"A NEW THING"

ISAIAH 43:14-21

JANUARY 20, 2013

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           Some of you know that Notre Dame is the Reverend Doctor Edmund Steinmetz's favorite college football team.  I know, I know, given the fact hes a Notre Dame fan we obviously need to pray for Ed more than we are currently praying for him, but we have to tip our hat to Ed because Notre Dame had a great season last year.  Notre Dame's year on the field was so good that their coach, Brian Kelly, was voted the 2012 major college "coach of the year." 

           Now travel with me to South Bend, Indiana for a moment and imagine spring ball beginning and Brian Kelly gathering his football team together for their first practice of the new season.  He comes with his "coach of the year" award.  The team cheers, clearly proud of their coach and the team's accomplishments last year.  Then, as the applause subsides, Coach Kelly walks to a trash can, takes one last admiring glance at the award, and dumps it into the trash.  He turns to his players and says, What we accomplished last year was terrific, but look at the calendar: Its not last year anymore.  Let's go get him," and fired up the team storms out of the locker room and heads out to the practice field. 

            Good advice. The team had experienced a great year, but they need to put it behind them and focus on the year ahead.  Right, Ed?

            As we pick up the action this morning Israel has experienced many BAD years, not great years.   Many of their best people are in exile in Babylon.  It is not a happy time living in a foreign land, and a prophet arises, a man named Isaiah, and he brings the exiles in Babylon a message of hope, and this message of hope comes in three parts.  Let's turn to them now.  Look at part one with me.  Let's call it a change of tune.  Verse 14.

 

            Thus says The Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake, I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.

 

            God promises that the Babylonians, sometimes called Chaldeans just as Nebraskans are sometimes called Huskers, the Babylonian/Chaldeans will soon change their tune.  They had been singing that song often heard at the end of basketball games when the student section starts taunting the losing team by singing, "Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye."  You see, the Babylonians had conquered Israel.  They had violated their temple.  They had taken the leaders of Israel out of the nation and carried them away to Babylon, and they are proud of that fact.  But a day is coming, says The Lord, when the Babylonians will change their tune.  Their gloating, their taunting, will turn to lamentations.  God says, After I am done with them they will be singing, 'Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.'

           So that's part one of the message - a change of tune.  Now, look with me at part two of his message of hope.  Let's call part two, a jogging of memories.  Verse 15,

 

            I am The Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.  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.

 

            In other words, if you are having difficulty believing I can set you free from those Babylonian bullies, then remember what I did to Egypt.  I made the most powerful person in that time, the Pharaoh, look like a fool. I rolled back the waters to let you pass through safely and then I rolled the waters back crushing the Egyptian chariots.  I will do something similar soon. I will build a super highway in the desert and you will return home safely.  It will be a second exodus.  In the second half of verse 19 Isaiah, quoting God, puts it this way,

 

            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 may declare my praise.

 

            But that's not the only memory God jogs.  God not only jogs their memory about the Exodus, but also, God jogs their memory about who they are.  They are Gods chosen people.  You may be familiar with Tevye in the play, Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevye is a pious Russian Jewish peasant who seems to enjoy staring up into the sky and arguing with God.  In one particularly dark moment, when everything seems to be going wrong in his little Jewish community, Tevye looks toward the sky and says to God, Its true we are the Chosen People.  But once in a while cant you choose someone else?

            Sometimes we feel that way, especially when we remember what God said through another prophet, the prophet Amos.  Of all the peoples of the earth, I have chosen you alone, says God.  Then God adds, That is why I must punish you the more for all your sins.  Whoa, is that what it means to be chosen, that we will be punished more for our sins?  Given that reality, surely there were many times in history when the Jewish people prayed, Cant you choose someone else?

            But not this time.  This time they are glad to be reminded of who they are.  Its been a long time since their glory days.  Its been a long time since they had put a smile on Gods face.  Sitting there in Babylon they may have wondered if they had blown it so badly that God had given up on them.  But God hadnt.  And God promises to bring them home once again. 

            I think of a Quaker family, the Hartmans, who lived in the early pioneer days near Chicago.  John, one of the Hartman boys, had grown to manhood, about nineteen years of age.  One day he and his father had a violent quarrel, which was a very unusual occurrence in that family of peace-lovers.  It was so serious that the father ordered the son to leave home.  John, then as large and as tall as his father, arose and promised, Father, Ill go and will never return until I have a personal invitation from you.

            John went West in search of work, and with a pick and a shovel he found a wagon train that was heading out for California, where gold had been discovered.

Only a few days had passed when the heartbroken father came to his senses and

remorsefully acknowledged his mistake.  He decided to go in search of his son.  He sold some of his stock to provide means for his wife and family while he was gone, as well as for him to make the trip.  He learned that his boy had gone West, heading for California.  Soon he was tramping from one camp to another, only to find that his John had left each camp just ahead of him.

            Finally, with all his money spent, he realized that he must return home, but an idea came to him as he rounded a bend.  He thought to himself, I will paint a message upon the rocks inviting John to come home.   And so he did ... again and again and again.  With a prayer in his heart that his son would come along that trail before the wind and the weather effaced the writing, the father headed back to Chicago.  By providence, young John was making his way along the trail when suddenly he noticed the words, John Hartman, your father loves you.  Come home!  He bit his lip and went on stubbornly, but there it was again, John Hartman, your father loves you. Come home!  The message got to him.

            He said, Father must have loved me a great deal to come way out here and write this message where everyone could see it.  Im going home!  And he did.

            Despite the Israelites poor behavior, God went to Babylon to invite them home.  Apparently, when God chooses us God does not let go.

            That brings us to the third part of Isaiahs message of hope to the exiles in Babylon, and lets call part three a new thing.  Verse 18.

 

            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?

 

            A new thing.  God promises to do a new thing.  God says to the exiles, "Let go of the past.  I've forgiven your misdeeds.  Time to move on.  It's time for something new."  Referring to this new thing God promises one person said, God is not confined to the pages of this book.  Neither is God confined to the faith of our fathers and mothers.  God is contemporary.  God is doing a new thing.

            Unfortunately, as much as we say we are open to new things, the truth is we are like most concert goers.  I attended a number of musical concerts when I was younger.  Trudy and I both saw the Beatles perform at the Hollywood Bowl.  I saw Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Ike and Tina Turner, Three Dog Night, Chicago, just about everyone but Elvis, the Stones and most recently Jimmy Buffet.  I even attended a three day "Woodstock" type event in California during my senior year in college and in every concert I attended I noticed an interesting phenomenon.  The audience always cheered the loudest and longest for the old songs, and they are comparatively impatient with the artist's newer stuff.

            Was it that the new songs were inferior?  Not necessarily.  It's just that they were so sentimentally attached to what is already familiar and loved that they were not interested in hearing anything new.  Could we be like those concert goers?

            I want to invite you to a very important gathering in our church.  Its to be held, God willing and the snow not falling, here at the church on Saturday, February 16th.  We will gather from 9:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon and the Session will buy us lunch, and we will work together as a church to attempt to discern the new thing God may be doing among us.

            The scriptures make it very clear, that God gives the Holy Spirit to each one of us, and the Holy Spirit speaks through each one of us if we are willing to listen to the movement of the Spirit in our lives, so its important to have as many people in our congregation present, both members and regular worshippers, to come and discern together, the new thing God may be doing among us. 

            Ive titled this sermon series Whats New? looking at all the new things God talks about in the Bible.  You see, we do not live in a static world.  Neither is God a static God.  God says in our reading from Isaiah, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Do you not perceive it?

            Well, we are going to try to perceive it on the 16th.  I hope you come and help us do that.