Last Tuesday I decided to take public transport between my home in Blacktown and West Epping. It was a pleasant journey with a fast nine minute train trip between Blacktown and Parramatta and then a sluggish but comfortable ride on the M54 bus up the hill to Carlingford.
But the return trip was a nightmare. The bus was overcrowded and running some 25 minutes late. Meanwhile the journey down Carlingford Road, Pennant Hills Road and then through the Parramatta CBD was torturous. I spent nearly an hour travelling eight kilometres – and was still only halfway home. Sydney’s traffic is terrible!
I am sure I don’t need to convince you. We all have a story to tell as hours can be spent each day negotiating this city’s complicated, neve-wracking, grid-locked traffic.
The reason for all this is pretty obvious. Looking around Epping massive development is taking place. Building heights are being raised to twenty-two storeys while some 3,750 new residences are being built within a ten minute walk of the town centre.
Sydney is experiencing huge changes. For many of us this is unsettling. It’s inconvenient and downright threatening. To be honest, as I sat in that bus last week I grieved for the Sydney I grew up in. Memories of Epping’s magnificent blue gums, the orchards and dairy farms warmed my heart. But, alas, no longer!
Change impacts on us all. It creates uncertainty and a sense that we are losing control. Here the idea of the “devil we know” rather than the “devil we don’t know” seems so much more appealing. Moreover, change catches us off balance. It comes quickly and out of the blue, pushing us into new places where we feel ill-prepared and somewhat incompetent.
Most of us are creatures of habit and because of this change puts us on the defensive. Sometimes the impact can be more serious because tried and tested ways of the past appear to either no longer work or are thoughtlessly discarded. This leaves us angry and hurt.
Change is a reality. Indeed, there is nothing more predictable than change itself. So, I guess the word for us today is this – get used to it!
My greatest concern here is a tendency to lose God in all this. Faith is grounded in the challenges and experiences of the past. When the church is no longer what it used to be or when the sheer pace of life makes one feel inadequate or obsolete, God gets sucked up into a conglomeration of busyness and irrelevance. Epping in 2017 seems to have little time or space for God!
Yet the Biblical tradition is one that embraces enormous change. Here the narrative charts the story of a people who began as nomads in the desert, who experienced slavery in Egypt, a loss of face in the wilderness, conflict in Canaan, prosperity in the monarchy, humiliation in exile and restoration in the glorious city of Jerusalem.
And then there is the formation of the early Christian community who were followers of the “Way”. These people believed God was calling them forward into a radically new means of living during a time of massive upheaval and change across the Mediterranean world.
God is actually adept to change. The Biblical witness and the story of the Christian church is one of massive change where God is actively at the side of God’s people showing them the way. This is no more so than in the historical background of the Uniting Church where our Reformation heritage led by Martin Luther during the 16th Century and our Evangelical heritage led by John Wesley in the 18th Century shook the foundations of the church. They had a profound impact across the world!
Here, the words from that little-known Old Testament book, Lamentations, cry out for our attention:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
God is always a constant in life, no matter what the changes. God can be trusted. God is faithful. God is just. God is our sure foundation. But more than this, God is active in times of change, no matter how challenging, alienating, or hurtful these changes may be.
The Bible demonstrates this as God lifted Moses up to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. God called the Old Testament prophets to show the people of Israel the way forward in times of threat and occupation. And God sent his own Son, Jesus, into a world where violence, turmoil and empire choked the spirits of so many people.
In more recent times God continues to lead God’s people in the wake of all sorts of changes whether they be reformation Europe, industrial England, post-colonial Africa or an increasingly secular Australia.
Today as we live through significant changes, don’t be too miffed by what’s going on. Don’t give in to or fall victim to the exhaustive reshaping and reconstruction that is taking place around you. Rather look to God and seek God out in the midst of the changes that are taking place.
God may be hard to find initially. But I assure you, God is there. God is definitely there!
And because of this, every one of us, despite the traffic snarls and the gridlock, have a future. For God has a habit of enabling, equipping and supporting God’s people in times of change – and we, friends, are no exception!