Old or New?

given on Sunday, January 2, 2010

Maybe you thought the next question would be  “fork or spoon?” or “oil or cream?” but it is a new year and the questions start swarming around us as we look at the past and look at the future.  At this moment we are right here in the present, but the present will soon be the past.  The future will soon be the present and move on to the past.

These thoughts are beginning to sound like a riddle, but consider all the scriptures we have read over the past five weeks and the riddle becomes reality—Christian reality.  The prophecies have been told over and over to the ancient Jewish people, yet the answer eluded them. The years grew into a long, complicated history of an old way of living.  The covenant the Jewish tribes had with God were clung to for generation after generation.  No answer to the riddles presented in the prophecies seemed to appear.

The past was the past, and during the census and the birth of Christ, the present certainly did not look like an answer to the prophecies.  Yet, the angels appeared and told the shepherds that the old prophecies had indeed been fulfilled—or answered.  The shepherds checked it out, and they believed.   Then the Wise Men–the scholars, the scientists, the kings—who were in charge of determining the truth in life around them, saw a star and checked out the news that it told them.  And they believed.

Why, then, are we so stuck in the riddle that we cannot believe the answer?  Why, when the old story is told over and over each year, do we still wonder if the past is the past, the present is now, and the future is yet to come?  We are so caught up in the demand for the solid, concrete proof that we are failing to see the truth of the Bible.

Consider this:  we live in a world which demands time.  We have watches we wear, we have calendars to remember what is coming up, we have books of records that tell us of the past.  We are in such a hurry to keep moving forward—into the future, and to leave the past, that we forget the present.

Today, January 2, we are living in a new year.  The 2010 year is now in the past and we need to leave it alone simply because we are in a hurry to get on to life in 2011.  But stop.  Is that a good idea?  Is there anything that from last year that must be finished?  Is there something good from 2010 that needs to continue?  Did we get everything done that we needed to get done?  Do we need to stop right now in the present and prepare for the future?  Are we ready to pick up the new and move forward?

The scripture from Revelation may have been first recorded as long ago as A.D. 95, according to the Life Application Bible, but the words are about the future—an undefined future.  Remember:  John, the apostle, wrote it; and we have learned that John wrote his gospel to prove, in a clear, concise, and concrete way, who Jesus was.  John knew the past, lived in the present, but saw the future:

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Now, here is another riddle:  How does God define time?  Is he of the past?  Is he the same in the present?  Or is he the future?  Consider John’s prophecy:

21:5 He (God) who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  6 He said to me:  “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. . . .

At some point in my studies, I was presented this thought:  In God there is no time.  There is no past, no present, no future.  God is always.  The discussion continued and we were challenged to keep our eyes—our minds—alert to the verb tenses used when discussing God.  This idea has been bouncing around in my brain ever sense.  When teaching students about verb tenses in our English language, I share a timeline with them.  It is difficult to share verbally, but the three tenses we have discussed today are the simple past, simple present, and the simple future.

Yet in our language, we change the tenses and tell time with the verb phrase:  past perfect—something began in the past, continued for a certain amount of time, and ended in the past; the present perfect—action began in the past and is still occurring in the present; and future perfect—action is going to begin in the future, will continue for a time, and yet end in the future.

The verb tense lesson can continue because we add more elements to it in order to place our actions into an orderly, clear, precise language so listeners and/or readers completely understand what we are sharing with them.  Is that done in our Bible?  Is the language so precise that time is a precisely defined element of the story?

The riddle cannot be answered.  Humans do the defining of God, and we humans are not perfect.  In telling the story of God, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, we do the best that we can.  When we read the Bible, we look for answers to manage life now, in the present; but we only have the words of the past and the promise of the future.  We are the present.

That may be the answer:  We are the present.  We are not asked to choose the Old Covenant or the Future.  We are asked to serve in the future, using the New Covenant.  God has tasked us to choose the New Covenant as taught, modeled, and given to us through Christ, our teacher whose presence lives within us so God is with us in the present.

This is the perfect weekend to ask yourself one more question:  Am I going to live in the past, or am I going to live in the present, or am I simply living for the future?  God asks you a slightly different question:  Are you going to live in the present using the New Covenant of loving one another so you might continue living with him in all of time?

The promise continues in John 22.  If you live in the Now, using the New Covenant, everything will be new:

12 “Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

With a picture of the future so inviting as John shares in Revelations, I find it difficult to understand how people can ignore.

The problem is knowing how to let go of the Old and to use the New Covenant.  We have a responsibility to learn, to understand, and to use God’s law right now, in the present, so not only we can earn a reward, but for others to learn, too.

Are you stuck in the Old Times or are you jumping forward with the New Covenant?  In more concrete terms, are you willing to stay stuck in all the negative thoughts, experiences, and issues of 2010?  Or are you eager to look forward, and tackle the challenges of 2011?

Sorry, it is not going to be easy to let go of the old.  I have my own set of old issues that are not finished.  I have some old negative thoughts hanging on in my mind.  I have not refreshed as much as I needed over this past week.  And I expect you can say much the same.

Therefore, lets join up together and work to learn more about the New Covenant, how to apply it in our lives, and how to share it with others.  I choose the New because there is a promise from God that I cannot ignore.  I hope you, too, will see the futility of the Old Covenant and the simplicity of the New Covenant.

So out with the old Father Time image, and in with the new Baby Jesus.  We must shovel out a new path together, rather than throw snow back and forth on each other—as Doug Rogers’s cartoon shows.  We are shoveling a new path together so we can enjoy the future that God promises.

Dear All-knowing God,

We live in the present.  You know our old stuff and how it separates us from You.  This weekend we find ourselves settling into our routines and stepping away from the love you gave at Christmas.  Keep us in the present, keep us living the New Covenant, loving one another, and sharing the story with others.  The old can become new with Your love.            –Amen

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