A Basket of Summer Fruit


"A Basket of Summer Fruit"

Amos 8:1-12, Mark 10:26-31

Epworth United Methodist Church, July 17, 2016

Ron Parker

(Singing)

Come gather ’round 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

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won’t come again

And don’t speak too soon

For the wheel’s still in spin

And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’

For the loser now will be later to win

For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers

Throughout the land

And don’t criticize

What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn

The curse it is cast

The slow one now

Will later be fast

As the present now

Will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’

(Bob Dylan, 1962)

*****

Both of our cats hate change.

This is especially true of Sunny, our good-natured Maine Coon, who has on three occasions done unspeakable things to down comforters in response to our simple setting out of suitcases. Wouldn’t you think that this would be a time to be extra endearing rather than doing your worst to provoke anger? I usually count on cats to be smarter than humans, but in this case they’re about the same.

How do you cope with change?

Now right here at the start, let me make one thing clear: This is not a sermon about bashing so-called “conservatives.” The fact is, we are all conservatives. Our differences are mainly about what we are trying to conserve.

Neither is this a sermon for or against change.

Nor is it a sermon suggesting that all changes are equal. Remember the slogan of Barak Obama’s 2008 campaign? A picture of him with the word “change.” Couldn’t Donald Trump legitimately have one with a picture of himself with the word “change?"

And one more preliminary point appropriate to this moment in Methodist history: even when you get a change you want, living through that change with grace and compassion is always a challenge.

Change is a fact of life. The Buddhists call it “impermanence." We all have to learn to live with it.

So let's think together about how to cope with change, which is way harder than ranting against those who are either turning the world upside down or digging in their heels.

We all have things that we wish would change. That's one of the things that we talk about in sermons all the time. The history of the church is about conversion, turning our lives around or upside down.

The fact is, I have a lot of ideas about how other people should change, but I'm not very good at changing myself. A simple test of that is my response to a message from Apple informing me that they are generously upgrading my computer's operating system. That they are making fundamental changes to make it “more convenient.” Yikes. I just got comfortable with the old one.

Climate scientists have come to agree that by the year 2050, rising sea levels will inundate 17% of the land of Bangladesh and displace 18 million people. Now I would be the last person to say that we should not do everything possible to slow climate change, but there is probably little we can do to reverse what is happening to Bangladesh in the short term. The more immediate problem we have to deal with is the inevitability of 18 million poor people being displaced.

Most of us here live on high enough ground that the ocean will not reach our houses or our children's houses in our children's lifetimes. And even though we’re in no immediate danger, we may be willing to put solar panels on our roof in the name of slowing climate change. But the world has demonstrated a clear unwillingness to deal with the tide of refugees displaced by natural and political events that cannot be reversed any time soon. That might require some changes we aren't prepared to make.

The times they are a-changin'. The question is, how will we cope?

***

My friend, Trevor, is obsessed with surfing. Nearly every time I see him he has a new book or movie on surfing to recommend. I pretty much never read the books, but occasionally I watch the movies. He says, and now I understand, that surfing is a metaphor for life. Once you catch a wave, there are two options: You can ride it with grace or be washed away in a tumbling chaos of arms, legs and surfboard. I have a third option of my own: don’t go in the water. The fourth option that many of us would prefer is stopping the wave. That option is currently not available, either.

How do we cope with inevitable waves that wash over our lives? We cope with by taking a lesson from the best surfers.

The first thing a surfer needs is a well-developed ability to assess waves. No two are alike. It doesn't work to say, "Oh this wave is just like one I surfed yesterday." That's a recipe for disaster. Successful surfing depends on a dynamic analytic skill rather than a list of facts you can memorize. More like embodying love than obeying the Ten Commandments.

In order to respond well in the face of change, we need to get good at answering the question, "What's going on here?" Many of the problems of our world come from habitual misperceptions of what is happening. What kind of wave is this? Maybe it's one I've never seen before. Before I simply try to stop it or jump to a conclusion about what I should do, I need to know the inner dynamics of the wave I'm riding.

One wave that our foreign policy experts have continually misperceived is the rise of Islam as a force in the world. We can't dam it up. We can't just sit on the beach and avoid it. We're ultimately going to have to understand its movement, its cross-currents and undertows. That knowledge has to come before we can begin to think of standing up on our surfboard or our bully pulpit.

So, first, understand what's going on.

Secondly, we need to keep our balance.

Have you ever seen a surfer standing up and waving her arms like a candidate at a rally? We need a strong sense of our own center of gravity. Our center of gravity is something that moves with us and keep us balanced. At the end of the service, we're going to sing a hymn that contains the line, "No storm can shake my inmost calm..." An unshakeable "inmost calm" is something that is developed through practice. Just ask Brandon about how it works in Aikido. A steady center of inmost calm keeps us on our surfboard when the big waves come crashing in.

I love that line, "No storm can shake my inmost calm," but I have to confess that when I chose the hymn, I forgot about the next line that gives me a jolt every time I sing it. "No storm can shake my inmost calm...while to that rock I'm clinging." I don't know about you, but when I think of clinging to a rock, it seems at cross-purposes with "inmost calm."

Inmost calm in a changing world, if it involves clinging at all, involves clinging to something that moves with the times.

That's why the Israelites had an ark of the covenant that they carried with them rather that a golden statue affixed to a permanent altar. So when I sing the final hymn, I'm going to sing: "No storm can shake my inmost calm while on that wave I'm riding."

Maybe what helps me keep my balance is more like a center of gravity within me than a rock to cling to. Maybe God is more like a center within us than a rock to cling to. Clinging to rocks is one of the last things surfers want to find themselves doing.

So this is a third thing we need in times of change: someone to accompany us. This is both God and a community. Both are capable of staying with us and supporting us as we ride the waves of change.

So understand what's going on, keep your balance, and don't go it alone.

And finally, one more: cultivate a healthy relationship with death. It’s the ultimate change that we’re all trying to avoid.

Did you hear what Amos said at the beginning of chapter 8? He compared the nation of Israel to a basket of summer fruit. What eventually happens to a basket of summer fruit? It is impermanent. We can’t make it last forever.

Every change is a little death. Perhaps that’s what makes them so scary. Coming to terms with death will make us more resilient in the face of every change.

My friend and fellow retired pastor, Bob Olmstead, and I have spent nearly fifty years plagiarizing each other’s sermons. When told him I was preparing a sermon on how to deal with impermanence, he sent me one of his entitled, “Life’s Second Most Important Lesson.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t much that fit into this sermon … except his conclusion, which I offer you as my own. Bob says,

Jesus does not promise the disciples that life will go on the same as before; he does promise that they will go forward in the presence of the unseen God – the God they were privileged to see in him.

A writer named Rene Dubos says, “The greatest thing at any time is to be able to give up what you are in order to become what you might or must be.”

Learning to say “good-bye” is life’s second most important lesson.

And then, after a suitably dramatic pause, Bob says:

Oh. Sorry.

Life’s most important lesson: Love anyway. Live!

#sermon #ronparker

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