“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 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.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NRSV)
Isaiah wrote to the people of Israel during the Babylonian exile. His job was to speak to people who felt abandoned, helpless, and hopeless. He wanted to rebuild their understanding that God was fully capable of taking on the power of Babylon and restore Israel to the Promised Land. We also see that many of the exiles had become so accustomed to their plight that they had grown complacent and given in to the culture in which they lived. They had forgotten God and lost sight of who they were as God’s people. Isaiah spoke to help them see that God can take even the worst of circumstances and create something new.
I cannot help but hear Isaiah speaking to the church today. It seems that we have become complacent and given in to the culture; we have forgotten whose we are; we may even feel abandoned by God and simply go through the motions of playing church week after week. (Please know that I am speaking of The Church, in general, and I am not picking on SSUMC.) Christians “do church” out of habit; we come to worship because we are “supposed to.” Tradition and doctrine govern us more than the power of the Holy Spirit. We hang on to who we used to be and fail to see who God wants us to become. We keep doing what we’ve always done and ignore what God is calling us to do. It really is a lot easier to stay the same than it is to make the effort to change.
Isaiah cautions the people to let go of their past; he is not saying they should forget about it, however. He wants them to view the past as a way to imagine the future. He wants them to think about the things they did so they can imagine the things they have yet to do. This is about using tradition and memory to inspire new vitality, energy, and creativity. “I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
With our Centennial Celebration earlier this year and all the talk about change in our church, you may be tired of hearing me talk about how we need to change the way we do things. Please hear that this is not another one of those messages. Today I am thinking more about “the church,” not just our church. I believe that God is promising to do new and great things through God’s people in the world. What concerns me is that God’s people don’t seem to be very interested in letting God do this new thing. We seem to be content to let things rock along with an occasional, “Isn’t that a shame?” or “It is what it is.” I wonder if we have spent so much time “in exile” that we have forgotten that God is still alive and well and living throughout the universe. I wonder if we feel so abandoned and helpless and hopeless that we can’t see where God is already making something new. Isaiah says to us, “…do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah wants the people to let go of their past while, at the same time, taking inspiration from the fact that God worked then for their good and God is still working for their good and God will keep working for their good into the future. This is a message of great hope for the people. In the midst of one of the darkest times in Israelite history God promises not to abandon them. Isaiah challenges them to open their eyes and recognize that God wants to work with them and through them to bring this new thing springing forth.
At a time when mainline churches seem to be faltering and dying all around us; when church no longer seems to be a priority for young families and young adults; when our culture seems to think that God is no longer relevant, God speaks out of the past into our present calling us into the future. We look around and ask why people don’t go to church anymore; we wonder what we’re doing wrong or what those other guys are doing so right; we look for ways that we can do something different to bring people in. What we forget is that this is not about us – it is about God and God is the one doing the new thing; God is the one seeking the lost; God is the one with all the Good News to tell. God still says that a new thing is springing forth; God is still making a way in the wilderness and causing rivers to flow in the desert.
Isaiah speaks a word of hope to us and to God’s church in the world today. We must be willing to listen and pay attention to this message. The church today cannot afford to be complacent and simply “fit in” to the culture into which it has been exiled. We must watch for the new things God is doing and be ready to go along on the journey. A journey through the wilderness will be hard, but the grace and power of God prevailed in the past and will do so in the future.
Behold the new thing God offers,