Open during Renovations Dave Rogalsky Sept 10 2017
Scriptures: Not Lectionary 2 Kings 22:1-23:25, Psalm 119:33-41
Theme: As we begin the fall we begin a renovation of the congregation. Josiah began with renovating the building where Israel held its worship but ended with a renovation of the people of God.
Welcome back! Or maybe just, Welcome! Years ago someone said that anyone with kids or grandkids knows that “New Year’s Day” is really September 1 when schools reopen across the country. So we begin a new year this week across Canada!
In many ways we begin a new year here at Church of the Good Shepherd too. The sign out front says, “Open during renovations.” Perhaps you smell some paint – that was Denise Kamo and Claudette Touchette painting the Sunday School Class downstairs – Thank you Denise and Claudette! – but you probably won’t find any plaster dust or smell fresh cut lumber. The renovations we are thinking about are to do with the culture of the congregation. Often when a pastor leaves, like John Maine did in the spring, a congregation will look at who they are, who they think they want to be, and how will they get there. My job is to help you do that. So we begin in earnest today. But, we’re open during renovations!
In 2008 Phyllis Tickle wrote The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. In it she set forth the idea that Christianity has changed substantially every 500 years. The most recent change was the Reformation and Counter-reformation in the 1500’s. In just a few weeks Lutherans will be remembering Martin Luther nailing 95 theses, 95 ideas that he wanted to have discussed, onto the local bulletin board, which happened to be the door of the All Saints' Church. He did that on October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. Before that Tickle notes changes like the division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, which we now know as the Orthodox churches around 1000. 500 years earlier, give or take, was the move of the Christian Church from a persecuted and marginalized sect, to being the only acceptable religion in the Roman Empire.
But the 500 year epochs go back further. 2000 years ago Jesus and the disciples founded the Christian sect of Judaism. 2000 years before that Abraham and Sarah left Ur of the Chaldeans and moved to Palestine. 500 years later Moses led the Israelites into worship of the God they came to call YHWH. David and Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem to worship this God 500 years after Moses. And then, 500 years later, and 500 years before Jesus, the story we read in the Bible today unfolds.
In 500 year increments the people of God have responded to changes in human culture and cognition. Non-religious scholars are pointing to such changes, outside the people of God, be they Jewish or Christian. In each case new technologies spurred change – 500 years ago it was the movable type printing press which put the Bible and many other writings in the hands of many people across Europe and beyond;.2000 years ago the Romans taught all their officers to read and write and so they could communicate across the vast distances of the Roman empire. This helped create the Pax Romana which made possible the conditions in which Christianity could spread. What we are talking about is culture change – not just styles but the whole way of thinking and doing has changed.
So, you’re probably thinking, today is another 500 year epoch and we’re seeing huge technological and communication changes – digital, cell phones, the internet! And the people of God find themselves in flux again. The way we did church for hundreds of years in Europe, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, doesn’t work anymore. In 1966 a new subdivision was built in Lincoln Heights in Waterloo. The Missionary Church built a building, hired a pastor and opened the doors. It was soon full. That doesn’t work anymore. Culture and cognition have changed. Technology is changing. The people of God – Jews, Christians, Muslims and beyond – need to change. And they will! The people of God are, well simply, God’s people. God is in charge. Our job is to try to figure out what God is doing, and to follow God in that. In about 640 before God came among us as Jesus, Josiah tried to follow God’s leading. His story can tell us a lot about the kind of changes we need to make.
Josiah was the son of king Amon of Judah. His grandfather was Manasseh who openly worshipped many gods and not the Jewish God alone, even though his father, Hezekiah, had been moving the people towards worship of YHWH alone. Josiah began to reign in Jerusalem in 641 BC, at the age of 8, after the assassination of his father, probably under a regency comprised of priests. In the 18th year of his reign he decided that the temple needed to be renewed. It was already 300 years old at this point, and Manasseh had made modifications to allow for the worship of many gods. So Josiah had the royal secretary go to the High Priest telling him to use the money in the temple treasury to fix it up.
So Shaphan the secretary went as he was told. When he went to the temple the High Priest told him that they had found a copy of God’s law in the temple. From studying the bit we have recorded in the Bible scholars think that this was either an early version of the book of Deuteronomy, or else the story has been edited to look like an early version of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is the first book in the sweeping prophetic history of the Jews, beginning with Moses and sweeping down through David and Solomon, past Josiah the king in today’s scripture, and ends in the exile of the Jews in Babylon. This story tells the Jews to worship only one God, and to do that in the temple in Jerusalem. This favoured the priests who found the book of the law. These were good and important reforms. They began the realization that there is only one God in the universe, and that all who seek God with loving hearts find God.
Notice, Josiah began with bricks and mortar renovations, but that was just the very beginning. According to the Deuteronomistic history he discovered that the people had not been reminding themselves yearly in the Passover that they were to worship and follow YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon. They had been worshipping all kinds of gods equally, and had not been looking to this God who had called Sarah and Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and who had chosen their descendants to carry the message of the loving God to all the world. Josiah moved a reformation of the Jewish religion toward the day when they would come to see that there was only one God in the Universe, and that this God loved them and wanted to be in relationship with them. This was a deep cultural change. They moved from believing that there were many gods, each acting as they liked, doing to humans what they wanted, based on nothing more than how they felt that day, to belief in one God who was dependable, who loved them, who wanted the best for all people.
What did they do in this change? What might we learn from them?
They encouraged folk to be in relationship with and in dependence on that one God. This was called covenant making. A covenant is an official relationship like a marriage. It’s not a contract with fees and services stipulated. In a covenant the relationship is described. Here in this covenant between God and the people we read that the people would focus on the one God, and God would care for them. When a child is baptized their parents make a covenant with God to teach the child about God so that the child will know God and be able to love God. When adults are confirmed they are making their own choice to follow God, to draw near to God, and to allow God to guide and shape them, their relationships, their whole lives. These are covenants. We covenant with the God who loves us exactly as we are, and too much to leave us there. As I talked with folk over the summer I was amazed at story after story of God at work to bring more love, more patience, grace, mercy, courage and on and on, into people’s lives. Not everyone in our society has drawn near to God, God who is nearer to us than our breath. Some have been injured by churches or other religious institutions, or religious families. Can we be a place of healing? Some have never thought about God or God’s love, can we bring them this good news? The Good News according to Jesus was this, “God has drawn near, turn and believe this good news.” (See Mark 1:14-15).
Josiah and the priests also taught the people spirituality to help them to grow nearer to God, to hear God’s guidance, to feel God’s love. They did this in typical ways for the time – they destroyed other religious centres, and they put away people who were leading the folk in ways away from God. These aren’t good ways. But we too can develop spirituality which helps us to grow nearer to God – actually spiritualties, many good tools that help us to sense, hear and draw near to God. As I’ve been visiting folk, and I plan to continue, I’ve heard all kinds of stories of how people draw near to God, listen to God, allow God to grow them. Not one specific set of things to do or read, but many. As a church that wants to practice spirituality Church of the Good Shepherd has much to offer. But we have to change some of our thinking. We cannot assume that everyone has a faith, or a spiritual practice. We can share and teach, not that we are the only right ones, but that we have ways of approaching God that work. We can offer this to others.
One thing that Josiah and the priests did was to develop festivals of remembrance. The Passover was a yearly retelling of the ways in which God had formed them into a people, had saved them from slavery, and had given them a good place to live. What are the stories here at Church of the Good Shepherd which tell of the forming of this congregation, of God at work here? What are the festivals to be celebrated? We already have Christians ones – how do we make them into invitations to turn toward the God who has drawn near?
And they developed worship that helped the people to learn about the one God. This was worship which connected with them in the place and time which they were, and with God who was there with them. Our worship can do the same.
Finally, this was the beginning of writing down their story in such a way to remind them of God’s long companionship. The story wasn’t even finished yet – that took a hundred and fifty more years. But they began to look at their history as “holy history,” their life, their lives, their path through time, with God.
So, welcome back, back to a new year of seeing where God is leading Church of the Good Shepherd!