Behold, I am doing a new thing

Author: 
Revd. Heather
Date: 
Sunday, September 27, 2020 - 9:30am

‘Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.’

Isaiah 43:19 (ESV)

Words from the prophet Isaiah to ponder this morning alongside our Gospel reading. 

We often take comfort in things that are familiar. One of the reasons living in a global pandemic is so challenging is because the comfort of the familiar has been taken away in so many ways. We have needed to find new ways to do things. Many of us are now meeting up with fewer people than we were a year ago, and we may be trying to keep safe by meeting outdoors or via technology. The way we do church has changed too, especially for those of you now joining us online from home. We all found new ways to mark Easter this year, and we’re beginning to plan ahead to how we will celebrate Christmas. A couple of children of the parish this week said that it is scary that Christmas is less than 100 sleeps away. It certainly is when you’re the vicar! These children were lamenting the end of summer, and many of us may lament what has been and what may be. These times may feel like that of a wilderness or a desert, referred to by the prophet Isaiah. Yet we can take heart in Isaiah’s words too: God’s promise that God will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. Even when all appears barren, we have that promise ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’ With God, there are always streams of hope to be refresh us.

Those words: ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’ 

also speak into our Gospel reading too. This time in a more critical and deliberate way. We may currently be trying to the make the best out of an unusual situation; whereas in the Gospel, God is moving in a new way upon the earth, stirring things up, bringing forth a new, radical inclusive love. We hear first about this in Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, that we read at our Patronal Festival earlier this month. God comes to earth in that first Christmas, as the Word made flesh, to live amongst us: human and divine, to reveal the fullness of the Father’s love. John the Baptist witnesses to Christ in his prophecy, and at his baptism. And ultimately we see God doing a new thing in the life of Christ here upon earth, in his teaching, his healing, his life, his love. 

Yet the chief priests and the elders of the temple do not perceive it. They have honoured the law and taught it, but they have become stuck in their observation of it. When Jesus comes on earth as ‘God with us’ revealing God’s power, they cannot accept Him. What is more they reject Him. We hear them in our Gospel reading today trying to catch him out, challenging him on where his authority comes from. 

There have been opportunities for them to perceive what is happening: to recognise God’s authority in Christ. But they cannot, or maybe do not want to, see it. Instead the signs that Jesus is the Messiah have made them more angry. Since our Gospel reading last Sunday Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on a colt (a reading we hear usually on Palm Sunday), a fulfilment of the prophet Zechariah that the future king would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Tensions heightened, there has been confrontation: Jesus has turned over the tables of the money lenders in the temple and instead welcomed in those who were previously excluded – the blind and the lame – and has healed them. Jesus has tried to demonstrate that God’s love is wider than they can comprehend and this has not gone down well! 

And so now they are trying to catch him out. They want Jesus killed for blasphemy, or else thrown out. So they ask him ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ And Jesus outwits them. He responds with a question to challenge them: ‘Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ They are caught, they cannot answer. Either answer they could give would have consequences that they do not want to accept. God has stirred things up, and clinging to what was is not an easy place for the chief priests and elders to be. 

Things don’t get any easier for them in the parable that follows. The father has a vineyard, and it is likely that this family business will one day pass to his sons. It requires work to keep it working well, producing grapes. The vines need caring for: harvesting, pruning; and the weeds need taking out. The first son says that he does not want to be part of it, but later changes his mind and goes out to the vineyard to work. The second son says he’ll go from the start but never actually does. Jesus goes on to tell the chief priests and the elders at the temple that they are like the second son: for they say they want to be part of God’s kingdom but cannot accept Jesus. Instead Jesus welcomes in those who believe in him and wish to enter his kingdom, including the tax collectors and prostitutes. All who believe in Jesus and wish to enter his kingdom are welcome. 

And so while this was a story of caution for the religious leadership of 2000 years ago, who were stuck in their ways and unable to see the love that Jesus is bringing; it is a story of hope for us today. A story of hope that as we adapt in these changing times, we can take comfort that Jesus is with us. When life is different, and we are finding new ways to do things, Jesus calls us continue to follow him, to seek his Kingdom, to draw close to him, and to cling to him. For when we hold tight to Jesus, and serve him in his vineyard, we see signs of his hope and his goodness in the world. In these coming months, let us hold close to Jesus and keep our eyes open for the green shoots that he plants. 

‘Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.’

Isaiah 43:19 (ESV)