Isaiah and the people of Israel were at a point of feeling rejected by God; they were exiles in a hostile land, without even a place to belong. They felt that they were failures as a nation, punished and abandoned by their God, cut off from their promised land, their holy city, the Temple and all that mattered.
When we read the wonderful poetry in Isaiah of God making away in the wilderness and rivers in the desert it is meant to represent the new coming of hope that Israel had for salvation, a poetic metaphor for a smooth return to the promised land. Isaiah wasn't on about environmental change, turning rivers around, or freeway building campaigns. Isaiah speaks of change and hope and new beginnings that would come with God's new age, and somehow, mysteriously the prophet is called to speak this new reality into being. "Speak to Jerusalem, Cry out" - these are the instructions - proclaim, tell the good news because God is going to do a new thing.
The words in Isaiah were written to Israel when they were captive, slaves in Babylon. Words of hope addressed to people without home, without rights, without any security - a people suffering and on the verge of losing their very identity.
When Isaiah writes of Gods forgiveness, of not looking back to remember the former things, Isaiah could see that there was a lot that needed changing in his society - a lot of problems, many needs around him, things that were overwhelming. I wonder is it any different today ?
Our world is suffering too! It needs a new hope, for God to forgive our past and help us to get on with some new things.
In 1978 Miloslav Vik began a new career washing windows of Pragues government buildings. He must have done well enough at it, because he help the position for 10 years. Officials looking out their clean windows would have had no idea that the cleaner was a priest. His license had been revoked by the Communists and he had to find another means of making an income. When communist rule ended so did the window washing of priest. He went back to ministry, in fact becoming the Archbishop of Prague.
There are many stories of "far off hope" becoming miraculous reality. The return to nationhood of the East Timorese, the liberation of black South Africans from apartheid, the fall of the Berlin wall and reunification of Germany.
In a world where tens of thousands die every day from hunger, in a world where child slavery and child prostitution still exist, in a world where there are more homeless and refugees than we have ever seen before - the promise of God doing a new thing to make a difference is one we should all grasp with great anticipation.
Isaiah had the boldness to proclaim that God was present and God could make a difference to a people who were literally hopeless. So Isaiah holds out this bright beacon of hope to his people in their great need. And in the gospel account of Jesus healing the paralyzed man we see some of Gods new things breaking into the world, making hope real, bloting out sin and making people whole again.
I sometimes come across the most inspiring stories of what children have done. The one I want to share today is loud and clear about what new things unquestioning faith can do. Its written by an 11 year old.
"When I was five, one day I was playing in the park with my mum. I played in the sandpit and I noticed a boy my age watching from a wheelchair. I went over and asked if hed like to play. I couldnt understand back then why he couldnt just get out of the chair and play. But he told me he couldnt. I talked to him for a while, he seemed nice and then I got my bucket, filled it with sand, put the sand in his lap and we started to play with it together.
My mum came rushing over when she saw and asked, "why did you put the sand in his lap?"
I said, "he couldnt play in the sand pit with me, so I brought the sand to him, now we can play together." and we did."
Lucas, age 11.
How often do we see a need or a problem, feel sorry, feel inadequate or just look the other way?
The paralyzed man in the gospel story was fortunate to have friends who were either people of great faith, or just so stubborn that they refused to give up hope that a new thing could be done.
And maybe sometimes the two arent very far apart!
These faithful friends had a problem on two levels - they had a friend who was paralyzed and they could not get access to Jesus, the one they believed could help. The way was blocked for them, too many others were there already.
And we often hear about similar situations - too many homeless for the shelter to cope with, to many sick for the free clinic to see, too many refugees for the aid centres to help.
Huge needs, too many needy and not enough help. The story remains the same. But in the gospel we see that somehow faith finds a way. Faith goes through the roof when it has to.
I havent often quoted the work of great poets here of a Sunday morning, but this is the day to make an exception.
Wordsworths "Tintern Abbey" speaks of the possibility that something else maybe going on in the world than what we can measure or even imagine - a presence more wonderful than we can conceive.
"And I have felt
a presence that disturbs me with the joy
of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
of something deeply interfused
whose dwelling is the light of settling suns
and the round oceans and the living air
and the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
a motion and a spirit, that impels
all the thinking things, all objects of all thought,
and rolls through all things."
"A motion and a spirit that impels" - the friends of the sick man felt impelled. Impelled to put their hopes, their faith, their longing to help into action.
"When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
he said to the man
"I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home."
So it was out of a sense that Jesus could do something,
out of the faith of a group of friends, impelled to act -
something wonderful happens, there is healing and a new beginning, a new thing is done.
This story runs against the spirit of our culture.
Our society operates much more on a philosophy of taking responsibility for ourselves, of looking after number one. Our care of the vulnerable in this world of ours is not good. 2/3rds of our world live in poverty. Thousands die everyday of starvation and preventable disease and the AIDS tragedy in Africa is of unbelievable proportions, while the well off world, by and large, does not feel impelled to help. In the hopelessness the sort of "new thing" Isaiah spoke is needed, and where there are obstacles we need to find ways "through the roof"
The friends of the paralyzed man could be a parable for us.
We at times have a sense of wanting to be close to Jesus, wanting to see better things in life for ourselves and for others - but there is a crowd around Jesus - the questioning doubters , the legalists who just want to argue the point, the poor who need help, the professional religious - and we can get put off.
We have to look for new ways of getting to Jesus, we have to use imagination to get around the barriers, find ways of responding to that spirit that disturbs and impels us, find new ways to access Jesus. We need to find ways for our faith to share the sandpit with those who cant get in it for themselves, find ways of going through the roof - and we need to because there is need - our need and the pressing needs of others.
To respond to the spirit that stirs us - that is faith - to reach out to the God who reaches out to us in Christ - that is faith - to find a way to Jesus, even through the roof, that is faith, to act in faith on behalf of others, to make a difference - that is Jesus way.
May we walk in it by faith.