Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson
Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,
Who brings out chariot and horse, arm and warrior; they lie down, they cannot die, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember former the things, or consider the things of old.
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.
We are living in difficult times. The challenges we face vary. Even with the coming of the spring and the embodiment of resurrection all around us, it may be hard to believe with Julien of Norwich that all will be well, and all will be well.
For some it is the anxiety of what is. Unemployment, family in crises, relationships strained or broken, disease, debt, homelessness, loneliness. For others it is the anxiety of what might be up ahead -unemployment, family in crises, relationships strained or broken, disease, debt, homelessness, loneliness. The list of course is not comprehensive. You know your own fears and your own heartaches. And you join the rest of us who try to find a faithful response, a way where there is no way, a heart that will find strength, comfort and even wisdom in our trust in God. What a challenge!
I remember trying to write a paper when I was working on my Masters in Divinity. My young children were running around the house, my husband doing his chores, and I was sitting at the typewriter (yes we used typewriters in those days!) staring at a blank piece of paper, paralyzed. I could not write. I could not think of how to start. I could not imagine getting this done.
My husband saw me working myself into a panic, took me by the hand, and led me out of my study and into a more neutral zone. “Sit down,” he said. I sat. He put his hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and said calmly, “Anita, you have done this before. You have been worried before that you won’t have anything to say. You have worried before that you did not know your material. You have panicked before. And then you have gotten hold of yourself and written the paper. You always have. You did it before and you will do it again; you know how to do this.” I still feel his firm hands on my shoulders 35 years later. He stood me up, turned me around, faced me toward the study. “Go. You can do it.” And I did.
Warren might not have consciously gotten that wisdom from the Bible, but he knew, even as I knew that God always started the instructions for difficult things with the reminder that we had been taken safely out of Egypt. And sure enough in Isaiah, there it is again. The passage begins:
“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:” (43:16-17)
For a moment.
Just when we are feeling safe and reassured we are told “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” The passage does not even end with a period. It finishes with a colon.
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do anew thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
And my heart skips a beat. My stomach tightens. “What do you mean “Do not remember the former things?!” What are you talking about? I can trust you because I know of your former things, how you took us out of slavery, walked with us through the wilderness, loved us despite our failings. I know that you promised after the great flood that you would never again set out to destroy all humankind. You gave us the rainbow as a sign. I was counting on that.
But the text does not miss a beat, no matter how many my heart misses. “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert….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.” (43:19b-21)
And I am reassured. My Jesus had an open and embracing heart. There were none whom he did not love. And I take heart. The new thing is that we are all now God’s chosen people, whom God has formed and to whom God promises water in the wilderness. It is not that the promise is broken. It is that it has been expanded. We are the ones for whom God provides water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. We will not thirst, even in these most difficult times.
What are the anxieties in your life? The ones to which you cling? The ones that seem to cling to you?
What would it take for you to trust God, that a way will be found through the wilderness?
Is the reassurance of scripture enough? Can you trust that God will be present to walk with you through difficult times? To rejoice with you in times of celebration? What would it take for you to trust God?
In this time of Lent, and preparation for Easter, we know that there must be a death before there can be resurrection. What old thing(s) in your life must die for the new thing to come forth. Can you allow it? What would it take?
Gracious God; loving God in whom we live and move and have our being, it is a fertile time in which we are living, a time of uncertainty when our faith is tried and our fear is easily provoked.
Be with us in these uncertain times.
You have promised us a new thing. O Lord, we need it. May the new thing be a new faith in our hearts, a new lightness in our being, a new reconciliation where our relationships are breached, a new trust that a way will be found through the wilderness, a new joy at the abundance of life wonders.
May we find the courage to allow those things to die which are not serving, and the heart to create space for the new things coming.
O God, may the new thing you are doing, be wrought in each of us, in our hearts, our minds, our spirits. Let there be peace and renewal on earth, and let it begin with us. Amen.