16 Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 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.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
Isaiah 43: 16-21
Making a way where there seems to be no way is one of God’s specialties. From paths in the sea, which suggest chaos and threat; to a way in the wilderness, which suggests barrenness and hostility, and if we may be permitted to fast forward into the New Testament, a way out of a sealed up tomb, which suggests the finality of death, and the extinguishing of the light of the world.
God’s people have found themselves, again and again, in place of hopelessness and despair. Sometimes they have been the agents of their own undoing. Sometimes they have been at the mercy of forces beyond their control. But in every case, they have been plagued by doubt and uncertainty, asking, “Are the forces that are against us stronger than God? Has the God who promised to abide with us forever, come what may, now been found undependable? Do we finally have incontrovertible evidence that darkness has overcome the light?”
To these questions, Isaiah offers a resounding “No!”. Drawing on images of the Exodus, and hoping to jog the memory of the people of God, Isaiah offers a word from the Lord, a word of promise and encouragement and hope. These are a “chosen people”, a people “formed for myself”. Their relationship with God is not dependent upon the strength of their grip on Yahweh, but on the strength of Yahweh’s grip on them. And here, Isaiah is reminding them, and us, that this God who has been steadfast, is steadfast.
The Lenten journey is, by design, one that takes us through the wilderness, and invites us to ponder the source of our security. It is good practice, because anyone who has lived for any length of time has discovered that much of life is lived in the wilderness, where our own resources (wisdom, strength, courage) are quickly exhausted, leaving us exhausted. This sounds like the worst possible thing, and it would be, were it not for the presence of another source of wisdom, strength, and courage. And what so many saints have discovered is that it is only when we reach the end of our own capacities, that we discover the sufficiency of God.
We don’t have it in us to navigate raging seas and inhospitable deserts. But we are borne through them by the God who makes a way where there is no way, and who does a new thing, carving a path we couldn’t have imagined, leading to a life we didn’t know was possible.
In that spirit, let us pray together…
Faithful God, stir up a deep trust within us, that we might know your promised shalom, in every circumstance. Amen.
Bruce McVey is a first year M.Div. from Tampa, FL. He was very active at his home church, First Presbyterian Church in Brandon, FL, serving on the session from 2010-2013 as the stewardship chair and on the Pastor Nominating Committee (2014-2015). After seminary, Bruce feels called to congregational ministry.
The Rev. Dr. Ed McLeod (D. Min. 1985) is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC.