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I was baptized at Beaconsfield United Church in Quebec in 1963. I was about six months old. My three older brothers were also baptized in the United Church as infants, Tom and David in Halifax and Andy in Hamilton, Ontario. By the time Tom, the eldest, was 13, the traditional age youth were confirmed back in those days, we were all living in a small town in rural Ontario.
The whole idea of confirmation in our tradition is that youth are given the opportunity to choose for themselves the faith that their parents chose for them when they were too young to make that decision for themselves. But as it turns out the term “choice” is relative. I’m certain that two of my brothers chose to be confirmed just to make my parents happy. Only my brother David chose not to be confirmed and even then he was only allowed to make that choice after he has sat through the requisite classes with the Minister. I remember being shocked at the nerve he had to say to my parents after those classes, thanks for the opportunity, but I’m done with church. Of all my siblings, it turns out I was the only one who actually wanted to be confirmed. There was something about this Jesus way of life that attracted me. That’s probably why I am the only one of my siblings who chooses to come to church on Sundays now.
Last week, we were introduced to a theory of change developed by Rev. Lillie Brock. We learned that there are three things that motivate us to make changes in our lives 1) Crisis 2) Chance and 3) Choice. We also learned that of those three, crisis motivates us the most and choice motivates us the least.
One of the things about the story of John the Baptist that has always intrigued me is the way it describes people thronging from Judea and Jerusalem to see him in the wilderness. They weren’t being baptized because someone told them they had to or because it was the right thing to do by society’s standards. They wanted to be baptized. It’s always made me wonder what was going on in their lives that made them so willing to confess their sins, repent, change their ways and receive a new life.
Earlier this week Sharon Brain was telling me about being baptized in a river when she was around 40 years old. As she described what it was like for her to be fully submerged under cold water and then resurface into the fresh air I could see the exhilaration in her face as she remembered that moment of coming up out of the water.
So I asked her “why did you want to be baptized?” especially since I knew that she like me had been baptized as a child. “I wanted a new life” she said.
Last week I shared with you that even if we want a new life, even if we want to make a change in our lives, resistance is often still part of the process of making that change. That’s because no matter what motivates us to change: crisis, chance or choice, we still have to go through all the same stages in order to effect the change we want. No matter what, the change cycle always begins with loss and doubt. We don’t get something new without giving up something old and we don’t fully integrate the new in our lives without going through at least some amount of doubt about it.
For example, all parents want their children to grow up and move away from home. If our children are capable of leaving home, it’s what we choose for them. And yet, how many parents feel great loss when their children eventually do leave home? How many, especially in the early days when a child has left home doubt that they have done a good enough job raising them and that they will actually survive making their way in the world on their own. Sometimes parents tell me they wish that their grown children wouldn’t tell them all the mistakes they are making with their lives so it would make them feel less doubtful about launching them out of the house.
Here’s another example, when I accepted a call to come here to serve this congregation almost 18 years ago, I actually wanted to come here. I chose to come here but I deeply grieved the community I left behind and some days doubted that I was truly called to be here. It wasn’t easy to make that big a change in my life even though I wanted it and felt called to it.
If the movie “Inside Out” is right, and if change theorist Lillie Brock is right, we actually need these feelings of loss and doubt to help us make the changes that we want to make in life and especially the changes that are not completely within our control.
In a very poignant moment in the movie, “Inside Out,” the character sadness starts touching the core memories of happiness that the main character Riley has stored in her memory bank. The character Joy starts to panic assuming that sadness is ruining those memories. What’s actually happening is that Riley, who has moved to a new city, is grieving the happy times in her past. It’s completely understandable that is happening. She’s not happy in her new house and in her new school even though Joy really wants her to be happy and tries very hard to make her be happy. The only way for her to get to that place of happiness and contentment with her new life, is for her to acknowledge and experience the sadness, doubt and disorientation that comes with every change we undertake in our lives.
In the biblical account of John the Baptist who is preparing the way for the coming of Jesus who will change people from the inside out, we know that people are ready for change. They are streaming out to the wilderness to find John and commit to that change. But ultimately we know that the change Jesus asked individuals and the religious and political establishment of the day to choose was such a contrast to the life they were living it they couldn’t make the shift. The changes he called for in which the lowly would be lifted up and the powerful brought down were costly. The future he was offering was such a contrast to the way things had been, the establishment, in particular, could not wrap their minds around it and it ended up costing him his life.
I wonder what would have happened if people had been willing to go through all the emotions that take us to a place of new life? What if they had been willing to acknowledge and experience the loss and the doubt, the discomfort and the discovery instead of resisting it when it made them feel fearful and defensive? I wonder what our world would look like today if they have been willing to embrace the changes put before them? I wonder how different the Jesus story might have been.
Implicit in today’s scripture reading is the notion that being in relationship with the changemaker Jesus and the love, grace and power he made manifest, changes us from the inside out. It enables us to go through the kind of loss, doubt and disorientation that is needed for real and lasting change. It’s a relationship that changes us and therefore our world from the inside out.
That makes me think a lot about the world we desire for ourselves and for others, the new life that is possible if we are willing to make some hard choices for the sake of change. The hardest choices will be of course for those of us who have the most to lose when it comes to changes in our world. If we are going to have a more inclusive world like the one Jesus advocated then some of us are going to have to step aside to make room for diverse voices in our board rooms and places of decision making. If we are going to have a planet that flourishes, we are going to make adjustments to accommodate that flourishing like decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels. If we want to narrow the gap between rich and poor then those of us who have more are going to have to let go of some of our privilege, paying more taxes or making sure people are paid living wages. We have to give things up to get what we want.
There are no two ways about it, changed lives mean a changed world. Changing lives involves grief and loss. It’s the only way for us to get to a place of lasting change. Not change that comes because someone else is pressuring or forcing us to make changes, change that comes because we want to make changes for the sake of our world. And we are more than able to make those changes if we truly want to make them. We are more than able because we are accompanied through all change by the mysterious presence of the Christ that changes us first from the inside out, expands our hearts for greater love, strengthens us to endure the kind of sorrow and loss that change demands, reminds us of what could be if only we would allow ourselves to be shaped and formed by grace and possibility.