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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

God is Doing a New Thing (And I Don't Like It)

The Rev. Sara Warfield

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Hopeful? Exciting? Who doesn’t love new things? A new restaurant opens in town, and you can’t wait to try it. You order a new pair of shoes online—okay, I order a new pair of shoes online, and I’m anxiously waiting for the email that tells me they’ve shipped. You meet a new person who makes your heart beat faster and spreads a permanent smile across your face.

The city announces a new project to help those who are unhoused. Amazing! You always feel so heartbroken when you see their tents along Powell or someone holding a sign at that busy intersection near the grocery store. And a holistic solution, not just shelter, the city says. Addiction treatment, access to mental healthcare, regular meals and transitional housing. An expansive support center. That sounds incredibly loving, you think. Finally, not just a bandaid but something addressing broader issues. God is doing a new thing.

And the support center for these folks is being built in your neighborhood. Whoa whoa whoa whoa…wait, what? That sounds like a lovely new thing, but you don’t particularly want that new thing where you live. You like the thing that already is. You’re happy with the way things are. New things are great…to an extent…when they’re not disrupting your comfortable status quo.

Or my comfortable status quo…Almost exactly two years ago, God decided to do a new thing in my life—when my spouse sat me down at a park and told me she wanted a divorce. Whoa whoa whoa whoa…wait, what? No. Now that’s an incredibly oversimplified version of my reaction. To say that I was devastated is an understatement. I didn’t eat anything but frosted mini wheats for three months, because that was the only food that didn’t make me nauseous. I only went outside because my therapist demanded that I find a place with grass and walk barefoot in it at least three times a week. I watched the whole series of Ted Lasso six, seven times? Maybe more? I couldn’t watch anything new because it felt like too much, and Ted Lasso has a few divorce storylines that made me feel less alone.

Honestly, the main thing that got me through that time was getting to be your priest. Coming to work, planning worship, writing sermons, letting my attention be elsewhere for awhile in a place where it was needed.

All that said, it did not feel like God was doing a new thing in my life.

The church in Corinth, they didn’t feel like Paul was doing much of a new thing, either. Much of his second letter to that community talks about these “super-apostles” who have taken up residence in the city and have swayed a number of Paul’s flock to their way of believing. These super-apostles—and yes, that’s the literal translation in the NRSV—are a lot more exciting than Paul. They go into trances, or ecstacies. They speak in tongues, they have visions. They draw attention to themselves. And they are fun, and Paul is…not. A few weeks ago, we heard him say to these same Corinthians in this same letter: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” Always afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, carrying death. That’s not fun. That’s not exciting.

In that time, ecstacies and visions were considered proof of “true” spiritual experience. After all, you could see these things happening. But Jesus—and Paul—were doing a new thing. Jesus did not go into trances. He did not try to draw attention to himself. In fact, he did just the opposite, especially in the gospel of Mark. Whenever he healed or performed a miracle, he told everyone not to say anything to anyone about it. In fact, what Jesus did was refuse to use his power to conquer, to persuade. Instead he quietly lived into his values, into his integrity, into his faith, even as doing so led him to the cross, to suffering. Only after that suffering and death was resurrection possible.

Paul also didn’t go into ecstacies or have visions. Which is why some of the people in Corinth questioned this faith he preached. But he followed in Jesus’ footsteps. He lived into his values, into his integrity, into his faith wherever he went. And he went to prison for it—more than once. Communities rejected him for it—more than once. Why follow this man’s faith when it sometimes, maybe even often, leads to suffering and persecution? Trances and visions are a lot more fun.

Sometimes we forget about the rest of that verse: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away.” We forget that in order for a new thing to happen, an old thing must pass away. And even if you’re in support of the old thing passing away, others may not be. Clinging to their comfortable status quo, sometimes they lash out at people trying to make changes. Jesus on the cross. Paul in prison. That’s not fun or exciting.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” For we don’t get sucked into demanding hard proof or clinging to what we already know, what’s already comfortable. We trust that God is doing a new thing.

Easier said than done. After my marriage ended, I spent the first year adjusting to my new reality, waking up alone, not having someone to share all my little, dumb thoughts with. Learning to cook efficiently for one person. In retrospect it was a year spent in shock. Figuring out just how to make it through each day. At the start of the second year, I finally started reckoning with my feelings. Anger. Confusion. Thank God for my therapist. And my friends. It was my friends who recognized a deeper despair in me and said, this isn’t sustainable. They encouraged me to look into antidepressants. I resisted. “I don’t need that, I’ll get through it.” I was afraid medication would make me numb, and that sounded worse than despair. But finally I talked to a doctor. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you Prozac has changed my life. It turns out my life had always been covered by a veil of deep despair. It wasn’t just this divorce, it was since I could remember. I didn’t know that the veil could be lifted. I didn’t even know there was a veil. I just thought that everyone felt that way, that the veil of despair was just part of life.

I didn’t know that once the veil was lifted, that I could see the hope that is inherent to this world. Before, despair was my baseline that I worked every day to overcome. Suddenly, with a little chemical help I didn’t have to do that work. And I hope it shows that I did not go numb.

The Spirit sends help in all different ways.

Divorce is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. God was doing a new thing, and I hated it. But I did my best to open myself to it. What else could I do? I had no choice but to walk by faith and not by sight. Well, I guess I did have a choice: stay in my despair and anger forever or trust that God was doing a new thing.

There’s always a choice: to allow our suffering to dissolve into its meaninglessness, because suffering in itself is always meaningless, or to look for the ways God might be doing a new thing.

I do still get a little angry from time to time. But mostly I’ve learned to love this new life of mine. I’m reading four different books right now. I’m getting back into reading and writing poetry. I’m leaning into the fact that my needs are valid, and that it’s okay to shape my life around them. Which makes my life a lot lighter, a lot more joyful. I didn’t know it could be this way.

But it took two years of old things passing away. Two painful, disorienting, sometimes nearly impossible years.

“We are always confident,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. The word confident derives from two Latin words: con, which means “with,” and fides, which means “trust.” Being confident means moving through this world and through this life with trust. Through the difficult things, the heartbreaking things, the enraging things, the confusing things. Trusting that though it’s hard when the old things are in the process of passing away, all things will indeed become new. That’s what confidence means. That’s what walking by faith and not by sight means.


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