The sermon begins at minute 17.
What’s new? Anything new going on in your life? There is a lot of new stuff going on here. There’s a new red door outside – red, the color of Pentecostal spirit, red – the color of sanctuary. It looks great! And I have a new office – I am on this side now!
David Wigger and Delilah Dervic are new staff members.
We will get a new Co-Pastor this year.
There’s a new expectation for our mission: to be open to God’s call to discover, to celebrate and to witness the goodness of the Lord in the land of living!
We’ve been through a lot together, there have been some tensions lately – but here we are: a new program year awaits!
And God is going to do a new thing with us. I just feel it.
Anytime you anticipate something new, there inevitably comes anxiety. No matter how exciting the prospects may be there is always the wondering: what if…?
Isaiah proclaims the coming of a new chapter in the life of children of Israel.
For us to understand this passage and then to discern its implications for today it is important to have a little background.
When the prophet we call Isaiah was inspired to speak these words of the Lord to the people of Israel had been in exile in Babylon for 70 years.
It had been 70 years since Jerusalem had been razed to the ground. 70 years, that is 1948 to today. It’s three generations. Very few who were taken to Babylon were still alive.
And the Israelites responded to this news of God’s new thing is predictable ways.
Some dreamed of a return to Jerusalem the way it had been. They would sing the song of Bob Marley, “By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion ‘cause the wicked carried us away – captivity.” (Psalm 137)
These folks were nostalgic. They dreamed of a restoration, of making Israel great again, of building up the walls and re-establishing the kingdom as in the days of David and Solomon.
Others, predictably, didn’t hold that dream of a return. They were doing quite well in the status quo of the present age. Going through the desert back to Jerusalem did not thrill them. Desert camping? No, thank you!
Those of wealth and status found a pleasant life in a cosmopolitan city. They could very easily worship God in their new locale.
Some scholars argue that it was during the Babylon captivity (as it is called) that the stories of Old Testament were gathered and edited.
“Let’s just stay where we are. We have never had it so good.”
So when Isaiah spoke these inspired words: “See, I am about to do a new thing,” many said: “Uh-oh!”
New things mean change.
Isaiah challenges both of these predictable mindsets: those who are nostalgic and those who just want to stay put.
As for the past: Isaiah affirms that the Lord is the one who created Israel. Isaiah definitely sets the new thing upon the ancient foundations of God’s creative power to deliver and save! Yes, the Lord blessed David and Solomon. Yes, the Lord delivered the people from slavery and destroyed the Egyptians.
But then Isaiah says: “Don’t remember the former things, or consider the things of old. See I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Perception of a new thing and trusting God is more important then memory of the old.
Now that is very important – it is not going to be a return to some glorious age. The future is not a restoration of how it used to be.
You have to give up the old visions and the old dreams. You have to give up “That is how we always did it.” To see what God has in store, you have to move, trust, risk, hope, and not get distracted.
True faith is not in an institution, or a set of laws – but in a relationship with a living God. That is all God has ever wanted since the beginning of time:
- To love creation (that includes you and me) and be loved back.
- To offer to God what God has offered to us: everything.
- To be in the garden, together.
- To be on the journey, together – dependent on each other – not bound by forms and institutions – but open and expectant and ready.
If there is a return to anything in this new way – it is to that heart of the mission that was first expressed at Creation: God creates and God loves and God redeems – God is. Let go of everything and get ready to move.
So while God’s gracious and saving acts are part of the history – the people are not to cling to the memories, or think of them as glory days to be returned to.
Isaiah tells the people who are listening: Know your past but don’t get all nostalgic. Whatever you do, do not think that yesterday was greater or better then what I am about to do with you and for you.
Now that is deep, and words that you and I have to pay attention to. It is an inspired pronouncement from God through the prophets that our nation needs to heed.
Because there is a tendency, I think, to look back and see in a generation or two or three ago a better time. If only we could go back to the glory days.
“If only we could get back to the way the early church was” – Well, let me tell you, the early church was even messier than the present day church!
I was in Starbucks on Tuesday and a woman was saying “If only we would start school again after Labor Day.” (I agree with her.)
If only I were young again. That is not going to happen.
Sometimes we don’t yearn to go back a generation or two, but just a week or two–before we got the news, before I spoke those words, before I learned….
But once you have knowledge, you can’t plead ignorance. Once you catch a glimpse, don’t choose blindness.
The past is always part of who we are. But the question to ask yourself, and for us to ask ourselves, is “OK, we know what has happened, but how are we going to stay open to God and what will happen?” Because time only moves in one direction.
And God is in the midst of us, in the midst of your life, right now: Nothing to fear.
But we do fear. We fear change, we fear new things – and fear is what keeps love from growing. Fear is what keeps justice from coming. Fear is what gets you stuck and immovable.
God is about to do a new thing! And you and I are being called this day to faith and trust, not fear and loathing.
My father was part of the so-called “greatest generation.” I honor him and what his generation did. But I have no doubts that our children are a “greatest generation” too. You will be served communion by them and be anointed by them today!
It is going to be different – but all will still be beautiful.
Deanne and I have been watching the TV show “Jane the Virgin.” I need to be careful with my recommendation – it is not for the family. I watch it so I can keep up with contemporary culture. It makes me uncomfortable at times, makes me think, “Can’t they leave that stuff out?” I wish it were “the Lucy Show” or “Sanford and Son” or “Cosby” but it is a TV show for today and there have been parts of episodes that have made us laugh and moved us deeply.
Jane’s husband Michael dies (oops for the spoiler alert) and Jane’s wise Abuela, Alba, is comforting Jane. Jane weeps, “It will never be the same. I will never fall in love again. It will never be beautiful again.” And Abuela whispers: “It will always feel different but your life will be beautiful again just in a different way.”
Isaiah’s words whisper through the centuries: “Life will be beautiful again… just in a different way.”
The times, they are a-changin’ but God is in the midst, God is on the move. Faith, hope and love will never change. It will be beautiful.
Together we are going to learn how to live this change and witness to God.
By standing up for justice and inclusion. Being on the front end of aspiration and innovation. Being open to God’s “new thing” that has been in the spiritual DNA of Forest Hill Church for fifty years.
Isaiah says: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” And that reminds me of Isaiah’s words in 40:3 “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”
On our way into the new thing:
- There will be times when we walk in the desert trying to find our way – but God will produce springs for refreshment.
- There will be valleys that we will have to walk through – but God will lift up the valley.
- There may be mountains and hills that we will have to climb – but God will level them.
- There will be some rough places and uneven ground – but God will smooth the way.
The glory of the Lord is about to be revealed among us – and we are going to see it together.
If you are ready to walk, ready to move, prepared to witness and to be the beloved community – then you will be part of what Isaiah calls: “God’s people who were formed to declare God’s praise!”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.