Lectionary: Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
Let us pray: Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, we look to you. Be with us this morning; guide us and speak to us. Show us your way and give us strength to follow you. In your name we pray, Amen.
Letting Go of Reluctance
Saul had it all, you know? His family observed the law faithfully, and so he is able to say that he was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, as the law commands. He was born into the right family, and so he’s able to say not only that he was born into the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, but also the tribe of Benjamin, which was widely considered to be one of the better tribes. And as he grew up he internalized all of that, until he was determined to follow the law. And he did, growing in understanding and ability until he was able to keep the law; until he was a Pharisee, one of those who believed in strict adherence to the law; until he was traveling the nation, persecuting Christians for their, shall we say, unorthodox way of living into Judaism.
And then one day on the road to Damascus, God showed him that all of that was utterly unimportant. Jesus came to him, spoke to him. Saul knew then that Jesus had power, that he’d been doing it all wrong–that, as much as it looked like he had it all, he’d actually been going very confidently in the absolute wrong direction.
And so he gave it all up. He changed his name to Paul, gave up on keeping the law, and went off to learn about Christianity, about Christ.
Sometimes that which seems so important, even so faithful, is nothing.
This can be impossible to admit. Who wants to admit that God may ask us to give up our stable job that we’ve had for thirty years? that there are more important things than how well-respected your family is, or your city or country or sports team? that even the part of your life that gives you the most joy, your garden or family reunions or whatever else, is not vital for existence in the same way that God is?
And so we prevaricate. We hold back. We try to hold on to what feels important. We avoid giving it fully to God; we try to keep God away from it entirely. (this is why I love the book of Jonah so much. The terrible, emotionally satisfying logic of, ‘If I run away, God won’t be able to find me! This will totally work!’ is so relatable) We are reluctant to become more involved in church, or to pray more, or to volunteer, partly because we don’t want to hear what God has to say. What if God does ask me to give something up? What will I do then? This–whatever it is–feels too important to give up.
Isaiah preaches to a people in exile, a people whose land and religion and society and often families had all been destroyed. Nothing would ever be the same. They had so many questions, about how this had happened, about who God was and if they should even worship the God of their ancestors any more. Life was uncertain; they were living in a strange land, with no hope of ever returning to their ancestral lands and ways. Everything they had, everything they valued, had been stolen from them.
Into that, Isaiah preaches hope. He preaches that God, their God, the God who saved them from Egypt, who “makes a way in the sea” and “extinguishes” their enemies “like a wick”–the God who has done so much for them–is still working. God has not forgotten them; God has not been defeated by their conqueror’s false gods. No, not only is God still working, God is going to do something brand new, something before unimagined, something so powerful that it will change creation itself, until the desert is remade into fertile land and wild animals will bow before God their Creator.
I imagine that Isaiah’s words of hope sometimes felt dangerous to the exiles–would their conquerors object? could life really be better? They had already had so much taken from them–could they really bear to have their last hope destroyed as well? Could they bear any more disappointments?
We all have our reasons for reluctance, whether it is that we are sure we cannot bear one more disappointment, we are afraid of what God will ask of us, we can’t imagine that God is even capable of fulfilling all these wild promises, or something else entirely. We all have our reluctances, the parts of our lives we don’t want to give up, the things we just can’t believe, the commitments we just can’t commit to.
And yet Isaiah reminds us of the new thing that God is doing–because this isn’t just something that God did thousands of years ago. In Hebrew, God did those things, making ways through wastelands and clearing obstacles, and continues to do them. These are the things that God did and is still doing.
And Paul reminds us that all of those things that feel so important, our family connections and our jobs and even our religious beliefs–all of that is unimportant in the face of Christ’s offer of love and redemption and resurrection for all of us. The most important thing is to keep our gaze on Christ, on where God is leading us and what God is asking of us now. We run the race. We focus on the steps in front of us, remembering that God is with us and there is a prize waiting for us, if we can only keep going, finish the race, follow God.
Let go of everything that gets in the way. Let go of what feels important, what feels more important than God. Let go.
God will catch you.