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03.17.13 What God Has in Store Isaiah 43:16-21 Sermon Summary

by on March 18, 2013

Today’s passage from Isaiah makes a startling recommendation that contradicts the religions of Judaism and Christianity; “forget the past.”

Summary Points

  • How memories get in the way of our spiritual development
  • Why people have a hard time with change
  • What Paul teaches us about managing change
  • Hard questions for discussion or reflection

This passage comes from Second Isaiah, that is, the author writing to the exiles in Babylon during the 6th century BC. The exiles had been deported some 50 years earlier and their homeland destroyed, including the Temple. Though they were in exile, they would not have forgotten the Exodus, how God had liberated their people nearly 700 years earlier from slavery in Egypt. That defining event included many miracles culminating in the crossing the Sea of Reeds.

Such a story continues to this day to inspire hope and perseverance among Jews who celebrate and rehearse it every year at Passover and weekly and even daily in various smaller ways. So it is quite surprising that Isaiah 43 first invokes images from the Exodus only to exhort the exiles to forget it.

Sometimes remembering the past gets in the way of the future. For example, though I cherish the memories of my children’s early years, if I dwell too long upon them I forfeit the joy of knowing them in the present. Jim Collins has popularized the proverb that, “the good is the enemy of the great.” What he means in his business application is that our present enjoyment of success does not let us adapt for future success.

Theologically speaking, living in the past leaves God in the past. Isaiah brings up the past, then explodes it because he saw that the exiles had lost hope looking for a past God. Isaiah believes is that the purpose of remembering the past is to point to the future. But while we hope for deliverance in the present, we can’t hope for the same means as in the past.

Isaiah uses the example of water. In the Exodus, water was the obstacle that threatened the ancient Israelites liberation. They could not cross the river before them as Pharaoh’s armies were bearing down on them from behind. To deliver his people, God separated the waters, making a desert path through them so they could cross over to safety. What God will do in the exile, according to Isaiah, is provide water as the path through desert that separates them from the Land of Promise. In other words, God remains the one who saves, but God has changed the game.

Generally speaking, people have a hard time with change. This is because we avoid two things that accompany change: (1) feeling out of control, and (2) feelings of loss and grief. We can manage these feelings and make change more tolerable, but we cannot eliminate them entirely, and furthermore, we cannot stop change.

Change is unavoidable for an infinite number of causes, for example, that fact that our bodies are aging, or the impact of market forces or technology. But change is unavoidable really for only one reason, and that is that God is the ONLY thing that doesn’t change. Since God is the Creator of all that is, everything else is creation and therefore subject to change.

The exiles had to learn this. So did Paul. Known before as Saul, Paul was far superior to his fellow Jews in religious observance. But then God did something new and changed the game. God opened the covenant community to non-Jews, that is, to Gentiles. Paul felt out of control for a while. And throughout his letters we see him struggling with loss and grief. But Paul learned two life-changing lessons: (1) God is in control and (2) God walks with us through loss and grief.

Paul expressed this vividly by calling all things “rubbish” compared to knowing Christ. It’s rubbish to try to be in control. Counting things rubbish makes it easier to let them go. And this is the key to understanding Isaiah’s exhortation to forget and to our spiritual maturity: God wants us to depend on him, not on the water and not on our religiosity. That’s why God is constantly changing things; that’s why God is always doing new things.

Paul and Isaiah realized that our knowledge of God is limited by our attachment to things, by trying to control what can’t be controlled and by not letting go when things change. And the stronger our attachments to things are, the harder it is for us to embrace change. And this is another reason God is always changing things—to teach us to be less and less attached to things and more and more attached to God.

Lent is a time set aside in the church year to prepare for God’s new thing. God is about to let the Messiah die. Of all Jesus’ disciples, only Mary was the only one who understood and embraced this new thing. That’s why she anointed Jesus for burial and was misunderstood and criticized for it. But God was about to do another new thing three days later when God raised Christ from the dead.

We remember these events each Sunday, during Lent, and especially at Easter. But we remember them not to live in the past but to realize that God hasn’t changed. God is the same Savior, Redeemer, Partner, Friend, Reformer in our lives today as God was in Christ. Only we aren’t to look for God in the same ways. God is always doing a new thing. We can let go of control. We can let go of the past. And we can embrace what God has in store. Amen.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • Are there memories you have that no longer bring you hope? Is it possible you have placed your hope not in God’s saving nature but in some saving act of God in the past? What would it take for you to let go of this memory in order to be able to receive God’s salvation today?
  • What are some things that, if they were to change, would really disrupt your world? Is it possible you are overly attached to these things? What would it take to move these things to the “rubbish bin”? Are you prepared to let God change them in order for you to be more attached to God?
  • Paul learned that God was in control and that God was with him in times of loss and grief. What are you learning about God, especially through times of change?
  • How do you feel about the assertion that change is unavoidable, necessary, and even the path to spiritual maturity because God alone doesn’t change?

 

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