Those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s enjoyed a bit of nostalgia this week. Some of the cast from “Saved by the Bell” reunited and performed their iconic roles on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
It was a hilarious modern skit of a show that transformed Saturday morning entertainment and provided pre-teens and teens with a relevant and engaging show of their own. There was Zach, Slater, Kelly, and Jessie. Even Mr. Belding made an appearance as the group tossed out their classic lines and even sang about how they would always be “friends forever.”
The show was one of my favorites growing up, and it brought back some great childhood memories. It’s nice to have those reminders of times when responsibilities were few and the biggest worry was whether there was enough sunlight to finish the game outside. Simpler and easier times.
We all enjoy looking back and thinking about times long ago. Whether it is looking back upon childhood memories, important times in our lives, or even significant moments in the life of our church, we enjoy remembering what took place and how those times affected our lives. It is important to look back and to remember where we’ve been. We cannot forget those moments and, yes, even take time to enjoy some of the things we enjoyed as children.
Yet, I wonder if sometimes nostalgia gets in the way of truly experiencing the present. Do we sometimes focus too much on what has taken place on the past, so much so that we cannot experience what is going on in the present?
That question is appropriate, especially when we think about how we typically react to difficult or challenging moments in our life or even in the church. When we face a difficult ordeal or trial, it is easy to look back on simpler times and think that life would be much easier if it “was like how it was back then.” We do this even in the church when there are struggles, obstacles, or difficulties. We think about times in the past and begin to wonder “what would happen if God was at work now as he was then?”
We all face that temptation and I place myself upon that list. We are not alone. How we often react to difficult and challenging moments is similar to how the people of Israel reacted to them many years ago. Our passage from Isaiah 40:21-31 reflects upon one of those moments in Israel’s journey where they looked at their past and thought there was no way God would be with them in the present. Isaiah’s words speak directly to the people’s despair and fears and gives them a word of hope. A hope that reminds them that just as God has worked in the past, so is God at work today and will be tomorrow.
It is a word that was originally written for a people coming out of exile and returning to their homes. Sometime around 597 BC, Jerusalem was overtaken by the Babylonian Empire and many residents were sent to live in exile. The people were sent to live as captives in a foreign land. Many remained as exiles for nearly 70 years until Cyrus the Great released his edict that allowed the people to return to Jerusalem sometime around 539 BC.
Our first instinct might be that everyone would be rushing to return home, but that was not the case. They were in no hurry to return to Jerusalem. In fact, many people felt that it was better to remain in Babylon than to return home. Part of the reason was that they believed that God could no longer protect them as the He could in the past. The situation was difficult and things were different. It was not like how it was before. They needed the help of others, of foreign nationals and military powers, in order to survive and to maintain as a people.
After years in exile, they struggled to believe that God was at work. It was easy to see how God was at work in previous times, because they felt it, saw it, and experienced it. This was different. This, they had never experienced before, and it left them afraid and fearful to enter into this new period of life. They were not sure if they could trust that God was there or that God was able, or even willing, to do anything to care for them.
This is a feeling we can relate to. We know what it is like to look at our situations, think back on times in the past, and believe there is no way that God can help us now. It is a painful feeling that words cannot always do justice in expressing.
When we experience this pain, like Israel we need a hope and reminder of why we can trust God. That is what Isaiah provides in the form a poem. A hope that is provided through the lens of the past as a way to experience the present.
The poem begins with the usage of several rhetorical questions. It is almost like Isaiah is looking at the people in their season of distress and says, “What? You’ve already forgotten what has happened before?” It is followed with a beautiful reminder of God’s creative efforts. Isaiah wants to draw the people’s attention to what has happened in the past. He wants them, and us, to think about the formation of the universe, the ways God has worked in the past, and the fact that no one can compare to God.
In doing so, he reminds the people of just how amazing our God is. Our God created the world, and everything in it, out of nothing. Our God created everything. Our God brought holiness and justice into the world, and shared God’s love with all people. Nothing and no one can compare the awesome power, joy, and passion that describes our God. It is what we have experienced. It is what we have seen. It is what we have touched. Isaiah wants Israel, and us, to reflect upon this and to see how God has been at work.
When we are feeling as though our situation is too difficult or that the challenges are too much for God, we need that reminder of what God has done in the past. Not simply to remind ourselves of better or more fruitful times, but to remind ourselves of the amazing and powerful nature of who God truly is.
We have this reminder to serve as a way forward in the situations and difficulties of the present and future, especially in those moments where we believe God is not at work. This is the reminder that God’s actions in the past serve as a word of hope in those times. For just as God has worked in the past, so is God at work today.
God never stops working. The everlasting God is alive and working today and doing the work that we need. There is not a moment, a struggle, a challenge, a difficulty, an obstacle, or an issue that is too big or even too small for God. God is able to handle anything. That includes whatever struggle or difficulty we face today, whether it is at home, in our careers, or even in the life of our church. God is at work.
The work that God is doing today is still the work of creation. God is at work in recreating the world into his image and bringing forth the promises of a new heaven and new earth. It is the work of redemption and reconciliation. It is the work of renewal and second chances. It is the work of transformation and new energy. It is the work of hope and love. My friends, God is at work today in every situation.
We don’t always recognize this. We get caught up in the moment and the challenges that face us, much like our spiritual ancestors the people of Israel. In our personal lives, we allow challenges to prevent us from seeing how God is at work. We focus on the challenges of finding ways to pay off debt so that we can provide for our children or grandchildren. We get overwhelmed by the family struggles. We lose hope in the midst of health issues. It is hard to see God at work in our lives when we only focus on the difficulty and the obstacles. If we only focus on the challenges, then we will never experience the hope of God’s love.
The same is true for the church, both local and corporate. It is sometimes difficult for us to see how God is at work today, because we allow difficulties to cloud how we experience things today. We are saddened when the pews are not as full as they used to be. We often don’t understand why someone would rather be somewhere else than at church. We focus a lot of attention on what can’t be done or what will never happen. It is hard to see God at work in the life of the church when we only focus on difficulties and obstacles. If we only focus on what isn’t here or what cannot be done, then we will never experience the hope of God’s love.
When we live within the difficulties and the struggles of life, we need something to cling to and something to give us hope. That hope is found in the promises of Isaiah 40:21-31, which tell us that God is at work. Even when we may not see it, even when we may not experience it immediately, God is at work and is doing that work of transformation and re-creation that we need. In the midst of our difficulties and obstacles, God provides a hope to us, through the Holy Spirit, of a reminder that just as God has worked in the past, so is God at work today and invites us to be part of that work.
That is a hope that we can claim today. We need hope, in the difficulty and obstacles of our personal lives, that reminds us that God is at work. That God is at work in redeeming the difficult and challenging in order to bring something new and amazing out of them. We need that hope to remind us that just as God has been there for us in the past, so will God be there with us today, tomorrow, and always.
The church needs that hope today. We need that reminder that God is at work, even when we feel that the best days of God’s actions and love with us are well in the past. We need that reminder that God is at work in leading, guiding, and shaping us to be a living, breathing, authentic representation of Christ’s love in our community. We need the hope that reminds us that no struggle is too big for God. God is at work in our church today, both the global church and our little corner of it here at Claylick.
It’s not just each of us who need that hope. It is not just our church that needs to experience that hope. I think our neighbors are looking for that hope too. I believe our neighbors are looking for people who believe that God is at work today. People who believe with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength that no matter the challenge or difficulty, God is alive and well. That is the message we need to share with our friends and neighbors in our community. God is working and working in your life, working in the life of the church, and working in every life in ways that bring forth God’s true hopes and desires.
Since I arrived in June, one of my constant refrains has been that God is not finished. It is something that I believe about a lot of things. I believe it about myself, even when I struggle with facing the challenges in my own life. It is something that I believe about a denomination that I love, even as we face the challenges that all churches and denominations in the United States face today. It is something that I believe about each of you in the struggles and difficulties of your lives. It is something that I believe about us, at Claylick, as we see the work that is before us and dream about where God is leading us.
God is not done with me. God is not done with the church. God is not done with you. God is not done with Claylick. In fact, God is constantly at work bringing about something new and beautiful in the struggles and challenges that we face.
That gives me hope today. I pray it gives you hope as well.