Friends, this is the manuscript for a sermon I wrote about three years ago. Interestingly, I had gone to a Stephen Curtis Chapman concert and a song he sang–or maybe the record he was selling–had something to do with all things being made new. The song inspired me to search a little deeper these things that God is making new. I’m only just now starting to understand what these thoughts even meant as some more of my theology is sorted out and firmed up. This is a little rough and, to be sure, too lite on the Scripture, but I think it conveys the germs of some ideas that I was only then beginning to think. jerry
All Things New
Sermon One: All Things New
I read a story this past week. A sad, pathetic and ridiculously stupid story. It’s a story that I would rather not tell you, but I feel compelled.
Nicholas Kristof, a reporter, wrote the article this year for the New York Times. He tells the story of two women, Srey Neth and Srey Mom. Kristof proposed buying these two women. Srey Neth, a Cambodian teenager, was purchased for a mere $150—from a brothel.
Srey Mom had a difficult time. Her debt was established at $337 of which $203 was the agreed upon price. She was free. But she did not want to leave. She needed an extra $55 to get her cell phone back. Kristof wrote, “Srey Mom start crying. I told her that she had to choose her cell phone or her freedom, and she ran back to her tiny room in the brothel and locked the door.”
“With Srey Mom sobbing in her room and refusing to be freed without her cell phone, the other prostitutes—her closest friends—began pleading with her to be reasonable.” Kristof went back and bought her phone back—and some jewelry. As Srey Mom left the brothel Kristof reports that some of the family members of the brothel owner lighted joss sticks for her and prayed for her at the Buddhist altar in the foyer of the brothel.
I suppose it is easy enough for us to look around at the world and the people in the world and consider some parts of it irredeemable. I suppose that it is easy enough to consider the broken, fallen, decrepit brokenness all around us and simply ignore it. Or to wonder it away.
Kristof wrote at the end of his op-ed piece: “So now I have purchased the freedom of two human beings so I can return them to their villages. But will emancipation help them? Will their families and villages accept them? Or with they, like some other girls rescued from sexual servitude, find freedom so unsettling that they slink back to slavery in the brothels? We’ll see.”
It’s almost like it is an experiment for him, like he is saying, ‘I’m not gonna do anything more than set them free. We’ll see if they can handle freedom on their own. As for me, I’ve done my part.’ It is one thing to set them on the path of newness, freedom, it is something entirely other to make certain that this newness will be secure and have a profound, lasting effect on the girls and the communities where they live.
Psalm 40:3: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and hear and put their trust in the Lord.”
I don’t personally believe it is enough to drop someone off at the doorstep of newness and wave a happy good-bye. I am free, now what will I do? I am free, now what does freedom mean? I am free, now where will I go? I am free, now who will I be, who will I become? I have a new life, now what? I am damaged goods, but can I be made new again? I have walked a thousand steps away, can I be made whole again? Is there newness in me?
Psalm 40 indicates, to me, that God intends for this new song he put in our mouths to be heard by more than just His ears. Undoubtedly, we are singing this new song to God. But as we sing many will see and hear and put their trust in the Lord. This new song has an element of evangelism in it. We can rescue all the people from slavery we want, but rescue from slavery is meaningless if they remain slaves. I don’t think, to put a point on it, that people who are rescued are merely the subjects of op-ed pieces.
I would to speak to you over the next several weeks about the God who makes all things New.
I would like to speak to you over the next several weeks about the God who is no more satisfied with this broken world, full of broken people than you and I are.
And yet, what we discover is that the American version of spirituality is all too often focusing it’s light into the self and not into the dark places of the world. Those two fortunate girls who were interviewed by a New York Times reporter so he could write an essay were only two of thousands of girls, boys—children—and other weaklings who are trapped in a never ending cycle of debt and slavery, torture and abuse.
The world is broken. I’m not talking about the trees and rocks and salamanders and crayfish. I’m not talking about fleas or flies and far-flung planets that we can only look at and name.
The world is broken. I’m talking about the creation, the Image of God, the Glory manifest in a thousand ways in a thousand places. The Bible says it is falling apart—The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…the creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay—it is falling apart; fleas and flies, lions and leopards, monkeys and marsupials.
The world is an unruly, unpredictable, broken and untidy place. And if the earth is falling apart—in bondage to decay—then how much more is man? “…they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and penguins and cows and iguanas…they have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity…”; and more.
But he also announced: Behold I will create a new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
A reason to look forward to forgetting; amnesia might be all that bad after all. How can we cleave to this place, to this body, to this life when this is not even a taste of what is to come: The former things will not be remembered—in other words, when the New comes there will not even be anything for us to compare it with. We won’t remember how bad this place is; we won’t want to. And I suspect that as long as the New that is coming is not in any way like the old, it will matter little what the new is like.
One of the aspects of worship that we have been trying to accomplish in our congregation is the idea of the New Song.
We Christians are strange about singing. We find any reason to sing. There are stories of martyrs tied to stakes, covered in pitch, singing songs.
Paul and Silas sang in prison. We are singers and even those who can’t carry a tune in a bucket still, and they should, sing with gusto.
We introduce New Songs into the worship as often as we can, not because we enjoy torturing you or embarrassing ourselves, but precisely because it is a Biblical idea and one that is a key element of our salvation. “And they sang a New Song: You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
How many ways can we sing of the glories of Christ? How many ways can we say: Jesus paid the price for your sins? What new way will say it, with song, today? What was the content of their song? What was the basis of singing this New Song? Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice.
“And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like the loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”
Only we can learn this New Song. Only we will sing it.
The world remains in bondage.
I woke the other day and my ankle was stiff again. It has been stiff in the mornings ever since I fell through the ceiling in the changing room more than a year ago. There is nothing broken, but it hurts almost constantly. But I carefully took a step and stayed standing.
I sat down at my desk the other day. I wrote my name at the bottom of a small piece of paper that any institution in the world will accept as payment for goods or services. I sealed the envelope, paid the postage, dropped it through a small slot. Paid.
I had a fight with my wife Saturday through Thursday. I had a fight with my children Monday through Wednesday. I was far from perfect this week. I failed more often than I succeeded. I was angry more than I was pleasant. My children kissed me goodnight, and good-morning. They hugged me. My wife said, “I love you.”
Annie Dillard said it this way, “Today’s god rises, his long eyes flecked in clouds. His flings his arms, spreading colors; he arches, cupping sky in his belly; he vaults, vaulting and spread, holding all and spread on me like skin.” (12, Holy the Firm)
Jeremiah the prophet said it this way, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
He never stops showing us kindness. Waking. Sleeping. Walking. Talking. Loving and being loved by others. The very air we breathe. His mercies play out in ten thousand ways and in ten thousand places. Each day is a Newness in itself. Each day is full of the mercies of God—His creative newness.
I sinned this week. More than once; I wish I could be perfect, but alas. Yet there is more mercy than we can imagine: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Paul the apostle, no novice when it came to understanding what God is doing in this world, wrote: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Sometimes I wonder what God is doing in this world. It makes little sense to me that God made this place, set us here, and then let us proceed to ruin it, blow it up it, analyze it, break it, corrupt it—hurt, hunt one another. Strange that Jesus had to tell his people to turn the other cheek—also.
Sometimes I wonder why so much despair is necessary. Sometimes I wonder why God, if He intended to make all things new, allowed them to become old in the first place; why if he were going to fix all the broken people did he allow them to be broken in the first place? But I have no answers—except what Paul said.
Truthfully, it seems rather ridiculous doesn’t it? Who understands this place? Who understands all the broken? Why do our bodies hurt? Why are we frail? Why did God not make us all superman to begin with?
Under our noses, before our eyes we see His work. I saw what God was doing. I planted no garden this year and yet tomatoes are growing in my weed patch. I planted no seeds and yet my yard is full of flowers. I did not dust the cherry trees and yet they are littered with cherries, ripe, sweet and sour.
And I woke up today.
Paul’s point is simple: God is remaking the world but He is starting with you and me; with us.
And we are here today.
We were not set free from slavery so that others could sit around and wonder if we are going to make it and the write articles bemoaning a system of government or economics that would allow us to go back to slavery or, worse, force us back into slavery.
He set us free and has already given us new life. He has redeemed us from an empty way of life and raised us to walk in newness of life.
Are you walking in that newness? Do you sing new songs? Do you partake of or even recognize and thank him for his new mercies each day? Will you go and leave your life of sin? Are you cleaving to this world or anxious to forget it? Is your new song a song that declares—so that others see and hear—the mercies of God?
The Lord has redeemed the earth, and is redeeming it, and he invites us to participate. He invites us to walk in newness of life, but that journey starts at the cross—where God hung one day.
Have we put the old way behind us? Have we put our childish ways behind? Do we even realize that the moment Christ received us as His, the moment we came up out of the water, we were new? Do we even realize that He did not raise us up to newness of life so that we would continue to live in the oldness of the past.
And here we are today.
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