“All Things New” by Rosanna McFadden
Good morning, and happy new year! I hope you are mostly recovered from the celebrations of the past few weekends as we turn the corner into 2022.
The passage which Diane just read for us is a significant one for me, for a number of reasons. It is from the book of Revelation (just one Revelation); the book of Revelation is a type of literature known as an apocalypse, or vision of the end of time. There are some passages referring to end times scattered through the New Testament—you probably remember Luke chapter 17 which talks about two people in bed and one is taken and one is left, or two women grinding meal and one is taken to heaven and the other is left behind. There was a popular fictional series called “Left Behind” which was inspired by these and other biblical passages. Revelation is the only book of the New Testament where the entire book is an apocalyptic vision. That is not why it is significant for me, however.
As some of you may remember, by father was a theologian and author and wrote, among others, a book about Revelation, titled The Most Revealing Book of the Bible. When he passed away in 2007, my family chose this passage as the scripture for his memorial service. It is a bitter-sweet association, but appropriate not only for the passing of a life, but the passing of a year, and any transition from old to new.
I don’t know where you all would come out on this, but I bet some of you are happy to have 2021 over with. Good riddance! Out with the old year which saw more misery and infection and death from a global pandemic; be gone to the year which brought terrible ice storms and power outages in Texas, and vicious flooding in Tennessee, and destructive tornados in Kentucky. I could go on with a list of political woes in this country, and political disasters in other parts of the world. On a smaller scale, maybe someone in your family or a friend died, or was diagnosed with a serious illness, or maybe you suffered some kind of illness or heartbreak or betrayal yourself. Wouldn’t it be great if we could act like this last year never happened?
Maybe not. What if you had a child or a grandchild born this past year? What if you got married, or were able to celebrate a joyous occasion with someone you love? What if you simply experienced the joy of knowing that the sun came up and you were given the gift of another day? If you simply destroy the old, you lose both the bad and the good: it’s like burning your house down to get rid of the mice—it’s effective, but you lose a lot in the process. Would we really want to just wipe that all away so we could avoid the suffering of the past year? Is your glass half empty or half full? Or do you even want a glass at all? I can’t answer that for you, of course. t I believe this passage addresses that very tension of good and bad being all mixed together on a cosmic scale.
Perhaps my dad’s greatest contribution to the understanding of this passage is his insight about Chapter 21 verse 5. The one who is seated on the throne (that is God, the ruler of time and eternity) says, “See, I am making all things new.” Which, as Vernard Eller pointed out, is quite different than saying, “See, I am making all new things.” We’re told earlier in verse 3 that “The dwelling place of God is among mortals; he will dwell with them.” Well, that is absolutely the message we proclaim at Christmas, when the gospel of John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” So how do we connect the promise of what God did 2000 years ago with the promise of what God will do at the end of time? I believe the key to unlock the connection is the idea of making all things new. What this says to me is that God is not in the business of destroying and replacing, the work of God is transformation. You may remember back in the account of Noah and the Great flood in the book of Genesis, that God did destroy nearly all of the earth—flood waters destroyed everything except Noah and his family and the animals in the ark. When those flood waters receded, God made a covenant with Noah, that God would never again destroy the earth and all its creatures. Noah did not promise anything in return, but it is a promise to humanity which God has kept.
Although we may sometimes wish it were otherwise, we don’t have a SERVEPRO God: you know the SERVEPRO company, right? The ones who clean up water and fire damage. Do you remember their slogan? Like it Never Even Happened. I hate to break it to you, but our lives are not like that. I am not saying that we are condemned to continue to live in the mess of mold and muck and charred ruins of whatever was the worst thing that happened to us. If God can make all things new on a cosmic level, God can give us the forgiveness and the reliance and the grace to get out of the muck of sin and despair. But we are still ourselves: we are people who have been ransomed and redeemed and restored; we have the chance to be made new, but we still carry the scars and the memory and the history of the people who we were. God does not destroy Rosanna the Sinful and create Rosanna 2.0 There were things—there have always been things—about us which God created as good: gifts and grace which we were given to reflect God’s glory. Maybe we have done that well, or maybe those reflectors got damaged or dirty and are in need of some restoration. That is what the grace of God through Jesus Christ can do for us, if we allow it. We do not honor God by trying to pretend that our shortcomings never even happened—by not acknowledging them, or by denying they ever existed. God is not fooled by that; and most people know when someone is—the best word I can think of starts with bull- and ends something I won’t say. Let’s just say, most people know when someone is not authentic.
Serving a God who makes all things new is really good news. This should be heartening for anyone who is resolved to makes changes in the coming year: you know the kinds of things I’m talking about: lose weight, quit smoking, exercise regularly, drink less alcohol, give more to the church (that was one of your resolutions, right?) Here’s the good news: Emmanuel, God-With-Us is still with us. God is faithful, God keeps promises, God wants health and wholeness and transformation for every person. Here is the even better news: Christ loved us when we were still sinners, and we don’t have to be perfect for God to accept us and be with us. It is fine to resolve to do better at whatever in the coming year: I wish you well with any of those goals—I’ll be working on some of my own. But transformation is a partnership with God: and by partnership, I’m talking about the kind of partnership which exists between a potter and clay: that is, God has all the tools and all the skill and all the experience, and we are the material which yields to the hands of the potter.
A new year may be just a day on the calendar, an arbitrary construct of time. I mean, was yesterday that much different than Friday? The paradox is that every day is both the same and different from the ones which come before and after. We have the same 24 hours as anybody else, whether those hours crawl along or fly by. But every day is an opportunity: another chance to lay aside the disappointments and grievances of the day before, another day to follow the example of Jesus Christ—even if we fell a little short the day before. One of my favorite quotes is from American author Annie Dillard, who said, “How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.” I want to spend my life committing the gift of each day to God: to the God who can transform disappointment into possibility, who can make new things grow where I see only desert, and the Potter who can make me into a vessel for a special purpose, even though I’m just a lump of clay. As we stand on the threshold of 2022, I invite you to take some quiet moments in the coming week—call it prayer, if you want, but don’t fill up all the silence by telling God what you want. Take some quiet moments to listen for what God may be calling you to in the coming year. Maybe you are being called to new action, maybe you’re being called to rest. Maybe your call includes cooperation with other people, but be careful: God rarely calls us to tell other people to do things we are unwilling to do ourselves. We love and serve a God of faithful promises and second chances. Our God can make all things new. Amen.