A New Thing

“A New Thing”    A sermon for July 9, 2023 by Pastor Teddie McConnell  Isaiah 43:16-21, John 12:1-8
God spoke to the Israelites, saying, “I will do a new thing.” They needed to be prepared for God to move in a way that would be different from anything they'd seen before, surprising and strange. While they cherished the memory of God's previous saving miracles -- parting the Red Sea, providing manna when there was nothing to eat -- they had to be ready to change their expectations so they could accept and participate in God's new thing.
They’d become stuck in remembering the exodus, making it part of their identity as a people, bragging, “We’re the ones God saved by parting the Red Sea so we could escape and the Egyptians would drown.” But then they found themselves living in the wilderness, where everything was dry. God wanted to talk about rivers in the desert, rivers that could help them grow food and carry them in boats. It was a different way to use water to do something good. It was a new thing.
God is in the business of creation, not just creating but re-creating, reworking the old to make new things, the Great Artist with fresh ideas and plans. The God who made the universe is exponentially better than we are at thinking outside the box. God wants us to be flexible, to say “Yes” to the new things even when they don’t make sense to us.
I saw a poster with a butterfly on it. The caption said, “You can fly, but that cocoon has to go.” Change is hard. We want to do the familiar things that have worked in the past. We don’t want to struggle, take risks, adapt and change. We’re comfortable in our cocoons.
But we don’t have a choice. Greek philosopher Heraclitus, back in about 500 BC, said “There is nothing permanent except change.” Ironically, he’s still right.
We go through many transitions and changes in our lives. We go from childhood to adulthood, from school to work, move from one place to another or one job to another, making and losing friends along the way. We marry and later lose that spouse to divorce or disease, lose family members to disagreements or to death. Goodbyes are tough, and sometimes we don’t even get to say them to people we care about. All of these things can affect our faith and cloud our judgement, making us doubt God’s promises in Christ and making us afraid to love again.
Each transition, each change, is a form of loss, to a greater or lesser degree. Each requires seasons of grief and emotional healing, which have stages -- denial, pain, anger, sadness, and acceptance. There is no way around the grief process. If you try to ignore it and avoid it, your mental and physical health will suffer. You have to go through it. It’s like that children’s song about going on a bear hunt. You get to the tall grass or the river or the mud. “Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Gotta go through it. Swish, swish, splash, splash, squish, squish.”
While you may have heard of the stages of grief, in my experience it’s more of a repeating spiral, not a series of discrete steps. We may go through one, some or all of the stages in a single day or even one right after the next. Thank God, the spiral becomes less intense over time.
Hearing bad news initially can send a person into shock and denial. “No, that can’t be!” is a common reaction, even when we’ve been warned and saw it coming.
Then pain sets in, often accompanied by guilt for any part we may have had in the event or anything we think we should have done differently.
If it’s a choice someone else is making, we might try to talk the person out of it or lash out at them. After the fact, we can be angry because it happened, and frustrated because we can’t undo it. We need to choose forgive others and ourselves, because through Christ, God has forgiven us.
Sadness and/or depression are normal parts of grieving. It’s okay to go ahead and feel them. Eventually, we get to the point of acceptance, and even hope that the future will be better. We can stop focusing on how God led us in the past and look for God to do a new thing.
I believe this church has some grief work to do. You’ve lost pastors and members, and you’re about to go on without me. Some of you have lost faith in God’s ability to do a new thing here.
Trusting God takes courage and practice, especially when God seems silent or absent. But God can be trusted because God is love and has plans to give us hope and a future.
Let’s talk about the Gospel passage for today. We read about the same scene in Matthew 26 two weeks ago, but the woman and Judas weren’t named. In John’s version, Mary listened and believed when Jesus said he was about to die and be raised, even though it was hard, even though it was painfully bad news. The other disciples were stuck in denial. Jesus was preparing to do a new thing, but they weren’t ready.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary was a witness to it. She knew the power that was available to Jesus. She also knew that she loved him and didn’t want him to die. Pouring costly nard on his feet and wiping it with her hair showed the depth of her love and her sadness at his coming pain and sacrifice. Instead of waiting to anoint him after his death, she did it while he was there to accept the gesture. God led her to do a new thing.
Judas wasn’t stuck in denial. He was selfishly thinking about what he could have done with the money the nard would have brought if it had been sold. Despite watching Jesus feed the five thousand, he was insecure enough to focus on money instead of trusting God to supply his needs. He was so busy looking to line his pockets that he wasn’t even considering God’s plans for the future.
Mary and Judas are contrasts between a faithful disciple and an unfaithful disciple. Her costly and extravagant gift was a witness to Jesus’ much more costly and extravagant gift to come. Judas had to betray Jesus for his arrest, death, and resurrection to occur. Jesus understood Judas, loved him and kept him around anyway, because he knew how his destiny would be fulfilled. At the Last Supper, Jesus told Judas, “What you must do, do quickly,”
As followers of Christ, we don’t choose between these examples, but are a combination of the two. Mary showed us selfless and faithful discipleship by her act of adoration and gratitude to the One who alone is holy. She wasn’t looking for praise or recognition. Judas personified the selfish part of us that betrays and rejects Jesus at times, failing to trust in his love and provision. God can use all kinds of people. The grace of Christ covers all of us, all the time.
What these two passages have in common is that God is getting ready to do a new thing, and some people are ready to join God in it while others are not. This sounds a lot like what we’re going through as part of a mainstream denomination. What we’ve been doing for years isn’t working any more. God is doing a new thing and wants us to be part of it. Doing something new includes being willing to try and fail and try again.
Now, you’ll be going on without me. I know we’re all sad about saying goodbye. Some of you are mad, I suspect. I hope you can forgive me for leaving. Some of you are discouraged. Are you ready to ask God to lead you to the next green pasture and restore your souls so you can rethink the mission of this church? Are you ready to stop thinking you’re too old as a group and allow God to fill you with new life? I was talking with my 92-year-old mother recently, and she said she sometimes feels like a leftover. I told her, “You’re not a leftover. You’re a valuable antique!” Even an old car can go down a new road.
When I first started preaching here, I challenged everyone who is a part of this church to do something for two minutes every day – pray for St. Andrew. Pray for the members, pray for the community and its needs, pray for your leaders, and pray for God’s perfect will. Then listen and be open to God’s answers. I’m issuing that challenge to you again. The God who raised Jesus from the dead can do a new thing here with power and creativity, but only if you believe it. Be ready! Be open! You might even be surprised by the new thing God will do. And all God’s people said, Amen.

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