Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4-14; John 12.1-8
This time, instead of fleeing Egypt, we find the Israelites returning to the Promised Land, after the Babylonians forced them into exile. So this time, instead of facing the waters of the Red Sea, they are faced with dry land. Not just wilderness, but waterless desert. This would have been a nine hundred mile trek back home. And God promises to meet their needs once again, but this time it will be accomplished by turning dry land into rivers.
Time after time we see God save. Again and again and again.
Even the way the author of Isaiah talks about the Exodus reminds us of God’s continuous saving action. The exodus may have happened at a fixed point in history, but the author of Isaiah is using present tense verbs that imply ongoing action. The verb tenses change slightly as the story is told, kind of like a crescendo of salvation. That crescendo started when the Israelites cross the Red Sea, but hasn’t stopped since. God’s saving act of the exodus continually affects everything since then and builds to wherever the reader or hearer of the story is – whether it’s the earliest Christians thousands of years ago, us right now, or whoever will hear this story in the future.
It makes me think about the question that sometimes we may hear: when were you saved? This passage from Isaiah reminds us that the answer to this question lies not in a moment in our lifetime, not even in the moments of Jesus’ lifetime, but instead the answer lies in God’s time. My salvation, your salvation, the salvation of all created beings has never stopped. It is something that happened to us before we were born, something that keeps happening to us. God is doing ‘a new thing’ again and again and again.
We see God do a new things when the lives of Adam and Eve are spared, when a flood comes, when a child is promised to and elderly Abraham and Sarah, a blessing is giving to the younger brother Jacob instead of the older brother Esau. We see God do new things when the leadership of Israel passes from the hands of the judges to the kings, and when prophets are sent to show the way. We see God do a new thing when a baby is born in a stable, when a king is put on a cross, and when a tomb becomes a bearer of freedom instead of death.
Again and again and again, God is finding new ways to show and share salvation. If we are attentive we can find God making things new all over the place. We see new life in spring, in babies, in growth after wildfires. As our lives change, affected by the arrival or lack of jobs or children or a home, God does new things in our lives we would never expect.
Again and again and again, God’s work is awe inspiring. It seems all we need to do is simply pay attention and we will be able to see it everywhere - God making things new in the beauty of creation, or in our relationships. God can make good out of anything – God can make newness out of anything.
But it isn’t always that easy is it? I have, at times in my life, lost the ability to experience awe, lost the ability to notice how much God is at work in the world. Chances are, most of us have at one time or another. Depression leaves us feeling nothing at all. Perhaps the day it too busy or horrible to be able to let the mountain take your breath away. Perhaps we are too tired, too worn down, to beaten down to notice or realize that God is making things new all around us.
So if we are not noticing God making things new again and again and again - what does that mean for us? What does that mean for God? To answer those questions, I think it’s important to think about WHY God makes all things new. The witness of Scripture, the witness of God working in our lives points pretty clearly to the fact that God isn’t at work simply to show off, God isn’t doing these things on a whim. God makes things new, God works salvation in so many different ways for the sake of all creation - for the sake of me and you. We hear it every single Sunday: the body of Christ - given for YOU.
Turns out it doesn’t matter if we notice or not, God will keep unwrapping salvation for us again and again and again. The writer of today’s psalm knows it when they sing out “The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.” The history of the relationship between God and God’s people is a history of salvation. Our ancestors, the writer of the psalm, and we as well, have witnessed salvation again and again and again.
God will make things new, whether we notice or not. God is not waiting for our asking or praising or noticing. God is not a vending machine we have to plug the right combination of coins into before God will do something amazing. God does new things despite our level of hope or faith or optimism or whatever else we may think God requires of us. God’s salvation, at the end of the day, has nothing to do with our attitude. The writer of the psalm reminds us that even those who go to sow their fields in the midst of despair and hopelessness, weeping, even they will come home with shouts of joy. Our vision may be clouded by many things, but just because we can’t see God’s work doesn’t mean it’s not there.
God making all things new, God’s saving action in creation - it’s continually happening, just waiting for us to notice.
So for those of us who feel we are primed right now to notice all the new, and for those of us who are struggling to find the joy and see God’s work through whatever has clouded our vision, I’d like to end by reading Psalm 126 from the Message: a reminder of God’s work in the midst of a community quite like ours – a community that has hope and despair, doubt and trust, sowing and reaping.
126 1-3 It seemed like a dream, too good to be true,
when God returned Zion’s exiles.
We laughed, we sang,
we couldn’t believe our good fortune.
We were the talk of the nations--
“God was wonderful to them!”
God was wonderful to us;
we are one happy people.
4-6 And now, God, do it again--
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.