Out With the Old In With the New

John 12: 1-8      Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Isaiah 43: 16-21             March 13, 2016

“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?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Prayer:  Please touch our hearts today as these words of scripture are amplified by your holy presence.  Amen.

Facebook has this thing called “Throwback Thursdays.”  This is where people can post pictures from two, three, sometimes four decades ago.  Sometimes the post is titled, “’Memba when?” and it will be a picture of when you were much younger.  Or of a place that no longer exists, like my old high school building.  Sometimes the title of the post is “Share, if you know what this is…” and it will be a picture of an old rotary dial phone or something.  Throwback Thursdays recognizes the past—and yes, the past should be honored.  The past has goodness attached to it.  We recognize it.  We celebrate it.  We even learn from it.

Isaiah’s words come to the Israelites while they were still in the exile of Babylon.  Specifically, he reminds them of what God did for them way back in the days of Moses and the Exodus—when God opened up the sea and made a pathway for them as they were escaping Egypt… when God allowed the Egyptians to follow the same pathway, but then the sea closed back up and swallowed them up completely… when God liberated the Israelites as they headed toward the promised land.

But Isaiah’s message is not a throwback Thursdays “memba when!” It’s not “You think that God was good back then—well, you ain’t seen nothing’ yet!”  In fact, don’t even bother remembering all those things that God did… God is about to do a new thing, and it will be much better than before.  Don’t even think about getting all nostalgic as you sit in Babylon; God is making a way out of Babylon for you.

And, don’t you worry… even though the way out of Babylon is through another wilderness, thus says the Lord, “I will be with you on your journey back home.  I will provide for you all that you need on that journey, for I have chosen you to be my people; I have formed you to declare my praise,” says the Lord God.

During Lent this year, we have explored the awakening of angelic occurrences on our spiritual journeys.   I encourage us to apply the same concept Isaiah applies to the Israelites in Babylon.  Even though there’s story after story in the Bible of angels ministering unto God’s people, guiding them and leading them—well, we ain’t seen nothin;’ yet!  Even though God did a marvelous thing by sending angels to Zechariah and to Mary announcing the birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus, the Messiah and to the shepherds out in the fields, well guess what?  God is about to do a new thing!  Even though God twice sent an angel of the Lord to unlock the prison door where Peter and the apostles were incarcerated (see Acts 5 and Acts 12)—just wait for this new thing springing forth in our lives! Do you not perceive it?

Even though you may have felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your life, even though you may have felt as if things quite amazingly fell into place at a certain time in your life, even though you may have felt relief from your burdens by the Spirit at one point, guess what?  We’re encouraged not to get stuck reminiscing about those things of old because the best may be yet to come!  Perhaps God is doing a new thing, helping us to perceive angels on our journeys of faith today in our day.

Dr. John Lerma, is the inpatient medical director for Hospice at the Medical Center for Houston.  In his book Into the Light, he tells stories from his experiences of people in their last days of life on earth.  One of his patients, another doctor, Dr. Johnson, was dying from cancer.  Dr. Johnson was an intelligent, selfless, atheist physician.  In his last days, he began seeing angelic visions of people from his past.  In these visions, the angels assisted him in seeing how in the past his anger at humanity’s inhumanity drove him to do many good things.  His passion and love for others, especially for children deepened immensely.  He, in fact, decided to go to law school, become a lawyer, and eventually a judge because of his passion to stop the violence to children.  He decided that because he didn’t believe in God, his personal sense of responsibility increased.  But, during his last days, he said, “I’ve been seeing and experiencing things beyond my control and outside my belief system… The angels are bright and very comforting.  I don’t feel deserving of their comfort because I abandoned my faith and denied God.”  Trying to comfort him, Dr. Lerma shared stories of other patients who felt the way he did.  And, Dr. Lerma said, “I feel that the angels come for everyone no matter what their life has been.  The love that comes from the angels restores us, no matter what our beliefs are.”  Dr. Johnson began moving from an atheistic place of belief to a theistic place—this was his spiritual

journey.  He died peacefully, holding Dr. Lerma’s hand (Lerma, John, M.D. Into the Light, New Page Books,  Franklin, NJ, 2007, pp. 185-193).  I encourage you to read Dr. Lerma’s books—they are fascinating and are all real life stories about angelic visits with his patients.

We have biblical stories.  We have modern day stories.  Are we becoming awake on our spiritual journeys?  Are we becoming more open to the new thing of perceiving the presence of angelic spiritual beings who are empowered by God to minister to us? This is our journey during Lent. And maybe we “aint seen nothing’ yet!”

Not long ago a neurosurgeon in Philadelphia had gone to bed after a long, tiring day.  Just after he fell asleep, he was awakened by someone knocking on his front door.  It was a little girl, poorly dressed, and deeply upset.  She told him that her mother was very sick and asked if he would come with her.  He did, and found her mother desperately ill with pneumonia.  After treating her and making arrangements for her to go to the hospital, he complimented the mother on the poise and persistence of her daughter.  The mother looked at him strangely and said, “My daughter died a month ago.”  Could the doctor have been called by an angel who appeared as the woman’s daughter?  Was this the work of God’s angels ministering on behalf of the sick woman?  Perhaps (Graham, Billy, Angels: God’s Secret Agents, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY, 1975, pp. 2-3).  It takes faith to believe it.  It takes believing that God is doing a new thing to understand that!

While we’re at it awakening to the new thing of God’s angelic spiritual beings, let us also awaken again to the new thing God did and continues to do for all humanity in Jesus Christ.  It is shown beautifully in the metaphor of Mary opening the pound of perfume made of pure nard, anointing Jesus’ feet, and wiping the excess with her hair.  Once the jar was cracked open, its fragrance filled the entire house!  Judas may not have liked the fact that such expensive perfume was cracked open at that moment… maybe it would have been better to save it for some really special moment, hemight have thought.

But that’s the point! Jesus IS the special moment!  Jesus is the new thing God is doing! Jesus is the pound of perfume cracked open because he knew that his life would be cracked open.  His body would be broken open, bleeding, dying.  His spirit would be poured out;  God’s holy and ever-abiding spirit filled with grace is the fragrance that fills all our lives.  In Jesus’ sacrificial act, he has made all things new (Rev. 20: 5). He is the new thing God did and is doing. He and angels perhaps can lead us to new faith and understanding.

I was touched by another Dr. Lerma story about a Jewish woman named Rachel, 48 years old, who was dying of Huntington’s chorea.  Her husband, Benjamin was by her side faithfully.  Several weeks prior to her death, Rachel begins seeing Jesus sitting at the foot of her bed.  She, however, is unable to communicate Jesus’ messages because she has a tube down her throat.  Once she successfully asked that the tube be removed, she began to share what Jesus was saying to her, her family, and to Dr. Lerma.  Much was shared from Jesus about suffering, about forgiveness, about healing truth.  Please read chapter 15 to find out more. 

But for us today, I want to share what happened to her husband, Benjamin.  He at first is angry at the doctors, thinking that they were giving her hallucinatory drugs, which they were not.  Then he moved through a process of experiencing Jesus in his dreams at night as well.  He was also with angels, and with Rachel, too.  His journey took him to believe in Jesus as God’s Son, and he decides to become a Messianic Jew because he was encouraged to remember that Jesus was born Jewish (Lerma, John, M.D. Into the Light, New Page Books,  Franklin, NJ, 2007, pp. 195-211).  Old, former things were moving out in Benjamin’s life.  New things were moving in.

Think God was good so far for Benjamin? You ain’t seen nothing’ yet! The best is yet to come. Think God has been good to us in our lives so far? It’s true! But! Maybe the best is happening right now! And God is doing new things in our lives...in our church. In our worship of God in Christ today, we have sung to God our praises, we have shared in Holy Baptism.  We have begun to come to grips that God might be doing a new thing in our lives with real-life angelic occurrences.  Let us keep growing.  I invite you, during our time of celebrating the joys in our lives to think about the new thing God is doing in your life.  Because we can look to the past, but oh yes… we ain’t seen nothin’ yet of the new thing God is doing in our lives.

Thanks be to God!  Amen!