A homily preached by Bob Schaefer
St. Mark Lutheran Church
Lent, 2002—Wednesday, March 20, 2002
Text: Revelation 21.1-6a
“Is There Any Hope?”
“Is there any hope?”
That was the question of the evening. It was the summer of 1995, and I was a camp counselor in training. I had just finished my first year of college, and I was full of questions and fears about the future. As a handful of my new counselor friends and I hiked under the waxing moon that night, it became clear that they struggled with similar worries.
“The whole world seems to be coming apart at the seams,” one of my friends sighed. We came into a clearing, where a little bridge spanned a river. As we sprawled out on the bridge and gazed up at the stars, she went on: “Out here, everything’s so calm and beautiful. But when I read the newspapers, I just can’t help thinking that there’s not much hope.”
“I know what you mean,” I told her. “We seem like we’re one or two steps away from a complete environmental meltdown. Divorces and wrecked families are almost the norm now. And social security is going to dry up before any of us ever sees a penny of it. We’re never going to retire—we’ll just be camp counselors the rest of our lives!” This last bit got a laugh from them, but we all understood how serious things were.
“Then there’s always the chance that we’ll just blow ourselves up,” someone said in the darkness that surrounded us. “How many nuclear bombs are there out there…?” His voice just trailed off into silence.
“Is there any hope, do you suppose?”
It’s a dark question, the kind that can get under your skin and drive you crazy. Tonight in Tel Aviv, the survivors of yet another suicide bombing will be wrestling with it. On the other side of the border, the hordes of frightened Palestinian refugees will certainly be wondering the same thing. In a world where anthrax and airliners-turned-cruise missiles are the new reality, you can bet that some camp counselors are going to be turning over this question like a smooth, dull stone.
Perhaps you’ve wondered whether there is any hope. Perhaps you are wondering it right now, this very evening.
Let me be honest with you: As a preacher, it’s very tempting to try and turn the question around. What I’d really, really rather have you ask me is, “What hope is there?” Do you see what I’ve done? When I rephrased the question, I just made an assumption: that there is some hope, if we just knew where to look. But it’s no good to do that. Don’t ever let someone pull a fast one on you like that, not even your Christian leaders. If you and I are going to have any chance of finding a hope that’s worth hanging onto, we have to be brave enough to ask if that kind of a hope even exists. We have to be willing to ask the question, no matter how difficult it might be: “Is there any hope?”
A fellow known only as “The Teacher” wondered about this very same thing about 250 years before Jesus was born. In the book he wrote, which we call Ecclesiastes, he describes how he tried to discover the meaning of life. But everything he tried—whether it was the pursuit of knowledge, hard work, or good living—everything finally seemed hopeless in the end. “All things are wearisome,” he wrote, “more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”
In other words, the same evils have been haunting our lives from the very beginning. One wrong act leads to another; one hate-filled word produces another. Greedy people thrive, while the poor are utterly destroyed. What goes around comes around, the Teacher says, and it has been going around and coming around again and again since we started keeping history. “There is nothing new under the sun.” And that’s a big problem. If you asked the Teacher if there’s any hope, he would only have one word for you: “Vanity.” Everything is in vain in the end, if there is nothing new for us under the sun.
But I want to tell you something right now, and if you remember nothing else from this sermon, remember this: There is something new in this world. God’s words to the prophet Isaiah sound to desperate ears like a sweet new melody—“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
In Jesus Christ, God is doing something new, something the likes of which this tired old world has never seen. Can you see it? Do you hear it? The apostle Paul sure could! He said it was as if all of creation were about to give birth, sweating and groaning with the labor pains. Something’s going on, Paul said, something that’s all about creation and all about birth. And that new something that’s going down is reason to hope.
You see, the new thing that God is doing in Jesus Christ isn’t a pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by sort of thing. It’s not about all of God’s people being whisked away to a gold-paved heaven, while God plows over everything that his creation was. No…the new thing that God is bringing about is so much greater than that! But let me allow God to speak for himself. God’s word for you tonight is from the book of Revelation, the 21st chapter:
Revelation 21:1-6a (NRSV)
1 Then I [John] 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. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he 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 passed away.” 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.”
God is making all things new. That’s the present tense, friends. Right here, right now, in you and in me, God is making absolutely everything new. And he’s going to keep on renewing, restoring, and recreating until the new heaven and earth are finally completed; until death and crying and pain are finally “the former things, the things of old” that we can forget; until God finally says with a triumphant cry, “It is done!”
God’s promise is that there is a world of hope out there for us. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, the one through whom all things are being made new! Amen.