The Reverend Seth Ethan Carey
April 14th, 2005
First Congregational Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Let me tell you about something really absurd.
Back in New England, we have pesky little things called blue laws. You may have them here in Illinois, too, but the New England blue laws are notoriously ridiculous. These laws were allegedly codified by our Congregationalist forbears the Puritans, also known as the Pilgrims, or Those Guys In the Funny Hats—you know, the ones with the buckles on them?
The original purpose of these blue laws was to preserve the integrity of the Sabbath by legally forbidding certain activities on Sunday. I just so happen to have a few of them here, so you can have some idea of what I mean:
No one shall cross a river on the Sabbath but authorized clergymen. For anyone who may be wondering, that’s actually why I became a minister. With job perks like that, how could I resist?
No one shall be allowed to sell or purchase alcoholic beverages on the Sabbath.
No one shall eat mince pies, dance, play cards, or play any instrument of music except the drum, trumpet, or Jew’s harp.
I realize that the puritans were strict, God-fearing folk. But what do they have against mincemeat pies?
Anyway, I’m sure you get the idea. Now, while these laws might have been appropriate at the time they were written—and I have my doubts about that—they have clearly not stood the test of time. The phrase “hopelessly obsolete” comes to mind. And yet—and this is the really absurd thing that I promised to tell you—in New England, and no doubt in other places, many of these laws are still on the books. And some of them are still enforced.
Things change. People change. Places change. And the world at large changes with them. At least, it's supposed to.
But what about God? Does God change? The traditional belief is that God does not change. According to traditional Christian doctrine, God is eternal and unchanging.
After much thinking, praying, and research, I agree that God does not change. That is, God’s nature remains unchanging and eternal. But God does continue to speak. In the United Church of Christ, we don’t like to limit God’s word to an ancient scripture. God’s word is in there, but it’s continually unfolding. We choose to believe in something dynamic, something alive, something that continues to grow. Or, as we like to say, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma,” because God is still speaking. And “there is yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word.”
Which is precisely why Jesus is such a revolutionary—because He comes to Earth to bring us all up to speed on God’s latest insights—insights that may seem to contradict God’s earlier ideas. It’s very telling that God doesn’t send us a messiah that simply tells us all to keep up the good work, to maintain the status quo. No, God sends us an iconoclast who, oddly enough, attempts to reform God’s own laws.
Jesus is always depicted with that same white robe, that same beard, those same sandals, like one of those predictable cartoon characters that never changes his clothes, like Popeye or Speed Racer or the gang from Scooby Doo. But in reality, Jesus is a dynamic figure. And He’s anything but stale. Jesus changes things.
Changing your life, changing the world, isn’t like changing the channel on TV. It’s hard. And it doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s something that we need to struggle with. If you don’t want to struggle with change, then that's your prerogative too.
But seeing as today is the Sabbath, you probably shouldn’t cross any rivers on the way home.