Just what new things is God doing right now? For me, I've just started as minister at St. Andrew's United Church in Chatham. That's a pretty big change: I'm now working with a larger staff, a broader committee structure, a larger congregation, and a downtown urban setting. I have many new people to meet and names to learn, a community to get to know, and a culture to soak up and integrate into.
Outisde of their search for a new minister, the holy spirit has been moving at St. Andrew's over the past while, too. There have been changes in committees, new technology in the sanctuary, and a pretty major clean up effort. Building a relationship with a new minister can mean lots of questions. What will change and what will remain the same? Will we get along well with the new minister? What are our non-negotiables and what are we willing to give up?
If we look nationally at the United Church of Canada, there are some very large changes happening there as well. Some layers of the organization itself are being swept away as new ones are created. The funding model for how the denomination is financially supported is new, as well as the oversight structure for ministers. The channels that students will travel in to become ministers are getting some refreshing at the same time, and the mechanisms for how ministers will be hired is changing in some places as well. This is just scratching the surface.
Is God doing a new thing? Heck yeah! All over the place.
Are we scared or excited or nervous or enthusiastic? Heck yeah! All of the above!
Maybe there's some scripture to help us frame all this ...
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19 NIV
This is a popular scripture quote from Isaiah that reminds us that God is creatively engaged in the world. It is a favorite that ministers and church leaders discuss and point people to whenever the church is going through times of transition. Sometimes, if they encounter resistance to change (not so very uncommon in church) then they will add weight to the passage by reading verse 18 as well:
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
Isaiah 43:18 NIV
If you are the sort of person who likes new projects and ideas, a dreamer who can imagine many wonderfully optimistic ideas for the future, this encouragment sounds pretty promising. Forget the former things, and look with starry-eyed wonder into the future. It sounds like the prophet Isaiah is giving you license to chase your dreams, and those pessimists and realists who would bring you back down to earth had better give you some room
It can be pretty easy to use the bible for our own benefit this way, can't it?
We need to back up just a little bit and read the rest of chapter 43, we see that the writer spends the previous 17 verses reminding us of all the ways that God has helped us in the past. The chapter starts with beautifuly encouraging reminder that God created us, and a reminder that each of us are called by God and belong to God.
Though this might seem like one piece of scripture totally disagreeing with another, I don't think that's what the writre of Isaiah was going for. God has been up to new things for ever. From creation until now, God has been active and engaged in creative things on earth and with people. That means we need to recognize, respect, and engage with the history that brought us this far. We need to learn from the past, both the good and the bad. We need to realize that we are each the sum total of all the events that lead up to this moment in time, and bravely carry all that into the future.
God is doing a new thing. Each moment of each day is new for each and every one of us. Let's all embrace our collective future and step boldly into God's future for us all.