Sunday 4th September 2016, morning,
Trinity 15

Isaiah 43:14-44:5

by Revd Kate Tuckett

At God in the Pub about a year ago we thought about what season of the year we felt ourselves to be in spiritually. We considered whether it was spring, with new growth budding and tentative discoveries being made about God. Or whether it was high summer, with a spiritual life full of the presence and goodness of God. Or perhaps autumn was drawing on with plenty to enjoy, but its air of nostalgia. Or maybe winter had well and truly arrived; the life of the spirit pretty much dead and no signs of life.

Most church life assumes a spring or a summer spirituality. But the truth is that for most of us, there are times when it seems that God is very far away, spiritual disciplines are wearying at best, and feel boring and meaningless, prayer is like talking to oneself, and to all intents and purposes we are living without God.

Monks used to call this acedia, meaning spiritual restlessness, boredom and an inability to concentrate. And it is likely to affect all of us, because the truth is that the Christian life is not all exciting all the time.

‘Behold I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’

The book of Isaiah is an overarching narrative of God’s salvation in the past, present and future. Although it was written before Christ, some of the content points forward to the age of the messiah, and is often interpreted as referring to Jesus.

In tonight’s reading, God calls on the exiled people of Israel to remember what they witnessed of his love and power in former times. They are to witness to each other by remembering God’s faithfulness from the past, but also to look out for and to be aware of Gods continued action in their lives. It’s a message that sweeps through the past, present and future.

God acknowledges that the people have forgotten about him. But he hasn’t forgotten his people. God is re-introducing himself to the people who have been taken away from their roots and held in exile. The writer reminds them of how God delivered them through the parting of the Red Sea when they left Egypt. But then goes on to tell his people not to cling on to this, because God is doing a new thing. It might have been tempting for the Israelites to look back at their lives before captivity and to wish they could turn the clocks back. But by dwelling on the past they have lost sight of God – so God says ‘you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offences.’

Dwelling on the past was one of the things that spoke to me from this reading, and I think is one of the things that can deaden our own faith journeys.

God promises a new thing, and invites us to look out for it, to perceive it. When we look for the work of God in our lives and the world, we may look for different things – we will all have different experiences of how God works, and of where we recognise God. From my own experience of God and the world, I would suggest that God’s new thing may not be some kind of big interventionist action. God may not be able to stop the war in Syria, or the child dying, or be able to find the right job for the right person at the right time. What I would suggest that God can offer us is a retelling of our stories, a recreation, a restoration of who we are.

We all have our own version of events --- who we are, who we aren’t, what we’ve done, what that means for our future. Our worth, our value, our significance. The things we believe about ourselves that we cling to despite the sometimes negative impact these things can have on our behaviour and our lives.

We’ve all got skeletons in our closets – things that make us cringe – and some people are haunted by where things have gone wrong in the past. Abuse, betrayal, addiction, infidelity --- secrets that that have been buried for years. Flaws, and failures and shame. A deep-seated, profound belief that they are, at some level, not good enough.

And for all of us in another way, we carry an acute sense not of our lack or inadequacy or sin, but of our pride, our ego. In some way we’re convinced of our own greatness and autonomy --- we don’t need community and we certainly don’t need God. Maybe sometimes there’s a little voice in our heads that tells us that God, Jesus, church are for the weak ones, the ones who can’t make it in the world, who are clinging to religious superstitions and myths like a drug, a crutch a way to avoid taking responsibility.

We believe and we are told all sorts of things about ourselves. But what Christian scriptures do is to confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story. God’s story is liberating and it is good news.

It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of our worlds, and maybe even  the world, in spite of our sins, failures, rebellions, unkindnesses, hardnesses of heart, embarrassment, in spite of whatever’s been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us.

And the invitation is that we are invited to live a whole new life without guilt or shame or blame or anxiety. ‘Behold I am doing a new thing.’

What this passage tells us is that God isn’t stuck in the past reminding us of all the things that we have done wrong and have gone wrong. This is a passage about a god of renewal and regathering, of looking forward and of hope. This isn’t a god that needs a religion of rules and regulations that hold us in a framework of moderate restraint. Rather it’s a god who invites us into relationship.

We can trust God’s retelling of our story, or we can cling to our own version of our stories. And to trust God’s telling we have to trust God. This may mean letting go of some of the images we may have of a god who is counting our mishaps, who is stuck in the past, who is putting us into some kind of straitjacket of faith.

Because God is love and love is relationship. God creates and makes new, because the endless joy and peace and shared life at the heart of this god knows no other way. As Christians we believe that we are invited into that relationship through the person of Jesus, who insists that he is one with God, that he is pointing towards God and that we can be at one with him, and that life is a generous and abundant reality.

God extends and invitation to us and we are free to do with us as we please. God invites us over and over again on a path, an adventure of recreation, of making new. If you make something new, you don’t throw it away and start again. You restore, you make whole. Individually and collectively we are all part of a cosmic invitation to be made new.

So whatever season of faith you feel yourself to be in tonight, I invite you to give to God the places from your life and your history that you are clinging onto, that may feel broken, secret, shameful – or just grey and drab and boring. Because what God calls us all to is new and restored life, with colour, and joy, and creativity, and grace and peace and joy.  That’s the call of God into a relationship of joy that cannot be contained.

This sermon uses material from:

Bell, R. (2011), Love Wins, New York: HarperOne
Pritchard, J. (2011), God Lost and Found, London: SPCK