A New Thing

A New Thing

Homily for Lent V

April 3, 2022

A New Thing

Homily for Sunday, April 3, 2022
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 43:16–21

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing.” – Isaiah 43:18–19a

In the afternoon of August 5, 1949, a lookout spotted smoke rising from Mann Gulch in the Lewis and Clark National Forest just north of Helena, Montana.  Because of the inaccessibility of the site, a team of 16 smokejumpers was called to douse the flames.  Shortly after they had parachuted onto the ridge above the fire and begun to make their way down into the gulch, the winds shifted and the fire began moving towards them.  The men, recognizing the danger, ran.  But as they were slowed running uphill, and as the fire gained speed as it moved beyond the tree line and into the quick-burning grass, crew chief Wayne Dodge realized that his men were not going to outrun the fire. Thinking quickly, he ran some distance back downhill toward the fire, took out his matches and set another fire, and beckoned his men to join him.  They, of course, refused, wanting to “get the hell out of there,” as one of the two other survivors later reported.  But once the fine fuels of the grass had burned away, Dodge had an area of fuel-free, burned-out ground on which he was safe to ride out the main fire as it roared past.  In his moment of quick thinking, Dodge threw out the old textbook on how to fight fires and did something entirely new, lighting what would come to be known as an “escape fire.”  In that moment—to borrow words from Isaiah—Dodge did not “remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” but he did “a new thing.”  And it saved his life.

The“former things…the things of old” of which Isaiah speaks in this morning’s lesson are the events surrounding God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, in which (as Isaiah says) God made “a way in the sea, a path in the…waters,” and brought out the Egyptians’ “chariot and horse, army and warrior” into the sea where they were “extinguished” and “quenched like a wick.” If in their deliverance from Egypt the people of Israel came through water and travelled to the east, now—after being in exile in Babylon and having been given permission to return—God is “about to do a new thing,” writes Isaiah, and bring the people, not through water but through the desert, and lead them, in an inverse of the Exodus, not to the east but to the west.

The lectionary seems to have selected this passage from Isaiah for this morning, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, shortly before Holy Week, to highlight that in the Passion, God in Christ is doing something entirely new.  Rather than run away from Jerusalem, where he almost certainly would die (e.g. Lk 13:32), Jesus went toward Jerusalem. And rather than approach Jerusalem with force to overthrow it (which many of his followers seemed to expect [see, e.g., Mt 11:12 or Jn6:15]), Jesus came meekly, like a lamb, to surrender (Jn 1:36).  In the Passion, Jesus did not “remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” but “did a new thing.”  As did Dodge, Jesus in the Passion threw out the “textbook” of anything that had been done previously and did something entirely new.

I wonder if in your life there is something you have been running from.  And I wonder if maybe it might be time to throw out the old“textbook,” as it were—the one that says, “I must run from this”—and instead “do a new thing” and maybe move toward that from which you have been running.  To do this new thing, not to run from but to move toward, takes extraordinary courage.  But not running from and moving toward is what Jesus did.  Jesus knows what it’s like to turn back to the “fire,” to walk toward Jerusalem; and—if you ask him—he will go with you as you stop running from and start moving toward. For you (to quote Isaiah) he will “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”; to you, because you are his “chosen,” and because he formed you for himself, he will “give drink.”  As it did for Wayne Dodge, as it did for Jesus, running toward rather than running from could save lives; it could save yours.

It takes extraordinary courage to stop running from and to move toward, but God will help, if we ask.  And as we with God’s help persevere in doing this “new thing,” then (to borrow from this morning’s Psalm), then will we be like those who dream.  Then will our mouth be filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy.  For the Lord will have restored our fortunes “like the watercourses of the Negev.”  And “those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.”  And those who went out weeping, carrying the seed, “will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”  I pray that God may give us the grace to move toward the healing, the life, that God wishes to offer.

More Sermons