God is doing a New Thing

July 28, 2021 by Rev. Philip Beck

The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “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?” Isaiah 46:18-19

It is August. For many of us the dog days of summer are upon us. There is a strange sense of “we have done this before” that hangs over us. In this month, my wife and I will send off our youngest two children to college. For the first time in 23 years we will be home, just the two of us. We will try to tuck in one more vacation and eat as many tomatoes and watermelon as we can while the summer dwindles to a close.

Our eyes as well as our hearts and minds will turn to what many call the program year. This is where the strange sense comes in. There is a beckoning of return.

The prophet Nehemiah recounts such things as the exiled people return to Jerusalem, a city that lies in a state of ruin and disrepair. We note that one of the first things that happens is a time of confession that is then followed by the people gathering to hear the word of God.

There is a decisive pull to return to normal, to reinstitute what we did in the past, pre-pandemic. Nostalgia has a way of creeping in as we contemplate the fall season. “Remember when”, we say. Remember when the church was full. Remember when is a loaded question and statement. Remember when is full of nostalgia only pointing to the things that make us feel good. Remember when rarely does the difficult work of seeing all the inherent problems we as a church, as the body of Christ, failed to address. Remember when never talks about how the church has been complicit in racism, sexism, and ableism to name just a few.

It is not surprising that we want to return to what was. The Israelites wanted to return to the known of Egypt rather than continuing to plod through the unknown of the desert. They wanted to return, even when they knew things weren’t really very good in Egypt. The unknown is difficult.

For many of us, the thought of doing something new, addressing the systemic issues and making change, taking up new ways of how we are the church, listening to what God is doing in our communities is just too much.

Yet, I would challenge us to not just reinstitute what we have done in the past. To go back to the way things were is to follow a well-worn path that rarely brings forth life.

Instead, as we enter into this next season, embrace the leading of the Holy Spirit. God is here, listen to God’s voice, the welling up deep within our hearts, the voice of one calling “Behold, I make all things new.”

Rev. Philip Beck is pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Tarentum, PA. Phil recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination in the PC(USA) on April 1 (no fooling). He received his B.A. from West Virginia Wesleyan College and M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Phil, his wife Christa, and four children enjoy traveling and time spent in Chautauqua, N.Y. In his spare time, Phil likes to work in his small garden and helps run a local community garden.