a sermon for Sunday 27th January and the commissioning of Erin Pendreigh as Intern Minister. Read Isaiah 43:8-21 and Luke 4:14-21
I will do something new among you – now it will spring forward will you not be aware of it, I will even make roadways in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, I will do something new.
These are familiar words first declared by Isaiah to the people of Israel and now spoken to us.
As we begin to look at this we need to keep in mind the situation they were written for. There is some debate about who actually wrote this part of Isaiah: no one seriously doubts he wrote the first 39 chapters – the events described here took place during his ministry, 740BC to possibly as late as 681BC or thereabouts. A long ministry.
The problem is that the events described in chapter 40 and following took place after his death – roughly 200 years after his ministry began.
So either Isaiah was shown a glimpse of the future, maybe like John the writer of Revelations, or another author alive at the time penned these words under Isaiah’s name.
Either way these words are meant to speak to a people who are ending exile and are standing on the cusp of freedom.
And God speaks.
I imagine a people who after generations away from their homeland are unsure about who they are and what the future holds.
And in times like that we all like to hold onto that which is familiar, known, safe. The things of the past.
So God, speaking through Isaiah takes them back: he reminds them who he is: God, without equal, their only saviour. He reminds them that they know this – they are his witnesses – no one can deny this.
This is all good – we here need to remember the same, God is God, incomparable, high and lifted up, all knowing, all powerful, all present, all love as we face the future it is this God who goes with is, who leads us, who will not let us down.
Israel needs to be reminded of this and God promises that he has things in hand, their oppressors are defeated for ‘I the Lord am doing this’
I the Lord who made a way through the sea, a reminder of the exodus from Egypt – I the Lord who saved you from your enemies. I the Lord who snuffed those enemies out like a wick – never to rise again.
Hearing this Israel must be encouraged – feeling good, remembering the good old days, the stories they have been told from the cradle.
And God says forget all that!
Forget the former things (verse 19)
Do not dwell on the past.
Duh! Why not?
Surely it is good to remember, personally I like dwelling on the past – reminiscing – telling the old stories – previous glories, don’t we all?
What is wrong with this?
Nothing I suggest except for our human tendency to stay there. In English to dwell means to ‘live there’ – the Hebrew has more the sense to set our minds there.
The Israelites were also reminded of their past pain, captivity, slavery and no doubt part of what they remembered was regrets, mistakes, sorrow – and they are not to stay here either.
God understands our tendency to remember – and this by itself is not bad, in fact, a couple of chapters later God will say,”Remember the former things, those of long ago.” (Isaiah 46:9) So, he’s not saying “Don’t appreciate the past.” He’s saying, “Don’t live there.”
What’s past is past: the pain and the glory – acknowledge it, learn from it, but for God’s sake move on from it.
A change of focus is called for.
(v. 18) Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
Today God is challenging us to change where we dwell – to let go of the past and to walk with God today and all our tomorrows.
God is not back there he has moved on – God is here with us today calling us to see what it is he is doing before us.
(v. 19) SEE I am doing a new thing, now it springs up do you not perceive it?
God is doing it – whether we see it or not – but he so wants us to be part of it – to perceive it.
God is doing new things in all our lives, and most certainly in our community – the tragedy is that we can be so slow to see it. We become so consumed with our past, or even with our current situation that we simply don’t recognise/perceive God’s activity.
Perceiving takes time – it’s a slow word. It invites us to dwell in God’s presence and to look closely, to focus, to see, and to hear, to perceive what God is doing.
Finally notice the rest of verse 19 and following.
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Looking around life may look no different – I am sure for the Israelites even after the exile the grass wasn’t all that much greener but God invented Extreme Makeover.
God is in the business of bringing renewal, and life to our place and our situations.
Sometimes we believe we must go somewhere else to serve God (and sometimes that is true), somewhere else to experience God.
But God is doing new things right here, right now!
God is bringing life to this wilderness – do we perceive it
Today God is challenging us to take a journey with him – not into the past, but out of the past. We are challenged to stop dwelling in the past, to focus instead on what God is doing today … and tomorrow.
You may think there’s nothing new here, same old same old.
Don’t let the appearance fool you. God is working. God is doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it? He’s creating something new. It is springing up now.
Take a moment to ponder this
- What are the signs of a “new thing” that God is doing?
- What are your hopes and fears about God’s new thing?
- How might we welcome, nurture, encourage, and be transformed by God’s new thing?
- What might need to change in order to do this?
(btw I’m seriously interested in your comments here)
Friends I am convinced that God is doing a new thing amongst us, Erin will be part of that, we are all part of it.
And I want to tell you specifically what your Parish Council believes is a key new thing God is calling us to.
Global Reach Ministry.
But not in the sense of go and make disciples of all nations – Matthew 28:19. Rather STAY and make disciples of all nations.
Over the last few months Parish Council has agreed to become far more intentional about ministry to and with our international residents.
This is an area of ministry that has grown significantly in recent years and is expected to grow even more. A few years back following the initiative of the Korean Congregation a short term evening congregation was established under the banner of the ‘Church of the Global Village’, many will recall it.
This met with the intention of developing worship across the diverse cultures of the Wakatipu. While unable to sustain this initiative it certainly planted a seed that now appears to be germinating.
- Queenstown is a global village
- Over half our workforce are born overseas
- Many find NZ a lonely place; sometimes bewildering. Many struggle financially and are often at the mercy of employers
- Many are seeking understanding – they are open to the gospel
To enable this ministry to develop we are working closely with the Brazilian members of the St Andrew’s congregation, and with Rev Kwangae Yoon of the Queenstown Korean Church.
To date our prime connection with the international community has been:
- Pasta Café
- Network Café
- Manna Café
And a key person has been Marcia Maciel – especially the last year, enabling closer links and understanding.
Going forward we are hoping Marcia will be able to continue – please pray for her as she applies for a renewed visa, we need her.
However we need more help and God is providing it.
In the form of Pastor João Petreceli, a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil where he is designated as a ‘missionary pastor’, i.e. one who is specifically sent to work beyond Brazil. He is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. João and his family, Tania, Yoran, Nicoly, have worshiped with us since February during his New Zealand Sabbatical during which he has focused on learning English, in this time he has also seen the potential to grow the church here and believes God is calling him to stay and help us.
Between 2006 and 2011 João fulfilled this calling in Chile where he worked under the authority of the Presbyterian Church of Chile. His responsibilities included pastoring the Fifth Presbyterian Church of Santiago, establishing and teaching at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and as a member of a department within the national church responsible for establishing new congregations.
We are delighted that João is now available to work here in the Wakatipu as his experience and abilities are exactly what we need in order to better serve our growing International community.
We have appointed João to the position of Global Reach Pastor, a position he will take up in March 2013. A visa has just been granted by Immigration that will enable this.
The vast bulk of the initial funding is coming from Brazil to enable this ‘mission appointment’.
However we will be seeking local support as well, and I will say more about this at another time.
But this ministry does need your support – it must not be something that a few do but something that WE do.
We will be seeking financial support: from grant givers and from this congregation. For example on their own initiative one member of the congregation on hearing of this has already offered $1000 to help make it happen.
Affordable housing is also required – if you know of anywhere, anyone who could help with this please let me know.
Currently João and family are in South America, catching up with friends and family and raising support – they will be back with us early March.
These are exciting, challenging times.
We are being asked to perceive what God is doing and to get on board. I believe, and the Parish Council believe, that this just might be a time of rivers in the desert – highways in the wilderness.
Finally as we turn to the Gospel Luke awe remember that even new things are grounded in the heart of God for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. Some things don’t change – the heart of God does not change, and we who are called to follow Jesus are reminded that the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, the local and the foreigner are loved by God and desperately need to ‘hear’ God’s ‘good news’.
This is, I believe, the primary task of the church – it is why we are here. It is OUR task as individuals, it is OUR task as Church. How we do it, with whom we do it will change but the gospel of Jesus is for all people, all time.
Arohanui - Ian