“A New Thing”
Isaiah 43:16-21, April 3rd, 2022
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Fifth Sunday in Lent
“Hear now the words of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter forty-three, verses sixteen thru twenty-one.”
16 Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.
19 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.
20 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, 21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
“Having listened with our ears to the prophecies of Isaiah, let us consider the words of old, within our present time, as we seek new hope for the future.”
“A New Thing”
Here we are in the fifth Sunday of Lent. Next week we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, even if it is thru the back-gate. Then on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the empty tomb and the sightings of the resurrected Christ. Yet, in between these two historic Christian events, the darkness of the cross weighs heavy on our hearts. Even with the last supper the night before, that is remembered on Maundy Thursday, which we celebrate this morning, we know the heaviness which darkens and blots out the ‘S O N’. Our hearts will surely long for a new thing as we wait for the celebration, the shock and awe of Easter morning celebrations around the world. We shall observe and acknowledge these markers, these events in Christian history, no matter the turbulence that may surround us and does surround our brothers and sisters in the war-torn area of the Ukraine. Yet, even as we and they long for an end to the fighting, this is what Ash-Wednesday, the five weeks of Lent, and then Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the mock trial, and Jesus’ crucifixion – lead us to. The New Hope of Easter!
Even as we long to set our eyes upon the joy Easter brings, we must first finish the journey. Along the way we encounter the words of Isaiah, who speaks to us of God doing a new thing. “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” /Isaiah 43:19/ The remnant of Israel long for the ‘reed’ of new hope which the prophet offers. The millions of citizens of the Ukraine long for it. The families of those who cry-out due to the loss of their sons and daughter – they too long for peace. The ones stricken ill, they who wait for a miracle to cure their cancer or help them overcome a stroke long for it. On Easters past – we often have celebrated with candy eggs and flowers; like the ones with their blossoms bursting forth with new life, in hopes we all, children and adults alike will feel and awaken to the new hope! It is hard to grasp the straw of faith and hope when the surgeon is pulling out the broken pieces, the very roots of your broken molar. It is hard to awaken a broken spirit… having just buried a son or a daughter. It is difficult at best to speak of the joy a new start brings… when we are weighed down with the burden of life’s harsh reminders of our mortality.
Alan Brehm, theologian, and writer, says it so well. “We are all called to take our faith in God from the past and bring it into the present, regardless of how hopeless or desperate the situation may seem.” Pastor Brehm reminds us that we ‘oft times’ – we need to look to the past, to awaken ourselves to the hope in the present – as we long for the future. His words have a practicality to them. As I am pondering this, a friend calls me seeking my advice. He has been struggling with an employment situation. He likes his job but was made a promise that is no longer true; it will take another year before it can be rectified. We talked a bit, and as we reflected on life’s realities, we agreed he had only a couple choices. He had hoped I would come up with a new idea. I didn’t. Thankfully, faith in God is not the same as faith in a promise from an employer. In the past, my friend’s employer has failed others in their promises. But as we look to the history of God’s kept promises, heartache usually arrives when we fail to keep our end of the covenant – not God.
History is our textbook (our Bible) when we want to see, in writing, how God has been there for the many stories and accountings which have been recorded about those who came before us. Their witness testifies to the hope that we can draw from, when we see how God’s faithfulness to, we the ‘people of God’, has come to be. As we reflect-back to the time of Moses, we shall see that the promises of God to Moses and the Hebrews were kept. “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:” /Isaiah 43:16&17/ Isaiah is talking about the parting of the Red Sea, as they escaped their captivity from Egypt. Remember the story. Pharaoh’s chariots were in pursuit of the Hebrew slaves. But a whirlwind held them back as the people were able to cross through the sea, as Moses lifted his staff – as God had commanded. Thus, the waters parted, and the people walked to safety. Thereafter, the chariots and warriors raced after them, only to be lost, as the sea closed upon them. Faith was key in that drama. Faith to trust that God would provide for them yet again and again as it is written. As we pick our way through the pages of the Old Testament the clarity of God’s faithfulness arises repeatedly.
Larry Broding, a Director of Religious education talks to us of trusting God. “Trust in God brings the past alive, gives the present meaning, and the future hope.” He takes us one step beyond Dr. Brehm’s thoughts on this passage. He is telling us that when we truly begin to trust God in all things, it shall bring to life the historical past in new ways. In the beginning of his service to God, in his role as the leader who brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, Moses did not trust God. Yet, God continued to work with him and as Moses’s trust in the miraculous love of God for his people, Moses became a trusting and devoted servant of God. The odds of his success were small considering the situation. Yet Moses’s faith grew and grew, simply because he came to believe with his whole heart and soul! When we look at the accounting of Moses from this vantage point the events of the past come alive as the dialog of the scriptures build on the impossible mission Moses was given. Thereby leading us to miraculous accounts of what Moses was able to accomplish, because his faith gave him the ‘ability’ to do as God called upon him to do! When we look to the past in this way it does bring new light to shine on life’s situations in our present time. Look to what we see happening in the midst war. The unexpected seems to be happening, albeit at a terribly high cost, as the war continues! The conclusion to this event will still need to be played out. History will give us more clarity to this then we can dimly see at this moment. Notwithstanding the ending, trusting God will bring history to life for those who approach it with faith in God’s faithfulness.
As we look more deeply into the words of Isaiah we are left with a responsibility as we come to understand his words. Verse twenty-one speaks to us directly. You are “the people whom I formed for myself so that you might declare my praise.” Sounds different when we take ‘they’ out it and replace with you.” They were charged back then when Isaiah first spoke these words. Yet now the words of this ancient writing are speaking across the ages. They are speaking to you and to me! We are now the people who are charged to “declare and sing praises” to the works of God in the past, that they may bring new hope to ‘all’ the people of God today. This means that we need to take heed to Isaiah’s prophecy as spoken of in verse nineteen. “God is (I am) about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? These words are speaking to us, reawakening our faith, our faithfulness to God’s love for ‘all’ the people. “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” /Isaiah 43:19b/ The wilderness represents those dark difficult times. Like a senseless war or a horrific situation that only a miracle can deal with. Isaiah is telling us that God shall help us find a way through our troubles, no matter how difficult they may be!
Isaiah goes on to expand on the fullness of his prophesy. “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,” /Isaiah 43:21/ In difficult times even those who have yet to know God’s love will feel the tenderness of the Creator’s presence. The raging rivers will be tamed, and their waters will nurture and nourish the people of God. The thirsty will be fulfilled, receiving all which they shall need.
What does this mean for us? It means first: that we must accept God’s help and be given all that is needed – to do all that God is asking of us. And we shall be able to do this due to the ‘new hope’ the ‘new thing’ which shall build up in our very being, in our hearts and minds, and through our everyday life. We are charged to carry this newness to others. So that we can share the rest of our journeys as we and they, complete the trek to God’s eternal gift at Easter. Let us go forth to receive the ‘New Thing’ and the ‘New Life’ promised to us! Yes! Hope is what we are charged with. We are charged with the responsibility to carry hope forward into our lives, sharing it with all we encounter! Let us carry the banner of hope so others will witness what we have seen, heard, and now believe; fully trusting in the love of God, with all our hearts, souls, and minds.