As I write this, it’s Tuesday evening, after the 2023 Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly has drawn to an end. (Thanks, by the way, to Nancy and Ken Carlson for being RLC’s voting members this year!) After two evenings totalling 6 hours of Zoom time, I’m ready for a break.
And yet, I’m really grateful for the synod staff’s courage to try something different by having assembly at a time and with a format that allows people to participate who can’t leave their homes, or who work daytime hours, or who can’t easily find extra childcare, or who for any other reason couldn’t attend the traditional Friday/Saturday assembly of old. The Zoom format worked really well for some people. And next year, we’ll have an in-person assembly over two days, which will work really well for others who don’t thrive on Zoom.
It does really take courage to do a new thing. We can forget, if our lives are routine, just how much courage it actually takes– to go somewhere new, to change a habit, to pick up a new hobby, to end a tradition. What if it doesn’t work? What if you’re no good at it? What if you don’t like it? What if there are complaints? You know those questions– we’ve all been there, poised to do something new when doubt creeps up and starts to second-guess us.
Even so, we know that sometimes a new thing is necessary– and what’s more, it will be better for us and others once we finally do it. So why are we so reluctant to do what’s new? Sometimes it’s all those questions that doubt throws at us, freezing us in place. Sometimes it’s fear, not of change, but of loss. No one wants to lose what they know and love. Sometimes it’s just inertia. Things are good enough for us, so why bother making a change that will benefit someone else?
The antidote to doubt, fear, and inertia for doing the necessary new things is two-fold: trust in God, and love for our neighbors. Even when doubt is loud, it cannot drown out our trust in God to see us through. Even when fear creeps in, perfect love pushes it right back out. Even when we’re content with the status quo, our love for our neighbors motivates us to listen to their needs above our own comfort. When we trust God and love our neighbors, the courage to do new things grows.
In Isaiah 43:19, God declares to the Israelites in captivity under the Babylonian empire:
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The people of Israel were suffering. Their homes and nation had been destroyed by the Babylonians. They needed something new. God heard their cries, promising that God’s new action would make a safe path through the wilderness and provide water to drink in a thirsty land.
I’ll be the first to admit that the necessary new things we do are not likely to bring an entire nation out of oppression into a free and peaceful home. And yet, the courageous new things we do can make a real difference. There were people who participated in our synod assembly who had never been able to do so before. Our work as a synod was enriched by their participation, and their discipleship was nourished by serving their congregations. We can aim for a goal like “including people who had previously been excluded” rather than “liberate an entire nation from oppression at the hands of a powerful empire.”
Is God calling you to a new thing as an individual? Or could God be calling your group of friends to a new thing together? Perhaps God is calling the whole congregation to trust God, love our neighbors, and do a necessary new thing. It might be scary, or hard, or intimidating. But if it’s a new thing God is doing with you or us, it will be worth it.
Be courageous. Trust God. Love your neighbors. Do the necessary new thing.