Then I 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. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,Revelation 21:1-6 (NRSVUE)
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God;
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.”
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.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
In most churches, Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday are the two most well-attended services of the year. And there are plenty of people that only attend worship on those two days, barring an occasional baptism, wedding, or funeral. Well, because of that, in many church circles, there are a lot of nicknames given to identify those infrequent attenders. Now I know name-calling, judgment, and gossip are never positive, life-giving actions, but sometimes in real life, they happen.
Sometimes those infrequent attenders are referred to as “Cultural, Societal, or Convenient Christians.” Sometimes they are called “Submarine Christians,” surfacing only at Christmas and Easter. Sometimes they are referred to as “Two-Timers” for attending church only twice a year. Sometimes “Poinsettias & Lilies” or “Bells & Lilies” or even “CEOs,” meaning Christmas and Easter Only.
Now folks, I fully understand life gets busy. There are lots of other activities and choices, and we CAN and DO live spiritual lives outside of our church buildings. But only attending worship on Christmas and Easter is the religious equivalent of only watching sports during the playoffs.
Now please understand that today’s message is NOT about trying to make people feel bad if they don’t come to worship every week. Because today’s message is NOT about religion; it’s about faith. And yes, there is a big difference. There are people that live very faith-filled, sacred, and connected lives who never darken the door of a church, a synagogue, or a mosque. So, worship attendance is not necessarily the magic key, but it IS a wonderful resource or a tool that helps us to stay connected to God.
In worship, we reflect on scripture. We wonder about life’s big questions. We are able to set aside our fears, if only for the hour that we are here. We connect with others walking a similar path, and we get a glimpse of the hope and the possibility that is all around us. However, it is not our worship attendance that gives us hope, it’s our faith! And our faith opens our eyes and hearts and minds to the possibilities all around us.
Imagine with me for just a minute. Imagine that you came to worship on Christmas Eve. You heard the amazing story of the angels, the shepherds, and the baby born in Bethlehem long ago. You were in awe of the beautiful nativity sets and the bright red poinsettias. You lit your candle and sang silent night, and your heart was warmed by the good news of the story and the soft glow of the candlelight. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Then you came back again, on another Sunday, to shouts of, “Alleluia! He is risen!” This time, you’re surrounded by smiling faces, beautiful Easter flowers, and the good news of resurrection and new life. “Hey, this church stuff isn’t so bad after all!” And you’re right; the holidays are always beautiful, and they leave our hearts filled to overflowing.
The truth is, there are plenty of other days when we are out in the world that things go our way, there too. Our families are healthy. Our kids do well in school. Our neighbors reach out to us with random acts of kindness. Our gardens are brimming with flowers. The sun is shining. And we even get an unexpected raise at work! All is good with the world! But does every day work out like that? No. Is every day a holiday? No.
Sometimes even when we work really hard and try our best, we still get sick or lose our job. We feel like all the work always gets dumped on us, or we struggle with the opinions of others. Then we turn on the news and hear about injustice, war, or natural disasters. It’s in moments like those that we need a firm faith foundation to stand on. We need to know that we are not alone, and we need guidance as to how to live our lives so that we can look forward with hope even in the midst of a storm.
In today’s scripture reading, we heard about God making all things new, about God wiping the tears from our eyes and taking away mourning, crying, and pain. And though those things all sound good, I think the best news in today’s scripture was this: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; and they will be his peoples.” Folks, just last week we heard the good news of the baby born in Bethlehem, Emmanuel, God with us. Friends, please let us not pack that good news away with our Christmas ornaments waiting for shouts of “Alleluia, He is Risen!” But instead, as we begin this new year, let us strive to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, listening, living, learning, and loving, because that is how we live out our faith and find hope and possibility around each corner.
Friends, I want to share a story with you this morning. It’s a story about Jesus.
Okay, so I have a few props here. I have a big bowl of water, and we are going to pretend that it is a lake. Then I have a few cranberries and a few stones, and we’ll see what that is about in a couple of minutes.
One day Jesus was out in the countryside teaching with all of his friends, the disciples. He was having a good time, but he was also getting tired. Do you ever get tired or need a break? He said, “Friends, you go across this big lake, get a head start, and I’ll meet you on the other side.” So, the disciples got in a boat and headed across to the other side while Jesus went up a mountain to pray. After he finished praying, he decided to go catch up with his friends. Meanwhile, his friends were going through a big storm on the lake, and they were getting very nervous. But suddenly they looked, and what did they see coming across the lake but Jesus! Jesus was walking on the water towards them. Can you imagine? He was floating his feet on the water in the lake as he moved towards them.
Now at first, they thought he was a ghost, and they were super scared. But then they realized it was Jesus, and they said, “Wow, Jesus, can we do what you’re doing?” Jesus’ friend Peter especially wanted to do it. So, Jesus said, “Come on out, Peter. You can do it if you believe in me and have enough faith.” So, what do you think? Did Peter get out of the boat and try to walk on the water like Jesus? Would you do that? Well, that is exactly what Peter did. He said, “I’m going to try to do that too.” And at first, he came out of the boat. (We’re going to pretend with this cranberry is Peter) and he believed he could do it. And what do you know, he started walking on the water, and he floated on the water just like Jesus! But then he looked around and realized, “AHH! I’m walking on the water! This is kind of scary.” Peter was afraid and started to sink like a stone (Drop a stone in the water. Splash!) But Jesus said, “Peter, no, don’t be afraid. Just believe a little bit more and you’ll be able to float.” And that is what Peter did. He came back up, his faith increased, and he was able to walk on the water.
Friends, today, for our story, we used this water bowl and pretended it was a lake. We also had stones that represented fear. And what did they do in the water? They sunk. And we had cranberries that represented hope and faith. And what did they do in the water? They floated! Well, out back in Maxcy Hall, there is another big bowl of water, and two small bowls: one with stones in it and one with cranberries in it. And you are invited at any time during coffee to go over to the bowl of water and take one of the stones, hold it for a minute and think about something that fills you with fear or something you are nervous about in the new year. Then drop the stone into the water and sink it. Then take a cranberry and hold on to it for a moment and think about a hope that you have for the New Year, and float it on the water. Hopefully, we will all be able to sink our fears and float our hopes as we step into this new year!
Friends, Jesus teaches us so much about what it means to not only have faith but to live lives of faith. With faith and hope, we can do amazing things!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you step out into this new year, know that hope and possibilities are all around you! Just stand firm in your faith as you work to sink your fears and float your hopes. Remember, none of us are perfect, and life isn’t meant to be either. Just try, in each moment, to do your best to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. And if nothing else, know that you are always loved just the way you are.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!