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Sermon for Lent 5 year C I am about to do a new thing

February 22, 2016

new thingI am about to do a new thing – words from our first reading

In the name….

One couple chose this passage for their wedding. When the day came, friends and families from every stage and corner of this couple’s life, gathered together; all part of the memory of their past. Marriage is a step into a future that is unknown, a wilderness—a beautiful one to be sure, but a wilderness all the same— there is nothing safe or tame about this new journey.

Did you notice that everything in this passage is in present tense? In the first three verses; I am the God who brought you out of Egypt, remember? Then, in the third verse it seems to say, “Forget that”

Do not remember the former things? That’s not what counsellors and psychologists tell us. They have a word for someone who refuses to deal with the past: the word is “denial,” People in denial pretend that everything is fine, when there’s an enormous elephant smack in the middle of the living room. Do not remember the former things? Surely those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it and church folk have traditions, and sacred stories that we read, over and over

I don’t think the prophet means for us to have no memory. Israel is who she is because of a historical moment and she is supposed to remember that, not forget it. They have mantras such as, “Remember, you were slaves and God brought you out of Egypt and delivered you.” “You will teach all of this to your children and your children’s children.” But Israel was haunted by its spiritual infidelities that they believed led to their exile: not able to see themselves in a new way but only as the people who had failed God. That was their primary identity. “Remember not” is not about the absence of memory. It is about finding freedom from memories which haunt us. The power of the old must be broken. We must “remember not” if we are to perceive the new.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one who knew how to “remember not”. His “I Have a Dream” speech came only months after he wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Amid the darkness, he was able to perceive the new thing in his midst. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he proclaimed: Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of excessive trials and tribulations, fresh from narrow jail cells, battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

Isaiah proclaims God’s promise to Israel, to the wedding couple and to us that each day we travel this beautiful wilderness of life, this wilderness of Lent, that God will do a new thing. God will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, so that we can drink the water we need. God doesn’t promise to subdue the wilderness; only to make a way through it. God doesn’t promise to tame the wild animals but that wild animals and partners and ordinary people will help us on our journey.

In the film “American Beauty,” Kevin Spacey plays a character going through a mid-life crisis. His wife and daughter think that he is a loser. He says, “They are right. I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this sedated…..but it’s never too late to get it back.”

A photo haunts him: his wife, and daughter at an earlier age beaming into the camera with all the hope and expected dreams of a young family. He asks, “How did we lose this?….Is it possible to find the life, the beauty NOW in some new way?” A neighbour’s son asks, “Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I have ever filmed?” It’s a paper bag in a wind. “The bag was just dancing, like a little kid begging me to play with it. That’s the day I realized that there is this entire life behind things and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there is no reason to be afraid, ever.

What does it take to see beauty in things? An antique dealer used to own the shop underneath my flat. He said his job required, “Creative imagination. You have to see past all the layers of paint, the scars. You need to be able to see the piece of furniture in its original beauty. You get excited about the possibilities that you see beneath the surface. Then, you have to have time and energy. Love is more important than skill. You need to love the piece of furniture and its possibilities.”

We have been looking at restorative justice: at how face to face meetings between offenders and victims have broken a cycle. How people are no longer imprisoned by past memories. Scars are healed. Like the antique furniture, people are restored.

When God says, I make all things new; that is what God means. God does not throw us away and get somebody else for a new people. He takes that which is scarred and broken down and restores us to our original pristine beauty. We are layered with baggage, layers of anger and bitterness and cynicism, where there is little joy in our lives, scars of childhood memories, broken families, broken marriages, broken dreams. God has a great imagination and sees the possibilities in us. God strips off the old anger, cynicism and hatred and all the other bad habits we have developed. And when God is done with us, God says, “I make all things new.”

We are about to enter Holy Week. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter are different acts in one drama. There isn’t a blessing and dismissal at the end of Thursday or Friday because we are expected to be at both. I hope that you will try to come to all of them and not have a week off just because next Sunday is at Cotham and the clocks are going forward. The prophet invites you, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; do you not perceive it?” We are not remembering ‘former things’. As we enter into the drama, God works on us, giving us imagination of the new thing springing forth in his midst. We will find our own crosses gradually transformed into Resurrection wholeness.

O God, you call us to behold the new. Give us courage to remember not and to perceive what is springing forth in our midst. Amen.

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