Sermon January 16 2022

We are privileged to live in a place where a walk in the forest is readily available.  Whether it is along Brooklyn Creek, the Cumberland Community Forest or Seal Bay there are examples of forest growth in our very own backyards.   As we walk through our forests, especially, old growth or second growth, we might see the classic sight of a  “Nurse Log”. I read on an interpretative sign about nurse logs that, “Even though they’re dead, they are not gone- trees find a  way to help each other out postmortem.” A Nurse log is a fallen tree that provides “ecological facilitation” as they decay. Meaning, that the log provides new growth for seedlings through shade and nutrients. These old longs become a nursery for saplings. The signature look of a nurse log is that of a fallen log with sprouts of tree growth now bursting from it’s topside.  Nurse logs are one of the many examples of restoration, renewal and new beginnings that occurs in nature but it is quite possibly one of the simplest and most photogenic. Through these nurse logs, new beginnings are taking place. We talked about rebooting last week. Well today it is about re-growth and restoration.  Many at this time of year resolve to do something different or better or have a new beginning. Restoration, renewal and new beginnings, are top of mind still, even as we hit mid-January. In their own ways, both of our Scripture passages for this morning are about regrowth,  restoration, renewal and new beginnings.

The passage from Isaiah is all about total restoration. Now our brief section is part of a larger unit that spans from Isaiah 60-62. It was likely written in the post-exilic period, a time when the Hebrews were returning to their homelands after years of being exiles in Babylon, now Persia. This is the time when they look to restoring their lives

after decades, generations, have lived so far from home.  There is a mix of emotions within these prophecies. In this larger section there is both lament and salvation. They lament the challenges they have faced. They lament the changes that have taken place. They lament the people who have not lived to see this day of restoration come to be. They even lament the challenges that rebuilding and restoration will include; but they rejoice in the salvation that God has kept promises. The author looks forward in hope at the restoration of the people. This will be a time of regrowth for them all!

But regrowth and restoration does not mean a return to what once was. In this passage the prophet says that they will also be called by a new name. This isn’t a complete return to what once was but a restoration that will include something new. Nurse logs facilitate new growth through their decay. The people of Israel, in their return to their homeland will be starting a whole new journey.  In fact, there are hints at the universal message of God in this passage as well. The restoration that will take place for the Israelites will be an example to the nations.

Now, it might be a challenge to hear words of restoration when we hear words like desolation or forsaken in this passage as well. The point is that the land God had given the people has been ransacked and laid desolate by the enemies, but God is ready to change this situation. Out of the decay of the land something new will take place. What are the areas of our lives that have been left desolate that have the potential to birth new life? What are the nurse logs in our lives, as a people, as a congregation? We know that the church at large has some pretty major challenges ahead- particularly as we come out of this pandemic time- a changed people. We must rebuild and restore ourselves- but that doesn’t mean it will be a return to all that was familiar before. This is also a time of regrowth and renewal. A time of new beginnings.  Personally, I look to the possibilities and the hard work of our aptly named New Beginnings Building Committee and I see that through their vision, restoration in a new way has the potential to take place. They have been working hard, connecting with all kinds of people who can help us move forward with the vision of housing on our property and they will be presenting a recommendation to Session in a couple of weeks.  After that, I will call a congregational meeting so that the committee can share all this information with you.  We have some amazing possibilities ahead of us to give new life to our community as we look to restore ourselves within God’s plan. I’m not saying we are totally decaying like a nurse log, but I am saying that we can provide a place where through our shade and nutrients new life can grow. Isaiah claims that part of that restoration will look like a wedding feast, in which the people will desire to be with God as a man desires to be with his bride. For the record, marriage feasts usually lasted for about seven days back then- so quite a celebration!

During those days of feasting the host family would entertain guests with great fanfare. It was considered a embarrassment to run out of food or drink, especially wine. This is the predicament that the host of the wedding that Jesus’ has attended finds himself in. I love that it is Mary who finds a simple solution. She knows her son can solve this problem with just a graze of his hand. And despite his objections she takes charge and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to-not even giving Jesus a real opportunity to back down. Mary’s words confirm her total confidence in Jesus’ ability and purpose.

Now, it might surprise you how Jesus’ first “miracle” is also a symbol of restoration. But first, I should point out that the term miracle isn’t quite right. Not once does the term miracle appear in the Gospel according to John. Not even the term “mighty acts” appears as it does in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Rather the author always refers to Jesus’ accomplishments as “signs”. This is the first sign of who Jesus is and what his purpose is. And within this sign, there is symbolism. No doubt, ALL of Jesus’ signs point to who Jesus is and what his purpose is. I think that’s why John uses the term. These signs point to the new relationship with God that we are all invited to form. But this sign in particular is steeped in restorative symbolism.

Jesus takes six stone water jars normally reserved for the rite of purification, has them filled with water and then it is converted to wine- the very best wine. By changing this ceremonial water into wine, Jesus is pointing to the newness of life that He has come to give. Through Jesus a renewal takes place.

In a commentary provided by the Church of Scotland regarding these passages it says, “The state of our nation and the Church should concern us as Christians. There is urgent need for renewal in the church.” This renewal needs to take place as a transformation- much like Jesus transforms water into wine, taking something old and familiar and doing something new, extraordinarily new with it.  The commentary goes on, “Transformation comes not by making New Year’s resolutions that we soon fail to keep, but by seeking the Lord Jesus with all our hearts and tapping into the empowering gifts that the Holy Spirit provides.” There is beauty in these words, inspiration in these words, but also, for me almost a feeling of dread, because I don’t know if I’m up to the challenge. Especially as we face MORE uncertainty. We don’t know where we’re at within this pandemic. We don’t know if things will get better or worse. But we can not miss this opportunity for transformation.

You can be assured that your New Beginnings Building Committee has spent A LOT of time looking at all the possible scenarios and “what ifs” . There is certainly concern that a building project is a big commitment. It is why we are seeking the input from experts! This committee has been in contact with various consulting firms and national church departments to help us put together the best possible scenario.  But you know what scenario would be the worst scenario? If we just let that land sit vacant, “decaying” in a way- rather than building upon it.

Like the people to whom Isaiah spoke, we are facing 2022 with a need to restore and renew ourselves. We need to rebuild in ways that may be new. We need to find ways in which we can delight in all that God has, is, and will do for us as a people and sometimes that includes regrowth.  Like the jars that hold wine that was once water, we need to be transformed, so that our community can celebrate in all that God is doing. Like a nurse log, we may need to let go of some things, BUT remember that out of the decay, new life can grow. I don’t have all the answers or expertise but I have the assurance that the Lord delights in us so long as we delight in the Lord. Amen