The Sunday Sermon: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020
Scripture: Isaiah 43:14, 18-19
Remember … Do Not Remember
So, I said last week that I realized the week before that I have been waiting since mid-March. Making due and getting by, but doing things – like ministering, pastoring, and providing – with a mindset that we just need to “get through” all this and hold on until we can return to normal. The feeding of the five thousand in the Gospel of Luke provided an illustration to start stepping out of the mindset of “making due and getting by” and to start opening our hearts to what is happening right now, so that we may live fully in the present and continue hoping for our future.
My weekly letter this past week began a series of letters that, I hope – I trust, will get us out of yesterday and out of our waiting so that the life that is happening all around us might be more fully perceived and embraced. A tall task, but then our God is an awesome God and we, if I do say so myself, are pretty cool ourselves.
Pray with me …
In my letter to you last Wednesday, I shared some verses from the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. This morning, we’re going to read from the forty-third chapter, words that are strikingly similar to the verses of mid-week, but in which we find unmistakable direction for our lives today. Listen for the Word of God …
Read Isaiah 43:14, 18-19 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Almost … cliché, yeah? I never want to say that about any scripture at any time, but almost … in this time, almost too obvious. Almost …
What strikes us first, after we hear that it is the Holy One speaking to us, is the clear direction we’re given in verse eighteen: Don’t remember … That’s almost impossible these days. All we have, we think, is our memories of the way things used to be. Memories of Lenten services moving us through our forty days, not counting Sundays, toward Palm Sunday and Easter. And even Palm Sunday and Easter this year spent “distanced” but with a sense that we’d be back before the end of the month and surely before Memorial Day weekend.
Whenever we think of what’s ahead, we almost immediately “remember the things of old” – last year at this time when our first Sunday in August included our Annual Church picnic. (Uh-huh … that was supposed to be today – the hustle and bustle of our Fellowship Team setting up the lawn for after worship; baking pies this past week for ribbons today; the quartet warming up, maybe even drafting me to join them in the one song I learned). Don’t remember the former things.
We think of Labor Day weekend and our Rally Day that follows the week after and immediately “remember the things of old” – years past and infant now children, or children now youth; adults now older; introduction of curriculum for all ages and the commissioning of Sunday school teachers in worship. Don’t remember the former things.
I honestly don’t mean to depress any of you any further, but just to drive my point home, we think out through our Annual Fall Festival, Stewardship Dedication, Thanksgiving services, Advent and even … get ready for it, Christmas 2020 and we can’t help but wonder, “Will it be like years before?”
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. It’s hard. And it’s harsh.
These words were written while the prophet was living with the exiles in Babylon in the middle of the sixth century BC. They seek to direct the attention of the community beyond the past to the future in an attempt to restore and strengthen a vital faith. Isaiah is imploring us, as he was those so long ago, not to retreat into what has been as a blueprint for what will be. We’re not being told not to have beautiful, wonderful memories of our past life together – after all that was God given, too. We are being told not to use those memories to define our future, especially when we can’t! If we allow our nostalgia to tie us to our past and dull our alertness to present realities and future possibilities, we are in serious trouble.
It’s hard. And it would be harsh, if verse nineteen didn’t follow. After we are told what we must do, we are told what God will do.
Verse nineteen, in chapter forty-three of the book of Isaiah is one of the most haunting verses in the whole bible, I suggest. At least it is if we really believe in what it’s saying.
I am about to do a new thing.
In these words, Isaiah pictures Israel standing on a threshold. Destiny hangs in the balance. Destiny always hangs in the balance for a people, or a church that truly “perceives” God’s newness. It’s unsettling because the moments after we actually open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to “something new” are the moments when we actually decide we believe that God offers new life and new promise.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I’m ready for those moments … again. We’re ready for them. Maybe, for the first time ever, we’re able to understand more fully the kind of “life” we are called to lead every day and in all times as Christian men and women. We are sacrificing now, or we should be, in ways that are very clear, and at times painful and difficult. We have given up, or should be giving up, many common habits and patterns of life and relationship because we know that it will help to curtail the spread of a virus and reduce its devastation in our lives, our community, our country, and the world. We are forgetting the former things and perceiving something new. We’re living now for a time to come that we believe will be better than before.
That’s how we should be living every day, in every time, as Christians – sacrificially for the well-being of others. We’re doing it now as much to secure our own future as others. But maybe when this is all over – and it will end, this anxiety and fear, we can look back and better understand the life we are called to live even more deeply. For now, let’s simply recognize that more than ever we’re living for a time to come that will be better than before – we are perceiving something new. We’ll put flesh on this vision in the weeks ahead – practices and disciplines different from the past, but every bit as faithful.
Fascinating that on this morning when we are called by Isaiah to “not remember the former things,” our Communion table is set where Jesus asks us to “Remember.” Consider when we gather in just a few moments that Jesus himself is not asking us to remember what “was,” but “what must be” – a Way in the wilderness and paths in the desert. Now they spring forth.
Let us gather together to remember, to perceive, and to follow.
Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 2, 2020