This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
Amid of all the unrest within our nation it is important to remember we are still in the midst of Covid-19, and while rules for quarantining are changing, we are not back to normal. In fact, most folks do not believe that we are returning to the old normal. The term I am sure we are all familiar with now is “a new normal.” Now know one is really sure what that means completely, but this idea of change is nothing new for God’s people and in fact it often is a very good thing.
The prophet Isaiah in this chapter reminds God’s people of their long history with God. It is history in which God has been faithful to God’s people through numerous struggles. Most notably the prophet reminds the Hebrew people of the Exodus from Egypt referring specifically to Exodus 14 and 15.
he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
But then after taking time to do all of this, the prophet tells them to it is time to move forward, proclaiming “Forget the former things or consider the things of old!”
It is fascinating that after having gone to so much effort to call up the past and remind folks of where they have come from, the command is to now forget.
A commentator on the text has stated that this statement is “surprising and serves as an effective rhetorical device to get the people’s attention, for the prophet is not content to have the people wax nostalgic about the good old days.”
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Historically, if you recall, the Hebrew people were enslaved and seemingly in a hopeless situation. But Isaiah reminds them that the God they know to be the one true God of all the universe is a God of hope. So, the prophet calls on folks not to lose faith but to seek for the signs of God’s promised redemption, to prepare for the “new thing” that is coming.
Of course, this is not easy. All of us struggle with change. I know I have often quoted the Irish Proverb “the devil you know is better that the devil you don’t.”
Isaiah, however, is telling us not to look at the future with fear but with joyful hope for the expectation of a new and better reality. This is a wonderful word for us to hear in this time when there is so much uncertainty and turmoil.
But even though it is a hopeful word it does not make living it easy. But it does allow us to live with an imagination of what the world might become, to see the new things that are possible, and then work to make them a reality as we continue to seek to make things on earth closer to the promises we are assured in heaven.
You see I have determined that our old normal—those good old days were not very good for a lot of folks.
If going back to normal means that kids are only assured of nutrition because of free and reduced lunch and breakfast, then I do not want to go back.
If returning to normal means I can eat in a restaurant, but my server eats via food stamps because they are only paid $2.13 an hour, then I do not want to go back to normal.
If normal means we go back to a world where the dignity of all work isn’t celebrated and we consider those who clean floors or check us out as we buy groceries as less than the CEO, then I hope we don’t go back.
And if normal means we accept injustice through either our actions, our silence, or our wanton ignorance, then I pray we do not return to normal.
Dr. Walter Brueggemann (who must not sleep so he can write) has published a new book Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty. In it he has written the following prayer entitled At the Edge of a New
Our "normal ways" are reassuring to us:
It is our normal way to slot people for wealth or poverty;
It is our normal way to classify people as "us" and "other";
It is our normal way to prefer males to the other gender;
It is our normal way to distinguish heteros and the "other."
Our usual normals make us safe, make us happy, leave us certain.
Only now our normal ways are exposed as constructs of privilege that cover over the reality of our neighborly situation.
In the midst of the virus we notice that the others are very much with us, and we are all vulnerable together.
We sense the disruption, the loss, the deep dis-ease among us, and we want our old normals to be "great again."
Except that we cannot!
Except that you summon us to new futures made sober by the pandemic;
You require us now to imagine, to risk, and be vulnerable as we watch the new normals emerge among us:
The blind see, lepers are cleansed, the poor have good news; students have debts canceled, the poor have health care, workers have a living wage, the atmosphere breathes fresh air.
We want to return to the old normals that yield (for some) safety and happiness. but you dispatch us otherwise.
Your new normal for us requires some adjustment by us.
And adjust we will. We will live and trust and share differently.
"All things new" is a huge stretch for us.
But we know it is your good gift to us; with wistfulness, we receive it we embrace it, and we give thanks to you. Amen.
Lord may you indeed help us as you make a new thing spring forth.
Grace and Peace,