3/21/2010 - The Rev. Emily J. Guthrie - The Fifth Sunday of Lent

posted May 21, 2010, 6:56 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:56 PM by Terry Brady ]
Let us pray:
Oh God our great companion, send us anywhere you would have us go, only go there with us. Place upon us any burden you desire, only stand by us to sustain us. Break any tie that binds us, except the tie that binds us to you. Amen.
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 43: 19-21
This morning we hear from the prophet known as Second Isaiah who is reminding the people Israel that God is faithful, will provide a way, will do a new thing. It was written to the people Israel when they were in exile in Babylon, and so this was a message of the promise of freedom, of God’s constancy and continued covenant with God’s people. But getting to this freedom, this new life, necessitated letting go of the comfort of the status quo. Many had become part of the Babylonian infrastructure, and the last thing they wanted to do was leave for what was guaranteed to be a (literal) journey through the wilderness. God calls to the people Israel and God calls to us today to seek the way of freedom, the extraordinary promise of new life.
It makes sense given these circumstances that the Prophet conjures up images of the Exodus here: a path in the mighty waters, part of central memory of God’s magnificent act of freedom for the people Israel in order to entice them to embark on the journey home. But then - in what seems an odd move indeed - he immediately cautions “do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.” Right away, we see the creative tension: remember the powerful work of God who parted the sea for your ancestors, yet don’t remember the former things. In a poetic turn the prophet urges us to remember God’s presence in the past, but cautions us not to look behind us….stay focused on the future that is unfolding now…right before your eyes.

Once again, the ancient ones know what it is to be human. We won’t be able to see what God is up to now, in the present, if we are focused on the past. We have to try to honor the past and stay open to the new thing unfolding. A tricky dance indeed. Change when it springs forth, brings not only possibility and energy, but loss. Even if we are choosing the next step, the loss attends. There is a cost to moving into new life. We finish the 6th grade and leave a beloved teacher behind. We move to the excitement of a new life and grieve the daily life we have created. A Relationships ends and we are alone. A relationship begins and suddenly we have no time alone! In each case, it seems we have to let go of the familiar, to open our hearts and lives for the new thing, for life reemerging in a new form.
So the promise of change is new life, and the cost is giving up the ways of the past, the known, the comfortable. And we know the way of life will have change, loss, and suffering, not because we deserve to suffer, but because death, little deaths and ultimate death, is life’s dance partner.
And yet, and yet, God begs us to trust that there are new unimaginable things happening that will bring new life. I will make a way through the cross to resurrection life. I will make a way in the wilderness of your lives, and rivers in the deserts of your hearts. You will not be alone on this journey. Stay focused on the future unfolding right now before your eyes.
I mentioned changes we choose, but there are the changes we do not choose, we suddenly become ill, violence occurs, someone we love dies and our lives are changed forever. A new reality, a new life, unbidden. Will new life spring forth even there? And God through Jesus the Christ whispers – yes even there my beloved people. Do not be afraid of the journey. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Next week we begin Holy Week, when we are invited to participate in the journey of Jesus into Jerusalem, to the cross, and resurrection. St. Paul posits that in participating in Jesus’ suffering, our suffering is transformed. Indeed the way to the resurrection is through the cross. But because of the resurrection, we have the courage to walk into and through that wilderness.
Perhaps we can perceive the new thing that God is doing in and through our loss and pain. In the journey through Holy Week we are reminded that God in Jesus knows intimately the landscape of the totality of our lives, the gamut of human experience: Adoration, blessing, fear, bone deep love, betrayal, suffering, death, mourning, anxiety, confusion, wonder… a story told again and again not because of the suffering, but because of the redemption that transforms the suffering.
I leave you with a final image…a gift from John’s Gospel to hold in our hearts as we move into Holy Week: the image of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet. John describes a dinner party at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus for Jesus. Others are there, including Judas. But the powerful image is of Mary. She takes the costliest thing she owns, a pound of pistachio nut oil she likely bought for a burial, and pours it on Jesus’ feet. Then in an intensely intimate act, Mary wipes his feet with her hair. It is an act of loving abandon, done without concern for any other’s judgment, an outpouring of love and gratitude that literally fills the house with the fragrance of her love. She says nothing and yet in this act we know that she perceives God doing a new thing through Jesus. Her response is to bless God. It is an image of absolute bone deep love and devotion.
Let us perceive the new things God is doing, and with Mary bless the Lord.