Painted between 1890 and left unfinished at the time of his death in 1925, American artist, John Singer Sargent, created a series of murals in the newly-built Boston Public Library. The theme for these was "The Triumph of Religion", a theme for a secular building challenging to 21st-century ears. Parts of the murals feature the prophets of Hebrew scripture.
Pictured above is the prophet Isaiah. He is portrayed, youthful, beardless, turbaned, unlike his companion witnesses – Jeremiah, Jonah, and Habakkuk. His arms are outstretched as if he is responding to his dramatic call (Isaiah 6), or receiving a message from the Lord to deliver to weary, threatened people living in fear and desolation: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up: do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 43: 18-19 New International Version).
Rather than being starved for information in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are bombarded with information from all directions; conflicting claims of the virus' intensity, precautions, and possible cures. The assertion of individual rights over against the common good fill the air. Careful discernment calls us to differentiate between what is life-saving and enhancing, and what is carnival sideshow. We long for what we remember as simpler, more defined, something frequently identified as "normal" We want to go back.
Any student of history knows that it, like one's consciousness, has no reverse gear. While we may experience some events as deja' vu, and, for good or ill, we may repeat certain practices and behaviors, we can never go back to what was. This is not only historical reality, it is also biblical truth. The only return asked for in scripture is to God, never to what used to be. And our God is out ahead, not "back there". Given these sentiments, you can imagine that my least favorite Christian song is "Gimme that O' Time Religion"!
We live in a dangerous, health-threatening time where we have had to make radical adjustments in just about everything. What our churches have done to maintain worship, community, outreach, and communication is nothing less than spectacular. Our pastors and staffs have been called upon to do ministry in ways they never expected. In new and exciting ways they have made and kept Christ present to us and among us. Methods of "doing church" which we thought would happen someday are now our reality. What stunning pastoral leadership! We now have more methods to communicate and practice Jesus' way than we ever did before; and we are still imagining and strategizing. In all this, God is doing that promised "new thing"! Still living with caution, we look to God's future renewed with confidence and Christian hope.
Hear Isaiah once again, this time from Eugene Peterson's The Message: "Forget about what's happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands."
My prayer for us, beloved, that we stay safe, in full health, and in our discipleship embrace this new thing that God is doing in our midst.
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+