My Change

The other day, our four-year old asked for a snack. Taking her to the pantry, I listed a series of options from the pantry, asking her to choose the snack she wanted. Dismissing my suggestions, she slid over a few steps in the kitchen toward the treat drawer, pulled it open, and began rummaging through the various pieces of candy lining its bottom. I explained to her that treats are OK to have occasionally but that we should choose healthier snacks most of the time. (I wasn’t being overly Draconian. She had already had a lollipop earlier that day. She just didn’t need another.) Ignoring my “sage parental” advice while her hand dug through the miscellaneous suckers, packets of M and Ms, and gum, she withdrew another lollipop, saying, “Sometimes I just want what I want.”

Truer words have never been spoken!

How often do we just want what we want, regardless of propriety or projected outcome? Our daughter knew the consequences of getting a lollipop after having already been told “no” but reached into the drawer nonetheless. Now, she is not some rebellious delinquent rejecting all authority to advance anarchy. (At least, I don’t think she is.) My guess is that she is successfully being a four-year old.

Such behavior is not limited to four-year olds. If we are honest, we all seem tempted to act against propriety when what we really want conflicts with what we should do. It is almost natural. Seemingly unconscious, something inside pulls us toward self-satisfaction and away from right actions. The Apostle Paul, in addressing sin with the Romans, makes a similar observation. He says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Romans 7:18b-19

Paul’s conversation is found within a larger discussion of the role of the law as a gracious indicator of right and wrong actions rather than liberation to act rightly. (Incidentally, liberation he argues is found through the person of Christ.) That discussion of the law’s beneficial function is not my concern, here. For that reason, I am less interested in Paul’s theological treatment but his observation about our propensity to will what is right but not do it.

This notion that we are prone to act inappropriately is a recurring theme throughout scripture. If I were to cite each of those occurrences, your attention would lapse and my fingers would cramp. Rather, the importance of those occurrences is the two patent conclusions that may be drawn: (1) the consistency of our failure to choose the good when given the option speaks to this tendency’s somehow apparent commensuration with what it means to be human and (2) the capacity to reverse the trend and choose the good more regularly than not begins externally rather than internally. (This is not to say that a commitment to choose the good does not need to be internalized. It does. I am simply saying that such internalization presumes an external origination.)

For instance, Noah did not simply get a notion to build an arc but was called to do so; Abram and Sari did not simply want to wander across the desert leaving family and friends behind on a whim; the disciples did not follow and then get invited; Paul did not stop persecuting and then have his “road to Damascus experience.” The consistent narrative of scripture is that God moves and we respond. In fact, we have designed the entirety of the worship liturgy to repeat this narrative rhythm each time we gather. People are called, God moves toward us in the revealed Word, the people are challenged to respond, and, finally, the gathering is returned to the world to repeat the narrative of grace and love in every part of their lives. By regularly worshiping under the (re)shaping capacity of this narrative exercise, our lives are re-narrated into the story of God’s life and grace. The story of God’s grace is a story that is just that, a story of grace. Grace begins externally and moves toward us. We miss the profundity of the story if we think we initiate movement toward God, toward the good, toward change.

As we continue our theme of change this week, our focus is on “my change,” i.e., how do I change? To examine the desire for personal transformation to become who we desire to be, need to be, are called to be, we will turn to the story of David from the Hebrew scriptures, considering his initial calling, his wandering, and his returning. Throughout our consideration of that narrative, we will attend to the recurring struggle between internal impulses and external re-directive grace. In the end, our hope is found not in our ability to change but, first, to be changed so that we might change ourselves and become change for the world.

Have a great week, and see you in chapel, if you are able to make it.

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