God Is Up To Something
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
There is a strange warmth that has settled upon my soul this week. There is an air of expectancy which envelops the atmosphere. There has been a feeling in my spirit that acknowledges that something great is about to occur. The anticipation has been almost overwhelming. For in the fiber of my being, I know that God is up to something. There is an excitement, an almost palpable presence of exhilaration. And I think to myself, that only God can be involved in this thing. Can you feel it? Can you feel the presence of God here and now? The songwriter says, there’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, and I know it is the presence of the Lord!
And where God is present, you can rest assured that he is always at work. God is up to something. Perhaps you have sensed this in your own life this week. Perhaps you’ve had some experiences you could not quite explain. Perhaps your world was rocked this week, and you find yourself reflecting and asking what is the drama all about? Well, I submit to you beloved that it is the labor pains before the birth. It is the darkness before the dawn. For I believe that God is up to something.
Today we heard from the prophet Isaiah as he brings good news about the restoration of a people who were in cruel exile in a foreign land; a people who were hurting; a people who were suffering. Isaiah would later on in a subsequent chapter declare: Thus says the Lord God, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered of come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating. In other words, God is even giving Episcopalians the permission to shout because, as the young folks say, something is about blow up in here and in your life. God is up to something. Can you feel it? Do you know it? Can you imagine it?
Like a child who knows Christmas is coming; like a child who knows that the rewards of this glorious season are just around the corner, I anticipate great things happening in the life of this church and in each of your lives, because God is up to something. God is busy, trying to make the old new. And this doesn’t mean making it the same as it was, but recreating it into something totally new. Don’t be surprised when your journey takes you to a place you’ve never seen before because God is up to something. God is taking you to a higher place.
Some of you are may be looking at me as though I were crazy, as though I had a loose screw somewhere. Because right now you are in the midst of such pain and personal challenge that hope is hard to envision. But I came to you today with a word of encouragement. God is up to something in your life. You may be hurting now, and hurt has eclipsed the bright sunshine of hope. You may be going through something right now, and adversity has overwhelmed the glimmer of a glorious tomorrow. You may not be able to see your way out because the cold night has trounced the warmth of God’s daytime. Yet I submit to you, even so, that God is creating something new. Yes, God is up to something.
Thus says the Lord God, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered of come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.
Here, if we are to truly understand the full impact of God’s proclamation through Isaiah to the people of Israel, we must understand the historical context in which the prophet is speaking. And perhaps then we can have some insight into our own situation which has itself been impacted by these prophetic words. For when we hear these words and promises of God, be reminded that they came like the dawn to a people who had endured a long and bitter night of exile and slavery.
In 588 B.C. the Babylonians, under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to the holy city of Jerusalem. After 18 months of the most intense suffering, the great city of Hebrew religion fell, its buildings destroyed, its temple burned. The proud aristocrats, the artisans, the merchants and the priests of Israel were carried into slavery among the weeping willows of Babylon. Zedekiah, then king, had his eyes put out after he was forced to watch the execution of his sons. The glory of Israel as a free nation passes from the pages of history. The people, scattered in a strange land, struggled to find meaning in their slavery. But even so, they still believed that God was active in human affairs. They traced his mercy and his purpose even in their heartbreak and national shame. In other words, they believed that God was up to something.
Desperately, with spirits bleeding and faith fighting a furious battle with doubt and defeat, these Israelite slaves held on to their faith that God was not dead. He had not forsaken the work of his own hands. He was not quitting on the good work which he had begun in them. He didn’t throw them away like we humans can do to other people. He did not discard them and think them totally useless. You know how we can be. “He’s got too many problems, so later with him.”
“She lied to me once, so I will never have anything else to do with her.” You know how we are.
But thank God he doesn’t give up on us! And he did not give up on the children of Israel. They would come forth from the fire of trials purged and purified. The morning would surely come though the night seemed so dark and endless. They were still God’s people and he was still their God. In the midst of the mighty march of great world empires in pomp and power, God still moved. And in all the storm and fury of nations locked in mortal combat, from Israel and Babylon to Iraq and the United States, God would keep his people, God would bless his people,
and God would deliver them making all things new.
I know St. Thomas understands and knows something about faith fighting a battle with doubt and defeat. Somebody told me that when the bishop, at the time, suggested the doors of this church might have to close, one of you said, “Go ahead bishop. If you close our doors, we will have church on the sidewalk.” So I know that you know what it means, like the children of Israel, to fight a furious faith battle. For you knew, church, that God is up to something in this place. I can feel his spirit moving even now!
Strangely enough, like a rainbow in a cloud-filled sky, Israel went into captivity half heathen with its idols and images mixing with and corrupting the true faith in one God. But when they came out seventy years later, there were no heathen elements in its faith. Israel came home knowing God is the God of history. Perhaps some of you are dealing with your own idolatry. Maybe you hold your job, you family, your possessions, your good looks, and your health ahead of God.
Perhaps we have prostrated ourselves in front or the altar of materialism and worshiped it in the anticipation of unlimited material return. And you cannot understand why God is allowing you to go through this time of trial. Well, God may well be using our suffering to clean up our idolatry.
God is up to something.
Proud Babylon, with its wonderful gardens and mighty war machine perished, but God’s people lived and God’s purpose marched on. I came to declare that your Babylon will not get the best of you, for the future belongs to God.
Gardner Taylor described it best when he said that Babylon marched to the center stage of history, strutted a moment against the backdrop of God’s eternity, and passed forever from world dominance into obscurity. Syria also lunged forward after this to seize the world’s spotlight but itself sank into oblivion. But God’s people lived on and God’s purpose marched on. Think of Babylon, Syria, Persia, Rome and America for that matter. What do they matter against the supreme tidings of history? “Unto us a child is born” tells of an event far surpassing the glory of nations. That figure, the true glory of God, will forever stand taller than any nation.
And as with nations, so will it be with our lives, because God is up to something. I can feel it deep in my soul, can’t you? Think of our little time on earth, our faults and failure, our strivings and surrenders. Think of this and believe that in the midst of it all, God’s glory is yet to be seen in all its fullness and splendor. In other words, God is about to blow the roof off of this thing! God is about to show up and show out on our behalf. We have not yet seen the best of what God can do; what God will do. The best sermon has not yet been preached. The best song has not yet been sung. The best prayer has not yet been prayed. The best St. Thomas, as good as we are, is still on its way. The best you and the best me has not yet been revealed. The best is yet to come, for God is up to something!
Thus says the Lord God, I am about to create something new. And in Christ, we do have a new beginning. The babe in Bethlehem, born in humble estate and laid in a manger was our new beginning. In His death and resurrection, we have been made new and washed clean in his blood so that we might have new life in him.
Thank God that he is up to something. Thank God that his full glory is yet to be revealed. Thank God that through Jesus Christ we can have a new name, a new walk, a new talk, a new hope, a new song, a new mind, a new heart, a new chance when others gave up on us, a new heart to replace our heart of stone.
I heard God say, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered of come to mind. And I hear John the Revelator give a grand description: 1And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.