The prophet Isaiah says to the people of Israel exiled in Babylon,
“Thus says the Lord…Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing….”
I wonder how the people of Israel uprooted from their homes and homeland, taken captive, and carried off to a foreign land where people worshiped different gods heard those words.
I wonder if they even heard those words at all living as they did in the land of their conquerors. How could they not remember their homeland left in ruins, their loved ones lying dead, their temple destroyed. I imagine that the distant past—the past before the siege and fall of Jerusalem—was one place where they could find peace. I suspect they often found themselves considering the things of old—the good old days.
You and I—we are kin with the people of the exile, the people to whom Isaiah spoke the words of God.
Who among us has not found themselves in exile—cut off from that which we know, that which we love, that which gives us comfort?
Who among us has not found themselves stumbling in a wilderness of the unfamiliar and therefore threatening?
Who among us has not stood in the place of the people of the exile, the Israelites hauled off to Babylon?
Who among us has not, at one time or another in their life, shared their despair and turned back to the glory days of home for comfort and for peace?
I imagine that each of us in this room can look back and remember a time in our lives when we did not believe that God would ever create something new—a time when we saw no way out of the darkness of our days. Maybe a long stretch of unemployment or a hurtful divorce or the loss of a loved one or the aftermath a feared diagnosis delivered.
I suspect that most of us gathered around the altar this evening have a fair acquaintance with that crippling darkness.—either in our own life or in the lives of communities in which we have lived.
I know that here at St. Michael’s there have been more than a few such moments in our shared life—a fire that destroyed the old sacristy and what was then the parish hall; the day we learned that the then Bishop had denied our loan even as this very building was going up. Closer to our shared home—the moment we as a worshipping community learned that Father Daniel—the founder of Live at Five—was leaving St. Michael’s. I can still remember over-hearing a person leaving worship that night saying, “I don’t know what I’ll do.” I won’t soon forget the feeling of that blanket of despair that draped itself on this community.
And yet we know from our own lives, the lives of those we love and the lives of communities in which we have lived, that there is always something new at work far beneath the topsoil of our lives.
Today, on this fifth and last Sunday of Lent,
Today, still reeling from the ugliness and meanness and only lightly-veiled tilt towards violence that seem to be a part of our current round of elections,
Today, perhaps remembering the sadness that marks the life of someone we love,
we hear the prophet known as Isaiah say to the people of Israel, the people of the exile, the people who sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept, people who despaired of ever regaining their bearings–“Behold, I am doing a new thing, Even now it is springing to light. Do you not perceive it?”
We hear the psalmist sing the promises of God:
Those who sowed with tears/will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed/
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
We hear those words and we wonder, “Can they be true? Dare we hope?”
That’s the thing about God’s newness at work in a human life—often you don’t see it until you look in your rearview mirror.
And yet the newness is there, “being born in us, just when we least believe in it.”1
When I look in my own rearview mirror, I sometimes catch a glimpse of moments of newness of life just when I thought things had fallen apart for good—disasters that seemed to lead to light and new life. I suspect such moments are a part of every life.
I know that St. Michael’s has had such moments— the way the community came together in the aftermath of that fire, the amazing vitality springing up from the necessity of bringing in the money to pay for this house of worship, and surely not least, the way this community of Live at Five has lived into its ministry of bringing St. Michael’s out into the larger community and bringing the larger community into the worshipping core of St. Michael’s. Who would have thunk it in the dark moments of our life together.
But God has a habit of doing a new thing. The Bible is full of God’s startling acts of newness—it’s bookended by acts of newness—starting with creation and ending with the new Jerusalem. Why would we not expect to find God’s acts of newness in our own lives, in our common life, and in the world in which we live. God is about a new thing.
Like the green blade of grass rising from the wintry soil, God is always at work Eastering our ashen world and our ashen lives . The light of the open tomb overcoming the darkness of the cross.
“Behold,” God says to God’s people, “I am doing a new thing, even now it is springing to light.”
It’s our job to greet that Eastering newness with hopeful hearts and arms wide open to receive God’s next new thing.
1 “Behold, I am Doing a New Thing,” Paul Tillich, from The Shaking of the Foundations, 1955.