Seven years ago today I preached my first sermon as a college intern at Greenville UMC in Greenville, GA. I know this date because not only did social media remind me of this occasion, but it showed me a video posted from it that I had long since forgotten about. So I shared the video with my Facebook friends and I started my day with reliving this moment from the past.
As I am sure you can imagine, a few things have changed in the last seven years. My wife, Alli, and I hadn’t even met yet when I preached that sermon! However, in spite of the many ways that I have changed from this time seven years ago, there are many things that have stayed the same. The content of that sermon seems like something I would still preach; the style is similar to my current casual and excitable demeanor; the prayer before the sermon is how I still introduce my sermons.
The older I get, the more amazed I am to see how much things change yet how much they remain the same. This was the case as I watched the younger version of myself deliver a sermon and it is the case for many areas of my life. Even though I have experienced this paradox for myself, I still tend to naturally fear change. I suspect most people do. I become afraid that change will transform me into a fundamentally different person, but life experience shows me again and again that this is not what happens. Most often, I grow or evolve. I have yet to completely change at my very core.
The beauty of change is that it gives us reason to grow. Seven years ago, my core convictions of God’s love and grace being available to all were present, but it was a lot more difficult to articulate them. I believed that sermons should be passionate, but I didn’t yet understand that every once in a while you have to take a deep breath and allow something to resonate. Even then, I desired to see a more inclusive and accepting church, but I did not yet understand the importance of inclusive language and gender neutral pronouns. Over these seven years, it was always change that challenged me to seek a richer theology and provided opportunities of growth.
The first month of a fresh year was an appropriate time for social media to remind me of the passage of time and its accompanying changes. It made me ponder what changes will take place at Glenn. A new year means new faces in our community and in our church family. A successful capital campaign means that we will be renovating and changing our facilities. The prospect of an updated YAAB will mean new youth and children at Glenn. 2016 will bring with it new members, visitors, activities, ministries, and opportunities. We know change will happen this year because it always does.
My hope is that all of us will lean into that change, to be willing to grow and evolve in 2016. As long as our foundation remains strong, we can grow in the midst of change. So how can you accept change as an opportunity to grow in 2016? How can you deepen your theology, improve your practices, and evolve in this year without sacrificing your core convictions? After all, everything will change, but it will somehow remain the same.