The sermon text is printed below the sermon audio… this was a challenging text for me to understand, to expound and (to be honest) to claim as my own. As I say in the sermon: “The Lord is not finished with me, with you or with us…”
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday November 17th 2019. The Reverend Alan Neale; “Get on the ‘Bus”
Isaiah 65:17: “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”, or Message Translation “All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten”.
This text prompted me to think of an African-American spiritual that originated during the period of slavery but was not published until 1867. It has been sung by many famous artists, but for some reason I remember it being movingly rendered by Lena Horne. The song has appeared in a bewildering number of contexts and I think it makes a deep impact on its hearers because it speaks to something deep, primal, psychic in our being…
The first verse:
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve been through
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory hallelujah! (and at some point the last line was changed to “Nobody knows but Jesus”.)
As each one of us moves through life we discover that troubles not only beset us as they happen but the remembrance of them can maim, disfigure even mutilate us for a long time after the event… at times even on our death-bed.
But hear the promise…So do you hear anew the powerful promise of this text…
In the final and third part of Isaiah (sometimes called Trito-Isaiah, probably not written by the original Isaiah but true to the Isaiah School of thought) the people of Israel are enjoying the fruits of their return to Palestine but the enjoyment is marred as they recall “the trouble they’ve seen”; if only it were possible to forget all that was painful, debilitating, shameful and distorting their vision and hindering their enjoyment of the moment – weeping and cries of distress, premature loss of life, futile labor and destroyed homes. They had been invaded by the Babylonians, the Temple had been destroyed and their leaders had been relocated and abjectly treated – none of this is wholesome and fun stuff for scrapbooks.
To such a people then and to us now, the Lord offers this tremendous promise… Isaiah 65:17 “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”, Message Translation “All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten”.
But how is this to be made possible?
Before I attempt an answer, just a tiny digression into the Hebrew of our text (and it will be as brief as is my knowledge of Hebrew!). The word used for “mind” in our text is a mistranslation, the Hebrew word would be better translated as “the belly” – the place of emotion and feeling, the deepest place within our being that is not subject to rational thought and argument but feels, senses, intuits that leads us to speak of a “gut feeling” or a “gut reaction”.
You see the promise of our text is not that we receive some spiritual frontal lobotomy that eradicates the facts, the history, the truth of “past troubles” but rather that the Holy Spirit so reaches deep into our hearts that they are renewed and set free from the sensate reactions to the past.
It is crucial to notice the context of our promise; the verses surrounding the text are packed with references to the present action of the Lord… v.17 “Pay close attention now, I am creating new heavens and a new earth” (PRESENT TENSE), v.18 “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating (PRESENT TENSE); for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy”(PRESENT TENSE). We need nurture a firm conviction, a bold assurance, a passionate certainty that the Lord is at work, is in process, is active – being grasped by this conviction is more than sufficient to change a heart burdened by hurts of the past. One commentator somewhat dryly describes this divine process like this… “the participial form in verse 17 suggests that creation is God’s on-going activity; (this) ideal world is being created ‘new’ every day. Divine blessings radiate out into the steppe and the wilderness, the abode of wild and dangerous creatures” and listen to this paean of praise “every day, God recreates this cosmos: a world of harmony, prosperity and joy.”
As I was thinking about this theme, I had in my mind the times when safety rules were lax and it was then possible to jump onto a slowly moving train, leap onto a ‘bus just as it were leaving the stop… these vigorous images stirred in me the sense that day by day I am being presented with new opportunities to jump, to leap, to join Lord in this gloriously creative and ongoing process.
The Lord is not finished with me, and neither is He finished with you or with us. I believe that the daily (sometimes maybe even momentary) commitment/decision to jump onto the train or leap onto the ‘bus of God’s constant creativity will bring healing to my deepest being; that commitment, that decision will allow even the most painful, hurtful experiences to lose their tight, choking, gagging grip on my ability to laugh, to live and to love.
This past Wednesday I celebrated our Noon Eucharist. A verse from the Gospel demanded my attention – Matthew 9:36 “And when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them for they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd”.
Friends, as we are touched by the ongoing ever present active compassion of Jesus so our pains and hurts, our grudges and grievances, our anger and frustration from the past will be slowly healed and then we, like him, will see (really see) the ones around us who are hurt and alone. Those who need be led to that holy mountain where “they will neither hurt nor be destroyed.”
So, perhaps today when you come to the Table and receive Communion… with open hands you will offer to God a memory that stifles and cripples and ask to be healed and set free… remembering God’s promise: “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
Lord help us. Amen
A quotation from Corrine Carvello:
“Isaiah 65:17-25 invites us to consider how our experience of God’s holiness changes the world for us. We may not feel a great need to domesticate lions, but what would the world look like if children did not die from disease or gun violence, if adults had complete access to the best medical care, and if everyone earned a livable wage so that their work was not in vain. What if everyone could have the children they wanted, knowing they could provide for them without anxiety? Isaiah tells us that this is the world that worship should invite us to imagine.”