Ever New

November 18, 2013

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Today I’m preaching on the passage from Isaiah. Isaiah lived about seven centuries before Christ, and is considered by many scholars to be the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, not only because his ministry spanned several decades or because of his eloquent Hebrew poetry, but also because more than any other Old Testament prophet, Isaiah emphasized the love of God. One scholar simply states, “Isaiah is the evangelical prophet.”

This sermon is focused on just one verse, Isaiah 65:17—“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”

The love of God is ever new.

There is a longing in all of our hearts for the new.

Sometimes we may try to fill this longing with new things.

In the late seventies on a humid June night, my Dad took me to a store and let me pick out a new bike. I remember standing in the aisle and looking up at a row of bikes hanging on a rack. I spotted one that was that classic 70’s olive green color—complete with a black banana seat. “That’s the one!” I exclaimed.

I didn’t know how to ride a bike (although I was highly skilled with my Big Wheel ☺). My dad told me he’d teach me when he got home from work the next day. But I was not the most patient kid, and so I decided to teach myself. We had a fairly steep driveway and I would straddle the bike and coast down the driveway until I fell—again and again—coast, wobble, and fall; coast, wobble, and fall. Several times I managed to get to the end of the driveway and out into the street, but when I tried to turn I would wreck. By the time my dad got home, my brand new bike no longer looked so brand new.

And the idea that we can fulfill the longing in our hearts for the new with new things continues well past our childhood. We’re coming up on the Christmas shopping season, when this idea becomes front and center.

Of course, sometimes new things can be a lot of fun. My son, Paul, saved up some lawn mowing money and last week bought the new NFL video game Madden 25. It’s so complicated, with so many plays to pick from and so many ways to operate your controller. At one point my player received a kickoff, and I tried to make him run forward but I hit the wrong button, and instead of running he just jumped straight up and down, over and over. Paul was laughing so hard, “Dad, what are you doing?!” “I don’t what I’m doing!” I laughed. My player continued to jump up and down in the same spot until crushed by a tackle. It was hysterical.

And yet as much fun as Madden 25 is right now, years from now it will no longer be considered new, and will be considered as passé then as the 80’s video games Pac Man and Donkey Kong are now (although there will never be another game as cool as Galaga ☺).

New things don’t remain new. We know that. We know a new car depreciates 15 to 20% the second we drive it off the lot, and yet we still want a new car.

Sometimes, instead of trying new things to fulfill the longing for the new, we may try a new career or a new job instead, only to realize the truth of the final words Roger Daltrey sang on the 1971 album Who’s Next: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” (from the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again”).

Or perhaps we think moving to a new place will do the trick, as Neil Young sings on the first track of his classic 1972 album, Harvest:

Think I’ll pack it in

And buy a pick-up

Take it down to L.A.

Find a place to call my own

And try to fix up.

Start a brand new day (from the song “Out on the Weekend”).

But after living in a new place for awhile the novelty wears off, and the brand new day in a new place can become just another day in the same old place.

Maybe a new relationship will fulfill that longing for the new, right?

Perhaps for a time, but even in relationships the novelty wanes. In his brilliant song “April Come She Will,” Paul Simon captures the often fickle nature of new romantic relationships:

April come she will

When streams are ripe and swelled with rain

May, she will stay

Resting in my arms again

 

June, she´ll change her tune

In restless walks she´ll prowl the night

July, she will fly

And give no warning to her flight

 

August, die she must

The autumn winds blow chilly and cold

September I´ll remember

A love once new has now grown old

(from their 1966 album, Sounds of Silence 1966).

In spite of our efforts to acquire new things or new jobs—or to go to new places or begin new relationships—the longing for the new never goes away. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the love of God is ever new—that is the message of the prophet Isaiah.

And scripture also assures us that “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

This is comforting when you are dealing with new things getting old, or with growing older yourself.

Yes, another song illustration…One of my all time favorite songs is “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac, a song written by the incomparable Stevie Nicks.

Stevie wrote “Landslide” in Aspen, Colorado as she found herself in a relationship that was falling apart while at the same time having just been dropped by her record label. In an interview she revealed this: “looking out at the Rocky Mountains, pondering the avalanche of everything that had come crashing down… at that moment, my life truly felt like a landslide in many ways.” She sings:

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?

Can the child within my heart rise above?

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

 

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

But time makes you bolder

Children get older

And I’m getting older too…

If you see my reflection in the snow covered hills

The landslide will bring you down

(from the 1975 album, Fleetwood Mac).

Even though you may be growing older, even though the longing in your heart for the new remains—even if you feel like you are experiencing a landslide of changes in your life—the love of God never changes or grows old.

The love of God is ever new.

Last week, I watched a documentary on the NFL Network about Pat Summerall, the former kicker for the New York Giants who went on to have a legendary career as a sports broadcaster. For twenty-two years, his broadcasting partner for NFL games was another legend, hall of fame coach, John Madden.

Like millions of other NFL fans, I heard the two of them call many games over those years. From middle school with thick crazy 80’s hair to being married with kids and having a bald spot, the voices of Madden and Summerall became a regular part my fall. Many Thanksgivings I either listened to them call the Detroit Lions game as I anticipated Thanksgiving dinner, or calling the Dallas Cowboys game as I sat dazed in a post-turkey coma.

But in spite of his professional success, Pat, like many other highly gifted people, had a dark side—he was an alcoholic for many years. It had gotten to the point where it ruined his first marriage and threatening his job. It got so bad that his kids even became ashamed to share his last name—and the landslide took Pat Summerall down.

But it was then, at the lowest point in his life, that the ever new love of God reached the heart of Pat Summerall, and he had a radical conversion. His son, Kyle, put it this way: “(Dad) realized that no matter what had gone on his life there was forgiveness for him… he was forgiven.”

Pat went to Jerusalem and was baptized, and for the rest of his life he shared the love and grace of God with others, changing the lives of many people, including baseball hall of famer Mickey Mantle and pro golfer John Daly.

He ended up remarrying, and he and his wife built a home with a gate, and inscribed on that gate are the words, “Amazing Grace.” One of Pat’s friends, Lance Barrow, shared that Pat would “drive in his driveway and see those words printed on his gate… he always felt that no matter how bad it got, no matter how bad he was, no matter how low he was, by the grace of God he was saved.”

God’s ever new love gave Pat Summerall a brand new start.

What if you’ve wrecked the things in your life—your new green bike or a relationship or a job? What if the cause of the landslide in your life is… you? Or maybe you feel like you’re jumping up and down in the same place with no control over your life.

God’s love for you is still ever new.

In his book Grace in Practice, Paul Zahl recounts the following story:

“Rod Rosenbladt, a Lutheran theologian, tells the true story of wrecking his father’s Buick 8 when he was sixteen years old. Rod was drunk, as were all his friends who were in the car. The first thing Rod’s dad asked him over the phone was whether he was all right. Rod said yes. He also told his father he was drunk. Later that night, Rod wept and wept in his father’s study. At the end of the ordeal, his father said one thing: ‘How about tomorrow we go get you a new car?’ Rod says now that he became a theist at that moment. God’s grace became real.”

Zahl continues:

“When Rod tells that story, there are always a few people in the audience who get mad. They say, ‘Your dad let you get away with that?! He didn’t punish you at all?’ And Rod says, ‘No,’ adding the following: ‘Do you think I didn’t know what I had done? Do you think it was not the most painful moment in my whole life up to that point?’… Rod’s father spoke the word of grace in that moment… it reflected the mechanism of God’s grace” (Grace in Practice, p. 86).

In the same way that Rod’s wrecking his dad’s Buick 8 did not cause the love of his father to grow old or change, God’s love for you doesn’t change either.

In Sonnet 116 Shakespeare describes this ever-new quality of love:

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds

Or bends with the remover to remove

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken…

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks

But bears it out even to the edge of doom

And the eternally new love of God led Jesus Christ to allow the landslide of the sins of the world, including all the times you have wrecked the things in your life, to take him down—all the way to the “ever-fixed” mark of the cross.

This means that no matter what, even if you find yourself at “the edge of doom,” you can be assured that the love of God is indeed new every morning.

And this is true now and will always be true, even at your death.

At the conclusion of The Last Battle, the seventh and final volume of C. S. Lewis’ series The Chronicles of Narnia, the children Peter, Edmund, and Lucy find themselves in the Narnian equivalent of heaven, not sure what to make of things. They are talking with the great lion Aslan, the Christ figure in the story:

“Have you not guessed?” (asked Aslan).

Their hearts leapt, and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better that the one before.”

“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” God spoke through Isaiah.

The love of God is ever new.

And at the end of the Bible we read of John’s glimpse of Jesus Christ, the real life Aslan, and the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:1 and 5).

And when your term is over, your holiday will begin.

And at heaven’s gate you will be welcomed with the words “Amazing Grace”—engraved not on the gate, but on the expression of the face of the One whose love is ever… new.

Amen.

Bible References

  • Isaiah 65:17