|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
March 25, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
More than once I have wondered aloud how the ecumenical team that was responsible for such
things, thirty or so years ago, came up with their selections for the lectionary. We can go weeks at a
time, and the lessons not only work together, but really fit the season. But then, one week, we look at
the lessons and think, where did THESE come from?
That was my reaction when I read this morning’s Gospel. It stands in such stark contrast with last
week’s beautiful Gospel reading, where Jesus reveals his Father as prodigal in love – an absolute
wastrel, lavishing love beyond measure, undeserved, on his children.
This week a totally different setting, a totally different point, a totally different kind of parable – so
different as to be jarring in its “otherness.” It’s a parable unlike most of Jesus’ stories in that it’s
clearly directed AGAINST some of his hearers – Luke, himself, tells us that – and is obviously,
therefore, not intended to be a general kind of truthtelling. This one is a very specific lesson meant
for the “scribes and the chief priests” – the very people who will very soon bring about Jesus’
downfall. It is Jesus “bearding the lion in his den,” and, while it can help us to understand Jesus’
position in relation to the religious establishment, and why he was crucified, it’s not all that useful to
us for our Lenten teaching purposes.
The real puzzle, though, is how we’re supposed to see it in relation to the other lessons.
These lessons – the 5th Sunday in Lent, Year C in our lectionary,– in fact always make me wonder, but
at least I know I’m not alone. This year, mystified, as usual, I went to one of the handier resources
available – a magazine called The Living Church. The weekly magazine always has a page dedicated
to the lectionary, with a short commentary on the four selections as well as an overview. I wasn’t
really surprised when I realized the commentary was dealing with the readings from Isaiah, Philippians
and the Psalm, with nary a word about the Gospel. The writer rather obviously copped out by
forgetting even to mention it!
On the other hand, the Lesson from the Prophet, Isaiah, Psalm 126, and the lesson from the Letter of
St. Paul to the Philippians are a match and make good Lenten reading!
Actually, I said “the Lesson from the Prophet, Isaiah.” That was a bit inaccurate. There were actually at
least three Isaiahs; or, more properly, three separately identifiable prophets who wrote the book
called Isaiah (and maybe more) and it’s this lesson I want to focus on, this morning! The First Isaiah –
the one who was actually NAMED Isaiah – lived in the 8th to the 7th centuries B.C., prophesying to the
people of Judah and Jerusalem roughly from 745 B.C. to 685. The writer of THESE verses came along
about 150 years later – around 540 B.C. – possibly a student and a member of the school of prophets
established by the first Isaiah. In between the two, the nation of Judah had been conquered by the
Babylonian Empire, and it’s leading citizens – the educated people, the wealthy, the ruling elite – had
been carried off into exile in Babylon. But now, after 50 years of exile, the empire is on the verge of
falling. Cyrus, the great warrior-leader of the Persians has taken on the Babylonians, and is now
literally at the gates. Soon he will conquer, and – as he has done in other conquered lands – he will
surely release the captives, and the Hebrew exiles will be able to return home.
And it’s here that the second Isaiah writes to his people – his long-suffering people in exile – some of
the most wonderful words in Scripture, words that have outlived and far outweigh the circumstances
in which they were written:
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new
thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I love those lines! They’re exciting! They’re inspiring!
Here was a God who was not tied to the way things had always been! A forward-looking God; a God of
progress and growth, who promises new things!
And God was true to his word! When Cyrus did, indeed, free the captives and they returned to
Jerusalem, they rebuilt much of what they had lost in their captivity – but they went far beyond what
In the process of return and restoration they moved ahead, into uncharted territory. And before they
were finished, the old religion of the Hebrews had been transformed into a new faith – and Judaism
had been birthed – the Jewish faith that would, in turn, transform the world, and give to the world its
greatest Son – Jesus of Nazareth: the Son of God!
Archeologists and historians will tell you that religion tends to be a stabilizing influence on the world
and society, looking backward and preserving, rather than facing forward and inventing!
But that is not the faith of the God who proclaims, “Behold, I am doing a new thing!” His faith is
constantly moving forward, leading his people to new knowledge, new practices, new
understandings. A god who constantly tells his people, “I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth,”
and asks them, “do you not perceive it?” He is a God who leads his people always ahead, into new
things, new understandings, new worlds!
When I read these lessons, preparing for this morning (having eliminated the Gospel from
consideration) my initial thoughts were something like, “oh my gosh! This stuff just doesn’t do what
we need.” But as I thought about it, I discovered these readings say precisely what I need to speak to
you about, today - Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
The reality of this world is change –and the reality of our faith is not only change, but the embracing of
change! – a dynamic, moving, growing faith!
And it is in this context that I must tell you of the change that is facing us as a parish, as the people of
God in this place! I would prefer to be able to defer this, but there is no returning of the cat to the
bag, once he has gotten out, and I want as many of our people as possible to know about this, at the
earliest, possible time – and to hear it from me rather than the grapevine!
Last Tuesday I announced to the Vestry that sometime between next April – April of 2008, that is – and
the following September, I will be retiring from the Parish and from full time, active ministry.
As many of you know, I’ll be turning 65 in just over two months, and I’ve found that many of you have
been wondering when I would be taking the big step. Well – next year is it.
I move into this next stage of our life – Mary’s and mine – with no small degree of trepidation. And I
leave Calvary with no less concern!
But then I read these words from Isaiah, and I knew that it is all in God’s good hands, all according to
the way of God’s world!
Behold, I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Things in God’s world do not stay the same – they’re always changing, always growing, and that’s the
way things are supposed to be, the way God has made things to be!
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old,” the Scripture tells us, calling us to
move on to new things – to the next step in God’s plan for us.
And God assures us that if we step out into the new, and accept His promise that what comes next will
be better than “the former things,” we’ll find the truth, as well, of the words of the wonderful Saint
and Mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be
All that I have to say, at this point, and on this topic, you will read in the new Chimes that went out on
Friday. But there are a couple of things I do want to say to you, now, as well.
I have announced my intention as much as a year earlier than is usual. I’ve done this because this
parish is very important to me, and I know that, given the situation in this Diocese, with our present
Bishop, my leaving could leave the parish vulnerable – and I do not want that. So what I have
proposed to the Vestry is that, rather than following the Bishop’s decreed path for transitions such as
this – a path that generally takes at least two years, but a path that in fact is not enforceable by him –
the parish take the responsibility on, itself, and proceed as quickly and efficiently as possible in its
search for a new Rector.
The coming year to year-and-a-half will be a busy time, a difficult time, but, if all work together,
supporting one another, a very rewarding time.
What God has in store for us – for Mary and me, on the one hand, and for each of you and all of you,
and for this parish – we cannot tell.
But of this we can be certain: if we are faithful, and willing to step forward as God calls us into the
unknown, if we remember that God calls us to “Remember not the former things, nor consider the
things of old,” we will see that “behold (God is) doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not
Mary and I are not going to disappear any time soon. And in the meantime, she and I – and YOU – have
work to do – the Lord’s work. And we’ll do it together.
In Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.