Sermon, Sunday March 16, 2016. Lent 5C
Showing Promise V: Remembering to Forget
Forget what happened long ago!
Don’t think about the past.
19 I am creating something new.
There it is! Do you see it?
I have put roads in deserts, streams[a] in thirsty lands.
20 Every wild animal honours me, even jackals[b] and owls.
I provide water in deserts— streams in thirsty lands for my chosen people.
21 I made them my own nation, so they would praise me.
Isaiah has golden words for people who are disconnected, disorientated and feeling dismissed by God. He speaks directly to people who are overrun by and overwhelmed in a community shapes with pagan statues, rituals and parades all driven by faith in anything and everything except the promises of the life-giving Creator and Covenant Maker.
The people of God in this kind of place seem only able to remember “the good old days” as they wallow away in obscurity in Babylon. The possibility of anything new happening in their lives seems remote if not dead.
They remember when times were much better. They lived in their own city with their own faith, their own story, their own identity in YHWH, who had done so many things in their history to show them who he was and who they were in him – a chosen, blessed an called people with purpose to be his blessing to all people. They had and a place in the world. Now they can only but remember these things.
Into these days in Babylon devoid of faith and filled with doubt about God, comes Isaiah with his beautiful message, that is both hope-filled power and yet also quite strange to the ear.
Forget what happened long ago!
“Forget!” he cries. Forget? Jewish people never forget because they are always directed in the Bible to remember! The worst thing that can happen to anyone in the Jewish understanding of things is that your name is forgotten. That is the place of Sheol, the place after death – a grey, smoky, colourless place where no one knows your name. That is hell.
Someone one said that if you pictured life as walking on a journey, for God’s people the journey would be travelled walking backwards into the future. God’s people have always been fairly and squarely established on the principle that “if you don’t know where you come from you won’t know who you are and where you are going”.
Same for us. “Do this in remembrance of me”, we hear weekly. “Remember what Jesus has done for you”, we say. “Remember your baptism when you were adopted into God’s family and live in it now”, we say. “Remember the stories of the faith. Parents, tell them to your children”.
But Isaiah says, very strangely, and very much ‘against the grain’, “Forget the former things”. The actual word he uses really means “Forget the first things”. That implies there are second things coming now. “Forget them for a moment so you can receive the second things, the new things God is now doing”, he says.
Can you see the problem he is identifying in us? Can you see the problem people of faith have – especially those who have been around a while?
If we are overly focussed on what the Lord had done in the past we might fall into the trap of expecting our God to only be able to or to want to act in the ways we expect, based on our memories, based on what we have experienced and learnt before. The great problem with this over-reliance on the past is that we run the terrible risk of missing what God is bringing about now.
Nowhere does the problem come into the picture more sharply than when we are under pressure like those exiles in Babylon.
When we are overwhelmed with a secularising culture, friends and family less and less aware of Jesus, less supportive of, interested in or searching for the God of the Bible and his church, and when we are sick of pagan festivals, faithless words everywhere, the bowing down to things of stone and wood, the peddling of fame and fortune as “heaven”, we naturally can long for when it was not so much like this.
When I have had wonderful experienced with God’s people in previous places and time, when I am a bit overwhelmed with life I will return to what I already know. That is good and needed, but if that is all I do, my past learning and experience of the Lord can actually act like a set of blinkers. I can be like one of those race horses that are blinkered so that they are not distracted by what’s around them. Blinkers might be good for eventually winning a race but not so good for living life in God’s fullness in the moment.
Same for churches. It is the easiest thing in the world to return to those times when St Petri was larger, more influential, more staffed, more whatever…..
If we keep on trying to duplicate what has been in the past that definitely was good and of God, we will be forever disappointed because that past is no longer here. That culture, that time, that shape and those expectations are gone.
And just in case people are thinking that this is a message for older people in our church only, I believe that it is very possible for a Christian of any age to be closed off to what good the Lord is bringing into being now for this new day.
When we try and replicate things, control things, bring back things we know that were once of great significance for us, we can miss what the Lord is requiring of us for now, all the while actually relying ourselves and not God’s Word and Spirit.
Today the Lord calls us to forget each of our pasts for a moment so we can be inspired to live now in this moment in this time and be assured that he is still the God of new things, timely things.
Those exiles in Babylon needed to know that their God was still attentive, still aware, still present, still to be trusted. They needed to forget about the first things and see the second. They needed to know that his covenant promise were still on the table.
Forget the past for a moment, friend. Lay it down and leave it down for a moment. Hear again today that this covenant of grace into which we are have been adopted by sheer grace, which is still signed, sealed and delivered in the handwriting of Jesus’ blood is having its way.
Can we head the call to live between remembering and forgetting? Would you, with great thanks to the Lord, remember well the good acts and words of the Lord given to you in so many ways in your story and our story as a church?
But would you also forget them for the sake of trusting again that a new chapter is being written with your life and this church. A new day is still dawning, the old promises and experiences are still valid but working themselves out among us differently for a different time, different generation, different Australia, different schools, medical facilities, houses, streets, expressways, food outlets, and everything else.
Would you ask the Spirit to take the blinkers off now and again so you can see what he is doing in and through your now as well as keep them on to stay focussed on Jesus and the finish line he promises for all of us.
We remember and we remember to forget sometimes so we can see Jesus’ new things, and like those overwhelmed exiles, we are encouraged!
Jesus is still on the move among us. New people, new ways of engaging our community, new movement in long-term faithful people of God, using the old songs in new ways and new songs in new ways, remembering the golden gifts of God in Scripture, Liturgy, music, bible teaching and using them in news way to reach this generation….
As we sometimes forget about first things, former things, good things in the past, we will be open to our God now. We will be participants in his mission now right here. We will learn more, become more, live fully in Christ, knowing who we are because of what we remember and because of what is being made new now.
And then we will be a local church community who will more and more be what we are meant to be in Christ, and be centred where we are rightly centred…. Jesus!
Paul puts is beautifully when it comes who and what our very centre is:
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, so that I may live with him. (Philippians 3:8-9)
Remember to forget the old things at times and let the new things of God in so that hope returns, joy increases, love overflows and the crucified Jesus is everything. Amen
If you could remember a great time, a golden age, a special moment you experienced in your life, what would be the ‘top of the tree’ in your view? Share your stories…
Speak the Isaiah 43 text carefully noting that call to ‘forget the first things”. It may be bext to read from Isaiah 43 verse 1…
Isaiah starts by remembering the things the Lord had already done for the people. Even though they are in exile, they can remember and by this list of things that have actually happened in their own history, they can identify that Isaiah is speaking of the Lord, not some foreign thing of stone and wood!
Note the things God has done (note the verbs in bold)
Descendants of Jacob,
I, the Lord, created you
and formed your nation.
Israel, don’t be afraid.
I have rescued you.
I have called you by name;
now you belong to me.
2 When you cross deep rivers,
I will be with you,
and you won’t drown.
When you walk through fire,
you won’t be burned
or scorched by the flames.
3 I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
the God who saves you.
I gave up Egypt, Ethiopia,[a]
and the region of Seba[b]
in exchange for you.
4 To me, you are very dear,
and I love you.
That’s why I gave up nations
and people to rescue you.
Now note the results of what God does in the people’s lives – underlined)
Compare these to your own experience of God’s goodness in your life. What are the results of God’s grace active in Jesus in his Word for you? Share your experience…..
After Isaiah has retold the story of the people and the Lord so that they can identify the Lord as their own, he then tells them to do that thing that would not be easy for them. He calls them suspend remembering all of this old stuff for a moment so they can make room in their sight and heart for the new thing that the Lord is doing with them in this hard time of exile.
When the chops are down we tend to cling on to what the Lord has done in the past as we share the story of the bible and our own Christian experience. This is important and definitely what we should a lot of. Most of the time the Bible tells us to do exactly that!
Remember the Passover (Exodus 12:14)
Remember the Sabbath Day (Exodus 16:29)
Remember the Covenant (Deuteronomy 4:23)
Remember the Lord’s teaching (Proverbs 3:1)
Do this in Remembrance of me (Luke 22:19)
Remember the gospel message (Acts 20:32)
But there is s time to forget remembering and see the new things the Lord is doing in the moment. Have you had one of those moments when God did something new in your or another person and you knew/saw it? Share your experiences…
“Can you see the problem he is identifying in us? Can you see the problem people of faith have – especially those who have been around a while?
If we are too overly focussed on what the Lord had done in the past we might fall into the trap of expecting our God to only be able to or to want to act in the ways we expect, based on our memories, based on what we have experienced and learnt before. And can you see the problem with that? We run the terrible risk of missing what God is about now”.
- How does this dynamic work itself out in your life?
How has this dynamic worked itself out in our church in th past?
- What is Isaiah suggesting we do to keep away from this problem of too narrow a focus or too much self-focus? Share your insights…
In the end the new things the Lord does always come from one centre, one place, one great new thing he has done that still is having its ripple effect in the world and in our livs.
Read that Philippians 3:4b-14 text and comment on how you see this having its effect in your own life and the life of our church….
God of all new things,
God of Autumn leaves, of hope and new life,
Bless us, we pray, this day.
God of all things passing away,
God of old and yesterday, the One who is
with us in our despair and fear.
God who sighs and weeps,
God who wipes away our tears.
Hear us when we pray.
Incline your ear to our words,
Silent shouting cries, mournful whispers.
Be gentle with our hard hearts.
Make us new, make us new.
Anoint us with your light,
the radiance of your love
breaks into our hardness
and opens us anew.
A new thing. A new life.
Anoint us, Heavenly Father
and fill us with your Spirited Word.
Fill us that we can speak your truth in love
Fill us. In your name we pray. Amen