Reflection May, 1 2016
See, I’m Making All Things New
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, I preached on a text from the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21: 1-6). A couple of people asked me to publish my sermon in some form or another. As we probably know, for some time now, I’ve been preaching from the aisle - with notes rather than a word-for-word sermon. I believe this allows God’s Spirit to have a hand in what I preach. I also prefer preaching from the aisle rather than the pulpit.
There are pluses and minuses to this approach. A plus is that my preaching can be more spontaneous and receptive to the Spirit of the Living God. A minus is that people don’t have a written text to take home and ponder. We also do not now put the sermons on our church’s web page as we have done in the past. If people want to ponder some of the things contained in the sermon, they must take notes - as some do.
But because of the requests from Sunday, I’ve decided to put what I can of Sunday’s sermon in this week’s Advance:
God makes all things new! We hear this in our preaching text from the Book of Revelation. But we also hear this same truth from the prophet Isaiah (speaking in God‘s name): I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)
We also hear this truth from our brother Paul: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2nd Corinthians 5:17) So God makes things new!
There is an important truth I wish to bring to us: God lives in absolute freedom. God IS absolute freedom. God is free to do whatever God wants. God has no restraints!
I bring up this truth because of our reading from Revelation. (A side point: Revelation was not the last book of the New Testament to be written. The second letter of Peter was written about 30 years after Revelation. But the Book of Revelation was put last in the New Testament because it speaks about “Last Things.”)
Now I won’t go into a full teaching here about the Book of Revelation. I did a series of Bible presentations on Revelation in the summer of 2014. But let me say that the author of the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos, was surely not the apostle John.
The Book of Revelation is a very strong diatribe against the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire is spoken of as Babylon in Revelation because Babylon was the greatest enemy of the Jews in the Old Testament. Rome is the greatest enemy of the church in the New Testament. The beast from the sea with the numbers 666 is most surely the Emperor Nero.
The Book of Revelation was written to encourage the early Christians who were facing persecution, facing martyrdom, at the hands of Rome. But there are many preachers, many pastors, and many televangelists who use the Book of Revelation to unsettle and confuse Christians.
All this talk about “end times” - it’s crazy talk! I believe preachers, pastors, and televangelists get “revved up” on “end times”: for two main reasons: 1) to make people afraid and 2) to make money. I believe Christians should flee from such people!
Yes, it’s possible to see all the strange metaphors - all the strange symbolism - in Revelation and imagine such events are coming and coming just around the corner! And this panic-preaching has been going on for almost 2,000 years!
In reading the Book of Revelation, we are faced with two images of God: 1) God the Destroyer and 2) God the Creator Who Makes All Things New. I believe we must choose which God we wish to embrace! I embrace God the Creator - even though God is absolutely free to do as God wishes.
I believe God will create and remake God’s beloved creation so that creation will resemble what God had in mind when God created the enormity of the cosmos. God will do what God knows is best - end of story! We can be content with that truth!
One of the problems in our world isn’t TOO much religion (as many modern-day atheists loudly proclaim!). One of the problems is too much BAD religion. As the pastor Eugene Peterson wrote in a book many years ago (which I came across this week): “There is an incredible amount of sheer bilge that tries to pass itself off as good religion.” I believe “end times” talk is one of these.
We know the world is not okay. There is much wrong with it. Sin abounds wherever we look. Sin abounds in the here and now. I would be lying if I said that we are all perfectly healed - perfectly saved. No, we have much work to do - make no mistake about that!
As your pastor, I try to say the word God in places where that word is unexpected. I try to say the name Jesus in places where that name is not normally found. And while we can all try “to put on a happy face” (a song we remember from long ago!), a happy face doesn’t solve every problem we face. Putting on a happy face does NOT end human cruelty and human suffering!
By now, most have noticed that I am not the kind of pastor who promises you rewards for coming to church. I believe preachers, pastors and televangelists who promise healing, who promise financial success, or success of any kind, are deluded. And they easily lead our Christian sisters and brothers astray. As Peterson notes: “We come to God not to get our way - we come to God to get God’s way!” This is why we come to church. Of course, I can ask: why are YOU here this morning?
People think they come to church for many differing reasons. Some might imagine they come to church for good music (and at our beloved church - Jacob provides us with wonderful music!). Some might think they come to church to hear a good sermon (and I hope we have good sermons here!) But the true reason you come to church - to this church - is that God calls YOU to come here! God calls us together. God does this! Not our music! Not our preaching! Not our fellowship! YOU are here because God has called YOU here.
Now we know there are churches that can bedazzle people with amazing music and exciting programs. When I was pastor of St. Peter’s Church in the Loop (the busiest church in the Midwest!), we had a budget many times the budget of our beloved church here. I could spend copious amounts of money on music and professional musicians (none better than our own Jacob!). And I spent thousands of dollars on single worship services!
We don’t have the funds to create a lot of bedazzlement at our beloved church. And we can look around (like this morning!) and not see lots of people. We can get very worried about the future of our beloved church. And, yes, we do need more members! But we are in God’s hands and those hands can be trusted.
There are some who may think it was the Search Committee and the congregation that “called” my beloved Beth and me to serve this church. But this would not be accurate. Beth and I are here because God called us here!
Our beloved church was brought into existence by the action of God. Our beloved church has been sustained all these many years through the action of God. I am grateful to God for our beloved church and all who worship with us.
Our God is the God of the Exodus (this weekend is Passover weekend!) and the God of Easter. God makes all things new! Amen to God’s Almighty freedom to do what God knows is best. I trust that freedom. I pray we all do! Amen!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643