Free To Be(come)

The text of the sermon, based on Isaiah 43.16-21, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, in the 5th Sunday in Lent, April 3, 2022


“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?”

It’s the 6th century BCE. Israel is captive in Babylon. In the Israelites imprisoned despair, Isaiah reminds them of their forebears’ flight to freedom. When God “(made) a way in the (Red) sea, a path in the mighty waters” and the people walked on dry land. When God “(brought) out chariot and horse, army and warrior (drowning) extinguishing, quenching like a wick” pharaoh’s pursuing legions, thus, securing the people’s escape.

Having jogged the people’s memories, Isaiah, oddly, advises them, “Do not remember…or consider” that old exodus from Egypt. Rather look toward this new thing. Release from Babylonian bondage.

For this new thing will be more than liberation (as wonderful as that is!), but also transformation! In the old exodus, the people passed through the wilderness, but the wilderness remained. In this new exodus, the people will pass through the wilderness and God “will make rivers in the desert.” The wilderness will be changed!

This language is mythological. A subtle synthesis of prophecy and poetry to describe a truth beyond the physical, factual grasp of mere prose. Therefore, I don’t interpret this literally. I don’t believe that rivers ran in the desert.

But this prophecy isn’t about the desert. It’s about the people. They are the desolate wilderness transformed by rivers of freedom. Freedom that restores their covenant relationship with God and one another. Freedom to be who God created them to be: “I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

So, for us. Our relationship with God and, through God, with others grants us freedom to be and to become.

I continue to learn this truth (which is the chiefest aspect of my Lenten, indeed, life’s labor!): I have a greater sense of who I am through my relationships. Primarily, with Pontheolla with whom, this day, I celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary. And with our daughter Kristin. And with our families and friends. And with you, my St. Matthew’s community.

Through relationships, I’m called be truthful about myself. I’m challenged by criticism earnestly given and by praise honestly bestowed. I’m called to stand outside of myself. My self. This container of my thoughts and feelings, experiences and memories, observations and opinions, preferences and prejudices. (This container, which, even at its broadest, deepest points, always is small. Why? Because I haven’t experienced everything! I can’t think and feel everything! I don’t know everything!)

And sometimes, especially when I’m unsure or afraid or don’t like something or someone, the container of my self becomes my prison. My Babylonian Captivity. Where I refuse to take the risk of stepping out to try something new. To see something in a new way. The risk of change and growth. Where I hide exiled from my Promised Land of authentic living.

Yet, even when that happens, I relearn that my relationships call me out to be and to become me.

I believe this is true for all of us. As human experience, Israel’s and ours, testifies, it takes a village, a people to make a person. It takes a “we” to make a “me.”

Something to remember in these times when we live at constant, instantaneous-information warp speed. We have more (and during this pandemic-era, still more!) ways of being in touch without being in touch. Always and in all ways, with the danger of becoming disengaged from others and from ourselves.

Last week, during a night out, I was fascinated watching a family, mother, father, and two teenagers; each, iPhone in hand, self-absorbed. Neither communicating (unless they were text-messaging one another!) nor eating. Their food growing cold.

What we do today, gathering in community (and, yes, fraught with all the concerns of personal safety in these still-pandemic times) is a counter-cultural act. Even more, it’s radical (from the Latin, radix, root, as in the origin of things, the way God intended at the dawn of creation) whenever we together discover afresh the paradox of something to which I already have alluded: We become more who we are when pushed and pulled, sometimes uncomfortably beyond the safe boundaries of our self-containment. We can be who we are meant to be only through others.

This process of continual liberation and transformation is a “new thing” that God always is doing. Will we take the journey from Babylon to the Promised Land? If we answer “yes”, then, thus, saith the Lord: “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?”

© 2022 PRA

#relationships #ittakeswetomakeme #ittakesavillage #beingandbecoming

3 thoughts on “Free To Be(come)

  1. This is one of my favorites you’ve done! Amen


  2. Thanks Paul! And Happy Anniversary to you and Pontheolla!! It is so difficult to try new things at times!! Most of the time when I try something new it’s BECAUSE of one of my relationships!! After I try it I’m usually very happy about it and realize how that new experience helped me to become more of who I am supposed to be. Today wasn’t the best of days for me so I’m ready for a new thing tomorrow!


    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am sorry, my dearest Loretta, to read (to know) that yesterday was not “the best of days” for you. I pray this day will be “a new thing”! Love


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