With All Your Heart Worship Series: MAKING A NEW THING
Fifth Sunday in Lent — April 7, 2019
It has been said that anyone can master anything, given 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  “Deliberate practice” does not mean a few hours a day of half-hearted plunking on a piano will make you an expert concert pianist any more than playing around on the monkey bars would make you an Olympic gymnast. Deliberate practice requires total, whole-bodied, whole-hearted focus and devotion. It is the kind of practice for something that you would feel incomplete without; something that finds an echo in your very bones. Ten thousand hours is about 10 years’ worth of persistent, intentional effort, until mastery becomes more like muscle memory. Then doing that one thing that you’ve worked so long and hard to master feels like coming home.
For the people of God, our one thing is resurrection – the movement from death to new life. We practice resurrection as a church and as individuals all the time, or at least we should. Every time we gather in a space of confession, we practice resurrection, unburdening our lives and our hearts from the weight of sin we have carried far too long. Every time we come to the Table, we practice the movement of death toward new life. We come starving, hungering for nourishing grace and bread that sustains our bodies and souls and leave the Table, full of community, hope, and memory. Every time we lift ardent prayers for one among us who is suffering, trusting that our prayers rise to a God who hears our every need, we step out of a grave into a new reality. Every time a child of God comes to the waters of baptism and we recommit ourselves to be drenched in the same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of time, we walk into newness of life. It is deliberate, this practice that we do, until something as counterintuitive as resurrection seems like the most natural thing in the world to us. It is our truest home.
In this long preparatory time of Lent, we still practice resurrection. It is still our one thing. It is still our home. We still pray and confess and come to Christ’s Table. We still affirm, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” If we have really immersed ourselves in this Lenten season, we will find our hearts transformed on Easter morning. It still takes deliberate practice. We are starting that final push toward the empty tomb, but there is still some practicing we must do before the stone can be rolled away.
The Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for this week is from the prophet Isaiah, the themes of which are almost identical to that of Paul’s writing from 2 Corinthians (Lent 4). This passage comes to us from a section of the text most commonly called Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55). What differentiates this section of Isaiah from the others is the experience of exile. These 15 chapters are written as a reminder that God is still practicing resurrection even when (especially when) life is at is darkest and it seems like hope is lost. These words from the prophet were a reminder that when the people of Israel were tempted to go back into slavery because the wilderness seemed too challenging and endless, God made a way from that death into new promise and will do it again (and again and again).
It seems strange that the prophet writes, “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old” (Isaiah 43:18). Traditionally, every time that Israel forgot their history, dreadful things happened to them. Without being rooted in memory, the people of God were easily led astray and would neglect all the things that made them God’s people in the first place. The prophet here, however, is talking about past trauma, haunts, and hurts that tended to keep the people of God bound in graveclothes rather than memory that propels them forward toward a future with hope.
Every human experiences dark times that are hard to release – grief, shame, despair, death, disappointment, anger, depression, and addiction can keep us from practicing resurrection. What, dear preachers, holds your people in their wildernesses? These shadows can even make us forget that resurrection is possible and natural for the people who claim the name of Christian. It’s in times like these that the muscle memory of walking from death into new life is crucial. There is so much that can hold our hearts in death. There is only one thing that can compel those same hearts to open to new life. As preachers, we must be able to lead our people to perceive the new thing that is always springing forth. Before we can fully embrace that one thing, we must let go of all that holds us back.
In Isaiah, God promises that the new thing that is springing up will make gardens out of deserted places and even the weirdest looking animals (jackals and ostriches) will honor God by practicing resurrection. This newness is about transformation. Rivers will not run through deserts without fundamentally changing them, just as God’s love cannot flow through our hearts without transforming us. We are reminded through the prophet’s words that God has made us for this exact purpose. We cannot praise the risen Christ, let alone rise ourselves, if we are still mired in the old, former things.
As we turn our faces toward Jerusalem this week and the cross that awaits in a story of betrayal, crucifixion, and death that leaves us in stunned silence, we must remember to practice resurrection. The world knows too well this sad story. The world knows too often the pain of death, of innocents accused or injustice inflicted upon the last, lost, and least. The church is the only witness that can authentically testify that these deaths are not an ending. They are an opening for a rising up into a new life with more promise and joy than we dare to dream of as long as we keep practicing resurrection.
 Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, the assertion was originally published in a psychology paper called “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” by K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer in 1993.
Rev. Todd Pick is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, serving in the Central Texas Conference. He is a pastor, poet, and painter. He has contributed many articles on worship, creativity, and beauty to Worship Arts Magazine. In addition, his art and poetry were featured in the December 2018 issue of Magnet Magazine, a Christian publication in the UK. Todd is an accomplished artist who has created stage visuals for many United Methodist conferences, including the 2012 and 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is a featured worship expert on Dr. Marcia McFee’s Worship Design Studio. Holding a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School, he was artist-in-residence there from 2007 to 2009 and was twice awarded the Hoyt L. Hickman Award for Liturgical Studies. Todd and his wife, Jennifer, enjoy a partnership in life and ministry. Together, they enjoy writing, planning worship and leading workshops and retreats across the country on multi-sensory worship.
Rev. Jennifer Pick is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving in the Central Texas Conference. She is a pastor, worship planner, biblical scholar, and writer. She has a Master of Literature in Biblical Studies from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She has studied biblical archeology in Greece and Turkey through Cambridge University. Rev. Pick graduated with a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School with an emphasis in Early Christianities. She is a recipient of the Lawrence E. Toombs Prize for Old Testament History, the George R. Crooks Prize for excellence in Homiletics and the Warren Memorial Prize for excellence in Greek New Testament Studies. Rev. Pick was a Ministry Fellow through the Fund for Theological Education, where she studied holy space and Christian pilgrimage throughout Europe. With a particular passion for incarnational preaching and worship, Rev. Pick has found creative ways to engage facets of emergent worship within large and small congregational settings. She draws upon all the senses in liturgical movement and ritual to create worship experiences that involve whole-bodied devotion.