Scripture Passage: Isaiah 43:16-21
God Is Sprouting New Things at Knox!
Good morning! Today’s scripture was the theme of my pastor’s report for the Annual Report, because I thought it was very appropriate for what is happening now at Knox. I wanted to talk about the scripture again, because it has so much relevance for this church, as we continue to go through a time of transition.
In this scripture, God says that God is about to do a new thing, it is springing up and do you not perceive it? Well, God has been doing a new thing at Knox, recently, and little new things have been sprouting up all over, so have you perceived it?! We’ve made slight tweaks to the worship, with a Prayer for the Need of God’s Grace, an Affirmation of Faith, a sung Sanctus in Communion and different way of serving Communion. Even as we speak, we will be singing the Memorial Acclamation, or Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again, today during Communion. I think most people feel that these have been positive changes to our worship. Besides these tweaks to our worship, we have welcomed a church to our property: Thanksgiving Lutheran Church or TLC! That’s been a huge change. Recently, Yolanda, Wally and I have been getting acquainted with their office manager, Jean and her dog, Chewy and a church volunteer, Mary, who helps Jean with administrative tasks. Wally just loves Chewy, who is a tiny Yorkie. Wally has lots to learn from Chewy though, as he is older, wiser and much calmer! Chewy spends most of the time perched at the back of Jean’s seat, keeping her seat warm and giving her company, while she works hard in the office. Yolanda, Wally and I have enjoyed getting to know Jean, Chewy and Mary. We’ve also enjoyed getting to know their custodian, Dennis, who is very kind and spoils Wally with special cookies. So, while things were very good with Yolanda as our office manager, we’ve had an even more positive experience, lately with the TLC folks being on our campus.
One of the overall themes in today’s scripture is, “What God can do, God can do better!” That, as one commentator noted, reminds us of Irving Berlin’s musical, Annie Get Your Gun. Frank Butler and Annie Oakley sing to each other the song, “What You Can Do, I Can Do Better”. Well, in this scripture, God says to us, what God can do, God can do better, or in other words, what God could do well in the past, God can do better now, in the present and in the future. This is a theme, which runs throughout this passage. Many of the Israelites did well economically in Babylonia, but they still were oppressed by the Babylonians. So, God is calling them to return home, to their own country and freedom. I think it’s obvious to most of us that while financial stability is good, freedom to live as dignified people is better. So, while things were going very well in our office, things are now going even more positively with the arrival of our friends from TLC, Jean, Chewy, Mary and Dennis.
Besides the theme, ‘What God can do, God can do better’, the second important theme in this scripture is that we should try not to get stuck in the past and move forward. It is a good and healthy thing to remember and learn from our past. However, we should be careful not to get stuck in it, especially the negatives. As the commentator noted, if we talk about the past, we should do so, in a kind way, drawing on the positives. Then, Isaiah says, we should focus on moving on. God wants us to be open to the ‘“new thing”, which God is trying to do all around us. We cannot do this, with one foot stuck in the past! I think often we do well in taking steps forward, but along the way, we sometimes find that one foot gets caught in the traditions or problems of the past! God’s Word to us is that we need to free that foot, and unstick ourselves from the things of the past, which hold us back, are unhealthy, and keep us from perceiving the ‘new and improved’ things, which God is trying to do. As I said before, ‘What God can do, God can do better’.
I’m so grateful that the people of Knox perceived that having TLC join us as tenants was a good ‘new thing’, which God was trying to do better! Yolanda, Wally and I are really enjoying getting to know them and having their company. We’re also excited to have joined with TLC this Lenten season in our activities. We haven’t had anyone from TLC join our Lectio Divina, but some of our members have visited their bible study. We’ve invited them to our Seder Meal and we’ll be very excited to have them join us! So, what God has done well with Knox in the past, God is doing even better now with our friends from TLC!
The third important theme in this scripture besides moving forward, is remembrance of the past. The Jewish people have an important discipline of recollecting the past, in order to feel guided, encouraged and inspired for their present and future. So, Isaiah is reminding them to recollect the faithful things, which God has done for them in the past. One monumental thing is leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus. This is a very powerful and inspiring recollection of their past. For Knox, God has faithfully brought this church through many ups and downs, spiritually and financially, in the last 55 years! One big positive, is that the founding pastor, Pastor Lloyd Strehl is still with us, at age 92, as the Pastor Emeritus! After Lloyd came Pastor Martin Miller. After Martin, a new pastor from San Francisco Theological Seminary was an Interim Pastor. After him, came Pastor Sue Fleenor. After Sue, came Interim Pastor, Emily Stockert. Each of these pastors worked hard and did their best to bring God’s love and Word to this church. They all had very different personalities and strengths, but each one served in the best way that they could. Because of each of their contributions and God’s grace, Knox is still here today and still perceiving the new thing that God is doing, here!
The fourth important theme beyond remembrance of the past is God’s reversal of the past. For the Israelites in the Exodus, God parted the waters of the Red Sea to form dry land, so they could escape from Egypt. Then, in a complete reversal, God poured down water in rain and caused springs to spring up in the dry land, in order for them to return from Babylonia through the wilderness to their home in Judah. For Knox and other churches in the past, perhaps it worked well for the churches to function, independently, each with their own style and personality. However, today, perhaps what God is trying to do is a reversal: God’s Spirit is speaking to us telling us that it is wiser and better for churches, like Knox and TLC, to do some things together and recognize that we all are part of the same Body of Christ and love the same God. That, I believe is the reversal and new thing, which God is sprouting up at Knox and TLC, as we speak! And, it’s going very well so far, thanks and praise to God, and to the good folks at both Knox and TLC.
So, as we ponder the wise words in Isaiah 43, the Israelites’ story and our own story at Knox and TLC, may we be open to and inspired by the new and reversed things, which the Spirit is trying so hard to do, here! May we remember that what God could do in the past, God can do even better, today. Amen.