Monday, April 26, 2010

Living the Resurrection in a Dieing world: The Transformative Power of the Resurrection

Acts 1:1-22

A couple years ago my husband and I set out on a Bible quest. It started with a discussion about call stories, the passages in the Bible in which describe how God called people to do something specific. We were looking at Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, as the conversation went on we started to specifically talk about people who were not only called by God to do something specific but the people whose names God had changed as a part of their call. We wanted to look and compare the stories to see the similarities and differences in these stories and the events surrounding them (this is what happens when two people with Masters’ of Divinity marry one another, Bible Geek out sessions). We decided to look at the stories of Abram, Jacob and Saul. We quickly found the passages where God changed Abrams name to Abraham in Genesis chapter 17 and Jacob’s name to Israel in chapter 32 and almost did not even bother to look up the passage where God changed Saul’s name to Paul because we both knew it was Acts chapter 9, but since we wanted to compare these stories and these events carefully we went ahead and looked it up. And as you might or might not have noticed God does this in verse. . . (pause and act as if you are looking for the verse). Yeah, its not there. Being completely and wholly convinced that Saul’s name change passage existed somewhere in the Bible, after all Mike and I were both certain we had memories of reading this passage before, we did a careful read of the book of Acts only to find this passage does NOT exist. Never, not once in all of scripture does God actually say, “Saul your name is now Paul.” Actually our careful exploration of the book of Acts only turns up a small side note in chapter 13 which simply says, “But Saul, also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit. . .” and from that point on he is called Paul.

Sometimes when we come to scripture we have conception, preconceptions if you like, about what the scripture says. Mike and I both firmly believed that there was a “name change” passage for Saul in the Bible. We were so convinced of this truth, that we set out on an evenings quest, which involved not only scouring our Bibles, but talking to other people as well as looking at Bible search engines on the internet. We thought we knew what the Bible said. We thought we knew how the passage went but the passage did not even exist. We had dreamt it up in our heads. I have to say, if did not know better, I would still call foul on God, believing it to be some kind of cosmic joke where God had the passage in the Bible but took it out just to have a laugh; just to confuse and befuddle me. But of course that is not what God did. Of course the passage does not exist and never did.

Acts gives up a short introduction to Saul. Saul is the young man, who stood by and held everyone’s coats when the great Saint of the church Stephen was stoned to death and then he reappears here in chapter nine where he is seen as one of the great enemies of the early church, who is so bent on bringing about the destruction of the church that he is willing to travel to another town, Damascus, in order to stop the church by rounding up all its adherents there and bring them back to Jerusalem so that they might be brought before the chief priest.

Saul was a force to be reckoned with in the early church. Saul is nothing short of a frightening figure who embodied the worst of all those who opposed the church and her teachings about Jesus Christ.

Saul was everything the church feared. He was a man on a mission. A mission which he believed to be right and just. Saul admits in his letters that he was doing what he believed to be right in the eyes of God. He was a Jew’s Jew. He obeyed the Law in every aspect. He lived the letter of the Law in all he did and all he said. He held himself to a very strict observance of the Law and he expected everyone else to also hold to these standards. He saw this new form of Judaism which believed Jesus to be the messiah to be a threat to the Law, to his belief in God and to everything he stood for, which is why he whole heartedly and emphatically stood against it and everything it stood for.

Saul was feverishly trying to do what he believed to be right. He wanted to live the way God called him to live and he wanted to protect the faith in which he believed, which is why it took nothing less than the voice of God to turn this man around. Only one person could change his mind about Jesus being a threat to God and that was God. God stopped him on the road that day and asked Saul why was he persecuting Jesus and those who followed him and it is at this point that Jesus revels himself to Saul as the one true God of the universe. The very one who Saul believed himself to be protecting was the one whom he was persecuting by persecuting those who called themselves by Jesus name.

God stops Saul in his tracts and shows him that, although he was fervent and although he was well intentioned his actions were hurting the very thing he sought to protect. He was actually working against the very thing which he wanted to up hold.

We want to see Saul’s conversion as the conversion of an enemy of the church to the church’s greatest proponent in its first century but what we have here is someone who truly wants what is best for God being shown the truth about who God is. Once Saul sees the truth he acts as whole heartedly and fervently as he did when he was persecuting the Church, because what Saul always wanted was for the truth of the one and only God of the universe to be upheld at all costs. God takes Saul’s conceptions of who God is and what it means to work on God’s behalf and turns them on their head showing Saul that he has been going about things all wrong. If Saul truly wants to follow God and work for God on this earth he will work to further the work of those who follow Jesus Christ, becoming a follower himself instead of seeking to destroy them.

But the transformative power of God does not stop there. We like to focus on Saul and what God does for Saul, but Saul is only half the story. If Saul is the sole beneficiary of the power of the resurrected Savior to transform hearts and lives, then on must ask oneself then why involve Ananias at all. Saul could have been wholly and completely changed there on the road , why have him go blind and wait three days for Ananias to come find him, heal him and send him on his way? God is working in more than just Saul’s life here in this passage.

God is working in the life of Ananias as well. God transforms Saul’s understanding of who God is. And then God goes on to transform Ananias’ idea of who God can change and use. God comes to Ananias in a dream and tells him he needs to go find Saul of Tarsus and Ananias, basically tells God that he does not think God knows who this Saul guy is, this is the man who only wants evil for those who follow Jesus Christ, surely God you are mistaken, THIS is not the man you want me to go to. But God assures Ananias that indeed Saul, the man who was speaking and doing nothing but evil for God’s church, will now be now be a great and might force of the church taking the truth of the resurrection not only to the Gentiles but before kings and all the people of Israel. In short this man will speak the truth of Jesus Christ boldly and without fail to everyone and anyone he encounters. God says, “I will use this man.”

And God transforms Ananias’ preconceived ideas of who God can and will use and Ananias listens to the voice of God and goes to Saul, heals him and sends Saul on his way.

But the story does not end with merely these two transformations for the price of one, God has something bigger and better in mind than simply changing two men and their preconceptions about how God works. God is going to change not only Saul, not only Ananias but God is also going to change the entirety Church, where it is going, what it thinks its mission is, and its preconceived notions of who God is and how God works.

As soon as Saul was healed he went out and proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues and the people and the disciples in Damascus were amazed. They all knew who Saul was, they all knew he was on a mission, bent on destroying the Church and here he is proclaiming Jesus as the son of God. Over night Saul goes from prime persecutor of the Church to one if its great proponents. In order for this to happen God’s transformative power has to be extended to more than just Saul and Ananias but it must be extended to the entirety of the Church as well.

God’s power to transform is extended to Saul and through Saul to the Gentiles, something which as of yet had only been done half heartedly and in a very limited fashion. God transforms Saul’s idea of who God is, God transforms Ananias’ idea of who God chooses to use and then through that God works to transform the very nature of the Church. Who the church is today, the fact that you and I, well all those of us who are not Jewish by heritage, begins with the conversion of Saul and the transformation God began to make in the church through his conversion and subsequent ministry.

It seems to me that God is generally in the business of changing our perceptions whether they be mistaken preconceptions like those of Paul, the limited preconceptions like those of Ananias or preconceptions which are wrapped up in the entire way we think about the Church, and the preaching of the gospel as God did for the Church through the conversion, life and ministry of Saul.

God’s power to transform, the transformative power of the gospel of the resurrected Christ begins by changing what we think we know; what we “know” to be true but simply is not true. Mike and I firmly believed that there was a passage in the Bible where God explicitly changed Saul’s name to Paul. We knew it was there and in our preliminary conversation we were making assumptions about God and how God worked based on a false understanding. Our preconceptions about God, although much more benign, are not all that different than the preconceptions which Saul had. Saul believed something firmly and whole heartedly about God, God’s work and what it meant to be a follower of the one true God of the universe and he acted and worked and lived his life believing something which was absolutely and utterly false. Thankfully, God stepped into Saul’s life and reveled the truth of who Jesus is to him and thus completely changed the direction of Saul’s life and transformed his life from one who which was bent on destroying the church into one which almost single handedly brought the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole of the known world at that time.

Too often we know that what we know is true. We act and live and fight for what we believe to be true and what we believe to be right but sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we are fighting for the wrong things. Sometimes we may even believe we are fighting the good fight on behalf of God but in fact we are fighting against God. We believe we are right but we could not be more wrong.

We have preconceptions which we hold fast to and we need to let go we need to open ourselves, our beliefs and the very things which we are fighting so passionately for or against, up to God. We need to allow ourselves to be wrong. We need to allow God to transform us, as he transformed Saul. When we are wrong, when we are fighting for or fighting against the wrong things, God will come to us and we have to listen. You see Saul could have chosen to NOT listen to God that day, he could have held firm to his mistaken belief that he was doing the right thing. He could have walked away still believing that the right way to honor God was to continue to persecute the church but he did not. Saul listened to God when God confronted him. He humbly let go of his wrong beliefs, he allowed God to change his preconceptions and because he did, God used him in new, amazing and truly powerful ways to move the church forward and to bring people into relationship with the God whom he loved and revered.

But God’s transformative power does not stop there. It is bigger and vaster than that. God seeks to transform our preconceptions about whom God chooses to use and whom God “can” bring into relationship with Jesus Christ.

Now, I want you to hear me on this one. I do not think any of us would look at a specific person and say to ourselves, much less others, “God CAN NOT change, transform or use that person.” But I do think that we have notions in our head about what types of people can be transformed or changed. I don’t think we would look at a drug dealer, prostitute, or any other “horrible evil” sinners in the world and say God CAN NOT, bring THAT person into a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ but I do believe we have our doubts about some kinds of people. We look at the world around us and we see people so lost in their lives, so lost in their ways of thinking, so lost in “secular” society that we find it hard to believe that they “can” actually be reached, or if they can be reach we don’t see how on earth it will ever happen. When we think like this we are Ananias, we know God is calling for us to reach out to our world to go to them on Straight Street and bring the healing power of the Gospel to them but we are saying to God, “Do you KNOW who those people are? They don’t want to have anything to do with you. They can’t be reached; they don’t want to be reached. I can’t go.” But we need to go, God wants to use US, just as God used Ananias, to help change, transform and bring people into powerful radical relationships with God. God wants to use us the change this world by reaching out to the unchangeable, the untransformable people all around us.

Amazing things can be done in us, in the lives of others in the life of the Church, if only we will go out there and reach out and touch the people of our world, who not only do not want to have anything to do with God but are downright hostile to our God and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Last but not least God wants to transform the church. The church before Saul’s conversion was doing just fine. People were being added to their numbers daily. They were bold. They were speaking the truth of the gospel in their world. They were standing up to the religious authorities of their day. They were reaching out to the poor, the widow and the orphan, providing food, shelter and clothing to the needy. People were being healed, lives were being transformed, and miracles were being done among them. They thought things were going just fine the way they were.

As far as they could tell the Church did not need anything new. It did not need to do anything different, but they were wrong. God wanted to do something new, something completely different. God’s vision for the Church was bigger and more amazing than the Church’s vision for the Church. God had a new direction in store for the Church, God wanted to completely transform where the Church was going and boy was it a transformation! It was a transformation about what is meant to Be the Church, it was a transformation of WHO could be a part of the church and it was a transformation of the scope and presentation of the Gospel. It was transformation which would not be easy for the Church but it was God’s transformation.

I believe God wants to transform this Church. I believe God wants to do amazing things with this Church. I believe God wants this church to be a force for the Gospel here in Cambridge but we can not be the force God wants us to be in our current state, simply doing what we are doing right now. God is calling for us to be transformed. God is calling for our preconceived notions about what it means to be the Church to be changed. We might look around our church and say, “things are going pretty well, we like the way things are. They seem to be working. I like this church. I am comfortable here. I am comfortable with the way we do things right now. “

I bet if you asked Peter or John or Matthew or James they would have told you the same thing, things were going pretty well for them. Church was working for them, but God had something better, something amazing in store for the fist century church.

We might like the way things are here, right now, but I am sure we can not disillusion ourselves into believing that things are going anywhere as well here at Cambridge First Church as thing were going for the first century church of Jerusalem. So the fact of the matter is, God wanted to change that Church back then, where people were being added to their number daily; where they were ministering to poor and the needy in the community around them, where amazing ministry and proclamation of the Gospel was going on daily, so it would be foolish for us to believe that we, here at Cambridge First, have things “all together” and that there is no way God would want or even need to transform the “good thing” we have going here.

God is calling for us to transform, to change to become the Church which only God can call us to be. God is calling for us to reach out and share the good news of the gospel, the love of Jesus Christ in a new way, in a way which we have never done before. God wants to not merely do a new thing in us, and through us but God wants to transform us in much the same way that God transformed the early Church.

We need to begin by allowing God to strip us of all our preconceptions; strip us of our preconceptions about who God is and what it means to follow, worship, obey and honor God; strip us of our preconceptions about the world around us, and truly come to the realization there is no one, no society, no caricature in the world around us whom God can not reach or transform and realize that God needs us to go to them where they are so that they might be change; and God wants to strip us, the church of the “status quo” and transform us and our understanding of ourselves, what is means to Be the Church and how it is that we reach our world for Jesus Christ. God wants to completely, wholly and miraculously, change us, change this church so that together we can be an unstoppable force in our world, just as through Saul, Ananias the transformation which was made in the early Church at this time created an unstoppable force in their world at there time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sermon: Living the Resurrection in a dieing world: Preaching the Resurrection

Acts 5:27-32 (33-42)

There are seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost. These seven weeks are the Season of Easter: seven weeks, in which we specifically celebrate the Resurrection, and seven weeks which represent an entire season, not just one day during which we contemplate the resurrection and what it means in our lives and how it shapes everything about who we are as Christians. So for the next seven weeks instead of reading from the Old Testament the church turns to the book of Acts and allows the narratives of the book of Acts to point them to what it means for us as Christians to be shaped and changed by the story of the Resurrection. As we move toward Pentecost, the day which is celebrated as the birthday of the church, the day which changed Jesus’ rag-tag band of merry men, who never really got it, into an unstoppable force. A force which moved the church through the first century, growing and spreading and setting up a nearly unshakable foundation, which allows the Church worldwide for these two millennia to stand strong on what those first great pioneers of our faith, who through their blood, sweat, tears and unwavering proclamation of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, set up for us in the months, and years following the resurrection.

As we move toward our celebration of the Church, and all she was, is and will become, let us walk with these early founders of the Church as they were living out their resurrection faith in a dieing world and learn from them, their words, their actions and their deeds. So that we too can be the Church today strong, bold, and living the truth of the resurrection before our dieing world so they too might know what we know, love the one we love and experience God the way we experience God.

Our passage begins with our heroes, a handful of apostles, probably headed by Peter and John, being brought before the council. This is not the first time these apostles, have been brought before the Sanhedrin council. In fact these men had been brought in less than 24 hours before the scene in the passage we read this morning. But the claim brought against them the night before was not because of their teaching in Jesus name as we might think based on what they are accused of in this passage but the previous day they were brought in by the high priest because they were healing people.

The apostles were brought in because the heinous acts they were doing to the sick, and to those tormented by unclean spirits. The Chief priest was beside himself, he simple could not bear what these men were doing to these sick and ill used people. They were healing them. Earlier in chapter five it tells us the apostles were doing many signs and wonders among the people. We are told that people, both men and women were being added to their number daily because of their witness among the people. Many were coming to believe the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that Jesus is the messiah. We are then told people would bring their sick out so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them as he came by and in this manner might be healed. It says they brought out people with all manner of ailments and they were all cured.

It is because of this that these apostles, among them Peter and most likely John, are imprisoned by the high priest. In the morning the prisoners are gone. The jail is locked up tight and there is not sign of a break-in or break-out. During the night an angel had been sent by God to release the prisoners. So when the high priest and the council summoned them they were not in jail, as they should have been, but had been released by the hand of God and were at that very moment carefully concealed in broad daylight and hiding out in the center of the temple courts for all to see them, teaching all those who would listen, about Jesus Christ.

So they round the men up again, careful to do so in an orderly fashion as to not get the people all riled up and bring them before the council for a hearing. At which time the high priest questions them about a previous encounter they had had with the council. You see, as I have mentioned before, this is not their first encounter with the council, nor was it their second. They had been carted in the day before but some time before that Peter and John had been brought before this very group of people, because they had been healing and teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and ultimately the resurrection of all humanity, presumably, based on what little the Bible says about this, they were preaching an early version of Paul’s discussion in his correspondence with the Church at Corinth, about Christ’s resurrection being the first fruits of those who have died, but that is another sermon for another day.

The two apostles were brought before the council where they speak boldly about the personhood of Jesus Christ and the council is pretty amazed at their rhetoric and adjourn to discuss privately what they will do with these men and their teaching. Not wanting to make a huge scene among the people and being fairly impressed with their boldness and well spoken pleas, the council decides to set them free with only one stipulation. They are not to teach in the name of Jesus Christ. The two apostles make no promises about this but leave saying they will do what is right in the eyes of God which is to speak the truth about Jesus Christ, his life, his death, his resurrection and his teachings. The council is not happy with this answer but feel they have no choice but to let these men go.

So this is not the first, or the second but the third time the council has rounded up these apostles. They are frustrated with them, with their healing and with the teachings about Jesus Christ, those who follow them and believe as they believe are multiplying daily and they are none too happy that these people seem to be flocking to them and abandoning traditional Jewish belief for this new belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah who was crucified and whom God resurrected from the dead three days later. They press the apostles asking them, about their previous encounter with the council during which they were strictly informed they were not to teach, preach or heal in the name of Jesus Christ. Once again the apostles share with the council a concise sermon about the nature of Jesus and his plan for salvation and forgiveness of sins. They present this message and the teaching of it as nothing less than obedience to God.

They speak boldly and with out apology. They know what they teach to be true. They know people are coming to know the truth through their boldness and they know people are being cured through their ministry. They are doing the right thing. They are teaching the right thing. There is no apology for truth of the gospel and there is no denying that lives are being made better through their ministry among the people.

Again the council does not know what to do with these men and the talk amongst themselves trying to figure out what they will do with these men and this new teaching they insist on proclaiming. One among them, Gamaliel, stood and spoke to this confused and frustrated council. He reminded them of other new teachings which had arisen and how in time each of the movements had dispersed shortly after the death of their leader. These men’s leader had already been put to death. It was his belief that the council should leave these men alone. If they were not of God then they and their teaching would too die in time, but if what they were doing and teaching was truly of God not only could they not be overthrown but the council would find they were not merely fighting against a fly-by-night group of men but they would find they were fighting against none other than God.

The council heeded Gamaliel’s words and let the apostle’s go, once again instructing them to not speak in the name of Jesus and gave them a flogging for good measure. And they left there rejoicing, and went straight back to the temple where they had been before being drug into the council, to teach and proclaim Jesus as the messiah.

Last week we were left with the vision of Mary running back to tell the apostles and the other disciples the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And here some months later we have Peter and John, the very two who accompanied Mary to see the empty tomb that morning and went away believing someone had stolen Jesus’ body, teach, preaching, ministering and healing in the name of Jesus. Last we knew they were disappointed and distraught because the body of their Lord is missing and here we find them strong, pillars of the budding Christian community. These men we encounter here this morning are not the confused and frightened men who went back to the other apostles and the disciples that Resurrection Sunday morning, they are changed. If their names had not been given earlier in the story we would never even guess these two men to be Peter and John. But the last time we saw them they did not know the truth of the resurrection. The last time we saw them they believe death to have the final word, they believed there was no victory, they did not yet know Jesus to be the Messiah.

Last we hear Mary was running off to tell them. Last we hear they did not yet know what we know to be true. Last week I said that the resurrection shapes us and changes us. I said the resurrection makes us who we are and those are not just pretty words. They are not empty semantics, words that sound good but don’t mean anything. This is the heart, breath, and blood of what makes Christian life. We are who we are because of the resurrection. Quite literally we would not be here this morning, if that tomb had not been empty and had Jesus not called Mary’s name.

We know by observation that these two men are not the same men who walked away from and dark empty tomb on a Sunday morning. We can see they are changed, we can see they believe something they did not believe that morning. They walked away believing what Mary said about the body being stolen but when they stand before the council they believe something different. They believe what Mary said about the risen Christ. They believe what they saw, they believe what the experienced, and they believe Jesus to be the risen Lord. They believe Jesus to be the Messiah, who came to set us free, to forgive us and change us. They believe in the power of the resurrection to shape and change, because they are living proof that this one fact reforms, reshape, recreates us in to the people God knows us to be.

Who would have thought that Peter, and John, the apostles, who no matter how many times they were told did not understand the words which came clearly out of Jesus mouth regarding who Jesus was, the purpose of his life and the truth of his death and resurrection, would stand before the religious leaders of their world and refuse to stay silent about what they knew and what they believed about Jesus Christ. They know the truth and it has changed everything and because it has changed everything it is not something they can remain silent about. They are asked, they are cajoled they are threatened but nothing will convince them that to do anything other than to share the good new of the resurrection is obedience to God, to not do so would be disobedience.

They teach in the temple are put in jail, miraculously released and return to proclaim Jesus in the temple. They are brought before the council told not to speak not once but twice, the second time being flogged in an attempt to dissuade them and they immediately return to the temple to teach and then begin to teach in houses as well. They can not stay silent they can not be silenced they share what they know to be true with all those who will listen.

Who are we? We are Christians. I can say with some assurance that those of us who choose to here on a Sunday morning and not in our beds or outside enjoying this beautiful morning would call ourselves that. And as such, we are the inheritors of the truth of the resurrection. We have at the very least by our choice to be here this morning instead of the myriad of other places we could choose to be this morning, shaped by the resurrection. But coming to church is not enough. Our whole lives should be changed and shaped by this truth. Our attitudes, our actions toward each other and toward other people.

These men we encounter this morning could not help but reach out in love to heal and to share the good news they knew to be true. They knew all the people around them had spent their whole lives longing for the coming of the messiah, they knew the people of their world joined their dreams with the dreams of generations who had come before them waiting and desiring the day when God would send the anointed among them. They knew the anointed had, come. They knew the messiah and they knew that he lived, taught, died and rose again so that these people among whom they lived could be forgiven, so theses people who surrounded them could life lives free of sin. They had the truth and they could not keep silent.

We too should not be able to keep silent. We too have knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ. We too know that Jesus came to this earth so that we might be forgiven and live lives which are not chained and bound to sin. We too know the truth of the resurrection. Are lives are shape, changed transformed by these facts and we too should not be shamed, cajoled, or otherwise persuaded by those in the world around us who disagree with this one basic tenant of our faith, to remain silent. We should not be simply changed in what we believe, we should not simply be changed in how we act and interact but we should be changed in everything we do and everything we say and we should be changed and empowered by the truth we know to share and proclaim what Jesus has done for us to all those who will listen.

Sermon: New things in Us

Isaiah 43:16-21

I saw my first rowing team out this past week. Now I will be the first to admit that I know nearly nothing about the sport of rowing, but a quick bit of research on the internet gives me just enough knowledge to think I just might know something about what it is I am seeing as I am watching these boats gliding swiftly and elegantly down the river.

According to what I read about the sport of rowing this week, the rowers are a team who work together, each one doing their part to move the boat swiftly down the river and hopefully to victory when it comes to an actual race. Each person faces the stern of the boat which places them facing the opposite direction than the one in which they are moving. As they propel themselves down the river they are not looking where it they are going but they are looking at where they have been. But there is one person in the stern of the boat, who faces the bow of the boat. This person, called the coxswain, is the only person who can see where the whole team is going.

The coxswain’s job is to three fold. First their job is to keep the entire team safe. Being the only person who can see where the boat is going, they are the only person who can detect obstacles which may lie in the path of the boat. Secondly, the coxswain’s job is to steer, by using the rudder, which is in their control, by directing the rest of the team in how to row or some combination of the two. The last thing the coxswain does to guide the team down the river is to speak for the team. There are three ways to do this.

The coxswain uses his voice first of all to give commands to the team directing them in how to row more effectively. She also uses her voice to motivate the team giving both criticism and encouragement at needed. The last thing the coxswain uses his voice for is for coaching, that is, helping the team become a better team, directing them in the proper rowing techniques and the best ways to work together to form a more effective rowing team.

In many ways the sport of rowing is similar to the way in which the Hebrew people moved through history. First of all the Hebrew people moved forward through history while looking at where they had been. They were continually looking at what God had done for them in the past and depending on where they have been and seeing how God had guided them and directed them in the past to know and understand how God would move them forward into the future.

In this way God was very much like the coxswain guiding them and directing them into the future. God’s voice like that of the coxswain would speak to the people keeping them safe, commanding them in how they should live and coaching them in how they can better live in ways of their God. All these things would help them better be the people of God which they had agreed to be.

At this point in the people of Israel’s journey they are way off course. They had not heeded the voice of the Lord as God had called out to them from the stern of the boat telling them that if they proceeded in the manner in which they were proceeding they would crash and crash they did. God had warned them if they continued trying to play a political game they were not capable of playing, they would loose. They had tried to stand in the middle and play two of their world’s greatest powers off of each other and in the process was crushed between them, resulting in them being carted off to exile.

They have been in exile for an entire generation, meaning, the people to whom Isaiah is speaking at this point are not the people who were carted off into exile but were their children and grand children. They have lived their whole lives hearing stories about their homeland and even though they have never set foot in the land of Israel themselves; they have had a desire to return to their homeland deeply imbedded into who they are. They long for something they have never had and miss a place they have never been.

As they are living in the land of the exile, longing to return to homes in which they have never lived God comes to them with the message I read this morning.

Since the people of Israel are looking to where they have been to help them understand where it is they are going, God begins by talking to them about the past. The Lord begins by having them look to the Exodus reminding them it was God who made a way for them through the sea, leading them out of their Egyptian slavery by having them cross the Red Sea on dry ground. The Lord reminds them that it was God who closed the sea up behind them causing the Egyptian chariots that were chasing them to fail in their endeavor.

But instead of then turning to the people and saying to them remember how I did that. Remember how God saved you from the hands of the Egyptians, I AM that God. I am still that God. I brought you out of the land of Egypt; I will also bring you out of the land exile. God breaks out of the mold, God says, forget all that. I may be the same God who did all that back then but today, today I am going to do a new thing. In fact I am going to do something completely different.

Before I parted the waters and made a path of dry ground in the water, this time I will part the desert and I will make a path of water through the wilderness. God says instead of bringing you up out of the south to deliver you into the promise land this time, I will take you down from the North. Before I made land in the water this time I put make water in the dry land. I will deliver you just the same, I will take you to the promise land but this time I will do it in a new way. And you need to trust me.

Too many times we find ourselves in Israel’s shoes. We were taking ourselves swiftly down the river, and God was speaking to us. God was telling us what the consequences of our actions would be but we did not listen. We told God we had this handled, we told God we knew what we were doing and we careened into the mooring of a great big bridge of something we did not want to happen.

And now as we are getting back into the boat God is ready to give us another chance. And God says, "I will bring you out of this mess. I will lead you to where you need to be but I might not do it in the ways I have done it before. Last time I made dry land in the water, but this time I just might make water in the dry land. I am still at work. I am still God. I will lead, I will guide, but you have to trust me. Trust me to do something exciting. Trust me to do something different. Trust me to see where we are going and take you safely down stream.