31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 9, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Last week, I shared with you some thoughts from a podcast, entitled “Recalibrating the Church” with Scott Cormode. Well, according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the church isn’t the only organization that needs to recalibrate, to adapt and innovate. In his book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration, Friedman writes about the changes in technology, globalization, and climate change that are all happening at the same time in our world and at an astounding rate.
Acceleration can be exhilarating – think of a rollercoaster as it dips over that first hill and speeds along the track; however as Friedman points out “you wouldn’t want to take a long trip like that. Yet that is exactly the trip we’re on.” (Friedman, pg 4) No wonder we feel dizzy, out of control, completely disoriented.
As Friedman goes on to write:
Even though human beings and societies have steadily adapted to change,…. the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes. Many of us cannot keep pace anymore. (Friedman, pg 31)
Things are changing so fast that many of us, most of us, cannot keep pace anymore. Just as we get used to one change, we discover there are five more, ten more, a hundred more changes to get used to.
And it’s not just the Church of Jesus Christ that is being called to adapt and innovate, every organization and industry is trying to play catch up to this ever accelerating rate of change: our workplaces, schools and colleges, stores, doctor’s offices, and government services like unemployment, DMV, and the post office.
Even the fashion industry, which changes for every season, is finding they need to adapt and innovate to keep up with all of these changes in technology, globalization, and climate change. The other day, I read how designers are unveiling collections at different times of year, investing in sustainable fabrics and environmentally friendly production, and being influenced by Asian designs to appeal to the growing customer base in Asia.
By the time, I was fifty pages into Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration, I wasn’t feeling all that optimistic. On the one hand, I was comforted to know the experts say that our whole world is being altered so quickly that no one feels like they can keep up. (Friedman, pg 28) I found it reassuring to know that it’s not my age. It’s not my brain. It’s not anything about me. These changes, these accelerated changes are happening at a rate beyond most people’s ability to adapt.
I found that comforting and I also found it depressing because it’s depressing to read that try as you might, you will never be able to keep up. It makes me not even want to try.
And as I was feeling a bit depressed and overwhelmed, God put this thought in my head. I had read it a few days earlier in Keion Jackson’s daily calendar “Because Jesus”:
I can’t say
You’ll never be weary.
I can’t say
It doesn’t get tough.
I can’t even say
You’ll always know where your next smile is coming from.
But what I can say
Is that I’ve tried Jesus,
And He works.
(“Because Jesus”, Keion Jackson, Dayspring Cards, April 20)
I’ve tried Jesus, and He works. I’ve connected my branch to the vine that is Jesus, and He works. I’ve chosen to live in God and have God’s Holy Spirit live in me, and it works.
It works because human beings were created to be connected. Christians have always known that we are called to be one body in Christ, a united Church of Christ. This past year, everyone was reminded how much we all need connection and community.
The image of the sturdy vine reminds us as individual Christians, as the Church of Jesus Christ, and as humans, that we are created to be connected, to be nurtured. When Jesus tells his followers:
Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
These are not words of judgment. They are words of nurture. They are words of growth. They are words that remind us, when we are feeling dizzy, out of control, overwhelmed, and completely disoriented by the accelerating rate of change happening all around us, these words remind us to stay connected, to be connected – to God, to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit.
The image of the sturdy vine reminds us that in all that we do, in all that we say, even in all of the ways that we will adapt and innovate, we are called to stay rooted in the good news of God’s love as revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We are called to glorify God by abiding, living, in God’s love and bearing fruit.
I appreciate Professor Gennifer Benjamin Brooks’ words that “Bearing fruit means engaging …..in those activities and tasks that ….invest in the goodness of God’s love by spreading that love to the neighbor.”
And I appreciate her awareness that, “The specifics of bearing fruit are left to the community as a whole and to each individual who receives the nurture that both Christ and the community provide.” (Workingpreacher.org, Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Preaching and Director of the Styberg Preaching Institute, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)
Just as our fruits of love will look different because of how we have each been nurtured by Jesus and this community of faith, so too, will our gifts of love look different as we adapt, innovate, and are made new to bear even more fruit in God’s love.
Once upon a time, FCC built the brick Parish House to welcome the community in to play basketball. Now, that basketball court is a Dining Room so basketball doesn’t work; perhaps though, the new fruit is a coffee house for youth to be in community and share their talents. Or even office space and kitchen space for entrepreneurs. Maybe the new fruit is a free monthly community dinner because we really need community and even spaghetti tastes better with others.
Our world was already changing before COVID, changing at a dizzying, accelerating rate, and it will only keep speeding forward. We, as individuals, we, as a society, we as the Church, are not going back. That is not an option. We can only move forward, and as we do, we remember that Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. We remember that the calling to adapt and innovate is God’s way of pruning us so that we might bear more fruit, more fruit of love to share with our neighbors.
As we get our bearings in this constantly moving, changing life, we root ourselves in Jesus Christ and ground ourselves in God. We connect to the vine that is Jesus Christ so that God’s love might live in us, so that Christ’s joy might be in us, and so that our “joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)