A New Thing
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
You and I live in an age and in a time when bodies of water are admired and enjoyed. Very rarely are they feared or seen as uncrossable boundaries. Of course, this does not apply for those of us who live in the Grand Haven area and have tried to cross the bridge from the north, with all that construction traffic. At times this has made the Grand River seem like an uncrossable boundary.
This week, in the last Christian Mythbusters before we begin Holy Week, I’d like to talk about things that seem impossible and how God is often inviting us to see new ways forward.
In the Hebrew Bible reading our church read this past Sunday, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “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: 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?”
For the Israelite people, when they hear a prophet remind them that their God is a God who makes a way in the seas and a path in the mighty waters, they know from a very visceral place what that means.
Their minds go back, back to the stories their ancestors had told them about when the Hebrew people fled slavery in Egypt and arrived at the beaches of the Red Sea. There was no way to turn, no other path of escape from Egypt, and the armies of Pharaoh were advancing rapidly. But then the power of God pushed to the waters aside and made a pathway through the sea so that the children of Israel could walk to their freedom on dry land.
They remembered as well, the stories how, decades later, when the descendants of those escaped slaves arrived at the Jordan River, on the eastern boundary of the Promised Land, their priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the water and the waters parted once more, creating a pathway into the land of promise, the land of God’s long-awaited blessing for God’s people.
The prophet speaking in the 43rd chapter of Isaiah is trying to invoke those powerful memories for God's people. For decades they have lived in exile, with no sense of how they could ever break free of Babylonian imperial power and return to the land God had given their ancestors so long ago. They were afraid, afraid that their sin, their failure to be the just society God had called them to be, that all of this had forever broken the covenant.
But Isaiah is trying to remind them in this reading that every time it seems like the end for God's people, God has always made a way. Their God is the God who can make a path in the Red Sea, who can turn the waves of the sea into a chariot and horse to protect God’s people.
Isaiah is telling the exiles that the God who had made paths through uncrossable water was going to bring them home, it was just that God was bringing them home by a new and different way. So, they needed to remember those past memories of God’s salvation, but also needed to let go of them just a bit so they would be able to see the new liberation God was bringing about in their own time.
This time they wouldn’t be coming home through water. Instead, God was going to sustain them through the middle-easter desert. God was going to create a new path, a new way home.
I wonder, at the end of Lent, with Holy Week and Easter almost here… I wonder what new things God is trying to do in your life, in our church, in the world.
The prophet is right, if you only ever look for God where you have found God in the past, you will miss the new things, the new salvation God wants to bring you. And sometimes, like those ancient exiles, you need to pull your eyes from the place where God has always saved you and look instead to what might seem like a desert. Because it could be that your salvation now lies in an entirely different direction.
Know this, beloved child of God, throughout all of the paths behind you, all of the things that shaped you—for good or for ill—God’s hand has been at work, redeeming that which was wrong and never should have happened and giving strength to that which was good.
So wherever you find yourself at this end of Lent, don’t give up. Remember the past, but turn into the new thing God is bringing about in your life. Let it be OK that you don’t have it all figured out, that you don’t know the answers, that you still struggle with sin and doubt. Don’t let that weigh you down. Because the goodness God has for you is there, just ahead in the distance, if you can but make room in your life to accept and receive it.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.