“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing” – Isaiah 43:18-19a
Have you ever seen those little WWJD bracelets? WWJD, meaning “what would Jesus do?” were all the rage when I was in youth group. I guess it’s a good thing when Jesus stuff becomes a fad, but then again, fads are passing and Jesus never goes away. WWJD asked kids, and adults, to wonder in the midst of all life’s circumstance how Jesus would respond in a given situation and then to respond in the same manner. It’s a good idea; I mean can it really be bad if we’re asking folks to share the mind of Christ and walk in his manner? Of course not. None the less I have a little problem with WWJD. WWJD puts Jesus in the past. What would Jesus do? How about what does Jesus do. See, here’s the thing, Jesus is living and active; he’s not dead and gone.
One of the challenges I see from people of faith, myself included, is that we’re all too often focused on the past. What God did back when; rather than what he’s doing now. Our church really was great at one time; rather than God is doing something new and exciting here. This is how we do it; rather than how can we do this now? I’m reminded of the event of Jesus’ ascension; it’s so very instructive for the church. The disciples are all gathered together looking into the sky after Jesus ascended…they’re looking back. The angels come and say to them “why are you doo doo birds looking there? Come on, let’s go! There’s work to be done.” Admittedly that’s the new revised Jonathan version of the Bible. When we focus all of our effort and attention backwards, in the past, we miss what amazing things God’s doing here and now, in the present, and how he’s leading us to a bright future.
The people Isaiah is speaking to have this problem. They are so focused on the past that they cannot even begin to see what it is that God is preparing for them now. It’s a great little text. Isaiah starts with something so familiar to them; he recounts for them the story of the Exodus. This is their story, it’s a crowd favorite, it never falls flat. They tell it again and again and again. I can almost picture the scene, Isaiah starts to tell the story and they all look at one another knowingly nodding their collective heads. “Gee willikers, wasn’t that swell when God did that!” (Did I just turn the people of Israel into Walley and the Beaver?) Then Isaiah hits them with a bomb. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” Wait, what? That’s right. This was a great and wonderful thing that God did, and yes, it is indeed right to think on it and remember it…but not at the expense of paying attention to what God is doing now in the present. God’s going to do a new thing says Isaiah. Stop focusing all of your energy and attention in the wrong direction. Stop looking back, turn around for heaven’s sake a see how God is lowering the mountains and raising the valley’s and sending waters into the desert right before your very eyes.
It’s funny, there’s so much that can separate us from the love of God in the here and now. Sure we all know that there are plenty of bad things that can separate us. Drugs, food and drink, theft, adultery and the like. But here’s where it gets hard. There are plenty of really good things that can separate us from God. Our focus on our own efforts at being a really good person, our volunteer work, our past understanding and appreciation of God, even our families…all of it can serve as a separation from God and what he’s doing in the here and now. Take Paul for example, in the week’s text from Philippians 3:4-14. He lists his resume and it’s all really good stuff, except of course for that whole business of persecuting the church…that’s never a good thing. But by and large every bit of it, good as it may be, can serve as a barrier to Christ. Yet Paul says that all of his gains he considers both loss and rubbish because of the all more surpassing knowledge of Christ active not only in Paul’s past, but in the now and on into the future.
How is life different when Jesus becomes more than a past reality? In what sorts of ways might you act now knowing that Jesus is living and active in your life? So many throughout the Bible acted in ways that seemed obscure and even down right odd because they knew that God was more than just a past reality; they knew that he was acting for us today and tomorrow. Noah built an ark when there was no rain or water; Joshua marched around the walls of Jericho; Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with her only possession of value. All these and more did what made no sense because they knew that Jesus was active not only in a past tense way but also in the present and even future tense.
Let me close with this thought, God said that he would send water to the desert; so what do you do? Wait and see if it happens and if it does great, but if it doesn’t then no harm no foul? Or do you dig ditches in the desert to collect those waters of blessings when they’re sent into the desert? It sure might seem odd to dig ditches in the desert to collect water…but then again, following Jesus has always been a bit odd. So, what ditches do you, or your church need to dig so that the God who is alive and active may fill them with waters of blessing?