March 21, 2010
The Rev. Brad Rundlett
March 21, 2010
As The Rev. Lauren Stanly reminded us last Sunday, and as we heard in this morning's first reading, "Thus says the Lord ... 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?"
So spoke the prophet Isaiah 540 years before Jesus was born.
Those "former things", those "things of old" that Isaiah said should be dismissed included the miracles God performed delivering the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. In essence Isaiah said, "Forget the Exodus."
Really? Didn't Moses command God's people to commemorate "The Passover" every year, forever? And doesn't the Church, to this day, celebrate the New Passover of God in Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist? Shall we wipe our memories clear of all the good and wondrous things God has done? Is that what the ancient prophet meant for us to do?
Isaiah would say, "That was then; this is now. If something gets in the way of God, let it go. God is active in human history; God has done marvelous things to be sure." But our desire for God to do again what God has done in the past blinds us to what God is doing now. God is not bound by the limit of our imagination or the scope of our prayers. God doesn't follow the rules; God makes the rules.
As for recognizing what God is up to at any given moment, John, the author of the fourth Gospel, points out that we are notoriously short-sighted. What seems so clear in hind sight, invariably eludes our understanding as new things unfold. It is quite apparent to us now, for example - 2000 years after the fact - that Jesus was one of The Almighty's "new things." Indeed Jesus was, is, God's greatest "new thing." His teaching and witness are a powerful counterpoint, a shattering iconoclastic contrast, to usual human conduct. Contrary to the claims of the Roman Empire, specifically the infamous Pax Romana, Jesus maintained that Peace will never be achieved by force, but by love and forgiveness; justice will never be achieved by the rule of law, but by compassion and generosity.
The people of God must be transformed. We must be made new, in the image of God, in the likeness of Christ.
And our expectations of God get in the way.
John wrote that even at this late point in the journey, only six days before our Savior's final Passover, the disciples couldn't get past their limited view of the world to see how Jesus would turn shame into glory and defeat into victory. Of all his followers only Mary was open to the new way by which Jesus would turn everything on end and set things right. Note the protests, the accusations, the resistance, as she anoints her Savior, as one anoints the dying for death, or a king to reign.
Note the tone in Paul's letter to the Philippians, as he passionately reminds them that God works quite outside and beyond the realm human expectation. Paul says "I did everything by the book; when it came to honoring the higher standards of his time, no one could best me. Even so, none of it amounted to a hill of beans. I was dumped on my keister and struck blind by Jesus the Risen Lord, and thereby became a brand new man, a believer, a witness, an Apostle of the Good News."
Like the rest of us, before and since, Paul didn't see it coming. We characteristically fail to see what God is doing at any given moment; it completely eludes us until we are shocked out of our senses, thoroughly stunned by the absolute implausibility of the new thing.
As Lauren said, "God is doing a new thing in Haiti." As Jesus said, "Nothing is impossible for God."
There it is, time and time again; God works marvels in and under, around and through the most devastating human circumstances. Through horrific calamity, through great personal strife, God weaves new life.
We should expect the impossible. We should anticipate miracles.
But we rarely do.
I am positively astonished by Haitian earthquake survivors who, amidst unimaginable destruction, rise up, dance, and sing God's praises; by the young boy who was pulled alive and smiling from a mountain of rubble, his lean hunger-thin arms raised in victory.
"God is doing a new thing" our neighbors declare, even as they stagger through mountains of debris, and mourn the loss of loved ones, homes, jobs - everything they held dear.
They help me see the frailty of my own faith; how short sighted I am, not to see God on the cross that Haiti has to bear. God's love is steadfast. God does redeem us - in this life, and in the life beyond. God's methods and instruments may vary, but God always bring new life out of destruction. That is the promise of The Exodus, the Passover. That is what our forebears in faith saw looking back on the Persian conquest of the Babylonians and the release of the Hebrew people. That is the message of the cross and empty tomb. It is evident in the transformation of Paul.
Looking back on your own life, do you see it? Do you see the hand of God lifting you up, setting you on your feet again, turning your losses into opportunities, your dead ends into new directions?
We still bear the wounds of our battles to be sure; when the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples they knew it was him by the wounds and scars he still bore. Complete healing does not happen this side of paradise. But new life, new faith, new hope, by the grace of God most certainly does.
In this season of Lent, in this time of overwhelming tragedy in so many countries and communities, in this era of anxiety and fear about the economy, the loss of jobs, foreclosures on homes, wild weather patterns, natural calamities, interminable wars, the political bantering over healthcare, we are reminded that God is ever doing new things, precisely where and when we least expect, ever forging new opportunities and possibilities, ever creating new life, whether we see it unfolding or not.
Our lessons this morning challenge us to acknowledge our sorrows and fears, but not give into them; to remember what God has done in the past, but not assume that God responds to every challenge the same way; to hold onto the enduring truth that God does new things, unexpected things, wonderful things. "We press on to make this faith our own" Paul urged, "because Jesus Christ has made us his own."
My dear friends, expect the impossible, anticipate miracles; let God surprise you.