The Changes of Life – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramActs 10:44-48

As many of you know, at the end of next week I am going to England to preside at the wedding of my niece Katherine and her fiancé Michael.  I’m really excited about it, and I’ve been poring over the Church of England marriage ceremony online, so that I’ll look as if I know what I’m doing!  I haven’t married anyone for quite a few years, and it was certainly one of the joys of being a parish priest.  I have always understood Holy Matrimony as a sacrament: that God’s Holy Spirit comes down upon two individuals, and through a deep mystery, makes them one.  In the words of the Church of England rite, “The couple shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind.”

They are changed.  God’s Spirit has the power to change us.  As a sign of this change, couples often change one or the other’s surname, and wear a ring of their finger.  I’m no longer who I was.  I have been changed.

As soon as I get back from England I will have the privilege of conducting the ordination retreat for the Diocese of Massachusetts.  The ordinands will be ordained on June 6th.  In the same sacramental way as in Holy Matrimony, God’s Spirit, we pray, will come down upon these men and women, and they will be changed.  The Bishop will say these words, “Give your Holy Spirit to your servant, and fill her with grace and power and make her a deacon/priest in your church.  As a sign of this change, the new deacon or priest will preface their name with “Rev.” and wear a clerical collar.  I remember my own ordination as priest.  At the laying on of hands, I felt different.  Something had happened.

When the Spirit comes down upon us, we are changed.  And it happened powerfully in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  “While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon them.  All were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”

But they had to believe it because the Spirit had manifestly changed them.  “They were speaking in tongues, and extolling God.”  They were different.  Something had changed.  This was the real thing, and they were baptized there and then.

In the sacramental water of baptism we believe that God the Holy Spirit comes upon us, washing, cleansing and changing us.  We become a new creation in Jesus Christ.  As a sign of this profound change we often wear different clothes, usually white – and we are marked, sometimes with oil, on our foreheads with the sign of the cross – “marked as Christ’s own forever.”

If we are living the Christian life, we must expect to be changed.

The former leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in England, Archbishop Anthony Bloom, tells this fascinating story.  “A few years ago a man came to see me and asked for baptism.  I asked him for his reasons and he told me that he first came to our church to bring a parcel to someone.  He was a convinced unbeliever, a man in his forties.  He came in a little before the end of the service so he had to endure a little of it.  He stood at the back and he suddenly felt ‘the overwhelming presence of God,’ a presence that was objective. He said to himself, ‘This is probably what the Christians call God’s presence, but it may also be a mood in me induced by the candles, the singing, the incense, the praying congregation.’  So he decided to come again.  He came a couple of times when the services were in progress, and met with the same experience.  Then he came a number of times when there was no one there, and to his surprise (not very pleasant surprise) he felt that the intensity of ‘presence’ was not diminished in any way by the absence of people.  So it was not the people who carried it; it was not the singing, nor the ceremonial that conveyed it.  And then he thought, ‘All right, supposing that it is God, what does it matter to me if He simply chooses to live in this building and does nothing to anyone?”  So he decided to come and watch us to see whether anything happens to us.  I would never have believed that he could have come to such conclusions by watching us.  But the conclusion he came to after about a year was that God was an extremely active presence because he said he could see people change.  I don’t mean to say they became better, but he perceived a change within the people whom he had singled out for observation.  We were there like a sort of zoo at which he was looking, trying to draw conclusions.  And his conclusions were that these animals change.”  And he had been changed – and wanted to be baptized.

If we open our lives to God we will be changed.  Indeed, as Cardinal Newman famously put it: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

But what usually makes us change, sometimes forces us to change, are the changes taking place around us, or within our lives.  Those changes so often act as a catalyst, or even as the New Testament puts it, like a refiner’s fire.  They challenge us to grow and to change and to deepen our trust in God.

But, I think, if we’re honest, change in not something we always welcome.  Instead, change can make us extremely anxious and afraid.

Change in our work – losing our jobs.
Change in our families – our spouses who change, or don’t change.
Our children who change, or don’t change.
Changes in our health.
Changes and diminishment as we get older.
Changes to our hopes, our plans.

What doesn’t change?  What doesn’t change is God’s faithfulness.  “Remember,” Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel – his final words to his disciples – “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  And that is a promise – a promise to remember always, to hold on to, amidst the changes which are all around us.

And because Jesus is with us though the changes to our life, he will help us to change in response to these challenges – to grow in faith and trust – to grow in wisdom and understanding – to grow in love and hope.

And because Jesus, our Risen Savior promises to be with us always, even to the end of the age, we can even face confidently that final and greatest change, which is death itself – when “we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”  And we need not fear change, because Jesus does not change.  He is faithful, and he urges us to remember that he is with us always even to the end of the age.  That is our Easter hope, that is our Good News.

It’s not always easy to remember when we are feeling anxious amidst the changes in our life.  Prayer can be the way to let this promise go deep down into our roots – and change and transform us.

I particularly like saying Compline at the end of the day.  I commend it to you to pray before you go to bed.  The words of Compline are so beautiful and so strengthening.  I’d like to finish by saying my favorite prayer from Compline, which has helped me so many times in my own life.

Let us pray.

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may repose upon thy eternal changelessness.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Amen.

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  1. Bobbi Fisher on April 28, 2021 at 13:00

    Thank you, Br. Jeffrey. I love hearing this sermon because each time, some story or message touches me in a special way. Today I heard that yes, I am changed because I have seen and come to believe Jesus’ final words to me, to you, to everyone: “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

  2. Phil Anderson on April 27, 2021 at 17:08

    For those of you/us who liked Br. Geoffery’s reading of the Compline prayer, it can be found on Page 133 of the BCP. Also, for a very informative and interesting daily prayer service, go to Youtube and type in “Canterbury Cathederal , daily prayer service,” it’s available seven days a week and is wonderful!

  3. Maida on April 27, 2021 at 10:09

    Oh dear Brother Geoffrey,

    I love this one! A gem! Your compline prayer reading especially beautiful! Thank you! Missing you so!



  4. David Duncan on April 27, 2021 at 09:49

    Bro. Geoffrey, I really liked your account of change. There is one point, however, with which I disagree. The axiom that we can be secure during change because Jesus does not change seems backwards to me. We follow Jesus. But that following is severely limited if we cannot follow him in or during our changes (“and chances”). If Jesus be a stranger to change, there’s a big disconnect between Him and us. I would say we can be secure in change because we follow where he leads.

  5. Kitty Whitman on April 27, 2021 at 06:47

    Beautifully spoken! Thank you. When my husband and I were married 45 years ago, I admit I knew some changes would take place, but I did not expect upheaval! This kind of change which comes in the pilgrimage of marriage reminds us of where to put our faith—not in mortals. Our love endured but was truly strengthened only through faith in and following of Jesus. It allowed us to walk through the depths of “changes and chances” of this life and still hold hands, persevere, and face the winds of change. When we met at church over 60 years ago, we were youthful, awkward, not-so-wise children of God—now, through the years of chance, change and upheaval, we are a bit weathered but more devoted children of God, still holding to Easter hope! Kitty W.

  6. Jeff McGuire on May 5, 2020 at 13:11

    Thank you for sharing!

  7. Jeanne DeFazio on May 5, 2020 at 11:31

    A treasure of a devotional. Thank you very much!

  8. Annie Cooper on May 5, 2020 at 09:55

    I found your message very inspiring. I, along with all in the world, am dealing with the need to change. What will give strength during this challenge is God’s changelessness. I read that in the Compline nightly too and receive much encouragement from knowing that.

  9. Carney Ivy on November 8, 2018 at 06:49

    This was so beautiful that it moved me to tears. With all the strife in our country and in this world, to read these words helped to provide a steady path. Thank you Brother Geoffrey for your thoughts. If only I could maintain my path!!!

  10. Ruth West on November 7, 2018 at 19:39

    Br. Geoffrey, I enjoyed this sermon. Thank you for sharing the good news with us. I am old, but, hopefully, not so set in my ways that I don’t need change. I think, through God’s help, I am still growing in love, hope, joy, and understanding. The sermons I get from SSJE are instrumental in my growth in the Spirit. To God be the glory.

  11. Joan Todd on November 7, 2018 at 14:43

    The challenges of old age and a debilitating illness ( Mutiple Sclerosis) can often be overwhelming. I find the reassurance I so desperately need ,in these words . Thank you ,Br. Geoffrey .

  12. Rhode on November 7, 2018 at 09:11

    A bit like Bloom’s man, I attended an Episcopal service one Easter Sunday in 1982 a little curious and a little afraid of what I might see being somewhat ignorant and of the impression that Catholics and Episcopalians were religions of the mind not the heart. Frozen in antiquated rote traditions. Years later, as a longtime confirmed Episcopalian Christian, I am so glad God allowed me to widen my narrow perspective and is still patiently pulling apart my prejudices and giving me time to grow in understanding. LOL – Not that I needed to be Episopalian – what I needed to see was God’s loving universal “catholic” presence was/ is alive and working in all manner of congregations… to feed His sheep and grow His Kingdom. Because “What does not change is God’s faithfulness..

  13. CHRISTINA MCKERROW on November 7, 2018 at 08:24

    Thank you Geoffrey: Compline was wonderful on the evenings when I was at the Retreat at Emery House this Spring. It was the most meaningful time of the days for me.
    God’s blessings upon all the Brothers

  14. Karen A Hartsell on July 9, 2018 at 09:46

    I have strong faith since I was young because my grandmother and the Lord took care of me when I was being abused. Now I am a Type 1 Diabetic and I pray to God for help. The Lord answered me about McDonals Egg Mcmuffin. It’s nutrition scale says 30 carbs for one. God told me 38 carbs and and he did answer my prayer!

  15. Margaret Dungan on June 29, 2018 at 10:59

    Thank you Br. Geoffrey , I really needed a steady hand to help me make a big decision at this time

    Margaret Dungan

  16. SusanMarie on June 29, 2018 at 07:15

    I desperately needed to read this sermon today. Many changes are occurring in my life all at once — when it rains, it pours! There’s nothing here that I don’t already know. But to sit here in the quiet hours of the morning and take in this message without distraction is a balm to my soul. Some of the changes are exciting. Some are challenging and disturbing. Some can cause fear. But your words have brought the assurance I so desire at this time. I feel God’s presence in my heart, and that always brings Peace. Thank you!

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