Arriving: "New" as opposed to "better"

"Arriving" is a continuation of the blog series "Leaving," which reflects upon my process of transitioning out of my first call and into a new call; leaving St. Timothy Lutheran (Naperville, IL) and moving to First Lutheran (Decorah, IA).
I am preaching this weekend on texts that all have to do with newness. Peter figures out that God is heading in a new direction, opening up the movement of the Holy Spirit not just to the "insiders," but to all. Revelation talks about God's plans for a "new heaven and new earth," where death and mourning and crying will be no more. And Jesus talks about the new commandment that he gives us, his disciples: to love one another as he has loved us.

And right now, my head and heart are bearing the weight of what newness means...and what it doesn't!

What they don't tell you about leaving a congregation and beginning with a new congregation is that you will spend more time than you'd like second-guessing yourself, feeling uncertain, and feeling guilty.

Back in December, I weighed lots and lots of things in deciding whether it was time to transition from a first call into a next call. I did more soul-searching that I've ever done before (or so it seems), and I opened my ears and heart to my closest and most trusted confidantes as I sought counsel. And when all the hopes and dreams and opinions and prayers had been weighed, I trusted the feeling deep in my gut that God was drawing me to this new thing, and that God was drawing me to a new thing that was for good and not for harm.

And I feel, consistently, that this new call is good. This new home is good. This new way of life in a small town and not in a suburb is good.

But what I have a hard time fending off are the more worldly voices in my head that try to ask me, "Is all of this newness BETTER?" It's a trick question. A false pretense.

In many other careers, you make decisions based on upgrades, on moving up a ladder, on moving forward. But in this peculiar calling to ministry, you make decisions based on moving sideways and throughways and all sorts of other crazy directions, based on where you truly believe God is calling you to be, for any number of purposes and plans.

And so how do I explain to those "upward mobility" voices in my head that this new call isn't about being someplace "better" than before, or that following the movement of the Spirit isn't about making comparisons of worth or notoriety. I came from good and entered into good. I came from fulfilling expressions of ministry and have entered into new fulfilling expressions of ministry. I gave of myself and my gifts to one beautiful and appreciative congregation, and I am giving of myself and my gifts to a new beautiful and appreciative congregation.

And when those misunderstanding voices creep into my head, the ones that would want me to frame my transition in terms of "better or worse," and want me to feel uncertain or guilty, I fend them off by remembering one particular, profound, important detail:

God doesn't talk in terms of making us "better." God talks in terms of making us NEW. And God loves the pieces of us that are old, and the pieces of us that are new. God isn't interested in talking about "self-improvement," but rather calls us to love and service for the sake of our own newness and the newness of the world.

And so I am here, in a new place, to love and to serve, and to bring the light of God to this place, in this time, just as I was called to love and serve and to bring the light of God to a different place in a different time, and just as I imagine God will call me to bring light and love and service to some other, future places at some other, future times.

Because newness is mostly a matter of giving in to God's call for the sake of faithfulness. And in that mindset, there is no more guilt, or fear, or second-guessing. Just trust that I am here, exactly where I am supposed to be, exactly as God wants me to be for many and various purposes.

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