St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Third Sunday after Easter, 2015

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 I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


 
You may perhaps recall a sermon I preached towards the end of last December entitled, “Jesus, the Paper Tiger and Hope”. In this sermon I reflected upon how many years ago when I was a teenager, my father, in a moment of spontaneity, bought a fourteen foot catamaran from a friend of his named Tony. This event changed my life in that I learnt how to sail and it remains a passion of mine to this day. Part of that journey for me was meeting Tony, a friend of my dad from whom the boat was actually bought. Tony was a special person, not only was he an accomplished artist, but he had also built the catamaran by hand. Tony taught my dad and I the basics of sailing and once I met his family when my dad picked up some boat parts from Tony’s home. 
 
Then there was a gap of many years when I lost touch with Tony as High School progressed and I went off to Rhodes University in order to study Theology. In 1987 when I turned twenty-one years old, I asked my father to make a point of inviting Tony to my 21st birthday celebration and he gave me a beautiful beer glass which I still have to this day. So my life continued and Tony and I lost contact, as happens with many of our relationships nowadays as the busyness of life somehow takes over...
 
During the beginning of this year I was asked to preach at Gardens Presbyterian Church as the minister was on vacation. Just before the service commenced I went to the bathroom in order to freshen up. As I approached the bathroom door, a gentleman walked out and passed me. I said good morning and walked past. But somehow, just somehow, I recognised that face... could it be? No, impossible... Could it be? I turned round and said rather gingerly, “Tony, is that you?”
 
In today’s Gospel reading we are reminded once again of how the disciples were slowly becoming aware that their understanding of life and ministry with Jesus was about to change. The disciples were just beginning to understand and develop a close working relationship with their Lord and Saviour, yet now this was about to change. Jesus began to make it very clear to the disciples that He was not going to be physically present in their lives forever... things were going to change.
 
At first the disciples were absolutely devastated... this was not part of their understanding of the plan. How could Jesus possibly do this to them? Many of the disciples had given up their livelihoods and domestics arrangements in order to follow Jesus. Yet now, the security of following Jesus was no longer guaranteed. In a sense, many of them must have felt that they were about to be retrenched. Sadly, this is an experience that perhaps some of you may have experienced in your life time already. Stress and anxiety are part of this experience.
 
But, as hard as change is for all of us, change induces growth. Growth means a deeper understanding of both ourselves and others. Growth, if journeyed along with Jesus in our lives, ultimately brings us closer to God, which is thus positive... but no growth takes place without growing pains...
 
Interestingly, much has been written over the last few years on the importance of Change Management. There are many working definitions of Change Management. Essentially, it is the systematic approach to dealing with change, both from the perspective of the individual and the organisation. The definition could be expanded with the notion that there are three different aspects, namely:
Adapting to change
Controlling change
Effecting change

There are many models for Change Management. A United Kingdom based company, TeamTechnology, proposes the following idea:
1) Give people information: Jesus did this. He told the disciples very clearly that He was going to His Father. Jesus remained transparent and honest.
“Now I go my way to Him that sent me...”

2) Have a clear communication strategy: Jesus did this. He spoke clearly to His disciples and often repeated statements in order to be sure that they understood what He was saying. 
“...because I go to my Father...”
 
3) Give people choices to make: Jesus did this. John 6:66-68 reminds us of when many of the disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
 
4) Give people time to work through their loss curve: Jesus did this. He knew that the disciples would be unable to handle all of the news at once, so He broke it up into segments. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.”
 
5) Allow people to identify what they may replace with the loss: Jesus did this. He knew that if He did not leave, then the Holy Spirit would not have the power that it should. He needed to leave in order for the divine plan to be fulfilled. “... for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you...”
 
6) Give individuals support, where possible: Jesus did this. Matthew 14:14 reminds us, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
 
7) Keep observing good management practice, such as making time for informal discussion and feedback. Jesus did this. He took time out to speak to the Samaritan Woman at the well. John 4:26 says, “Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you-I am he.’”
 
Perhaps the management and psychologist specialists who helped to develop the various theories of change management should have spent some time studying the actions of Jesus? For Jesus perfected the art of Change Management long before any text books on the subject matter were written.
 
“Tony.”
The man turns around and faces me.
“Yes, it is.”
“Tony, it’s me, Darron Misplon, son of Geoff Misplon.”
“Oh my word, how are you?
 
So we had time to catch up, both before and after the service. Tony and I were able to share our life experiences since we had last met. What was clear to both of us is that there had been so much change in both our lives; both change that was welcome and change that had hurt us. But we had grown, and here we were walking with God.
 
I shared with Tony that I was now assisting at St Michael and All Angels in Observatory and we eventually went out own way.
A few weeks ago after, early morning mass one Saturday morning, I was having a cup of coffee with the verger in the church hall and who should walk in, but Tony! We gave each other a warm greeting and I asked Tony what had brought him here to St Michael so early this one Saturday morning?
“I want you.” He replied.
 
At first I was quite taken aback, but we had a warm conversation and soon he was on his way again. As I reflected upon this conversation with this old friend of mine, I began to realise that it was not so much me as a person that Tony was seeking, but Christ in me. Tony, now in his golden years, was once again experiencing change as he worked through the death of a friend and prepared to attend his funeral. I realised then that we all have a responsibility to be as Christ to a Tony in our lives, for all us, big or small, black or white, straight or gay, poor or rich go through change at every stage of our lives... and it is at these times that we need to be there for one another as Christ was and is there for us.
 
I am reminded of the particularly apt words of the poem Ulysses, written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
 
“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
 
Are you perhaps experiencing a particularly painful change in your life as you hear this message this morning?
Are you perhaps journeying with someone right now who is experiencing a difficult period of change in their life?
 
May God bless you in this week ahead as you deal with change in whatever form it may present itself.
Amen.
 
 

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