Volume 46, No. 23
Sermon prepared by Rev. J. VanDyk, Pastor-Emeritus, Burlington, Ont.
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon
Law of God
Hymn #119:1, 2, 3
Prayer of Illumination
Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, Revelation 21:1-7
Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:9 "There is nothing new under the sun."
Revelation 21:5a "He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’"
Sermon: "What is New? Church Renewal in a New Century."
Hymn of Response #149
The July 30, 2001 issue of The Banner, our bi-weekly church publication, devotes the usual pages to congregational announcements and anniversaries. This time the list includes only Canadian Church anniversaries. Those anniversary celebrations remind us of the history of our church. After the second world war a large number of immigrants reached our shores. The number of Christian Reformed Churches grew rapidly.
Today those churches celebrate their anniversaries with gratitude to God. Indeed it is a miracle how God used those poor immigrants to build his church in North America during the past one hundred and forty years.
Leafing through old church papers of many years ago it is hard to believe how much has changed during those years, not only in our nations but also in our churches.
Take the familiar olden days some of you remember so well. Today you no longer recognize the old village where you were born. Farming has changed, business has changed.
The days when not a single store was open on Sunday belong to the past. In those days daily life, and especially the Sunday routine, held a certain attraction because it was all very predictable and very traditional. Sunday was truly a day of rest. The Sunday services were the highlights of the day. One sermon was always based upon the old Heidelberg Catechism. On Sunday evening families gathered around the harmonium and sang the sweet evangelical songs of the famous Dutch musician Johannes De Heer.
No wonder that some of us have difficulty adjusting to all those changes. Yet others are becoming impatient for they want to see more and faster changes. Some people believe we are too flexible, others tell us we are not flexible enough.
However, all those changes don't seem to impress our wisdom teacher. He sounds somewhat skeptical, almost grouchy when he keeps repeating: "There is nothing new under the sun."
Not only one chapter, but the whole book deals with the utter futility of life. All your brilliant accomplishments, our pleasures and even life itself: futility, chasing the wind.
In your Bible this book takes only nine pages, but the word "meaningless" occurs no less than forty times. Ecclesiastes is not the only one who emphasizes the transience of life and the futility of all we do or try to accomplish.
In the book of Psalms we read that our days are like grass. James writes that we are no more than a mist hanging over the fields, disappearing at sunrise.
NEW seems to be an illusion, a dream, totally meaningless. Ecclesiastes puts it this way: "The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. All streams flow into the sea and yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say."
The ancient view of life believes everything runs in circles; such as spring, summer, fall and winter and then spring again. This is also a very biblical idea.
Our lives move in circles as well. There is the daily circle of sleep and work and sleep again. There is also an annual circle. Much of what you did last year you will likely do again this year. Sometimes we get tired of it, just as Ecclesiastes says: "ALL THINGS ARE WEARISOME, MORE THAN ONE CAN SAY."
In our day and age we try to escape this circle. We strive for continued progress. Free trade is in. It will produce more jobs and more wealth. Genetic engineering has enormous potential. This fantastic technology will produce more food and increase the farm output. Yet, the last ten years have shown that matters can take a turn for the worse. Foot and Mouth disease decimated the livestock in Great Britain. Terrible drought in New Zealand forced many farmers to kill off a good part of their large flocks of sheep. Also in the mid western states of the U.S.A. and Canada the drought could seriously harm the new crop.
Yet, in spite of our affluence poverty abounds. The hunger problem doesn't go away either at home or abroad. Aids is killing millions around the globe, an epidemic not seen since the plague in the Middle Ages.
Ecclesiastes is not far out when he writes: "What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun'".
What is really new? What is the future of the church in the 21st. century? How do we reach out to a changing community far and near? Ecclesiastes tells us: There is nothing new. It was all here long before you were born. In a sense Ecclesiastes is right. There are things that don't change. We are still very limited people, who fall short of perfection. We are still in need of God's grace and forgiveness. On the other hand Ecclesiastes emphasizes only part of the truth, not the whole truth. He pictures a world in which people recycle the old, and call it new. Of course it is not really new. Only what God does is really NEW. God doesn't renew what is spoiled by sin.
Jesus told Nicodemus: "Before you can enter the Kingdom of God you must be born anew." Literally it says: "born from above." Scripture also reminds us that if we are IN CHRIST we are new creatures.
No, God is not going to patch up this old world and populate the new Jerusalem with people who stick to their old sinful ways of life. What God creates is really new: A new city with a new people.
In the book of Revelation we often hear of HIM who sits upon the throne. Yet we never hear His voice. It seems that God remains silent, far above this earthly plain.
The first time we hear God speaking is here in our text at the end of the book. God seems to wait patiently for what mankind will do with the many opportunities He provides to establish lasting peace, to build a new world in which sword and weapons will not be needed anymore.
However, mankind failed miserably.
Then God takes over and says: "NOW I will make everything new." And in the next verse you read the amazing statement, only one word in the Greek: He, God, said to me: "It is done". IT HAS HAPPENED.
It has happened. What happened?
It is the shadow of an old, rugged cross, dominating 2000 years of history. It is an empty grave ushering in a new day. There is the gospel, telling the story of Jesus, the new way to God, resulting in a new life. There is above all the closing chapter of human history. History will not go on forever. Thank God!
How does all this newness affect our churches in the U.S.A. and Canada in this new century?
It simply means that each one of us, called by the Lord, may and must work on the renewal of this earth. We may and we must. Jesus sets the example."I must be in your house today." Jesus told Zaccheus. Zaccheus didn't hesitate. He left the old behind, and became a new man, a signpost to a new society.
Your task as well is to build signposts to the new earth. That means changes, blessed changes. It means a new emphasis upon the talents and input of women in the church. It means an invitation to the members of your church to improve the liturgy of our Sunday services. It means outreach to the handicapped. The Friendship Clubs in many of our churches are one of the most beautiful community outreaches of the present day.
It means world relief. We are in urgent need of a new and solid emphasis upon the work of and with the deacons. It means mission with a purpose. The Luke society is a good example. A goodly number of our sons and daughters left their lucrative practices behind, and highly motivated travel to the poorest regions on our globe to spend years of service far away from home.
It also means embracing members of the church with a different sexual orientation, in repentance and love, just as our Synod explained last year in its prayer of repentance. It means a Christian perspective on education. We need urgent answers to questions like: "What does teaching Christianly mean?"
A recent book by Dr. John Van Dyk entitled: "The Craft of Christian Teaching", provides directives we cannot ignore. It means social, political, artistic and cultural action everywhere. We are always short of man and woman power.
It means..... (local initiatives could be added)
Truly God has used us in our exciting church history. Today our churches play a prominent role of leadership in many areas. We oppose the liberal left as well as the fundamentalistic right. The result is that not only our own members but also our visitors like what we have to say and join us in worship and outreach.
We know that our labours and our sacrifices are not in vain. We work towards the end of time. The new earth is coming. The end is not pie in the sky for earth is our home. The city of God comes down to us.
This earth faces an exciting future. God will not withdraw from your community and its surroundings. North America too, will be part of the City of God.
That is why we pray:
Holy Spirit, power divine
fill and nerve this will of mine;
boldly may we always live
bravely serve and gladly give.
Holy Spirit, Joy divine
gladden now this heart of mine;
be our guide and we shall be
firmly bound for ever free.
And so in this new millennium, you people of the Reformation:
Go on, wrestle, fight and pray.
Tread all the powers of darkness down
and win the well-fought day.
Till all things done and all your conflict past,
you overcome through Christ alone and stand complete at last.