Sermon: A New Thing (An Old Thing)

April 3, 2022

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:4b-14

by Eric Anderson

The ‘amakihi was persistent.

He was young and inexperienced, but he was persistent. He was also very much in the mood for a good solid meal of… bugs.

(“Pastor, why are you telling a story about a bird trying to eat bugs when we’ll be eating communion later on?”)

That is an excellent question. And I do not have a good answer to it.

The ‘amakihi’s technique was very pretty to watch and, as I say, very persistent. It was also pretty unusual for an ‘amakihi. He’d seen an ‘elepaio catch a bug on a wing and had really admired it. So that’s what he set out to do. It was… harder than he’d thought.

The ‘elepaio, you see, has shorter wings that made it easier to turn quickly. The ‘amakihi’s wings aren’t much bigger, but it was enough to make that turn just a little more difficult. Sometimes he’d catch that bug in flight, but for every one he caught there were many that he missed. And frankly, it was catching up with him. He was getting hungry.

He fluttered down to an ohi’a branch where his grandmother was perched. “How is the bug catching going?” she asked.

“Not so well,” he admitted.

“What are you doing differently?” she asked.

“What?” he said.

“If what you’re doing doesn’t work so well, how do you change it to find something that works better?” she asked.

He had no answer to this.

“Watch,” she said, and in a flash she’d poked her beak into a nearby cluster of leaves. Sure enough, she’d caught a bug, and a moment later it had become her supper.

“I sit where the bugs like to come,” she told him, “and when they turn up, dinner is served.”

“It’s not as dramatic,” he said.

“No,” she said. “But which one of us is hungry?”

The people of Israel were in a bad way. They were far from their family’s ancestral home in Canaan. The people around them were indifferent to their suffering at best, and downright hostile at worst. Their writings of the time record both the taunting they suffered from those who had mastered them, and their fear that their God had abandoned them. They needed a deliverer.

What I just said sounds rather like their captivity in Egypt, doesn’t it? That’s deliberate, of course. Those who had been taken into exile by the Babylonian army almost 600 years before Jesus definitely made the same comparison. Our situation is much like theirs, they said. We need another Exodus.

To them Isaiah brought these words: “Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…” – a clear and deliberate reference to that first release from bondage, from their ancient pilgrimage to home, to that great miracle of the Red Sea crossing that saved them from a pursuing Egyptian army.

Another Exodus. That’s what they needed.

But then curiously, having raised the subject of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, God promptly told them to forget it. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.”

“Really, God?” I want to ask. “It wasn’t me who brought it up!”

But of course it was. In the hard times, in the pain, in the desperation, I go back to those great salvation stories of the Scriptures. The resurrection of Jesus (which the exiles in Babylon couldn’t know about, because it was six hundred years away). The return from exile – which also hadn’t happened yet. Which leaves… the Exodus.

An exile in Babylon would have clung to that story like a struggling swimmer to a lifeline.

“This is hope,” writes Amanda Benckhuysen at Working Preacher. “Audacious. Unbridled. Expansive. Fulsome. Yet not fanciful or fabricated… There is no challenge too hard, no obstacle too great, no body of water too wide, no desert too dry to keep God from creating or recreating the necessary conditions for God’s people to flourish and all of creation to rise up in praise to God.”

“But let me do a new thing,” said God. Even though the old thing would have been just fine with them, with me. Give me that old thing. Except…

There’s no arm of the Red Sea between Babylon and Jerusalem. What there is is a lot of desert. So yes. A way in the sea makes no sense. OK. Bring me a miracle of rivers. Just as long as some Babylonians drown in them – or that they disappear after we’ve passed so that Babylonians die of thirst. That would be fine.

But… apparently God would rather provide water to the jackals and the ostriches.

You see, the end of the Babylonian Exile was not like the end of the bondage in Egypt. There weren’t any plagues. There wasn’t a pursuing army. There wasn’t a miraculous passage of a sea. I also have to admit that there weren’t any miraculous rivers flowing through the desert. When they went home, the former exiles followed an indirect route that kept them out of the worst of the dry wilderness.

But they did go home.

God changed the means of redemption between the Exodus and the Exile. But God did not change the intent to redeem. God did an old thing – and it was also a new thing.

So what is God doing now?

I do not know. Here in Hawai’i, we are enjoying relatively low COVID infection rates. Here on this island, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 people is 6.1 as of last Monday. That’s pretty much been our baseline for some time except when we get major waves like Delta last fall and Omicron over the winter. It’s not a dry path through the ocean, but it’s a little bit like a sip of water in the desert.

A world map, however, shows that this pandemic is not over. Australia and New Zealand are currently experiencing over 200 new cases per 100,000 people on a daily basis. So are France and Germany. In South Korea, it’s over 600. That’s why we’ll continue to mask when we begin gathering for worship on the 24th of this month.

It’s a funny thing about a global pandemic. They’re not drowned by waters. They’re not escaped by journeys through hostile territory. They’re endured – and the more people act with care for one another, the more people will endure.

The more people insist on their own way, and their own interests, and their own comfort, the more people will die. It’s that simple. Because if I refuse to get vaccinated, if I refuse to mask, if I refuse to keep my distance unless necessary, it’s not just me who is at risk. It’s everybody around me. And it’s everybody I encounter afterward. And it’s everybody who encounters those I encounter afterward. If I catch the virus, I’ll probably be fine. But who will I pass it to? Will they be OK? Who will they pass it to? How will they do?

The pandemic has not been a test, but it has tested our ability to concern ourselves with the welfare of others.

Among several wealthy nations, the United States has the highest COVID-19 death rate during the last two years: 295 per 100,000, or over 979,000 people. Hawai’i has done better. The 1300 people we have lost are 97 out of 100,000. But in Japan? 28,000 deaths, 22 out of 100,000. New Zealand? 314 deaths, 6 out of 100,000.

We could have done better. I wish we’d done better.

[COVID statistics are from the New York Times.

What will God do now? What will we do? Will we accept that this lack of concern for our neighbors is good, right, and true? Will we re-create the future in the image of the immediate past?

Or will we celebrate rivers in the desert that don’t just satisfy us, but also those awkward and not-terribly-desirable creatures of the world like the jackals and the ostriches? Will we be part of God’s new thing?

God’s new thing – so much like the old thing – God’s new thing was all about the welfare of the people, their freedom, their joy. God’s new thing – our new thing – is an old thing reshaped for a new time.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the complete service of April 3, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Did Pastor Eric ad lib more than usual? It’s possible, but feel free to decide for yourself.

The image is Anointed by Lauren Wright Pittman, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 3, 2022]. Original source: – copyright by Lauren Wright Pittman.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on April 3, 2022

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