How often, when you have been in unfamiliar situations, has someone asked you to consider alternatives? To see something just a bit differently than you normally would. To maybe drink from a different water source or to walk a path that is counter to the path you have always walked?
It’s not easy to do so; in fact maybe it is impossible to see an alternative when we are swamped in the minutia of daily living or so bogged down with trying to keep things running the way they always have.
Our scripture, that the lectionary holds up for consideration does precisely that, from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It asks us to see anew. And it is fitting to have a look at it during this Lenten season because the passage makes us think, it lifts our spirits in this long season of repentance, it can expand our imagination as to what could be, and has the potential to solidify our hope for a grand future[i]. It prepares us to see Christ’s death and his resurrection as a gateway into a hope filled future.
God enlists the prophet Isaiah to speak to the people of Israel in words of comfort about going home to yet another new reality, from the 43rd chapter.
“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 the 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 whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”
You see a prophet’s words, especially Isaiah’s, weren’t always gloom and doom that you might expect. Isaiah was quite the imaginative poet and his poetry are words of soothing comfort while he readies the people for something new. They may not like it, they may not want it, but God does, so God is doing something new and Isaiah is the chosen one to relay that message.
For so long the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. And then, after a good long time, God says to them, “OK folks, it’s time. Pack up your camels, get some jugs of water, you’re on your way home. Back to Judah you go! Get a move on! Don’t you get it? Do you not perceive it?” You’re getting a fresh start. As you know, some did return, and some didn’t, but it was decidedly the start of something new thanks to the ever creating God that we believe in. Water in the wilderness can only means really good things; renewal, rehydration, rejuvenation, rebirth. God spoke then to accomplish God’s purposes and God speaks today.
There is a lot of newness in the air as one friend of mine pointed out to me. The Israel of today, back in the promised land has just formed a new coalition government within its parliamentary democratic system, just in time for President Obama to visit Israel for the very first time. They hope to increase security and to improve the quality of life for its citizens through this new government. Let us hope and pray for peace in the Holy Land and in Jerusalem.
Yet more newness, habemus papam! We have a pope. The white smoke came billowing out of the Sistine Chapel chimney against a midnight blue sky ushering in a new pontiff, a younger (somewhat) pontiff, a humbler pontiff who appears to be in touch with the people. While it’s clear that he is a conservative like his predecessor he is also a champion for equality and is for the rights of marginalized people. Perhaps he will bring around a renewal for the Roman Catholic Church which has been weighed down with it share of scandals, corruption, and abuse. Pope Francis is a servant and a pilgrim like all of us, so he is someone we can all identity with even if we are not Catholic.
“I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Rivers in the desert, ways in the wilderness, jackals and ostriches will honor God who will tame them. A new life for the people of Israel is springing forth; a new life for you is springing forth if you open yourselves up to perceive it.
Christianity, that is the truth of the Gospel, not necessarily doctrine, since its inception, ask us to see differently. Jesus want us to notice the woman caught in prostitution and embrace her. He asks us to envision the blind beggars, who are on the same path as we, as fully sighted individuals, he encourages us to include and to embrace every body. The entire premise of Christian doctrine begs us to find life amidst the ashes of destruction and exclusion. A new thing, can you see it?
God asks us to be a safe haven for all and to accomplish much in order to perceive the new things that God might be trying to do with us. New ways of being a gathered community of believers. God asks us to speak honestly and openly about how we can be God’s vision of hope in Orange and beyond with each other not around each other. God asks each one of us to be the harbinger of good news in a world that sometimes doesn’t seem to be so safe. God asks us to relinquish self-interest and control for the good of the Gospel in the larger setting. “I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Doing a new thing doesn’t mean that we give up our old ways necessarily or entirely but it does mean to amend them. It means to examine that which does harm and let it go and that which builds up the body of Christ and develop it into something more. When the people of Israel were finally released to go home they could take their belongings with them but I’m sure that they examined what they would take and what they would leave behind; what wasn’t worth packing up and taking along with them or what might even break the camel’s back!
This is a time of transition for OCC and we will have directed conversations that I will be hosting in the early fall. You will receive a letter just after Easter outlining the process and a plan to head into the future. We will examine all aspects of your congregational life and begin to formulate a vision for where you want to go as it relates to who God is calling you to be. We will look at what type of pastor could help you realize your goals. This is all part of the search process which actually has begun by tackling the deficit, getting your financial house in order.
Orange Congregational ChurchFall might seem like a ways out but nothing really solid and good is realized quickly. In the meantime, talk to me about your hopes and dreams.
God continues to call us forward to accomplish new things, to perceive loving kindness and justice and to enjoy this life. Indeed God called you as a faith community into being and works with you to prepare the way for those who will follow. Immerse yourself and watch, perceive all that God tosses your way.
May the One who causes peace to reign in the high heavens, have peace descend upon us this morning. May the One who has sustained Orange Congregational Church for all of these Gospel filled years continue to strengthen, preserve, and bless you.
Reverend Suzanne E. Wagner
Orange Congregational Church