I think there is a valid argument for saying that the biggest sin that humanity commits is control. It’s a sin that puts the created in the place of the creator – crafting ourselves as a god. The sin of control is the ultimate broken relationship with God. It’s us saying to God: “We don’t like your ways. We’ll do it our way, thank you very much. You go sit over here for when we need you to bail us out.”
The first commandment states “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) This applies to how we make ourselves into a god as well – not just idols that are created and worshiped.
We do this when we try to control things by keeping them the way they are or try to re-create the past. Except we can’t. Change will happen, does happen, and there is no way to stop it. We can certainly adapt to it. We can resist it to some degree, especially if the change is not healthy and good. We might even be able to redirect the change. But that isn’t the same as trying to stop change and keep everything the same – forever.
Look at the effort we give to trying to stop change from happening.
The most obvious way this happens is with ourselves. We try to stop the aging process instead of embracing it as a part of life and adapting to it. Our bodies change – that is a fact. Look at yourself in the mirror. Is this what you looked like 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago? Of course not. Your body changed, regardless of how you wanted to stop it. You couldn’t. Even if we cover it up, have surgeries, exercise, and have procedures, the fact remains that your body is still changing. Yet, we are told a lie that we can stop aging, that we can hold onto our youthful look, that we can make our bodies youthful again. And many buy the lie that we can stop change in ourselves. There’s a lot of money to be made with selling a nostalgic self-image.
We try to stop change in our institutions as well. Church is a good example. Many want it the way it was, the way we see it through an idealized lens in which the pews were full, the pastor did all the ministry, everyone in town came to worship, everyone dressed up, and the culture assisted the church with laws and mores that gave the church a privileged position in society. We want church to be a steady rock that never changes, all the while we will voice a desire for change, mostly because it seems like the right thing to say. That is until we actually consider how that change will impact us, not just other people. We want change in church, but change that doesn’t require us to change, only other people. Often the change that is voiced isn’t so much a change with progress forward, with adaptions, and new ministries to serve new peoples in our ever-changing communities. Rather it is a change by looking backward to nostalgia. We want the world and the church to go back to the way it was – ignoring the challenges and sins that existed in the church and in the world. We want to make church a steady and stable rock again. We want a sense of control over life.
Yet, when Jesus calls people to follow him, he is asking for a huge change – a personal change. He’s saying drop everything – all the nostalgia and the desire to control and stop change – and follow me. Die daily so that new life can take hold. Don’t just voice it, actually do it. Jesus said:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do no do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of the house.”
We try to stop change politically and as a nation. We hear it in the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Many desire a change to some romanticized time in which all was well, that we were great, and everyone thrived. Except this time never actually existed. It’s a change backward, a reverse of time. And it’s a lie. There has never been a time in this country when all was well and where everyone thrived. Never. Certain groups of people certainly have, but not everyone. And often there have been and still are groups of people who not only aren’t thriving, but are struggling to survive – pushed down by those in more privileged positions in life. This is what the desire to control does. There is a cost.
Things that are alive change and adapt. Any science book will tell you that. Things that are dead don’t move on their own and don’t adapt. They wear away and decompose. In that respect, even things that are dead change. And eventually, they become unrecognizable and become dirt. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
And in the end the question remains – what is the point of trying to stop change completely? Or of turning back the clock? Change is coming. It is already here. It walks with us. Why not spend our energy adapting to it, maybe even steering it in a positive direction towards something that actually can allow for more people to thrive? What if we took some of the good things of the past and adapted them for our present circumstances as opposed to trying to recreate the past?
What is the point of trying to change things in a backward fashion – to a time that never actually existed and certainly can’t be recreated. Everything else has changed around us. The environment in which we find ourselves has changed. We can’t go back. We can’t be any of those things again.
Change means there is newness. There is no “again.” No matter how much we desire it, we can’t go back in time and have those beautiful memories become reality again. There is change. There is life and there is death. And out of death comes new life. We allow the past to die so that there is new life in the present and the future. Shackling the present and the future with the past doesn’t bring us back to the past and the way it was. It just holds us hostage. And in the mean time, the world continues to change, without our consent. Because we are not in charge. And we fall further behind. This makes adapting to changes more difficult and costly.
This is what it means to follow Jesus. We aren’t called to go backward in time with the church. We aren’t called to go backward in time with our nation. We aren’t called to go backward in time with our bodies. We are called to go forward and to let past things die, so that new life can take root.
To another [Jesus] said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
These would-be disciples wanted to go back, to hold onto the nostalgia – to bury their dead and to say farewell. To look back. But Jesus knows that a look back will only hold us back. You can’t plow looking backwards. You can’t drive a car looking in the rear view mirror. You can’t walk forward while you keep your eye behind you. It doesn’t work. You can’t be the church, or you, or a nation by having a tight grip on the past, holding the present and the future hostage, with an old model that doesn’t meet current conditions and challenges and cultures.
Jesus calls us forward, not to a time of nostalgia. The kingdom isn’t in the past. The best days of the kingdom of God are unfolding now and are to come. They aren’t in the past. It’s unfolding right now. It’s causing a change. Will we be embraced by it, or will we resist it? In the end, resisting it and trying to stop it will never win out. It can’t. Because change is always taking place. The kingdom is always unfolding in new ways, in ways that are different from the past.