Out with the Old. In with the New.

given on Sunday, November 15, 2015

Scripture: Hebrew 10:10-25 (NLT & MSG)

Reflection

Out with the old and in with the new. The phrase echoes in our minds as we clean out a drawer, sort through papers, or weed out the clothes in the closet. All the old, worn out items are purged. This process must be done sooner or later, and the process is slow and difficult because the old items often trigger very strong memories and emotional reactions. Out with the old takes time.

The Message translation of Hebrews 10 begins: “The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan.” Imagine how ancient Israelites heard the Disciples share the “new plan.”

The faith these earliest Christians knew was the Old Law, the Law of Moses that was thousands of years old. The Torah, now the first five books of the Old Testament, provided the Jewish people the very structure of daily life and the spiritual practices that created the very culture in which they lived.

Of course the earliest Christians were not all Jewish, still the new way suggested a new way of thinking. Even if the new plan was simpler, making a shift in ones engrained way of life is extremely difficult.

Think about cleaning out the catch-all drawer or the closet. How long has this item or that been sitting there? Is that item used even once in the last month? What about the last year? Out with the old and in with the new.

God cleaned out the old way with the birth, life and death of Jesus. The new way had to replace the extremely complex and rigid Law of Moses. Jesus was able to demonstrate the new way during his brief ministry in a compelling manner that drew crowds along the roads and outside the doors of new believers.

The message shared was one filled with hope.   Love God above all others; and love one another as you want to be loved. Simple, direct and manageable: the new way allows room for differences.

The new Christians carried the message beyond the villages and soon the New Law extended around the Mediterranean Sea. The new way was accepted by those who knew the Old Covenant and by the non-Jewish people—even the pagans heard the news. The new way changed lives, changed cultures, and changed history.

The world is rushing at us and we are all discovering that keeping up with the changes is difficult. The chant “out with the old and in with the new” becomes overwhelming and may seem too demanding of us personally.

When my grandmother died in 1995, she was just shy of her 97th birthday. Born in 1898, our conversation during the visitation and funeral was to consider what she witnessed during her lifetime:

  • electricity,
  • telephone communication,
  • World War I, WWII, Korea—where two of her sons served, Vietnam, and even Desert Storm
  • prohibition and even participated in active protests against drinking
  • the Great Depression,
  • the Dust Bowl,
  • the installation of president after president including death of FDR, JFK’s assassination, the resignation of Nixon, and
  • the Civil Rights movement.

She witnessed “out with the old and in with the new” in so many different contexts. Yet, these changes are minor compared to that God made from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

The old ways were cumbersome and difficult to follow. The faithful had thousands of years to hear God, to follow God, and to correct the behaviors, but they continued to fail. God saw the problem and created a new way sending the Messiah to share the good news: out with the Old Way and in with the New Way:

19-21 So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. (The Message)

The Old Covenant, the old way, had to change. God’s decision was to simplify the Jewish Law or Torah. The New Way transformed the lives of the ancient Jews but also our lives even today in the 21st century.

This morning, November 15, the world is reeling from another vicious attack in Paris, France. The ancient world’s old ways interrupted today’s world in the city traditionally known as the “City of Love.” How easy it would be to shout, “Love one another as you want to be loved.” The New Way takes work.

Nothing we do here in our community can cure the pain in France, but we can do our part in the worldly culture right here, right now. We must commit to the one mission God asks of us. We are to find the best way that we can to share the good news of Christ and make new Christians:

22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. (The Message)

Out with the old and in with the new ways of sharing the God’s good news. The task of cleaning out the old is not easy, nor will it be easy to find the best way to share the new, especially in the smaller congregations.

Yet with the confidence of those earliest disciples, we can bring in the new. In the Abingdon theological commentary for this week’s lectionary (Year B) and after the violence in Paris, the need for the Good News is essential:

“. . . [the last portion of Hebrews 10 is] the reminder that the need for endurance is still very present. . . . this side of September 11, 2001 and the financial crisis, people are full of fear—not of the living God, but rather for their future security. For others this is because, in the midst of a secular culture, they don’t really know what it means to trust in a living God who acts redemptively in our world. For still others it is because, even if Jesus still attracts, the church itself seems lifeless and irrelevant—not really the body of Christ for the sake of the world. . . . (p. 321).

If any one of us or any group, regardless of denomination, feels called to carry out a mission that can provide a means of grace for others, then the church’s responsibility is to “just say yes.” (Bishop Schnase’s latest book title is Just Say Yes borrowed from Sedalia’s First UMC pastor Jim Downing’s mission.)

Today’s culture is redefining church. The tools of communication have changed dramatically just like it did when my own grandmother’s world installed the first phone in their homes. Certainly it is difficult to learn or to feel comfortable with the new way, but the outcome will be immeasurable.

Ministries, too, have changed. The closest community is within a few miles radius of the church physically, but many churchgoers will drive as much as an hour to attend church that meets their spiritual and cultural mindset.

Many in the immediate community of a church are struggling with the basic needs in life so that takes a priority over church involvement. Does the church in that community work to meet those needs? Churches that focus on the ministry within the immediate community tend to grow.

Bishop Schnase has asked our churches to “just say yes” to the work God calls us individually or as a church to do. How do we do that? When a member develops a ministry idea, can put together a team to carry it out, and has the funds for the project—just say yes.

Churches of all sizes know that a new idea that is put off week after week, month after month dies before it can even get started. Just saying yes to someone’s project will keep God’s work going. Do you and thus the church say no to the new way or do you say yes?

Today’s churches must let go of the old ways in order to reach people in today’s culture. The new ways may feel uncomfortable, rather like a new pair of shoes; but once the shoe, oops, the new methods are broken in, the effectiveness of the church’s mission improves.

Just say yes to trying new ways. Saying yes does not guarantee that a new way will be successful, but if it is not tried, its purpose or its reach will never succeed. The church does have a financial responsibility, but growth comes only if certain risks are taken.

Any project or program suggested needs manpower and supplies. If our responsibility is to share the Good News and to bring others to know Christ, then we must say yes:

32-39 Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse—some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back. So don’t throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It’s still a sure thing! But you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion. (The Message; emphasis added)

These are the words of the earliest disciples. They said yes to the call to the New Way and we must, too. We must find ways to try and try again, knowing that some things may fail, but new ways will bring others to Christ.

Leading others to know Christ and to see their lives transformed by God’s grace is a worthy goal. The old ways churches have used may not work as well as new ways:

Part of the new way inaugurated by Christ is not only embracing a new way of living for oneself but also of living with others. Churches are called to move beyond individualistic piety to embrace communal practices of witness. . . . Today’s texts [referring to I Samuel 1:4-20 and 2:1-10] bear witness to God’s unexpected life-giving power. (p. 324)

Each of us must search our hearts to know what God asks us to do. If we cannot, then we must ask God how we can say yes so others may carry on the work of the church. Just saying yes also means not saying no to others’ ideas for ministry.

The message in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 confirms the necessity of just saying yes:

16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. [The Message; emphasis added]

Closing prayer

Dear patient and loving God,

Saying yes is difficult in a world full of uncertainties,

But we hear your commission to share the good news.

Open our hearts, minds and hands to minister to others.

Speak to us with new ideas, new methods, and new missions.

We can say yes to doing in the best way we can

So those who are weary from life’s demands may find hope.

Show us how to help others with new ways

Even if we feel old ways were better in our lives.

Let us be the vessel for sharing your love

In our own community and even the worldwide community.

May our efforts work on your behalf

So others may be filled with the Holy Spirit today and forever.

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, amen.

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