#2036 – Behold, I Make All Things New ( 08 March 2009)

The Message

Professor Miroslav Volf
Professor of Systematic Theology, Yale University, USA

Special Guest

Cathleen Lewis

Special Music

Joyful, Joyful
Take My Life/Steadfast Love/Great is Your Faithfulness
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
James Ingram - Blessed Assurance
To God be the Glory

The Message

What a delight for me it is to be here. I want to thank Dr. Schuller in particular. By his ministry, I have been very much encouraged and blessed. It’s wonderful to be in this beautiful sanctuary, one of a kind in the world.

“Behold, I make all things new.” Now if you’re like me, you like new things. You like new clothes, you like new cars. I love a new car. Shiny on the outside, you open the door and it smells like a new car, nothing like it. You like all sorts of new things and people throughout the ages everywhere have loved new things. I live in the town of New Haven. In 17th century, there’s some band of folks who came to the shores of the new world and they wanted to establish a new city, because they liked new things. And the text from which the title of my message comes “Behold, I make all things new” is the text about New Jerusalem, a new city of great hope. We love new things.
Not only that today we love new things, we are obsessed by new things. We love new adventures, we love new gadgets, we love new, new, new and new things. We love new and new things and then we love next things and everything’s got to be new. The trouble with new things, you know, is that newness lasts very short time. Pretty soon every new thing becomes an old thing, just consult your closets, your garages, your chest of your son’s and daughter’s toys for toys, junk yards and you see that everything new soon becomes old. And kind of old, always wins over the new. But we long for new and as I was thinking about that, I thought what is it that we long for when we long for new things? What is it that we long for that will not disappoint us?

Let me tell you a little bit of my story. And I’ll weave the answer to that question into that story. I’ll tell you in advance what we long for is new identity, new self. What we long for and the possibility of new future. What we long for and now you might be surprised, what we long for is a new past.

New identity. Now if you met me somewhere on the street and you kind of tried to figure out who I am, what you would do is you would one way or another ask me to tell you my story. I will tell you that I was born in the communist Yugoslavia in the 50’s, that I was son of a Pentecostal minister, that when I was growing up in school it was terrible thing to be a son of a Pentecostal minister because nobody wanted to be son of any kind of minister, let alone Pentecostal minister. I remember, I had to say in front of my whole class, give information about who I was and they indicate there in front of the whole class that my father was a minister. Okay that’s okay, what’s a minister? They knew what priests were but they didn’t know what ministers were so I had to explain that and now I’m ten years old, I’m wishing that I would disappear from the face of the planet and then comes the question where does your father work? He works in Christ’ Pentecostal church of Yugoslavia. Christ expletive what church? Never heard the word Pentecostal, right? And I swore to God that I’ll never do to my dad what he did to me by being a minister. Watch what you swear. That you’re not going to do. And this was part of my experience as growing up, and it was always a sense of oppression, sense of not being able to breath and have open space.

I was conscripted to a military. I had to go and there I was interrogated for months because they tried to figure out what it is that I was after, whether I was undermining somehow the pillars of the great socialist state. This is who I am, in a sense, right? This is part of my story. But should I tell the story about myself as the one who was oppressed? If I tell that, wouldn’t I be depressed? Should I tell the story of myself as one who was interrogated? Simply? Is there a larger story that I can tell of myself. I think most fundamentally, especially for those of us who have suffered a great deal, our identity often ends up wrapped up in our own suffering. We need a ray of light to come straight through that story and tell us something else about ourselves. Who are you? I think at the foundation of everything of our lives, the answer to this question is this: I’m not what others have done to me. I’m not even what I have done to myself. I am how God relates to me. I am the beloved child of God, not withstanding what has happened in my life.

A friend of mine, when he talks about the dignity of us as human beings, he recalls the experience that many children have had, of having a little teddy bear and with that teddy bear going to bed, going through playground with the teddy bear, going to do all sorts of other things and pretty soon after awhile, the teddy bear gets all frayed, one eye is missing, a few buttons are missing, the arm on the side is kind of cracked open, things are falling out, you know if you were to show that teddy bear in some kind of a contest for the beautiful teddy, most beautiful teddy bear in the world, maybe not last place but next to the last, right? Not the particularly attractive teddy bear. You ask that child which teddy bear would he want or she want; that teddy bear or some new teddy bear that you would want to buy to that child, even if that new teddy bear were to get all the prizes in the world for the best teddy bear in the world. The response would be very clear. I want my teddy bear.

No matter what happens to us, which buttons are missing, where cracks have appeared, we are beloved by God. God loves us and that gives us our sense of identity. That’s what gave me a sense of courage, sense of strength, sense of if you want special-ness, not withstanding the experiences to which I have gone. You know when you are loved you are always new. When you love everything is always fresh. And this is the life that God invites us to, being loved and loving and then we are new. New identity. “Behold, I make all things new.”

But you know we don’t need just new identity, we also need a new future. When you have suffered a lot, if you have been abused, if something terrible has happened to you, that tends to occupy all of your attention. That tends to nail you back to your past. You look back and then you think about the future as if this past is going to somehow come and pull the arm through the present, into the future and be right there for you. It’s driving your car but always driving only through the rear mirror, right? You see and fear in the future what you have experienced in the past.

We need new future. I felt I needed a new future. I felt I needed to be freed from that past so that that past doesn’t determine how it is that I’m going to live today, so that I don’t have to fear behind every bush that another interrogator is going to pop up and oppress me. I needed a new future. How is it that future comes to us? There are two theories about that. One theory says well future grows out of the past and the present. What you have sown, that’s what you will reap. Causes produce their effects. That’s one account of the future. The other account of the future is that future comes to us, not from the past or the present; the future comes to us from God’s eternity. Then future can be new. It comes to us from God’s promise.

The best story that I know in the New Testament about that comes from the Old Testament but it’s written in the New Testament. It’s the story of Abraham and Sarah. You recall their story. They’re trying to have an offspring of their own. And years and years of futile trying have not produced an offspring. Those stubborn bodies wouldn’t do what bodies are supposed to do. And then at the old age of Abraham, God comes to him and says ‘next year at this time, you will have a child.’ It’s a promise and how Abraham believed and because there was this divine promise, lo and behold, the law that said the past will determine the future was broken. And Abraham had a son. There was a child. There was Isaac. There was new hope and there was new future.

Promise of God, spoken into our lives, creates new future for us. Past doesn’t need to oppress us. We can be free for new possibilities. “Behold, I make all things new.” New identity, new future, I think what also we need is a new past. Now some of you philosophically minded will scratch your heads and you say well wait a second, you can’t give me a new past, that doesn’t work. I can have a new and better future, I can have a different present, but how can I have a different, a new past? You’d have to undo what was done for me to have a new past. You know what kids sometimes play one insults the other and the one who has been insulted says to him ‘take it back!’ And even if that child was to take it back, sorry, you can’t. You can try and do whatever you want, but you won’t be able to take that back.

You know as I was being interrogated by my interrogator, often I would feel angry. I would be filled with hatred toward him. Often later, as I was thought about him, I would feel surge of ill feelings toward him. And sometimes when I’m really very kind to myself, I said but that’s normal, Miroslav. He has abused you, right? It’s normal for you not to feel particularly warm toward him. And other times, when I open my bible, when I read what the scripture says about loving ones enemies, about Christ dying for the ungodly, I think Miroslav that’s not what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to act and feel differently. You’re not forgiving injury that somebody has done to you. You know, we need to be forgiven for not forgiving. Forgiveness is not at our pleasure and disposal, whether you’re going to forgive or not. Some people say what kind of right do you have to forgive? I say what kind of right do you have not to forgive? You know why? Because Christ died on the cross for every individual being. For every sin that was ever committed. You have no right, I have no right not to forgive. It’s difficult. And you forgive past, I think, when we think about what it is that God has done forgiving us. Then we are able to create a new past. This is what I was supposed to give also to my tormentor. What kind of a new past?

So what does God do when God forgives? Many things are said in the bible, one of them says well when God forgives, God doesn’t reckon our sins to us. We’ve incurred debt but God doesn’t write anything in the debit column, right? Zero there. We owe but we don’t have to pay. Or, it says God covers our sin. We have sinned and it’s plain to everyone that we have and there comes God and covers it. And it cannot be seen anymore. Or God removes our sin as we have read this morning from the Psalm 103, removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. It sticks to us, that sin, right? And that’s the problem with sin; it sticks to us and is glued to us and we can’t free ourselves from it. But God removes it. Or, I love this one: it says in the scripture that God puts sins behind God’s back. Think about it a little bit. God takes our sins, puts it behind God’s back. That means when God sees you, He can’t see the sin because He can’t see what’s behind His back, right? And the best of all, God doesn’t remember our sins. We’ve committed them but they’re gone. Gone from reality because He has blotted them out and gone from God’s memory. New past. You see your past now has been changed. Your past is new just like your presence is new and just like your future can be new. “Behold, I make all things new.”

You know when we long for these little gadgets, whether that’s I-phone or something else, or something new that comes after that, and when after we long for them, we play with them for about a week or maybe two and then they become obsolete and we look for another thing after that, and we are going in a circle like a little squirrel in that wheel, right? All these new things and the wheel is turning faster and faster. What is it that we’re longing for? We’re longing for new identity. We’re longing for new future. We’re longing for new past. You know what we’re longing for? We’re longing for the one who makes all things new. “Behold, I make all things new.” Amen.


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