Status Quo? Lord, No!
(Matthew 2: 1-12)
We’ve never done it that way. That’s not how we do things around here. You’re not from here, so you don’t understand the way things are done. We tried that once, it didn’t work. How many times have you heard somebody say something like that? More importantly, how many times have you said it? Comments like this are made by people who see the threat of change coming. Many of the books I’ve read tell me that it’s not the change they fear the most. It’s the loss that comes from the change that scares them. They’re comfortable with things just the way they are, thank you very much! Sure, things could be better, but we’re okay with the way it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They can live with the status quo because it’s what they’re used to and there’s no point in changing.
I’ve never been a status quo kind of guy. And, because I can’t go along to get along, I’ve had four careers in forty years. I guess I’m the kind of person who, when they see something that needs fixing, tweaking or adjusting, I get in there and start coon-pawing. Yeah, coon-pawing, that’s the official term for fiddling with something to see how it works, why it doesn’t work, or figuring out how to make it work better. (Imagine a racoon.) Look it up. I’ve been voted out of office twice after one full term due to coon-pawing. Both times were as an elected prosecutor who saw the inefficiencies of the office and county government and tried to make improvements. The problem is that when you try to make improvements you end up either making work for someone else, or require them to do what they’re being paid for in the first place. Doesn’t make you popular with the status quo crowd. That’s why I’m standing before you today. I coon-pawed my way out of a job. And, if you’ve been paying attention, you might see some subtle signs of my incurable penchant for coon-pawing. This is not to say I haven’t learned some valuable lessons or haven’t figured out a way to make my coon-pawing a little less threatening or scary. I understand how scary change and loss can be, experiencing it first-hand on several occasions.
And that’s where we find ourselves in today’s scripture reading. It starts out by telling us that during the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Now, these wise men weren’t afraid of change or loss. They were excited about the birth of this new king and wanted to go see him for themselves. This wasn’t going to be just another ordinary king. Kings come, and kings go. This king, they believed, was going to be different. A king to pay homage to. King Herod didn’t see it the same way as we are told that upon hearing this he was frightened as was all of Jerusalem with him. He summoned his chief priests and scribes together to find out what they knew about this coming king. They told him what was written by the prophet Micah who said, “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” This didn’t sit well with Herod who was already the shepherd of Israel, and he certainly didn’t need any help from some boy-king from Bethlehem, thank you very much. So, he tells the wise men to locate this new-born king and let him know where to find him so that he, too, can go and pay homage. We learn that the wise men did, indeed, find the Christ child, knelt down, paid him homage and, after being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. As we know, this betrayal infuriated Herod who subsequently ordered the murder of all male children under the age of two.
As we know, it didn’t stop there. Jesus escaped being murdered as his parents fled to Egypt, only to return after Herod was dead. Jesus then grew to become a real threat to their status quo, calling into question the way they ministered to the needs of God’s people. As a result, the fear of change and loss raised its ugly head again, and they managed to kill him anyway. But again, as we know, it didn’t stop there. Apostles and disciples began to spring up everywhere and these Followers of the Way grew in numbers and boldness. Crucifying and imprisoning them by the score didn’t seem to be working. They even imprisoned, under the threat of death, one of the chief Apostles, one who betrayed them, one who, at one time, was one of their own. Saul of Tarsus, now the Apostle Paul, a Pharisee gone over to the other side. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, written from his house arrest in Rome, refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles, them. He tells them that, by the grace of God, he has been tasked with bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to them and that they too are heirs together with Israel of the promise of Jesus Christ. More change. Because the religious leaders in Jerusalem felt threatened by the continued teachings of Christ by these disciples, and didn’t believe Christ was the Messiah, had Paul arrested for treason and causing a rebellion among the Jews. You know, upsetting the status quo. So, they had him killed too. That should have put an end to it, or so you’d think, but then came along Christians like Martin Luther and John Wesley who also weren’t content with maintaining the status quo.
So, where does that put us as Methodists? Well, you’ve previously heard me refer to our Social Principles found in our Book of Discipline, which is where we go for guidance on how we apply the gospel to issues of social justice or injustice as it were. Part V is the Preface which reads, in part; The Social Principles, while not to be considered church law, are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in the United Methodist tradition. The Social Principles are a call to all members of the United Methodist Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice. In essence, we not only talk about our faith, we study how to put it into practice, then we go and do. We upset the status quo.
In the Preamble we admit that, We have not always been faithful stewards of all that has been committed to us by God the Creator. We have been reluctant followers of Jesus Christ in his mission to bring all persons into a community of love. Though called by the Holy Spirit to become new creatures in Christ, we have resisted the further call to become people of God in our dealings with each other and the earth on which we live. Pretty much accepting responsibility for falling short of the glory of God as stated by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome. The Preamble continues with, We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Again, a direct reference to what Paul said in Romans. Grateful for God’s forgiving love, in which we live and by which we are judged, and affirming our belief in the inestimable worth of each individual, we renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the gospel, not alone to the ends of the earth, but also to the depths of our common life and work. As Methodists, we renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the gospel in all we do in our lives. John Wesley formed Methodism to bring a renewal of life into the established Church of England. He said in 1744, at his first conference of preachers, that the mission of Methodism was to reform the nation and more particularly the church, spreading scriptural holiness. In 1784, in their founding conference, North American Methodists declared that the mission was to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands. So, we see that the mission of Methodism clearly addresses the social systems in the world as well as the spiritual souls of the world.
So, how have we done over the past 235 years since that first North American founding conference? Well, Methodism spread like wildfire and became a major denomination and a spiritual force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, our efforts to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands is not what it used to be. William Lawrence, in his book entitled A Methodist Requiem, talks about the diminished footprint of the United Methodist Church in major public issues affecting society. He says there are virtually no big questions for which the denomination speaks with a unified voice offering vital answers. He offers up that there are nearly no topics on which the denomination has a recognizable, unequivocal position. He says there is no sign that society looks to the United Methodist Church for solutions to problems. Ouch!
Jesus came to earth to change things, while countless others have been fighting to keep it the way they want it, non-threatening and within their comfort zone. Will 2019 be our year to upset the status quo? Will this be the year where we begin to question why things are the way they are? Will this be the year when we stand up and say the status quo is unacceptable? For a small country church in the Macedonian spirit, we’re doing an admirable job in meeting the basic needs of the people as best we can. But, will this be the year that we scratch the surface to get a look at the root of the problem, and to work in collaboration with others to offer up real solutions. Will this be the year that society, our community, looks to Community United Methodist Church for solutions to problems? As disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, are we content with the status quo? Lord no!
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, forgive us for not always being faithful stewards of all that you have committed to us and for our reluctance in being followers of your son, Jesus Christ, in his mission to bring all persons into your community of love. Call us again by the Holy Spirit to become new creatures in Christ and to no longer resist the call to become people of God in our dealings with each other and to the earth on which we live. Move us to renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the gospel and to stand united in declaring our faith that your grace is available to all, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.