They say most preachers only have one sermon. You just hope it’s a good one as you’re gonna hear it week in week out. I think mine has changed over the years but at the moment it is about transformation. That when we invite God into our lives that is part of the great transformation of God’s creation, the reconciliation of all things to God, and the beginning of us living in the way God intended. Basically the kingdom coming. Transformation. With him, in him, by him, for him.
The trouble with a transformation message is that it can sound like triumphalism, or that terrible false promise that if you turn to God all your problems will go away. You will be ‘healed’, which I think means being turned into a squeaky clean smiley and annoying person, of the type we all wish we had more of only so we can fill the spaces in the rotas.
Transformation is very different from triumphalism; being in a relationship with God is very far from a self-help life-improving life-style choice, though of course the complication comes from the fact that hopefully our lives do change for the better. Now, I am sure that some people will be able to point to lives that have been totally transformed. And healed. Hooray! But the gritty and annoying reality is that for most of us, transformation is a bit more incremental. Small steps. No steps. Backward steps?
How do you keep believing that God is and will and wants to transform us and our communities when he doesn’t seem to do very much. Now we are getting somewhere. Because then we start to look.
We ask ourselves, am I dismissing the small changes in people (that are actually massive in their context) because we want to see changes we can write books about and impress people with our stories? Am I dismissing a new openness from someone previously closed to God’s message; am I dismissing the value of being a part of the church community to those with fledgeling faith but lonely hearts; am I mistaking transformation for ticking the boxes of quantitative, measurable change?
It is true that sometimes I get disheartened. Call it transformation-frustration. Or frustransformation, if you will. Don’t get me wrong – not because I don’t think God is doing amazing things. But because I want more! I don’t want a sort of ‘transformation-lite’, in which a few people feel a bit better and the congregation grows a bit because we’re all lovely. No!
I want to see this community and this church changing in a big way – I want to see depression banished, alcoholism defeated, domestic situations calmer, husbands coming to faith.
I want to see tired old ladies glowing with the Spirit, I want to see men who have never grown up suddenly realising their responsibilities and their potential; I want to see young people smiling and laughing and confident in who they are without needing drugs or sex the thrill of being annoying to get them through.
I want to see the ill healed (and not just made comfortable), I want to see debts got rid off and I want to see people really and actually and everyday believing and knowing that they are treasured and loved by their creator God. And that that informs how we all live and speak. That we may all do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
There’s me and my one sermon again.
So, God. In the words of Coldplay, this is a comma not a full stop, so where’s your answer?