A New Thing
Not long after the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, the owner of an Oriental Rug gallery on Broadway in Oakland had painted a short and elated message on his empty store window:
Back to Baghdad!
The Iraqi owner of the store had been watching the special reports with the rest of us. He saw the toppling of the huge statue of Saddam Hussein by joyous Iraqis. This was the news he had been waiting for to go home.
I don't know who he is, or if he left the United States with a family, or what he saw of his relatives' homes when he arrived back in Baghdad. With the war continuing, I often wonder if he and his family remain in Iraq. I wonder if they have been injured in a bomb attack. I will never know. I do know that the life he had in Oakland was sorely although joyfully disrupted. I know, too, that somewhere in the midst of this disruption he felt torn between his two lives.
In today's reading from Isaiah, the Jewish people are about to have their lives disrupted for the second time. First, the tragic destruction of the Temple was followed by exile to Babylon. The psalmist writes:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we also wept, when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137)
They were separated not only from their beloved Promised Land, but from the very presence of God. The magnificent Temple, home of Yahweh, was destroyed and plundered. With it, their connection to God was also destroyed, the God who had been the very center of their lives, the God who dwelled in the Temple. Had God abandoned them? Were they no longer to have God's protection, God's care? What would happen? "We … wept when we remembered Zion."
Now, at the time of Isaiah's writing, almost four generations have passed and the second disruption occurs. The prophet Daniel had foretold their exile, but also said Yahweh would remember them again in seventy years. The time was near. But in the seventy years that had passed, almost four generations, most had become accustomed to their lives in Babylon. They were left alone in their religious practices. They had found new ways to worship away from the Temple Mount. Many had never seen Jerusalem. They got jobs and built businesses. They began families. For most, the weeping had ended.
Now God was calling them into disruption again. Their lives were torn: to stay in comfort and isolation, or to trust God and go home. Not an easy question.
All of us have experienced disruption. I was awakened very early yesterday morning by someone noisily collecting cans from our recycle bin. One night while riding the subway in New York I looked up from my reading and saw my mother. After the shock, I realized I was looking at my own reflection in the glass.
Like these, many disruptions are minor irritants or awarenesses. But some are life changing, chaos producing: Love ones have died. Babies have been born. Accidents derail young lives. Unexpected and frightening diagnoses have thrown our lives into the air. Our cute, klutzy kids have left their skinned knees and their trikes behind, grown up, and moved away. When we are disturbed by life, do we, like the exiles, wonder if God has abandoned us? Do we hide in our pasts, a time before we were propelled into an unknown future?
At such times, God continues to call us with God's new plans for us:
"Do not remember the former 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."
"I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" Does this sound exciting,? Scary? Both?
God promises us new things and, like those ancient exiles, the new things may be difficult crossings of spiritual wildernesses and deserts. When I look at each of you, I see people who have crossed wildernesses and deserts and will continue to do so. I see, too, that we are not alone in our crossings. "I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." We may not be able to see it all the time, but the way through will be there. We may not feel confident all the time, but there will be rivers for us in the desert. Not a lot of water. Just enough. God promises.
As we move forward to Holy Week and walk the road to Golgotha with Jesus, we remember that we have Christ for us on our paths. He knows disruptions and disturbances, betrayal, pain, and sorrow. He also knows how to trust and find the way. He is the Way.
He shares this way, this life with us. He brings needed light to our journeys. Sometimes we can see only the weakest flicker of that light, but it is there, it is there.
Today, we celebrate Jesus' Way through our wildernesses. We celebrate and remember his life through this Holy Eucharist. We do it together, as his people, as he taught us to do. All are welcome here. With the strength we gain from God and together in communion here (church pews) and here (altar) we are heartened for our journeys and given renewed faith that God will be with each of us.
It's time to take the first steps in faith and in trust. What will you paint on your store window?
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