all the transformations. We may not be ready to accept God’s help or able to see God’s presence, but we can be assured God is there. Maybe you will be blessed this May to offer a stabilizing hand to someone in transition and a witness to the wonders of God’s work through your own transition that may seem more dangerous and disruptive than comforting and successful by the world’s standards.
See you Sunday,