This is what I will preach tonight at Beresheth...
New Year’s Resolutions, I hate them.
I’m going to get skinny, I’m going to get in shape, I’m going to stop smoking, I’m going to drink less, I’m going to get a boyfriend, I’m going on at least one date a month, I’m going to read my bible every day, I’m going to start going to church, I’m going to call my mom more, and on and on and on.
I hate them because I think when we make these resolutions we set ourselves up for failure.
Inevitably we sneak in just one cigarette after lunch, inevitably, we get toasted at our best friend’s birthday bash, inevitably, we don’t end up asking out that girl we’d been wanting to, inevitably, we go back to eating a snickers with lunch at work for that extra energy boost, inevitably we check our calendars and it’s been three weeks since we’ve been to the gym, inevitably, mom calls and kvetches about why we don’t call her more.
Damn. We blew it.
And then we feel bad about ourselves and the cycle starts all over.
I mean, have you been reading the quotes? Half of them are optimistic about looking ahead and new beginnings and the other half are pessimistic. Mark Twain says you can have your glorious resolutions on New Year’s Day but you’ll be back paving the way to hell come January 2nd. Helpful.
But you know, I think we get guilt a lot in churches although many churches don’t mean to communicate it. You need to be a good person churches tell us. You need to help the poor. You need to tithe. You need to forgive your enemies. You need to be nicer to your parents. You need to be ethical at your job. You need to be faithful to your spouse. And when we’re not perfect, we feel guilty. I think this translates through resolution-making too. If we’re Christians and our resolutions are based in what we believe about God – that we need to take care of our bodies which are described in the bible as God’s temple, that we need to take care of each other because we are called to love neighbor and enemy, that we need to study ancient scripture and participate in a faith community – if we make resolutions that are based in our philosophy of faith, then not only have we let ourselves down when we break our resolutions (or perhaps never even get started on them) we let God down too.
And that’s why I hate resolutions. I can handle being angry with myself, but I can’t handle the idea that I’ve disappointed God.
And the truth of the matter is God doesn’t want me feeling either way.
Our text tonight is from Isaiah when the Israelites are still in Babylon. Let me remind you of where we are in the story. You’ve got the primeval history (Adam, Eve and Noah) and then the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and the matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel), and then you’ve got the Israelites stuck as slaves in Egypt and Moses comes and leads them out. Then there’s the period of the judges (Deborah and Samson) and then the period of the kings (Saul, David, Solomon) and then the kingdom of Israel divides into north and south and low and behold when they’re at their weakest and steeped in sin, in comes the Babylonians who captures Israel and cart them off to Babylon.
And while they are in Babylon, they are traumatized, it’s true. Check out the book of Lamentations if you don’t believe me.
But while they are there, they receive a word from God about what God has in store.
He starts off with a little reminder of his credentials: I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator, your King. All capitol letters. Just in case anyone had forgotten.
Then God reminds them of what he did in Egypt when he delivered the Israelites from the Pharaoh: verse 16, “who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.” Do recognize the imagery? God reminds the people of their story and actually promises them a greater exodus from Babylon than they had from Egypt.
Verse 18, Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” That’s history, good history, but it doesn’t even compare to how I will heal you now. “I am about to do a new thing;” says God, “now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Rivers in the desert? Please. A rarity, it’s true. You can definitely spot a river in a desert because the little patch around it on your map will be green but all the rest of the map will be brown. But that’s what God promised the Israelites. I am about to do a new thing, says God. Take hope.
Not "you are."
The great I AM takes the initiative to rescue Israel and I believe God will do the same for us today.
In fact, the more we are aware of our inadequacies, the more we recognize our need for God. God is not about guilt and self-loathing. God is about grace. God is about empowerment and forgiveness. Put the old stuff behind you, I am doing a new thing, God says.
I think God offers us the same promises today. You cannot be a good person on your own. Anorexic eating habits won’t make you a healthy person. Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally. Being the perfect friend is impossible.
But when we open ourselves to the grace of God, who sees our sin, sees where we need growth and loves us anyway, something changes.
It’s not always dramatic, but it is little by little. God does not need to rescue us from the Babylonians or Mexico or Iraq. But God does need to rescue us from materialism, self-loathing, greed, selfishness, etc.
You know there were Israelites who chose to stay in Babylon. They’d set up a nice house there, gotten some real pretty Babylonian wives, their businesses were booming despite the fact they were foreigners. Why leave when they were finally comfortable?
There were some who chose to stay. But for those who longed for home, God was ready to take them there despite their sin, despite their loneliness, despite their confusion. God was ready.
“I am about to do a new thing. Don’t get stuck looking back wishing and hoping and resolving for an old time when you were skinnier, happier, healthier, and had a great boyfriend. What I’ve got in store for you is so much better.”
No more guilt, only forgiveness. No more self-loathing, only grace. If we are willing to release ourselves to trusting and loving the Lord, the Holy One, the Creator, the King, the one who made the first resolution to love us in the first place.