The more things change, the more things change.
Not nearly as profound as French philosopher Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, who is credited as the first to pen the line, “The more things change, the more they are the same,” in 1849. But hear me out.
Just as in Karr’s day, we are living in an era of seemingly phenomenal and continuous change. Karr wrote in a journal. Printed. On paper. Now we have countless memes harking back to glorious days of riding in the back of a pickup or drinking from a hose. Now we have memes.
Things change. Always. Sometimes the change is so incremental it escapes notice. It takes centuries for global temperatures to rise one-tenth of a degree, and most don’t ever feel it. On the other hand, four years ago the only people who wore masks in public were robbing a store.
When we start taking an honest look at our lives, individually and societally, we see more things changing. Much depends on context, so identifying cause and effect can be complicated. But the changes we see inevitably bring on more changes in domino effect, and those in turn knock over a few more. The more things change, the more things change.
For instance, marriage – including the process leading up to and after the wedding, if there is one (that’s a clue right there). Dating was offline until online became a thing. Living together before marriage goes way back (John 4), but was largely kept out of the public eye until its current status as commonplace. Sexuality as designed was for the enjoyment of husband and wife in lifelong commitment, along with the potential expansion of their family.
God’s institution of marriage – pre-Fall – is one man and one woman for life. Now none of those core components are seen as necessary in our society. The collateral damage has been deeper despair, deviance and division, children’s childhood destroyed (some before they ever leave the womb), self-gratification on roidal levels at the expense of relationship, with greater and growing distance between us and each other, as well as between us and God.
While divorce rates appear to be relatively stable, the marriage rate has plummeted, so in reality we are divorcing commitment and stability. Ask the children of divorce how much fun they’re having. Until they are divorced themselves.
But hey, it’s fun having as much sex as you want!
That’s a harsh dose of reality, but change is inevitable in nearly every arena of human endeavor. The business world constantly keeps its fingers on the pulse of change, knowing that the more things change, the more things change. Education and medicine, likewise. Certainly the entirety of how we communicate has morphed beyond recognition. Have you gotten a letter in the mail lately? I mean, a PAPER letter in a metal BOX by the curb? Put down your cell phone and look.
Even life in the church changes, despite well-intentioned efforts to resist. Screens are easier to read than hymnals. New hymns and spiritual songs (see Ephesians 5:19) are being written, even as we love the classics. At one point, “A Mighty Fortress” was a contemporary song. As long as they are faithful to the Word, glorifying Christ and edifying His people, they fit, even if our personal preferences may vary.
We’ve certainly seen rapid-fire change around SHLC, born largely out of the Holy Spirit’s penchant to add more souls to our Family. When my parents kept having kids, they went from sedan to station wagon to van to multiple vehicles. In our congregation we now have a new and larger place to worship and fellowship. We’re also adjusting how we celebrate the Sacrament, as God keep bringing more people to His Table: four stations, continuous communion, to avoid disrupting the other Gospel ministries that follow.
The problem with change is that, generally, we don’t like it. How you doing with roundabouts? We may eventually accept the change, but we prefer consistency, even predictability. We draw reassurance with repetition.
That’s where God comes in. He built us to treasure community and continuity. Since the beginning He made us social animals whose gatherings produce language, customs and traditions that connect generation to generation. America the Melting Pot, rather than a gaggle of diverse tribes sharing a hemisphere. He has also blessed us with the creative spirit to adjust those traditions around the margins, as our hearts and minds and communal attitudes evolve. We stay true to our core values, while each generation puts its own signature on the means by which we exercise them.
Problems arise when the means have forgotten the meaning or the values that inspired them. We fall into stale patterns of rote repetition bereft of authenticity. “They honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Succeeding generations adjust accordingly, though not always for the better. Human nature is still fatally flawed, so that clinging to the past and streaking into the future become mortal combatants, even in families. And churches.
The catalysts for change come from an infinite number of sources, many which mean to divide and harm, but capture the temporal fancy of individuals seeking…something.
The biggest change in human history happened in a garden not long after humanity began. It ruined everything in the garden, but not everything since.
God changes things. In the midst of rebellion and shame, He steps in with mercy and grace. While we keep reaching for rotten fruit and hiding in plain sight, He calmly and lovingly keeps finding us, restoring us, saving us from ourselves. He capitalized His compassion on the Cross.
You see, God does not change. The Commandments still apply, and the Savior still cleans up our messes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. His Word is the rock solid foundation for faith and the life that flows from it. We may not speak it in Hebrew and Greek anymore, nor proclaim it in Latin or King James English. The Message is the same, even if the voices –and instruments– may have changed.
So we will keep streaming our services and adding lines to the Supper, singing hymns from the last century and songs from last year. We’re actually building new traditions.
But the One on the other side: He’s right there where we need Him. Still.
Pastor Steve Kline was installed as Senior Pastor at SHLC on May 25, 2014, after serving 12 years as Senior Pastor at Zion in Wayside, WI. He was ordained in 1992 and previously served congregations in Pulaski and Hales Corners.