New Beginnings!

Preached by Michael Cheuk and Lindsey Belt, November 1, 2015.
Taken from Revelation 21:1-6a.

ANewBeginning180x178 21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” 

Lindsey:  When I first read this text, probably like many of you, I was beyond confused on what I was going to be able to talk about. There are many images given but they all seemed to just confuse me more.

Michael: Yes, the book of Revelation can be quite confusing, and not just for young people. Throughout history, Bible scholars have had different interpretations of this book. Traditionally, the book of Revelation is understood as a letter written to seven different churches as they were facing tough times – either with persecution from Romans and Jews, and/or with the problem of being tempted to conform totally to the culture surrounding them in a way that led them astray from the way of Jesus.

Lindsey: As you’ve already noticed, this book contains a series of visions, with lots of symbolism or graphic images of different colored horses, angels, trumpets, beasts, dragons, etc. How appropriate for us to talk about this on the day after Halloween!  It’s like having a bad dream that eventually turns into a good dream. In our passage today, we get to the end of the dream, and we have the image of a bride, the images of a new heaven and a new earth, the image of alpha and omega, which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing the beginning and the end. We don’t have time to go over all these images and symbols. However, one theme that we can spend some time talking about is the theme of “New Beginnings.”

In verse 5 of this passage, He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” This can be frightening. Sometimes changes seem unnecessary and unwanted but God has a plan for your life and sometimes you just have to trust it. As some of you know, this week I was given the green light to graduate in June this year. A whole year earlier than planned. This means leaving home, western, my favorite church, my amazing youth peers. This is scary at times. It’s also a daunting task, taking on two new classes at night and giving up some free time to get my work done. But when I step onto the campus of the school I want to go to, I knew it was where God was calling me to go. He has gifted me with the ability to work with kids and I cannot wait to begin my teaching career in four years.

Michael: Lindsey, it is so interesting to hear you talking about graduating from high school. It is good to hear this from a student’s perspective, because I’m facing this from a parent’s perspective. Thea is also going to graduate from high school this year.  Many of you remember when she was born or how she ran around the church nursery in princess dresses or red rain boots, no matter how sunny it was outside. As she looks at colleges, some of you have asked me, “How can she have grown up so quickly?”  It’s a good question — when I do a wedding, I can often see this question almost written on the faces of the parents of the bride or groom.

We witness so many transitions and new beginnings for our children and the young people in our lives.  We watch them to go kindergarten or middle school or college or a new job or marriage.  These transitions are exciting — but they can also be a little scary. We ask ourselves, Are they ready to go off to college?  Will they remember to pay the rent?  Will they ever do their laundry?  And for the parents among us, we also ask ourselves questions, like how will I pay college tuition? What will life be like without all the energy that comes with teenagers and their activities and their friends?  After a marriage of their child, parents ask themselves, what will Thanksgiving or Christmas be like from now on?  At each of these transitions, we remind ourselves of God’s words to God’s people: Behold, all things will be new!

Lindsey: God came among His people and CHANGED their lives. But, what if the people couldn’t handle change, and looked at this “new beginning” as a bad thing? Are the people of God willing to open up their lives to the glorified, returning Jesus, and be willing for him to change their lives? If we aren’t prepared for change, we will never be transformed. As most of you know by now, the youth this summer went on an amazing mission trip to DC. It was one of the most monumental moments in my life but not because it was comfortable. Now comfortable is a hard word, in the dictionary it means more than adequate or sufficient. DC is not adequate. There is so much that is upsetting and disturbing on every corner. As we arrived at the Merrick Center the 100 kids that we worked with were rambunctiously crazy and didn’t want to listen. We learned quickly the children in 4th through 5th grade were already at least 3 grade levels behind. And there I realized my calling in this world. I realized that I needed to change the lives of kids in these heartbreaking situations. I wanted to be uncomfortable, God showed that even through change, he would guide in helping me share my gifts. It was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. There were many tears and heartbreaking moments that week but I would never trade the experience I had.

Michael: Lindsey, as I hear you share your story, I am reminded of these verses in our Revelation passage this morning: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” In the midst of all the changes in the our lives, in the midst of God making all things new, in the midst of new beginnings, we are reminded that God will be with us and be our God, and we will be God’s people. God will not abandon us.

“I am making everything new!” says the Lord, and yes, these words are trustworthy and true. As we live through life, no matter how young or old we are, the old order of things will pass away, whether we like it or not. Nothing is permanent and unchanging, other than God — and that’s true in our lives, in our families, in our workplaces, and even in our churches. Change is taking place all the time. Sometimes the new comes in gradually, in small steps, like our children growing up. Parents often don’t notice these changes taking place in their children day by day. Yet, when my Facebook friends see current pictures of Thea and Wesley, they all say, “Wow, look at how grown up they look!” Sometimes, the new slowly sneaks up on us. Other times, the new comes more quickly, in major transitions like a first day of kindergarten, a graduation, a marriage, a death. In all of these situations, it is totally appropriate to experience mixed emotions, both joy and sadness or loss, but God promises that ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” And in the new order of things, in these new beginnings, God promises that God will be with us, dwelling among us, whose faithfulness and love will endure forever.

As we begin our Stewardship emphasis this month, our theme is taken from Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Our hope is not in the past. Our hope is in God’s future, and during this season we are invited to prayerfully consider how we may invest our time, our talents, and our financial resources for the sake of God’s future, so that we may be a church where our children and our grandchildren will want to worship, lead, serve, grow, and witness. This morning, our youth invested their God-given time and talent and presented an offering of worship to God, drawing upon their experiences and their music. During this hour, we’ve been given a vision of not only our future, but also our present. They are already working and worshiping and serving alongside us, in ways that we can see and in other ways that we don’t even know about. May we, as spiritual parents and grandparents invest in their lives so the message of God’s love and grace can be heard and received by all generations.

Lindsey:  As we come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let us also remember that Jesus sacrificially offered himself for us, children of the Heavenly Father, so that we may have a hope and a future, so that we may have a new beginning.

Michael: Christ is the one who said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Christ is also the one who said, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Let us continue to worship this Christ, the One who made His dwelling among us in the past, the same One who will make His eternal dwelling among us, even as He makes all things new. Amen.