The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

A FINE '99

Delivered 12/27/98
St. Andrew by the Sea United Methodist Church, Hilton Head Island, SC
Text: Revelation 21:1-5
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Happy Holiday. Did you have a good Christmas? I hope so. I did - I got a gift that people have been dreamed of for years...a white Christmas, a rare treat for a son of the South.

Are you glad 1998 is about over? It should have been a pretty GOOD year with the market up, unemployment down, inflation down. But we ended with bombshells over Baghdad and bombast in Washington after spending months as unashamed voyeurs listening to the Starr report and the impeachment hearings. America has had better years than 1998.

Did you make any resolutions for `99? Lots of people do. In an old "Nancy" comic strip, Nancy is sitting at a table writing: "9. Be nicer to people; 10. Eat only healthy food; 11. Share with friends." She is all the way down to #28 which is "Stop being so pushy." She writes, "29. Cut down on sweets; 30. Be less critical of others."

Sitting next to her is her friend Spike. Spike asks, "New Year's Resolutions?"

Nancy replies, "It's that time of year again."

Spike says, "I'm impressed. These are really good goals. But do you think you can keep all of them?"

Nancy replies, "Why should I?" as she hands them over. "These are for YOU!"(1) Uh-huh.

Do you remember the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons that used to run in the newspaper? In one that appeared at this time of year, Hobbes, Calvin's stuffed tiger, asks, "Did you make any resolutions for the New Year?"

Calvin comes unglued and shouts, "NO! I'm fine just the way I am! Why should I change? In fact, I think it's high time the world started to change to suit ME! I don't see why I should do all the changing around here. If the New Year requires resolutions, I say it's up to everybody else, not me! I don't need to improve! Everyone ELSE does!" Calvin then takes a breath and asks, "How about you? Did you make any resolutions?"

Hobbes has this flabbergasted look on his face and says, "Well, I had resolved to be less offended by human nature, but I think I blew it already."(2)

Any New Year's resolutions for you this year? Lots of people make them. The top five resolutions are to get personal finances in order, lose weight, stop smoking, become more physically fit, and improve personal relationships. Some folks even decide to attend church more faithfully. Good. But statistics indicate that after only one week, almost a quarter of us have bailed out on whatever it was that we had resolved to do; after a month, almost half have given up; after two years, only about one in five still hang in.(3) Hmm. There is an old Irish toast that says, "May all your troubles in the coming year be as short as your New Year's Resolutions."(4)

No doubt, the resolution failure rate is what keeps many folks from making any at all. Half of us will not bother. But even those of us who refuse to fool with an annual list understand the appeal. There IS something about us that looks forward to new beginnings, isn't there? The plaintive plea, "Give me another chance, please, just one more chance," resonates through our collective soul.

Suddenly, we hear this word from the book of Revelation: "And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things NEW." Everything new? That would be great news if it were true, wouldn't it? Can God do that? Revelation says YES! The Lord can give us a new world, with new delights, new comforts and new hopes.

How does God do it? Well, let me put a question to you: How would you EXPECT God to do it? Suppose I were to ask you what you would need to have a really FINE '99. What would you say?

I suspect that most of our wishes would run fairly predictably. More money, another job, shorter hours, a new house, new neighbors, better health. We would heap together our varied circumstances and say, in effect, that if only this were changed or that were changed, undoubtedly, we would be happy.

Well, I cannot offer you any of those things. In some instances, I REALLY wish I could...particularly those who would wish for an end to physical pain. But even if I could make those dreams come true for you...they would not be enough.

You see, the major question behind all these wishes is this: Does your happiness reside in your circumstances or in yourself? Important as circumstances are, I would insist that, in and of themselves, they will never make us happy. We know better. Too many times we have heard of folks who seemingly had it all - money, power, position, health - who were so miserable that they had to drown themselves in drink or drugs and, in some cases, even took their own lives. But, in contrast, there are others we know who are seriously lacking in some of these things we think are so important but who are supremely happy.

Now, please do not think that I have no regard for circumstances. Not true. But I would insist that they are not PRIMARY. Happiness does not reside in circumstances, it resides in US. When people wish us "Happy New Year," the best type of thinking would NOT concern the externals of life, but the INTERNALS. I cannot promise you that in 1999 there will be a new set of circumstances for you. Indeed, I would anticipate for all of us pretty much the same difficulties and disappointments, the same drawbacks, even the same disasters we have always had...all those things that are common to the human condition. No new year has ever dawned that did not contain them. That, as they say, is life. But in the name of the one who sits on the throne, the one who says, "Look around...See, I am making all things NEW," I can promise a life in which the dull routine will be transformed into a fresh and vigorous and challenging experience for all who submit to Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives.

The apostle Paul understood that. That is why he could write, "If anyone is in Christ, that person is a NEW creation; old things are passed away - behold, all things are become new."(5)

There is something else to be aware of here. People who are changed by God's grace very often DO experience changes in their circumstances. How many stories have you heard like this one(6) - the story of the man who was convinced that the most beautiful word in the English language was WHICH...w-h-i-c-h... WHICH. When his friends questioned him, he said this:

I was a drunk. All my money went into the bar. Every Saturday, I soaked until I was nearly spent up, and then I rolled home and flung the remaining few dollars in my wife's lap. With a spate of obscene language I told her to stop sniveling and to be thankful for what she got. Through all the years I was a slave to drink, I never had any really smart clothes. I hated myself and most decent people despised me. Then I met God and was gloriously changed...I cut the drink out entirely. I dropped the filthy talk and gave my wife her proper week's money and began to buy little extras for the home. As the months went by, I even began to gather a wardrobe.

One autumn evening, six months after I was converted, I said to my wife, "Let's go out for a walk." She went upstairs to put her hat and coat on and while she was there I called out, "Bring my overcoat down with you." And do you know what she said? She said, "WHICH?" WHICH! I couldn't answer for a moment. I was staggered by the word WHICH. I actually had TWO.

That poor, malodorous rag-bag who had been a pillar of the pubs had two overcoats. You see the point - he was changed, and by God's grace, circumstances changed with him. Those circumstances about which we sometimes complain so bitterly might very well be changed once we ourselves have been changed by the one who makes EVERYTHING NEW!

Which leads to one more note: the change that Christ can make in people extends beyond individuals - it includes families, businesses, churches, communities...and even has the potential to affect entire nations.

Standing in this Methodist pulpit I think of the revivals under the preaching of John Wesley in eighteenth-century England. Wesley came on the scene in a time of tremendous social upheaval. The industrial revolution had totally disrupted centuries of tradition with the result that people were in an ugly mood. All around Europe, bloody revolutions were breaking out...but not in England. Historians credit that "Great Awakening" in Great Britain, the change in people's lives, with saving that nation from the same fate that befell her neighbors.

I think of the countless thousands who have been ministered to in mission outposts around the world, thousands who have been taught to read and write, thousands who have been healed of disease, thousands who have been brought into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of the work of dedicated missionaries who themselves were changed by the power of the gospel. The result is that right now on the continent of Africa, in nations where the name of Jesus was utterly unknown less than two hundred years ago, the church is growing faster today than anywhere else in the world.

I think of those in our own nation who are being provided with food and shelter this very day because Christian people, people who have experienced a change from the selfISH to the selfLESS by the power of Jesus Christ in their lives, are willing to share with those in need. This is the power the Lord who says, "See, I am making all things NEW!

The good news I have for you at the end of 1998 and the beginning of '99 is that we serve a God of new beginnings. The Bible is full of them:

  • God begins the world with creation. God begins humanity with Adam and Eve. Then, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, God gave them clothes, sent them on their way, and began anew.
SEE, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW.
  • Then the world became such a horrible place that God found Noah, had him build an ark, put himself, his family, and every animal imaginable in it, sent him on his way, and began once more.
SEE, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW.
  • As time went on, God chose Abraham to father a special people - a new relationship with humanity was begun.
SEE, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW.
  • Soon God's special people were in bondage in Egypt; they cried out for deliverance, so God sent them a rescuer, Moses, through whom they were freed from bondage and brought into the Promised Land, and God began again.
SEE, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW.
  • Then, as scripture says, in the fullness of time, God sent his only begotten son to bring the good news of another "new beginning," one that offered salvation for all and eternal life through Jesus, the Christ.
SEE, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW.
Finally, at the end of history, things will not really END at all. As our lesson has it, we find "a new heaven and a new earth." No more tears, no more pain, no more death. "See, I am making all things new...I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." Over and over, in the midst of our sinfulness, in the midst of our wandering, in the midst of our fear, in the midst of our failure, this God of who makes things new begins again and again with us.

Do you understand the implications of that? It means that this God who makes things NEW is more concerned about your future than your past. Hear it again: this God who makes things new is more concerned about your future than your past. Hear it one more time: this God who makes things new is more concerned about your future than your past. Yes, your past may well be the pits, a record of one failure after another, one broken resolution after another, but that does not matter...not to this God, the one whom we come to know in a very personal way in Jesus Christ. After all, this is the God who says, SEE, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW.

A moment ago, we mentioned those distinguished theologians, Calvin & Hobbes, whose insights, sadly, no longer grace our morning papers. In the very last comic strip before their untimely demise, Calvin says, "...a brand new year! A fresh, clean start! A day full of possibilities! It's a magical world, Hobbes, ole buddy..."(7)

Indeed! It IS a magical world. It is MY world and YOUR world. It is OUR world. It is GOD'S world, the God who says, SEE, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW. And we will have a FINE '99!

Amen!


1. Dynamic Illustrations, Jan/Feb/1994

2. Quoted in Dynamic Illustrations, Jan/Feb 1996 from Parables, Etc.

3. Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane, "Readers find resolutions easy to make, easy to break," Greensboro News & Record, 1/2/98, D1

4. Joyful Noiseletter, 1-93, p. 2

5. II Corinthians 5:17

6. W. E. Sangster, Sangster's Special Day Sermons, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1960), pp. 40-41

7. Dynamic Illustrations, Jan/Feb/Mar 98

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