a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
January 1, 2023
Revelation 21:1-7 NRSV
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed
away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out
of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice
from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; 4 God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he
said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I
am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift
from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be
their God and they will be my children.
Do you have New Year traditions? I know a lot of people eat black-eyed peas and
collard greens for New Year’s. Some people call that “soul food.” That’s not my
“jam” as they say, but to each his or her own. I want to invite you to consider a
slight variation on the tradition of “resolutions.” New Year’s are a time to look
forward. So this morning I want to invite you to join me in asking the question,
“What’s new?” as you begin this New Year.
This morning as we listen for God’s word to us in the Book of Revelation,
let’s get in that spirit: “See? I am making all things new!” That’s a powerful
promise for us to explore.
So get a pen or pencil out if you can or would. I want to invite you to ask
yourself three questions to help you figure out “what’s new” for you for 2023.
These are not deep theological questions, but I hope practical, useful ways to think.
If you already have made and broken a few New Year’s resolutions in the last, oh,
ten hours, this is your chance for a restart. For others I hope this is a useful
suggestion for 2023 and deciding for yourself “What’s new?”
First, I want to invite you to find a new hero in 2023. Heroes are hard to find
these days because we know all too well, most would-be heroes turn out to be
zeroes. Or they may have some good qualities but it turns out they have some
really bad ones. I thought of this question because my new hero jumped out at me
without me really looking and I want to share how he became my hero.
Many of you know my hero. His name is Corky. Corky lives in our Harry
Harris Park area. Almost every day I see him and talk to him as he rides around on
a bicycle. But here’s the hero part. On the corner of the entrance to the park is a
little garden patch with flowers and plants and such. Adds a real touch of beauty to
that park. For years our own Jerry Wilkinson. has taken care of that patch. But as
we know Jerry has had some “mobility issues” lately, and gardening is a bit much
for him. For a month or so I would walk by that patch and see how the weeds had
grown up and it had become a bit “wild.” I knew Jerry would be out there fixing it
up if he could, and I thought “someone” should take that on. I immediately realized
I should be “someone.” But my various “mobility issues” kept speaking up excuses
not to. Then one day I was walking through there and there was Corky, digging up
the weeds, fixing up the whole area, making it something Jerry would be proud of.
I was amazed! “Someone” did something for the good of the community without
any desire to be paid or get recognition or anything. That’s a real everyday hero!
But that wasn’t all. Along the walkway out to “Wilkinson Point,” there in the
park is a little area where a lot of that wonderful smelling Sargassum seaweed had
settled. My wife and I would often comment, “gee someone ought to do something
about that. It is a mess!” But we never took that little project up ourselves. Well,
back about a week or so ago, Corky was out there raking up all that seaweed and
mulching it around the mangroves around there. He must have raked and moved 4
or 5 pick up truck-size loads. I was amazed! Someone who did something good
without any thought to the payback, except, I assume the good feeling of doing it.
So that’s my guide for defining a hero. Find someone in your world who
lives like Corky. I don’t know a thing otherwise about Corky or anything bad about
him and I don’t want to. I want to continue to have his example to help me
understand when the writer of Revelation says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a
new earth; … See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” And he reports that
“the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
And here is the second part of that, of course: I want to seek to be more like
my hero. I want to seek to do things to be part of God’s work to make a new world.
Because that is the promise of God – that there is a new world coming and we can
be part of it. In fact, the smart folks among you are already thinking: “of course!
Every day it is a new world. Every day is an opportunity to live heroically.” So, I
hope to do less complaining and less asking “why doesn’t someone do something
about that,” and start doing something about “that.”
My second invitation to you, and challenge to myself is, “what is some way
you want to experience new spiritual growth?” For me there is an endless variety of
options, because I know how much I need to grow spiritually and stop growing, um,
“spherically,” [ as I motion the area around my waistline ]. How do we find a place
to start, though?
The writer of Revelation tells us that God promises, “To the thirsty I will
give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” How are you thirsty
spiritually? One way to think about it is to look at Paul’s definition of “spiritual
fruits.” Fruits are a healthy way to satisfy our physical thirst, and maybe a good
way to start thinking about spiritual growth. Get your writing utensil ready, I am
going to save you having to look them up in the Bible. In Galatians 5: 22-23 Paul
tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I intend to focus on one of
these each month in my personal spiritual life and keep the others in mind as I pray
and seek to grow spiritually this year. As I pray for myself on these fruits of the
Spirit, I will also be praying for you. And let me make this offer: if you want me to
pray specifically for you about a particular fruit I invite you to email me or speak
with me and tell me which fruit you want me to be praying for you and I will
commit to doing so. My email is private so no one else will read your request.
All this seems to lead me to a third question that I need to consider, and I
invite you to, as well. “What new thing does God want to do in your life?” Maybe
that should be the first question because if we don’t start with God we might head
off in a fruitless direction, but here it is. As you go through this year, I hope the
number one question you will ask yourself each day is “What new thing does God
want to do in my life?”
If God is truly bringing about a new world, a new year, a new day – and if
faith is truly about being a new person, living a life of faith, then the starting place
of every day, of every hour, not just the new year ought to be that question. It is the
way to put God first in our lives. Simple, huh? Obvious, huh? But a New Year is a
great time to refocus on the obvious because sometimes those are the things that
slip away from us in the complicated busy-ness and problems of our lives.
Our faith tells us God is the business of making all things new. Doing new
things requires us to be strong in faith. That means we need to nourish ourselves.
This table is prepared for us to nourish us. It is a place where we find soul food. It
may not be the black-eyed peas and collard greens type of soul food but believe me
it is soul food. It is “spiritual food.” Come to this table and find yourself nourished
to begin a New Year. God is waiting to do a new thing with you and with me.