Christy asks us to consider if people can really change.
Got Any Change?
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
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Audio from Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church on October 2016, edited from a flawless transcription made by edigitaltranscriptions all errors are mine.
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Can a person change? George Wallace, four term governor of Alabama. His first run was in 1963. He started off his campaign by standing on the exact spot where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office for the Confederate States of America. They have a star in Alabama, and you can stand there. And he stood right there and said in 1963, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” He was elected governor and pursued those policies, as he promised, of segregation, against the civil rights, the poster child of those who would stop any kind of rights for African Americans, for the blacks in the country.
Twenty years later, in 1983, George Wallace again became governor of Alabama. But this time, 1983, he would gain 90 percent of the black vote in Alabama.
Can a person change? Well, in 1972, while running for President – the most successful third-party candidate in recent history. No third party candidate has done as well as George Wallace. In 1972, during the race for the President, he was shot five times in an assassination attempt. One of those shots severed his spine and left him partially paralyzed. His son, George Wallace, Jr., said that his father had two lives, one before the assassination and one after. George Wallace, Jr., in his book, George Wallace, The Man You Never Knew By The Man Who Knew Him Best,” George Wallace, Jr. said that, lying there on the pavement, shot, paralyzed, close to death, was a Damascus Road experience for his father, a conversion.
George Wallace, in the years and decades that followed between the shooting and his final term as governor, sought out civil rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis, said he was wrong, and asked for his forgiveness. George Wallace went to black churches, apologized, said he was wrong, and asked for their forgiveness. George Wallace, after getting 90 percent of the black vote in his last term of government, appointed blacks throughout his administration and to his cabinet. The first one to do so, starting a practice in diversity that continues today, starting with the example that George Wallace set.
Can a person change? Saul, on the road to Damascus, not for a vacation, not for a guest preaching gig, nor any happy or good reasons. Saul was on the road to Damascus with letters, with writs of arrest to drag back the Christians to Jerusalem where they could be tried and, if all went well, stoned to death.
Saul, not Paul yet, Saul on the road to Damascus, struck down. Something happened. You can read all sorts of theories. They’re making a diverting hour, if you want to do that. But something big happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. He was struck down. He was left blinded. He heard the Lord and had to be led by the hand away.
Can a person change? Well, Saul went from being letters of death and destruction for Christians to writing letters of hope and encouragement. He went from tearing down the church to building it up. He went from trying to wipe it out to being the best evangelist in the history of the Christian church. He wrote most of the New Testament. What we think of as normal and orthodox and the way to do things goes to Saul, now Paul.
Can a person change? You may say, “Well, I guess so, Christy. But I really don’t want to be shot or blinded. Is that what you’re telling me here? We should be going out that way? Is there any other option? Could I have Option C, please? Something not, you know, a near death experience? Is there something a little bit less that I could do?”
But, you know, there’s another guy in the scripture today. He is kind of the hero of the story, and he doesn’t get near enough credit: Ananias. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an Ananias position. It is not a comfortable position. Ananias is just, far as I know, he’s minding his own business. He’s not on the road to Damascus. He’s not making speeches about segregation. He’s not running for governor. He’s not a public person. He’s not just trying to get through the day. And the Lord comes to him.
Now, Ananias does something right, and this is something I always try to tell people when we talk about when an angel comes, or God, or Jesus comes. You know, you want to watch what you say. You know. Because it’s kind of a big thing. And Ananias gets it right, just like good old Hymn 525 in the Presbyterian Hymnal. “Here I am, Lord.” When God calls you, the only thing you can say, the best thing to say is, “Here I am, Lord.” Boom. I’m here. Present and accounted for. You know, don’t say “What?” Or “Who are you?” Or “Why are you bothering me?” None of that. Those are all bad answers. The best answer is, “Here I am, Lord.”
So a strong start for Ananias. Strong start. We like that. But then it goes, gets bad really quick because, when the Lord tells you to do something – and, you know, especially the Risen Lord, you know, the glory, everything there; you know? And don’t correct the Lord. If you want to, don’t do it. Resist the impulse of trying to tell the Lord how he got things wrong. He got off easy on this one. Pretty much just repeat it. But he was saying, “Hey, Lord Risen, Ruler of the Universe, Lord of All Creation, Savior of Humanity. You probably don’t know this, but that guy Saul, he’s coming after us. He’s a nasty guy.” Ananias doesn’t think he changed. There’s no reason to think that he changed.
And the Lord pretty much just repeats to him, “I’ve chosen him.” And doesn’t even give the – Ananias goes, hey, he’s a different kind of guy yet. Because, see, I don’t think he was. I mean, he just got the – all Paul got was a zap in the eye and, you know, why do you persecute me, you know, he just sort of got convicted, if you will, just God saying “You’re doing it wrong” kind of thing. We don’t know if he changed. And neither does Ananias.
You ever been in Ananias’s situation? Thinking that you should be doing something, but you don’t want to? It’s risky? Ever been in an Ananias kind of situation, where you’re in an opportunity to help someone, that you can say you can help someone, but you don’t know, not only do they not deserve it, but it might work out of costing you a lot.
Have you ever been in an Ananias situation where you had to trust that someone will change? Not that they had changed, not the whole believing thing, but they will change. Ananias goes to Saul, the persecutor, the one that was trying to drag his friends and himself away from their homes and their family, to take them to religious trial that was just nothing but a show, so that they have an excuse to torture and kill them? Ananias went there and healed that person and blessed that person, and prayed that the Holy Spirit comes onto that person.
Ever been in an Ananias situation? Is change possible? I submit to you that change is possible when we allow it. I submit to you that other people can change when we allow it, when we make the place available in our hearts and in our spaces and in our minds to allow other people to change. What if John Lewis said to George Wallace, “Forget you, man. Forget you. All the harm you’ve done? Selma? You were governor during that. How dare you come in here and say that? Sure, now you want this. Forget you, man.”
What if the black voters of Alabama said to George Wallace, “Oh, no, oh, no, you’ve been governor twice before. Ha ha ha. You’re going to – fool me twice, no. No way, man. We’re not voting for you. We don’t believe you.” George Wallace would never have changed. He never would have appointed African Americans throughout his administration and on his cabinets. He never would have had that last term as governor to change Alabama.
What if Ananias never went to Saul? That would have been a reasonable thing to do, a logical thing to do, a safe thing to do, a smart thing to do. He had no guarantees. He’s going to do all this. All right. He had letters of death in his – with him for Ananias. And Ananias went. So you’re healed. Holy Spirit comes upon you. You can change. I submit to you that that’s when Saul changed to Paul. I submit to you that’s when the ministry began. I submit to you, that’s when he got the Holy Spirit, not on the road when he gets zapped down and blinded. That wasn’t the Holy Spirit. I think the Holy Spirit was the healing and the blessing. And you know what? That was Ananias. That wasn’t Saul. That was the Holy Spirit working through Ananias to change Saul.
Can people change? If we let them.
Can people change? If we encourage them.
Can people change? If we allow it.
You probably heard of this guy called Gandhi. He’s a very, very popular guy to quote in sermons. He’s so popular, he even gets quoted in things he didn’t say. You know you’ve made it when people are doing all the work for you. You may have heard the quote of Gandhi that said, you know, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” That’s great. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” attributed to Gandhi. You could find that right on the Internet, you know. It’s all over. But he never said that. He never wrote it. Now, he might have, but they didn’t have Twitter back then. You know, that would have been a great tweet, Gandhi. But no. He went – he might have said that, if that were bumper stickers then or Twitter was a thing at that time.
But what he did say was something more profound. How about that? More profound than Twitter. He did say,
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As one changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change toward him. This is a divine mystery supreme, a wonderful thing it is, and a source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
We are but a mirror of the world. The world is in us, and we are in the world. You know, Gandhi wasn’t a Christian. Well, he claimed to be a Christian. He claimed to be a Hindu. He claimed to be a Muslim. He claimed to be everything. That’s the kind of guy he was.
But the world in a person and the person in the world sounds to me like the incarnation, sounds to me what Jesus Christ was and is – the world made flesh. The savior of the world in a person. Because of the way he lived, because of the way he lived and died and rose again, because of that person, the world changed. Because of who he was, the world changed. The world was redeemed by that person. Gandhi knew that. We’re not just fish in the ocean, moved by the currents out of control. We also affect the ocean as we move ourselves.
Ananias changed the world by changing himself. Which allowed Saul to change to Paul. Which allowed the New Testament to be written. Which allowed the great news of Jesus Christ to spread throughout the civilized world. Have you ever been an Ananias? Have you ever had an opportunity to help someone change? Have you ever had an opportunity to believe in someone’s change? Have you ever had an opportunity to act as if someone was actually better than they were? You see, if you want other people to change, if you want the world to change, Jesus Christ shows us. Gandhi knows. Gandhi knows this. Wallace lived it out. We see it in the conversion of Saul to Paul. If you want the world to change, if you want others to change, Gandhi tells us you do not have to wait to see what they do. You do not have to wait on them to change. You can change how you react to them, how you talk to them, how you bless them, how you heal them, how you ask for the Holy Spirit to be with them. You don’t have to wait on the others.
The question, then, is not can other people change, which is what we often think of it. But the question is, how can I change so the world will change? How can I be a blessing? How can I act as if the world was a better place and thereby make it a better place? We believe this. We believe in the incarnation. We did not have special crazy supernatural bolts of lightning from the heaven. We didn’t have worlds moving around. We didn’t have thunderclaps. We didn’t have all sorts of supernatural events. We had a person who changed the world by being that change, incarnate. God’s will lived.
We believe that a person can change the world. And we believe that we have the ministry of that person within us, as well; that we can be people that live and believe and act and treat others so that they are free to change, so that together we can change the world.
Can people change? If we do. Michael Jackson had several songs, several number one songs, great career as a musician. There’s a song that was number one, the first song he did not write. He did not write the song “Man in the Mirror.” It was written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett. But it may have been his favorite. It was definitely his most spiritual. He even got a church choir to help him sing it and present it. And I couldn’t help but think of that when I read about Gandhi saying, “We but mirror the world.”
Here are some lines from “Man in the Mirror” by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett:
“I see the kids in the street with not enough to eat. Who am I to be blind, pretending not to see their needs? I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer, if you want to make the world a better place. Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”
Performed by Philosopher and prophet Michael Jackson. The world can change. People can change, if you do. Amen.
Post differs from the recording with some repeats and speaking errors edited out.
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Christy Ramsey. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a
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