The Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C: A New Thing

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Lectionary / Major Prophets / Old Testament

blue sky over ruins Looking at the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 43

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 does new things?

This is dangerous. For at least two reasons:

1) We have no control over God, and quite frankly a Being that powerful doing something ‘new’ and unpredictable is just scary.

2) People can do ‘new’ things willy-nilly and just claim that it’s God doing it. A concept of inverse theology: God does new things = new things are done by God.

Both problems are real, and each could be a stand-alone sermon.

The first problem uncovers the universal condition of humankind: we aren’t really in charge of anything. 99.9% of what goes on in the world is totally out of our realm of control. A snownami drops several feet of snow. An earthquake ravages. A pulmonary embolism lashes out.

All completely out of our control.

The second problem uncovers that other universal condition of humankind: deep down we really wish we were God (in control), and so we like to speak for Him every once in a while. And so we do something new. We start a new denomination or theological position. We rig a financial system for maximum profit. . . oh, and and maximum potential for collapse. We get a ‘great idea.’ And so, we claim boldly, “it’s God doing it.” “This new thing (which, by the by, will benefit me greatly) is an act of God.”

And yet, no. Not always.

As pointed out in John Oswalt’s article  “The God of Newness: A Sermon on Isaiah 43:14-21” (in the Calvin Theological
Journal
, 2004 – and referenced in TextWeek.com) the ancients were thoroughly repulsed by the idea that the gods could do something new. Of course they couldn’t. They were merely extensions of the physical world where the rules and laws of physics come into play. The god of the sun launched his chariot into the sky every day and rode in a straight line from one horizon to the next. In the spring his journey took longer and longer, until June 21st, when the journey became slightly longer every day.

The god of the sun couldn’t do a new thing. What was he going to do? Start out earlier? Take a coffee break? Go in loopty-loops?

No. The gods didn’t do anything new. The only thing useful about them was that they were totally consistent. Like the law of thermodynamics. Like gravity.

But, Israel’s God – oh, He’s a bit different. He isn’t bound by laws and theorems. In God’s world the Red Sea can draw back. The sun can stop dead in the sky. Virgins can give birth to bouncing baby boys. A Christian-hating Pharisee like Paul can become an apostle.

Our God can do new things.

And yes, that’s scary.

Except when you 1) put away the silly notion that we’re in charge of anything at all, and 2) come to the realization that this means that God can do a new thing in our lives. When we’re stuck in patterns of sin, death, bondage, and destruction – God can do a new thing. We aren’t bound to the same-‘ole-same-‘ole. Like the prodigal who can turn around from his dissolute living and come home and be greeted, God can do a new thing in our lives. No matter how lost or down-and-out we feel we are never so far gone that we can’t become a new creation.

And yet there’s always that pesky temptation to do something new and claim it for God. Which maybe is where the “do you not perceive it?” comes from. God can do a new thing, and we can miss it. Or we can do something new and attribute it to the mysteries of God, when it’s anything but.

Our lives need to be attuned to God so that we know when he’s moving in creation, in the world, in our lives. And so we know when someone (sometimes us) is just makin’ stuff up.

Our God can do new things. And our God does do new things. Slaves are freed. Tabernacles and Temples are filled with the Presence of God. God says “let there be Light,” and there it is. And lives (sometimes ours) are changed, moved, rebooted.

Stay awake. Listen. Watch. Pray. So we know when it’s God, and something new is coming down the pike.