Making a New Thing a sermon on Psalm 126 and Isaiah 43:16-21
Rev Joe Cailles, pastor Trinity UMC
Sunday, April 7, 2019, The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
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. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

Last Christmas and New Year’s when Kim, the boys and I were visiting her parents in Wisconsin, we saw that Kim’s mother Jane was walking with some difficulty because her hip had been hurting her and giving her some trouble for some time by then. Yesterday Kim flew to Wisconsin to stay with her parents because her mother will have hip replacement surgery on Tuesday. Kim will be on hand for a couple of weeks there to help both her parents. Now both her parents are still very fit and active. Kim’s father Lou is refurbishing the wide-open unfinished basement in their house making an additional bedrooms and bathroom and creating space for his workshop and her in-house art studio. During her stay Kim will be both upstairs tending for her mother after surgery and then downstairs hammering together wall studs with her father.
This is a new thing, a new dynamic for Kim and her parents, for her, the daughter to provide care for her parents. The love and care that usually flows in one direction from parent to child is now, even a bit, being reversed. It’s a new thing for many folks my age, providing more and more care for those who cared for us.
Reversals and new things and love crossing the generations are very much the themes in our passage from the book of Isaiah this morning. As we are closing out the season of Lent and closing in on Easter, Isaiah’s words remind us that God’s loving care is both a constant in our lives and through the generations, and God’s love leads to reversals and unexpected, life-giving new things for us.
The prophet Isaiah writes these words we heard to a people who have lost everything— their homes, their Sacred Temple, even their nation and own rulers. The Hebrew people live in exile from the land God had promised them, the land they had lived on for centuries. The exile will come to an end one day, but Isaiah’s people don’t know that when the prophet delivers these words.
From the looks of things, from their perspective, the Hebrew people are stuck where they are, strangers in a strange land. Life may have been great back then, but now life has nothing but dry deserts and deep wildernesses and wild things biting at their heels all the time.
Many of us today may know something like that. We have our homes and our sacred temple stands strong. Our nation remains our own even it seems that those who govern us and have power and authority over us are wild things and biting at each other and biting at us all the time.
But we each carry with us dry deserts and deep wildernesses within us — tragedies and losses dry out our souls, making our lives seem parched and tired. Many of us find ourselves lost in the wildernesses of painful shame and bad decisions and broken relationships. Like wild things many of us inflict cruelties on one another. We inflict cruelties on ourselves. That’s just how life is now for many of us, and we’re half convinced that maybe that’s the way life is always going to be for us.
Into these lives the prophet Isaiah speaks: Thus says the Lord, do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.
The Lord promises new things, new possibilities and a new life even when we can’t see any evidence for it at all. The Hebrew people were exiles, captives of a far greater militarily power. The Hebrew people weren’t able to rise up and change that. The Babylonians like the arrangement just fine, what could be done?
Those of us with dry deserts and deep wildernesses in our souls, how is that to change? We are what we are. The wild animals of injustice and violence, the jackals of poverty and misery, and the ostriches of apathy and cynicism still roam the world. What can be done?
Hear the good news: What can be done for us is in line with what God has done for us through the generations. The loving care and power that God has shown in past, the reversals that God has provided will emerge today and preview what God has in store for us in the days to come. Hope and faith emerge for us today when we remember what God has done in the past. What God has done, God is doing and God will continue to do.
Now right away we have a paradox in the passage. The prophet says God will do a new thing but we must not remember or consider the former things. But if we don’t remember what God has done, how will we know what God is doing and will do? That’s the paradox: should we remember and consider God’s past loving care or not.
The challenge comes when we expect God to do now and in the future exactly what God has done in the past, in the exact same way God has acted in the past, to get us back to what we were and what we had in the past, the way we liked it. Too often what we want is for our lives to go back exactly the way we think we remember that they used to be…Give me what I had, Lord, when life was good…when church was good…when America was great….Lord have mercy, that ain’t it! God is not offering us the old life and the old ways. Children who receive love and care as children grow to give love and increasing care for their elders. A reversal emerges, and care and compassion and tenderness begins to flow both ways: parents taking care of children who then begin to take care their parents. The love is the same but the new dynamics, the new thing, takes hold.
When the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt, God sent Moses to lead them to freedom, through a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters. Centuries later the Hebrew people were exiles, conquered and held captive by the Babylonians, who were themselves then conquered by the Persians, who let the Hebrew people return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple and rebuild their way of a life. This was the new thing- in line with what God had done for them in Egypt but different in the details.
Centuries later when the Roman Empire was the great power of the land, the Hebrew people remembered that God had liberated them from slavery in Egypt and restored them from exile in Babylon. Surely God will liberate them and restore them again.
Thus says the Lord, do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.
We Christians believe that new thing is Jesus, who comes to us, not to save some people from a mighty empire, but who comes to save all of humanity from sin and death. Jesus is the new thing in line with, but different from, all the former things of old that God has done.
On the night before Jesus dies, he takes an old beautiful Passover meal, the meal in which the Jewish people remember and give thanks for God liberating them from slavery, and Jesus does a new thing. This bread is me; it is us, united together. This cup is me. It is us, a promise, a new covenant of loving care and salvation for all people across the generations. Our communion is a new thing, in line with, but different from, all the former things of old that God has done.
On the third day after Jesus’ death, God does a new thing, resurrecting Jesus and giving him new life. We, who call Jesus our savior, have been promised that resurrected, eternal life will be ours too, and not just after we die but here today, now. Our new life with Jesus is the new thing in line with, but different from, all the former things of old that God has done.
Centuries later after his death and resurrection, thus says the Lord to us today, do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing for all of us today. And for those us lost in the wilderness of life, God will show us the way, even if it isn’t the same way that we knew before. And for those of us with dry desert spaces in our souls, God will send the waters and rejuvenate us, even if those waters are slightly different waters than we were thinking we needed. And for those wild animals that roam the earth now, apathy and greed and cynicism and sin and death. God will tame them and recreate them til they roar with voices of mercy and peace and joy.
The new thing that God is doing now in our lives won’t restore us to our old ways. That’s good news because all around us emerging today and tomorrow for all people God is giving us a new thing, new possibilities that we can hardly imagine now in line with, but different from, all the former things of old that God has done. Thanks be to God!