So, here we are. Winding down Christmas… only 6 more days to go. New Year’s is coming up really soon as well. And what do we like to do around New Year’s? We like to make resolutions. We want to start the new year with our best intentions to being a better person! Maybe we want to lose a little weight. Maybe we want to be in better shape. Maybe we want to eat better. Maybe we want to have a better attitude in some situations. What sort of resolutions do you make?

Then what is the joke a few weeks in? “Have you broken your resolutions yet?”

Sure, some people are able to keep on the path to a better lifestyle. But many, many people just don’t make it. You want proof about people struggling to make adjustments to the their lifestyle? Go to the gym on January 2nd and try to get on one of the treadmills. See how long you have to wait. Then, go back on February 2nd and see how long the wait is then. Gym owners they must love January with all the new memberships they sell.
I’d love to lose a little weight, I’ve been considering it for some time now. At least I think I’d love to, I haven’t really done anything to achieve weight loss. I suppose I could join a gym for a few weeks then not go back again to see if that helps. For some reason, just wishing for some weight to drop off my body doesn’t seem to be working. I mean, I’m eating all the same stuff I always have. I haven’t changed my lifestyle any. I don’t see why it’s not working!

Change is not easy, I guess. Change means something has to be different. Change means something has to go in order for something to come in and take its place. If I really want to lose a few pounds, then I need to do something differently. I need to work for it. I need to change my diet. I need to exercise more. I need to make significant lifestyle changes if losing weight is my goal. The hard part is, I’ve been living comfortably for… I dunno 10 or 15 years, something like that. So change is not going to be easy to introduce because it means I’ve got to change what have become my natural tendencies.

It means I need to change stuff like sitting in front of the television when I get home in the evenings. It means that I need to change what I like to eat. It means I need to consider how long I spend in the office every day. It means changing long standing habits that I have established in my life over the years. And as we all know, habits are hard to break.

So while I’ve been talking about personal change, changes in institutions is also very hard. And both of our churches, Grace and Carman, are in the midst of changes right now.

Lloyd has been keeping me up to date on what has been going on here at Grace with the changes being considered since Pastor Rick retired. Sounds like good things are happening, which I’m glad to hear. You’re taking your time, you’re praying your way through this process. You had a good, informative meeting with your presbytery, which sounds like was somewhat helpful.

While you aren’t absolutely sure what’s coming for your church as far is a pastor and your future, I’m glad to hear what has been happening up to this point, and that you’re trying to trust in God to lead you. There’s no better way forward than that. Keep up the good work. I, and our church, will be praying for you as you go. I can promise you that.

As for us at Carman, we are also facing changes. Our denomination, the United Church of Canada, is going to look very different on January 1st. We voted as a denomination to restructure our national governance, and it all kicks in on Tuesday. We won’t have presbyteries any more as we move to larger regional representation. Which means a lot of other things need to change as roles and responsibilities of the presbytery get moved to other structures we’ve created in the church.

There’s a bit of anxiety around this as things are moved significantly enough that we may not know who to call about certain issues right away and all the details are still coming together in many ways. It’s going to take some time to get used to, that’s for sure as things will seem a bit chaotic for our denomination over the next little while.

But, as I’ve said to Carman, the United Church of Canada may feel like it could be crashing down around us on January 1, our little church will still be here. God will still be with us.

Change is hard. If it was easy, then I suspect we’d see a lot more change happening in our world. If change was easy, then we wouldn’t be on the verge of a climate change crisis because people would have already made the lifestyle changes required to avoid it. Same goes for corporations. They would already be running green businesses in order to save the planet instead of only looking out for shareholders.

We all know it’s far more complicated than that isn’t it? We know corporations need to make money. And to make money sometimes means ignoring or down-playing certain things in order to maximize profit. Soon we’ll be hearing updates from corporations about how much money they made over Christmas, and if people don’t think they’ve made enough money, their stock will drop. It’s a vicious cycle we’ve created.

I don’t want to get into too much more politics here this morning, which I could easily do if I kept on this path of capitalism vs the environment, I just want to highlight that change is not easy. We all have a part to play in what’s happening in the world, and real change happens not from the top, but, I believe, from the grassroots.

So, bringing it back to our churches who are in the midst of change, or even our personal lives, what sort of changes are we looking for? This is certainly a good time of year to be considering these questions, isn’t it? Seems like the natural time to do it.

Well, it all begins with God. This is what I believe. We must go to God first and foremost for changes in our lives, or especially for our churches.

The book of Hebrews is a good guide in the midst of change. You want to renew your life or your churches, turning to this letter written to the church of the day is not a bad place to start.

Early on in the letter we are reminded to pay attention to what we have been told so we don’t drift away. Now, this isn’t saying we need to pay attention to what’s on the news, or social media, it means paying attention to what’s been taught through scripture. Which for us has been nicely written down and bound into a nice book for us to read, or an app, if that is your preferred Bible. For the people of the early church, this would have been all shared orally by travelling preachers and teachers like Paul and the other Apostles.

We need to remember what we are taught in scripture. Which of course means we need to be reading our Bibles. Now sure, Grace Fellowship and Carman United may have differing opinions on how to interpret various parts of scripture, which then defines us as churches and how we function. But the central core of Christianity, I believe is the same: God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save us and bring us into relationship with God. He is the new covenant, the new promise God makes with his children. On that I think we can agree. Agreed?

This is our starting point: Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world. Just by starting there has a huge impact on who we are as children of God.

Hebrews 3 says this:

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:1-6)

Jesus Christ is the head of the church. We get a hint of this here in Hebrews when it talks about God building the house, and Jesus having authority over the house, and how we are the house of God. But we also get it more clearly in Colossians 1 and in Ephesians 5.

In Colossians 1:17-18 it says, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.”

If we believe Jesus is the head of the church, and I don’t think I’ll find much argument amongst this group here today, then we follow up with what we read in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Our churches are in a time of need. Now, we’re not in a crisis, but we are in a time of need. Both our churches are exploring new things, new ideas, new possibilities. At Carman we’re even taking the opportunity to restructure our own governance in the midst of what’s happening to our church nationally. We weren’t required to, we could have kept on with what we have, but we thought we could use it and this is as good a time as any.

So yes, changes are happening, and when we draw near to Jesus in these times of change, in these times of need, then we will find, as Hebrews reminds us, mercy, grace, and help.

If we believe these things and if we skip ahead to Hebrews 10, we read these words,

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:16-25)

In Jesus Christ, in our faith and trust in him, we find the confidence to continue on as children of God and as the church. In Jesus we are cleansed from our sins and set on a path to do good works in his name.

And then we turn to Hebrews 12, and I love the opening verses of this chapter,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (talking about the heroes of the faith in chapter 11), let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

In Jesus our faith is made perfect. We can never, ever do it alone. Even as the letter speaks of all the heroes of the faith in chapter 11: Moses, Abraham, the prophets, even back to Noah, it is acknowledged that none of them were perfect.

Jesus, on the cross, made the ultimate and final sacrifice for all the sins of the world. In him we shed away our sins and look to him for our future. Whether that future is for our own lives, or for our churches, we must look to Jesus for any future with God at all.

In the closing verses of the letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded that a life of faith as a follower of Jesus Christ does not mean we will have a perfect life. There will still be challenges. And as the church, and we as Christians, stand against what we see as sin in the world, things will be tough. As we speak against greed, pride, pornography, idolatry, lying and the many other sins which seem rampant in our world right now, things will not be easy.
Yet, we have the promise of God, through Jesus Christ, that we will never be alone. In Matthew 28 Jesus tells this to his followers, “… behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Hebrews 16:6 offers these words of encouragement and hope, it sort of sounds like a take off from the Psalms,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

What a great attitude to have! People have been standing against the church from the very beginning, including the Apostle Paul before his powerful conversion on the road to Damascus. And all through the book of Acts we can read of some of the struggles of the early church as they sought to follow the great commission, that is to “make disciples of every nation.”

Some went to prison, some even died for what they saw as the work of the church. Yet, they all had a powerful faith which allowed them to put their trust in God knowing his glory was being revealed through their work, no matter what others outside the church thought of them or did to them.

They were looking at making some pretty big societal changes too. They were telling people that they had to forget all other allegiances and put their faith in God through Jesus Christ. This was unheard of! Jesus wasn’t even around! So how are they going to follow someone who died!

Yet, it was the Apostles, and the Spirit of God which showed everyone Jesus is still very much alive and he is the Messiah who comes to save the world.

Change is not new to this planet. The world has been experiencing change to some degree since creation. When Jesus came, big changes were needed. People had fallen away from God, big empires were ruling the world, people had forgotten God’s promises. Hmm… sounds like a maybe we’re stuck in some sort of loop now doesn’t it!

Jesus came to remind all people of God’s promise to love them and be near to them and to stand against the powers of the day, including the church, all of which had moved far from what God had given to their ancestors.

In the midst of all the change that is happening in our churches right now, where is God in all of this? Where are we looking for mercy, grace and help?

Are we afraid? Are we afraid of the changes? Are we afraid of not changing? Are we afraid of what the world out there may have to say to us if we do change?

Fear is natural. Yet we cannot let it control us. We must be ready to follow God’s lead in our lives and in our churches so we will be bold and confident with Jesus at our side. Even if we may be trembling with fear as we go.

Also, there’s always going to be a little piece of us that we sneak into the changes. There will always be our own little preferences which may not necessarily be part of God’s plan. Whatever happens in our changes, let’s be realistic, it’s not going to be perfect. We will never have the perfect solution to all our problems and challenges.

But remember those words we looked at in Hebrews, Jesus is “… the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)

In other words, Jesus will take our meagre attempts and use them for God’s glory, if we make these attempts while trusting in him.

Mistakes are going to happen. People may even be hurt or upset at times. Which means we need to trust in God even more. We need to remember his commandment to not just love one another, but also the command to forgive one another. If we don’t forgive, then we are not loving one another. (We looked at this command to forgive not long ago at Carman.)

For the most part, it’s not the change itself that’s going to be the problem. It’s how we are going to react to it, and others, as this change unfolds in our churches and in our world. This is what people are going to notice more than the change itself, our reactions. Which includes how we treat each other when we are together, and even when we are apart.

God’s glory will be revealed through these changes if we respond to each other in love and with grace.

As we turn over a new calendar to 2019, as we explore changes in our churches, as we explore the possibility of change in our lives too, let’s put our trust in God through it all.

May 2019 be a year of blessing for Grace Fellowship, for Carman United, for all the churches of the Northside. Which in turn will be a blessing to our communities as God leads us with mercy and gives us grace to help in the time of need.

I want to thank you for the invitation to join you here at Grace this morning, and for inviting Carman to come along as well. We’ve happily been worshipping with other churches in town around this time of year, and we’re glad to have had this opportunity to worship with you today. As I mentioned earlier, you are in our prayers and we hope that you will pray for us as well.

I’m going to close with one more quote from the book of Hebrews, it’s near the end and it’s a beautiful benediction for us to share.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)