The following is a transcript from February 10, 2014, in Christ Chapel of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN). As part of the “Opening Celebration of the Spring Term”, this message cites Revelation 21:1-7 and considers the consequences of “being made new” during periods of significant change.
The rhythm of an academic calendar offers a colorful medley of new beginnings, and first-hand evidence of such Spring Term stimulation is all around us:
* The far majority of students, staff, and faculty have returned to campus.
* Seniors possess heavenly visions of a metaphorical light at the end of the undergraduate tunnel.
* And every person, no matter how she or he survived last term, begins this week with a fresh start to thrive in this term.
Yes, today is a new day! This is the first day of classes, also known as a holy and hectic day heaped with relational reintroductions, intellectual reawakening, and vocational renewal.
But of course, this is not merely a 24-hour period of new beginnings, as this particular day is placed within the greater context of an academic term that will bring with it a diversity of significant new beginnings.
In the months ahead, not only will there will be the more routine moments of graduations and applications, but this particular Spring Term is notably different, as a looming transition in college leadership will undoubtedly offer a wide array of openings, closings, arrivals, and departures.
Which means, as we consider the significant changes ahead, we recognize that regardless of what one feels about change, what we know is that change is on its way. Which therefore means, we are compelled to recognize the complex consequences of change, because with every change comes both gain and loss, as with every gain there is loss, and with every loss there is gain.
And so, in response to this moment in time in which change is most definitely on its way, we echo what Martin Luther offered so brilliantly and repeatedly in his Small Catechism of 1529, and we ask: “So what does this mean?” And more specifically, together we wonder: “So what does this mean, for us?”
For starters, what it means is that not only are we about to experience a wide variety of changes in our community, and not only does it mean that we will experience a wide variety of consequences because of the various changes, but it also means that – in our community – we are about to experience a wide variety of responses to the consequences of such change.
Why? Because with every instance of change comes diverse responses to the consequences of that change.
For example, one potential response is that of resistance to change, and in this posture of resistance we hear common descriptors such as resolute, relentless, or resolved. In doing so, we might think of those who are uncompromising, unflinching, unwavering, and unyielding. Perhaps we can even hear the protester voice of Martin Luther himself when he cried, “Here I stand”.
However, resistance is not the only option, as another is the path of acceptance of change, and to such a position we hear terms such as acclimate, accommodate, or accustom. In doing so, we might think of those who are formable, shapeable, and even contextual. Perhaps in this case we hear the Reformer voice of Luther in “semper reformanda” in that we are “always to be reformed”.
And so, “What does this all mean?”
It would seem to mean that we have two conventional options as a community set within in the context of change:
But of course, neither of these two simplistic options are realistic if taken in isolation of the other. Or, in other words, both resistance and acceptance can be positions of strength and trust if mixed with the corresponding other, yet both resistance and acceptance are signs of weakness and fear if taken in full exclusion of the other.
So what does this mean?
Perhaps it means that, in response to the complex consequences of change, we are called to consider a “both/and” tradition, and thus consider a Third Path.
In other words, instead of the path of resistance or the path of acceptance, we consider a “Third Path” that combines the best of both resistance and acceptance, is both idealistic and realistic, both passive and active, and in the spirit of our Lutheran heritage, embodies both protest and reform.
Or to put it more simply, when we integrate both resistance and acceptance, a Third Path is what we might dare to call a path of faithfulness.
Both resistance and acceptance: Creative tensions joined together into that which we might dare to call characteristics of the path of faithfulness.
Because as our reading from the 21st Chapter of Revelation reminded us just a few moments ago, we are always being made new, and in this holy and hectic process of creation, re-creation, and co-creation:
We have much to resist, and…
Much to accept, but ultimately…
Nothing much to fear.
Which means, we can embrace the inevitability of change, not because all change is good or bad, but because of the faith we receive through the change by a gracious God of justice and mercy, made known to us in Jesus, who says:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”.
And in this time of change-induced excitement and anxiety in which we all are placed, these words from Jesus are indeed the essence of Good News.
Even if we do not know where we are going.
Even if we all do not agree upon where we have been.
The God made known to us through death and resurrection accompanies us in our journey, and says: “Do not be afraid. Do not let your hearts be troubled”.
And to such words of faith we grasp onto this day, and in doing so, we meet this moment in time, and we do so…
Not merely as a community that determines right and wrong together, but as a community that ultimately belongs together.
* Together, we are being made new.
* Together, we are being made new, to say “Here I stand” and resist that which requires resistance.
* Together, we are being made new, to let go and allow Reformation to keep taking place in our midst.
* Together, we are being made new…
For a time such as this, because of the sacred promise of God to be with us, in grace and in peace, each and every day of our lives.
And so, on this beautiful February morning, in the midst of all the changes that surround us and consequences that are undoubtedly ahead of us, and through a time in which some will experience joy and others grief:
May our hearts, minds, and eyes be opened wide…
And hopefully, to believe.
And in doing so, be made new….
Today and Together.
The Rev. Brian E. Konkol serves as a Chaplain of the College at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. An ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), he holds degrees from Viterbo University (La Crosse, WI), Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN), and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). He blogs at http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com and tweets @BrianKonkol