One of the themes in our readings today is change.
The prophet’s change is vivid. It has God, angels, fire, smoke and booming voices. A burning coal on the tongue changes the prophet. When asked, “Whom shall I send?”, the prophet responds, “Send me!”
The change in Nicodemus takes some searching. The change starts after he witnessed the miraculous signs performed by Jesus. Nicodemus admits to Jesus that he knows Jesus is a teacher sent by God.
Go to chapter 7 and Jesus was teaching in the temple courts and an argument ensues among the people listening to him. Some believe he is a prophet or the Christ; others say he can’t be because he comes from Galilee, not Bethlehem. Even the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus return without him. The Pharisees are furious and say none of them believe this rabble rouser. Then Nicodemus speaks up and reminds them that they cannot condemn a person without an investigation. What courage it must have taken to be that reasonable voice in his group of Pharisees!
The last mention of Nicodemus is after Jesus has died. Joseph of Arimathea procures the body of Jesus. Nicodemus brings the anointing supplies. It is written that the two of them prepared Jesus’ body according to Jewish burial customs and buried the body nearby. This was a bold act these two men did.
Change happens in our lives, and our ability to adapt to change varies. On one end of the spectrum, it is very easy to adapt to change. At the other end, it is difficult, if not impossible, to adapt. Most people fall somewhere between those two extremes.
You may wonder - where am I on that continuum. Years ago, one of my co-workers said, “If you look up the word ‘change’ in the dictionary, there will be a note that Dianne Star does not like change.” I’d like to think that I have gotten better about liking change and my ability to adapt. After all, I have a mug at work with a quote from Albert Einstein - the measure of intelligence is the ability to change. I do know that my ability to adapt to change is better when my mental health disorders are managed well.
As I was thinking about this change and adaptability, the library notified me that a book I had reserved was now available. The book is “Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations” by Amy Chua.
Professor Chua writes
“Human beings are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachments, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family. … But the tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It is also an instinct to exclude.”
Group membership was very strong in the time of Jesus. They were ethnic, regional, religious, sectarian or clan based. Exclusion was often violent.
In much of the world today, these group memberships still exist. Later in history, a national based group membership has been added. In the U.S., we have group memberships. The enslavement of Africans, Jim Crow laws, the internment of the Japanese during World War II, discrimination against any group of people are examples of the exclusive activity of group memberships.
Our ability to adapt to change can be changed. That is good news.
First, are we aware of our level of adaptability? I am – most of the time. So, when I found out that I would be laid off from my job, I began researching my options. I had 3 choices - find another job, retire, or take the layoff/severance package. I chose the last option. My last day at work is June 7, so now I need to plan how to balance my alone time, my social time and my need for serving.
Second, are we aware of our group memberships and their strength? I belong to some groups. Most of them are on Facebook and they are weak. Then there are others - Minnesota Lynx fan, strong; lefthanders, moderately strong; Parkway member, very strong.
It is good for me to recognize that I feel very strongly about my Parkway membership. On June 10th, our congregation will decide how to move forward. The Council’s recommendation is to pursue consolidation with Robbinsdale UCC. Before that vote, I will need to look carefully at what my Parkway membership includes and how attached I am to each item. I will have to examine the strength of my group membership to this building and its contents, this neighborhood, our staff, our ministries, our traditions, to all of you, and may be to some things I haven’t thought of yet. I already know my group membership in this group of people of faith is very strong. Additionally, my group membership in the UCC is also very strong. I know how I feel about the details of this group membership will create change.
As I do this, I know I will not be alone in my process. I believe that some of you will be looking carefully at the strength of the details of your Parkway group membership. I believe the activities and teachings of Jesus will help me; his life was about changing people and breaking down the barriers that group memberships had erected. I believe the Spirit will guide us. I believe I will adapt to this change.
Let us support one another as we face this challenge.