"Adaptive Change" sermon based on 1 Kings: 2

 

Adaptive Change: sermon for Proper 15 by the Rev. Rick Kautz



The Lord came to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask what I should give you?” Basically, God told Solomon to make a wish. Although it’s only one wish and not three, I think its better than the genie in the bottle, because, you know, it’s GOD!

So, right now I would like everyone to take a moment and think about what it is they would wish for. Health? And end to Covid? World peace? All great options.

 What Solomon wished for, was not any of those things. He wished for wisdom, which itself is wise. It’s wise because if we wish for health today, we could fall ill tomorrow. We could end Covid today, but a new virus could spring up anytime, anywhere. World peace? We’ve had moments of world peace before, but they don’t last long. People are still people; we scapegoat, we project, we deny, we are greedy, and selfish. It’s all about me and it’s all about now.

 Solomon didn’t ask God to change the world, he asked God to change him. He asked for the wisdom to help him through any of the turmoil the world could throw at him.

 Nothing has changed. We live in a world of turmoil. Ours is a rapidly changing world and change is never easy. Social scientists have given this type of world a label, VUCA. VUCA is an acronym that stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.  In lay terms, it’s crazy out there.

 We notice this, not only in the world, but in the church as well. In October of 2020, The Episcopal News Service reported on the future of the church. Quoting The Rev. Dwight Zscheile, author of The Agile Church, “The overall picture is dire – not one of decline as much as demise within the next generation unless trends change significantly,” Unless things change, The Episcopal Church as we know it will cease to exist by 2050.

The Church is stuck, and we don’t know what to do. How many clergy conferences have your rectors attended, or vestry retreats you have attended, where you were given the latest “fix” for the church, only to discover when you got back home, nothing changed? This is because you were given tools to help fix a technical problem, such as how to start a seeker’s service, how to make your bulletin more user friendly, how to build an inviting website, or how to increase community outreach. Now all these tools are good things and can be helpful when dealing with technical problems, but what is needed for us to survive is adaptive change. If your plan is to just “work harder” or to return to the “good ol’ days” or try some new church growth product off the shelf, then the solution is a technical one and not adaptive.

 Jesus was all about adaptive change. He healed on the Sabbath, met with social outcasts, and upended the way people thought of holiness; turn the other cheek, forgive your enemies, tax collectors and prostitutes will get to heaven before the clergy, and the last will be first and the first will be last. To be followers of Jesus, to put on Christ, means to let go of the rigid past and embrace the uncertainty and complexity. Bishop Sean Rowe of Western New York wrote, “Leadership is mobilizing people and resources to address adaptive change.” Dave Gibbons, author of The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church, wrote, “Those who follow Jesus embody fluidity, adaptation, and collaboration. It’s what we call the third-culture way. Adaptable to changing circumstances. To challenging cultures. To complex crises and problems. (In other words, a VUCA world) If there’s one quality that matters most to the fate of the church in the twenty-first century, it’s adaptability.”

 Adaptability is not a technical fix, it’s a change of culture. It’s a whole new way of seeing and acting. Changing the culture of a denomination, a diocese, or even a church, is not an easy thing. It requires time, energy, and commitment. It also requires us to think differently. Leadership cannot dictate change. No decree from the top can change what is embedded in your core being. But as Tod Bolsinger writes in Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, “Creating a healthy culture with the capacity to experiment, innovate, take risks, and adapt is one of the primary tasks of a leader.” Culture is created through leading by example. It happens when the leader (rector) or the leadership group (vestry) (Preferably both in tandem) admit the old ways are not working, figure out a change vision, and then start acting differently. Once the community begins to see a better way, the leadership invites and enlists others to act differently. The new way of acting is “caught” not “taught.” It’s how Christianity spread from an obscure region in the Middle East to a world-wide religion. Unbelievers were not convinced by a billboard on the side of the road. They were touched and moved by the loving actions of people they knew and trusted. As the song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

 
God was pleased that Solomon asked for an understanding mind. He knew that no matter what the world threw at him, the most important thing is to come down on the side of good, on the side of love, on the side of healing and reconciliation. In the famous story of the two women and the baby. Solomon didn’t use logic to solve the case, he adapted and improvised. His seemingly ridiculous suggestion to divide the baby relied not on court evidence, but on the love of a mother for her child.

 In this time of change, turmoil, and anxiety we all must pray for the wisdom to adapt and take on the mind of Christ. As Tod Bolinger also wrote, “The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.” The church can fade away until the last light goes out in 2050, or we can let go of the past, learn to adapt, and on move on together in love.

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