|O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. -Psalm 96:1
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. -Psalm 51:11
You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known. -Isaiah 48:6
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. -Rev. 21:5
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. -Isaiah 65:17
But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
-II Peter 3:1
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
-II Corin. 5:17
It’s one of my favorite words in the Prayer Book. It appears in the promises we make at baptism, when we say that whenever we sin, we will repent and return to the Lord. It doesn’t say if ever. It says whenever. It’s gonna happen.
The word also appears in the prayers at a wedding. As we pray for the couple, we ask that they receive grace whenever they hurt each other. Not if ever. Whenever. It’s gonna happen (as one who has been married 33 years can attest).
So why do I like this word? It champions the premise and promise that there is always a chance for a new start. God does not write us off. God is in the forgiveness business. And just to make sure that we get the point, the Bible is full of stories of folks who screw up and find a new path forward. Moses, a murderer and fugitive, becomes the greatest leader in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jonah is told to go east so he heads west, ends up as lunch for the whale, and proclaims grace to great effect. The prodigal son creeps home filled with shame and receives a party. Peter denies. Thomas doubts. Paul persecutes. You get the idea.
All of which is worth thinking about on the cusp of a new year. What will you do with the new? We often make resolutions, teeth-gritting determinations to be better, to be different, to improve self, to assert power when we may at our core know our selves to be powerless. I saw a billboard on Saturday. Big headline: New Year. New You. It was for a team of plastic surgeons. I may well be a candidate, but I don’t think it gets to the heart of the matter.
The Christian faith, the gospel, approaches all of this in a different way. It goes to the heart. God is in the business of making our hearts new. Jesus told Nicodemus, an old really religious guy, perhaps the Episcopal clergy of the day, that he must be born again, born from above, born anew. Resurrection means to stand again. Paul speaks of the possibility that we can become a new creation. The psalms repeatedly invite us to sing a new song. The Revelation to John envisions a new heaven and a new earth.
You can look at our world, our nation, our church, our own lives and reasonably conclude that old ways are not working. (File by title: Government shutdown.) Perhaps that’s precisely what we need to see in order to invite God to do some new work in our hearts. How might we offer that invitation?
One suggestion: In the church in which I serve, over the next two months, we are going to explore the Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-centered life. These are seven simple (but not necessarily easy) things we can do to live in a new way, proposed and promoted by our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Check it out at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love.
One of my favorite prayers in the Prayer Book intercedes for young persons. That’s all of us, isn’t it? Here is the prayer:
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world. (I’ll buy that.) Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Did you catch that part? Failure is not a measure of our worth, but a chance for a new start. You’ve got that chance today, on the last day of 2018. Fact is, you have that chance every morning. That’s good news, worth celebrating. Happy New Year.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.