What’s New?

What’s new?

Listen to today’s reading from Isaiah:

Remember not the former things or past events.
Behold, I am doing a new thing.
Now it springs forth.
Do you not perceive it?”

“Behold, I am doing a new thing,” says God through the prophet, and that makes me nervous. We live in a world of new things and they’re not all good by any means. How about those new fleuorcarbon spray cans a few years back – which they discovered later chewed up the ozone layer? What about the wonderful new medications that led to birth defects?  What about these great new work-saving computers that produce more paper than we can deal with? What about the new world order that has the Middle East in turmoil? At least the old ways were familiar. At least the old order was stable and we knew how to live with it.

Isn’t there always a tension in our lives between the old and familiar and the new and untried? The new offers great adventures and great rewards – but also, by definition, the unknown carries unknown risks and dangers. We know what’s wrong with the old but at least we know how to compensate And s6 we also know very well how to tame the new and make it fit old ways. The new gets old pretty fast.  Even in the Bible. Even God.

But surely, if ever there was a book that challenged us with the new it’s the Bible. Read chapter one, verse one, and you find something totally new and unprecedented: God is making a world out of chaos. Turn to the last chapter of the last book and again we find a new world being made and it tells us it’s coming soon. When Jesus went home to Nazareth to preach, they said, “What is this? A new teaching?” And they threw him out.  God may be into doing new things, but we’re not usually eager to hear it.  Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, the Bible depicts God at work making a new world, new lives, new people. And that can be threatening to people like us who need some constants in our lives. So we like to hear the Bible  in the old familiar King James Version.  So we lose the promise of the new in the comfort of the old.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing.
Even now it springs forth.
Do you not perceive it?”

Do you perceive it?  I do. Yes, I perceive it. But it makes me nervous all the same.  What is happening in our world.  Are you comfortable with climate change, th storms of last winter, the plan to build a sea wall to protect Manhattan?  We have a sense of momentous changes unfolding, a new kind of world.  Is it, perhaps, the kind of fundamental change we recognize in hindsight in the Renaissance, the Reformation, the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution. There’s a new world on our doorstep and no one knows what it means.

Just in the last fifty years we’ve seen atomic energy unleashed, the advent of the omnipresent computer, space exploration, the collapse of communism. And maybe that’s only the beginning. Those are mechanical things. Far more profound are the changes in the human spirit. What’s really happening in our society? What’s going to happen as drugs destroy families, as environmental concerns create and destroy ways of life, as our understanding of human sexuality changes? What’s happening in the churches when I seem to have more in common with the new pope than with a good many Episcopalians?  But can the Roman Catholic church survive without enough priests? Will the Southern Baptists survive their deep divisions over the Bible? Can any of our churches survive as we know them? And what will replace them, if not? Are we even ready to let the question be asked?

Our new bishop likes to ask “What is God doing?” but the fact is, it seems to me, that none of us really knows what God is doing and so it’s natural to be afraid and cling to the familiar. And that’s why people get so angry about everything from the authority of the Bible to the Second Amendment.  Give me my secure little place in the world where I can do things the old way and not be challenged and I like to think I’ll be happy. But I might also be left behind.

When God offers something new, why would I cling to the old? Because finally this is God’s world and God is at work in the changes. If you want to be a fundamentalist,  that’s the fundamental message of the Bible: that this is God’s world and God is at work in this world to make it new, not to preserve the old. It’s God’s world. God is re-shaping it. And Christians have nothing to fear. That’s the faith we stand on.

And what a difference that makes. Suppose it were otherwise. Suppose the hands that shaped the world were those of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or even the new pope.  That’s when you’ve got a right to be afraid. Because not one of them has a clue what God is doing.  And that’s alright, it’s better that way. The biggest problem is if they get in the way, try too desperately to hang onto the old or try too frantically to impose their own ideas.  God is at work. That’s our confidence. And that’s why we read the Bible.

We’ve seen glimpses this Lent of the big story, the direction God is moving. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah. God calling a people, overcoming oppression, creating freedom. We’re moving on these next two weeks to the climax: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter.  And however old the story may be, it’s still new and still powerful as we hear it again.

But more than that: here’s the most important point. Here I am talking about the about the new and here we are re-living the old.  What’s the point of that?   Well, I wonder if it’s something like what happens when a person has a stroke, becomes paralyzed, can’t move an arm or leg. There’s a process called patterning which requires sometimes teams of volunteers and infinite patience. You take the paralyzed limb and move it in a pattern over and over again and slowly, slowly, slowly the connections seem to be reformed and the limb seems to re-learn the forgotten skills and begin to move again on its own. Maybe we’re something like that. We’re afraid, we’re paralyzed, we’re not very good at moving out into new territory. So what we’ve learned to do is go back and repeat the old, walk again with Abraham as he moves out from the old home town toward the unknown,  stand with Moses at the Red Sea as Pharaoh’s armies bear down on him,  y sit with the disciples at the Last Supper and share the broken bread, watch with the disciples at Calvary, run with them to the empty tomb.  Do it again and again and again until we remember at last what it feels like to trust God and enter the new world God is making. Do it again and again until we can move forward confidently ourselves.

Here in this ancient pattern of worship God reminds us again of the new world being made and challenges our routines, our habits, our sense of self, and feeds us and calls us to see the new, respond to the new, to be the new, to become contributing members of the new creation God is bringing to light here, now, in us.

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