Hi, What’s new? Not much…what’s new with you? How often do we follow this script as we are greeting one another? What’s new…actually it is a good question. It is a question that is taken up in various passages of scripture. If we had only the writings of the “teacher” of Ecclesiastes, we would come away with a very definitive answer: There is nothing new under the sun. That passage comes early in the book, the teacher’s cynicism gives way to more wisdom later. But, how often do we share that dark view of the world. What’s new…not much…what’s new with you. Not much.
But our passage from the book of Revelation also addresses this question. As you know, Revelation is perhaps the most mysterious book of the Bible, and this passage is an interesting choice for our lectionary reading today. As I was looking at the various readings for today, it was like I found an old friend. This is a passage we most commonly hear during a funeral service…I know I have used it many times for just such an occasion.
But, I have no plans to preach my own eulogy this morning…far from it. This passage, in a way, allows you to take two widely divergent paths. One path leads you to a consideration of how it is that old things pass away. And of course, given the retirement situational context today, and so you might be saying, “Well, if the shoe fits.”
The other path leads you to a more positive view of things as you focus on the part that says: Behold…I am making all things new. It is a passage that invites us to rest in the knowledge that God has an infinite capacity to create, and in that infinite, unknowable space through which God operates, there is no limit to God’s power or God’s desire to take what is and re-create something that is new.
In looking toward the future of my retirement, but also looking back upon the many wonderful relationships that will now find new expressions, I think there may be no other passage in the whole Bible to offers us as much peace and hope…This passage affirms something that we know to be true…it is, some would say…an existential truth. Things end…it is simply a part of the human condition, but God loves to take endings, because to God, an ending is but a seed of a new beginning.
What’s new? Look around…grab something…anything…offer it to care and the tending of God…and it becomes new.
And for the biblically savoy among you who may be thinking, yes, but John’s writing in Revelation is talking about eschatology…last things…this new creation is a promise to us for the end time…the day of judgement, and such. And the promises of God we hear within this book do, indeed, speak to that end time, but the truth contained in this book is not limited to this narrow interpretation.
This vision of John is timeless, and if we look carefully at the verb tense of verse 5. I am making…not…I will make later…I have already made… I am making…it is a now thing that’s going on…even now.
And I would also maintain that the preponderance of the biblical narrative concerning the nature of God, affirms that God acts wonderfully and creatively in the here and the now. I would assert that we can properly apply this apocalyptic literature to today…for the creative nature of God, the desire to redeem, the capacity to heal…these attributes of God that restore and renew… that these are daily occurrences…not a wish list for the end of time.
But today, we are putting that great capacity of God to make things new to a very difficult task…. Today, we may discern whether or not God can, or more accurately, will God choose to make an old sermon…new again. I say that only half in jest.
I suppose it was just unavoidable at this time of my stepping away from the role of minister, a time when I start collecting the “last times” I shall do this or that, that I would bring balance to my mind and my soul, that I would begin pondering the many firsts of my life as a minister.
And in keeping with that inevitable gravity pulling me toward that balance, I started thinking about the first sermon I ever preached as a minister on staff of a church. My first church staff position was the Associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Americus Georgia. The date was October 24, 1982.
The title of my first sermon is oddly named. And I actually kept the bulletin of that service…as a keepsake…but, today as exhibit one in my testimony before you, just in case you question the validity of my story. My very first sermon was titled Sermon # 11. It was not a typo where I hit the one key twice…it was with great intentionality I so entitled this sermon.
A quick explanation might help. You see, at this time there was a new organization taking root in an old house a couple of blocks for FBC…it had an interesting name that hardly no one understood…it was called Habitat for Humanity.
FBC and Koinoina Partners (the birthplace of habitat) had a very rocky and shameful history. Shameful on the part of FBC. But, that history was whole generation distant now, and it became my mission to build bridges, and with the help a true saint named Tom Hall who worked as Millard Fuller’s assistant director, we started making connections.
Millard was getting a high profile group of folks together…I don’t remember if they were a board, or just advisors, but he was pulling in some big names mostly from Georgia.
Tom and I proposed a sharing of these high profile folks. We devised a week-long event we called the Festival of Faith. While in Americus to work on Habitat many of these folks would come over and speak at worship events at FBC. For five days, during a noon gathering time and then again in the evening…people like Dr. Robert Bratcher, the lead of the translating team for the Good News bible, notables like Andrew Young came to town, presidents of the universities and such spoke in a revival type of worship setting.
As it happened as the event ended on Saturday night with the final sermon offered by the immanent scholar and Bible translator Dr. Robert Bratcher…the pastor of FBC went to Knoxville, Tennessee to preach for a revival….leaving it to his associate pastor (me) to preach the following Sunday morning. The 11thsermon of the week.
I’m not sure if the message of sermon #11 resonated with anyone but me…but, it was certainly the sermon I needed at the time. The message was simple…what I tried to get across was this: it doesn’t matter who you are, immanent scholar or a child…blue collar, white collar, no collar, black or white rich or poor, or disgustingly average…no matter who you are….God has entrusted something important for you to contribute to the work of the Kingdom of God.
There is something that is as clear to you as it possibly can be; it is so clear that you can easily assume that everyone else sees or knows it too. Don’t make that assumption…it may be up to you and you alone to give voice to it.
I was not a renowned person like those who paraded through our church that week, but my message was just as crucial to the work of God…and by the way…your message is, too. Find your voice, find your passion…because there is some aspect of it that you and only can bring to the table.
That, in a nutshell, was sermon #11.
Over the years I have kept the basics of that sermon close by. That basic idea is still foundational to me in my own understanding of how God operates with us flawed human beings. Although, through the years I have nuanced the sermon a bit in my own mind.
I now affirm that we don’t have the one thing that is uniquely our own, but that such revelation is given to us in response to where we are and the needs that swirl around us.
I have come to understand a bit better that your unique vision, or unique take on a question or a pressing issue, This unique discernment that you may mistakenly think is universally recognized…that that vision is intimately connected to your voice and your hands and your legs to carry this vision into some sort of reality.
And here we find the synthesis of our scripture today and message of Sermon 11. For, as we ponder the passage that reveals to us that wonderful idea that God is making all things new, what if we were to collectively ask the question; How does God do that…How does God make old things new? And what if, at least part of the answer to question is that, perhaps it the vision and the creative spark within you that sets this renewing transformation into motion.
And to claim that role, we must always be open to those discerning insights provided by God. We must stay connected to scripture and our daily prayer might be that God would grant to us such eyes each new day…to see a new…to see in a new way…and the courage and the wisdom and the strength to carry that new view to those who have not seen it quite yet.
And when we do this…when we all do this…a strange and miraculous thing happens….god, through us…makes something that is old, into something new again.
There was a part of me that wanted to visit this old sermon again…to take this old idea and breathe new life into it…and to experience the symmetry of ending my ministry in way that connects it intimately to its beginning.
And as I thought about it I came to realize that sermon #11 has been a bigger influence on my life and ministry than I knew. We have been around the block a few times this sermon and I…I have wrestled with it, I have tweaked it, but perhaps more importantly it has tweaked me…it has informed me in my ministry,. It has made life difficult at times, it has pushed me to walk away from ministries that seemed to be more about power than grace.
It has pushed me to move toward ministries that could not possibly work…but did. We have been together this sermon and I for a long time…it has been a faithful window through which I can see more clearly the ways in which God has made me, and how God continues to make each of us vital in the ongoing work of creation and re-creation.
It is my prayer for you that each of you will find your own sermon #11. And it is there for you…For we are all endowed with that wonderful capacity to participate in the creative, redemptive, renewing spirit of God. Our hands, our minds, our strength, our voice echoing the words of the God who placed us here with purpose…Behold I am making all things new again. So let’s get going. And may it be so. Amen.
May God’s love surround you, May God’s Spirit empower you,
May God’s whisper cheer you, May God’s peace calm you,
May God’s shield protect you, may God’s grace renew you,
And may God’s wisdom guide you, Upon every path your journey may take you, now and forever.