Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Becoming – Br. Luke Ditewig

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As a teenager, my favorite musical and social activity was being in a church handbell choir. It was so important to me that I chose a college with a handbell choir. That greatly limited my options, and it brought me to Massachusetts, for which I’m thankful! In high school I also began solo ringing. Rather than a choir in which a dozen ringers each has a few notes, I rang from a six-foot table full of bells with a piano accompaniment. It is delightful but unusual art form. From solos at my home parish and my college chapel, most everyone knew me as “the bell guy.” When visiting my home parish, inevitably someone still recalls the bell solos and asks if I keep ringing. I haven’t rung for years. I have new pursuits and even new nicknames. Yet to many, I’m still “the bell guy.” That memory sticks. Visiting California, I usually run into that memory.

People leave, change and then return only to run into memories, prior labels and expectations. Memories of who we once were jostling up against who we are now. Parents and children face challenging reversals as they grow up and age. Care and dependence become mutual and opposite, children changing to care for parents, parents changing to be cared for. Memories and patterns of prior years are powerfully present though the players have changed.

Memories may be of embarrassment, shame or guilt. We may be treated with aggression, evasion or suspicion based on our past actions rather than our present selves. People may restrict us, zeroing in on what we once did—even if we only did it once—an embarrassment, a failure, an accusation. They focus on a particular past action instead of the fullness of our life then and now. Perhaps you know what this feels like.

Jesus had a hard time returning home to visit. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? … Where did this man get all this?” His own home town, his neighbors and community, took offense at Jesus, at his change into a powerful prophetic teacher. He was no longer the boy they remembered watching grow up. He was no longer a carpenter like his father. He had changed radically, and they didn’t like it. Jesus knew what it feels like to be restricted and rejected, for others to want a static past and refuse to affirm who he is becoming.

Life is full of change and some of the hardest parts are responding to change. Much of how we hurt each other stems from resisting or taking offense at change. We so easily cling to sticky memories, wanting to trap people in a former time and place: “I keep putting him at a distance because he hurt me so much.” “I keep treating her as a child because I don’t want to lose my identity.” “I keep telling him what to do because I fear he’ll leave me.”

We resist change in others, and they resist change in us. But we also resist change in ourselves. Complacency, dejection and fear can hold us back. “Why take the risk? I can make do with what I have now.” “It’s never worked before. This can’t get better.” “I’ve fought to keep it like this. It would be like joining the enemy.” Yet such changes may be exactly what we need and what God enables.

The Acts of the Apostles is full of such radical change, divinely inspired and enabled. Sent by the Spirit, Philip goes to the excluded Ethiopian eunuch, explains the scripture and baptizes him. Saul, notorious persecutor of the church, meets Jesus and radically changes into Paul, famous evangelist. The Spirit sends Peter to the centurion Cornelius. Though unlawful to visit let alone eat with Gentiles, Peter does both, proclaims the gospel and the Gentile household follows Jesus. The Spirit keeps branching out and more Gentiles believe and receive the Spirit in the same way the Jews had.

It is a radical, unsettling time for the Jews who follow Jesus. They hotly debate inclusion of outsiders. Leaders gather in Jerusalem to respond to the crisis. Today we remember James, Jesus’ brother. James is the pivotal figure who leads the gathering to affirm huge change, to welcome Gentiles, all people, as equal followers of Jesus. He discerns that the present crisis actually fits with the grand narrative promise, that all people may be able to seek God.

The Ethiopian eunuch, Saul, and Cornelius were just the latest in the surprising line of outsiders Jesus welcomed into the circle. Jesus invited women, foreigners, tax collectors, prostitutes, all kinds of the sick and outcast. Most people were tripped by sticky memories and labels like Gentile and sinner. But Jesus wasn’t. He knew who they were and what they’d done, and he loved them still. He was even more thrilled and intent on who they were becoming.

Like James, we can affirm and encourage God’s new work in others and ourselves, discerning amid crisis what is just and divine, not simply sticky. Those who know and remember us can be healing and hopeful. We can encourage and delight in each other’s change and development. That’s the blessing and challenge of life together, being known and being called to further life. My brothers are glad to hear stories of who I have been, but it seems they most invite me to playfully engage the present and share who I—by God—am becoming.

Richard Meux Benson, our Society’s founder, wrote that in the Eucharist, God grasps us and pulls us onward. God does not simply give us sustenance for today. God reaches out a hand and pulls forward to the future, to change, to becoming more.

We may wish to stay in the past, clinging to sticky memories. We may wish to stay in the present. God calls us into the future. Jesus invites us to change, to become more. Others may take offense. We may take offense. But Jesus grasps us and pulls us on. It’s doesn’t matter if we’ve run wild or stayed put. It doesn’t matter where we are today. Jesus invites and grasps us right here tonight in the Eucharist to becoming more loving, more welcoming so that all people may seek God, to changing for the better, for good.

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9 Comments

  1. Marilyn on January 26, 2017 at 11:11

    I have experienced this from both sides. When the appearance of a new relationship for my daughter required that I adapt to a change in her and my relationship, I first felt abandoned, then came to realize that this change was freeing. Now, my behavior is changing as I progress through spiritual guidance training, and I see some in my faith community reacting anxiously to this change. Your words today were affirming. Thank you.

  2. Lee on January 26, 2017 at 11:03

    Thank you Luke, i needed to be reminded of that. Since my sister’s death two months ago, i am seeing huge change in the family. It’s unpleasant, but with our Lord’s help, all of us will find a new path as we move forward.

  3. Christopher on January 26, 2017 at 09:26

    Your sermon hit right in the heart. I was leaving a job to return to school, a big change in my life. The boss told me before I left something that has stuck with me fvor a long long time. He said “that the only thing we can count on in life is change”. I try not to live in the past but in the present for life in made up of past, present an future, but the future is an unknown. But we cannot live in the past because it is gone. We can only live in the present and look forward to the future as God lead us in our hearts and minds.

  4. Marie on January 26, 2017 at 06:45

    This excellent sermon brings painfully to mind the number of people I am keeping in “boxes” of their past selves — their mistakes, the times and ways they hurt me and/or others, their personality traits, their untrustworthiness, etc. I don’t like when others keep me in the box of my past with the lid so tightly closed. It is clear that I need to spend some time with God in prayer and gently but decisively — and with Love — open those lids to let others out of the boxes I’ve put them in and see them for who they truly are, how they’ve changed and who they have become.

  5. Roderic Brawn on October 25, 2016 at 06:53

    Mark, my best friend, is experiencing the progress of his mother to death. Phyllis is like an aunt to me. My wife and I have heard quite a lot about how his Phyllis was resisting the move to a nursing home. As Phyllis is now in a palliative bed close to death in a hospital in our town I would like to ask a priest who is my friend to come with me to Phyllis’ bedside. I know that Mark, his wife, Eva and their family had not been churchgoers of late. That had been members of the Unitarian Fellowship. I pray it OK for my friend the priest to visit Phyllis’ bedside.

  6. Michael on August 3, 2016 at 10:18

    Being defined by our past and the the perception of others has presented concern in my life. “Running into a memory and perceptions” is an interesting thought.

  7. Elizabeth Hardy on August 3, 2016 at 09:37

    I find myself saying “I’m 61 years old, I’m not going to change now…” but this reflection causes me to pause and think I can and should let Jesus pull me forward as you suggest Br. Luke. I am as much stuck by my own memories or perceptions of myself as I am by how others remember and perceive me. Thank you for this insight.

  8. Rhode on August 3, 2016 at 08:46

    The Lord will perfect that which concerns me…Psalm 138:8. I stumbled across this psalm when I was wondering if God really cared about my teeny cog in this great machine. The implication that God would help me effect changes in my life and that the relationship I had with Him would grow and be perfected over time filled me with hope and made me smile.

  9. Susie Veon on November 1, 2012 at 23:51

    Luke, I am delighted to see you are writing some of your reflections and publishing them, …. that is new, is it not? I like what I remember about you as a boy who came and served and as a young man who also came and served but more than that ended up leading the team and giving direction and depth. Those seem to be some of the applications of the experiences lived, learned from, and chosen to pass on to others because you saw the value in them for yourself. Blessings dear brother, I’ll look forward to seeing more from you.

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