Rev. Beth Hoffman Faeth
October 23, 2022
Scripture: Revelation 21:1–5
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, beautiful as a betrothed couple on their wedding day. And I heard a loud voice calling,
“See, the home of God is among humankind.
God will dwell with them;
they will be God’s people,
and God will be fully present among them.
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the old order has fallen.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And added, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit, fall afresh on us. Breathe the proximity of possibility into our souls. Open our eyes and hearts to another perspective through these words and thoughts, Amen.
- 6 buses,
- 3 trains
- 6 car road trips, including a spectacular break down in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, however miraculously close to a car dealership where a new car had to be spontaneously purchased (but that is a story for another sermon),
- 1 taxi,
- 5 Lyft drivers,
- 6 planes,
- 1 cargo van,
- 4 ferries, and
- 1 sailboat
When I commenced my sabbatical on July 11 I did not realize that it would be an experiential tutorial in mass transportation. And while it may sound like I was always on the move, I also spent a good many days at home preparing for a major transition (more on that in a minute). While I readily anticipated the twelve weeks away from Plymouth, I did not know how essential the sabbatical would be so as to endeavor some major life events. I want to say again how grateful I am to all of you for the grace offered in letting me go for three months. I have waited 28 years for a sabbatical, and in saying that I am also acutely aware that mine is one of few professions with this gift of time away from work duties to refresh and perhaps gain a different perspective and appreciate important learnings. This makes me all the more thankful for such an extraordinary offering, and I do not take for granted the privilege of such an experience.
For those of you seasoned travelers as well as anyone who has booked a flight, bus, or train to almost anywhere in recent days, you are well aware that there is often a huge difference between scheduled departure and actual departure. As I reflect on my sabbatical I realize that I spent a good part of it waiting—for whatever mode of transportation I was endeavoring—to actually show up. And in retrospect, it was in this waiting time I did the most reflection, the most spiritual practice, the most questioning, pondering, praying. With intention I tried to not be an anxious wait-er but instead to receive both the anticipated and unanticipated moments of waiting to be fully present to my feelings and to do some deep listening. And each time I surrendered to the waiting, an inner voice would whisper the words of scripture I just read: “Behold, I am making all things new.” After about the third occurrence, I decided to pay attention.
Unlike my colleague DeWayne, I am not a fan of the book of Revelation. The apocalyptic imagery is way too sci-fi for me, a genre of art to which I have never been able to relate. Earlier this year during our “Command to Preach” series, I was aware that someone submitted the book of Revelation in its entirety, and every time I put my hand in the bowl to pull out a slip of paper I prayed I would not get that impossible task. Whew! I didn’t . . . none of us did, which I take as a sign from God that the whole book of Revelation is not meant to be preached in one sermon. Yet there are always exceptions to dislikes, and mine is in the passage from the 21st chapter, which has long been some of my favorite verses of scripture. For here we read of the intimate nature of God, the God who longs to be in relationship with us, making a divine home among us. God is not distant but with us . . . God is not some ethereal being but rather takes up the space in between us . . . God is fully present in relationship with us. God is with us in all the sorrow and joy, in all the messiness of humanity. This God promises newness, a fresh start, possibilities we haven’t yet begun to imagine. As individuals who are longing to crawl out of a time of pandemic and to embrace a new season, what will we do with this God who has been entrusted to us? How might we reframe our living and understanding so as to pour ourselves into a new kind of relationship with the Divine? How might we open our hearts to the personal indwelling of God with us?
And what does this kind of relationship mean for the community, for the world? Here our text implies that God’s good creation is not replaced but redeemed. God’s intention is not to make “all new things” but “all things new.” As we move yet again into another season of being church together, this is an invitation to leave behind that which depletes us of spiritual connection, those tasks and obligations that are no longer life-giving but rather belong to a different age. Now is the time to open our hearts to God’s imaginative leading, blowing the dust off of our spirits and finding renewal in the pews and with the people of Plymouth. “Behold, I am making all things new”. Here is God’s welcome for another chapter—for congregation and community. What could we do together with this gift?
When I left you in July, I will admit to being depleted. For all of us, the last few years have taken their toll, and the future seemed too uncertain for any comfort. Hope was at times fleeting and good news hard to find. The respite from the dailyness of ministry was welcome and, I discovered, necessary for the renewal of my spirit. And while I adhered to strong boundaries during my time away, surprising even myself for how I distanced and disconnected from this community, I realized quickly that I missed you all terribly and also the rhythm of life that church community provides. My sabbatical taught me that I do not easily embrace the essence of the word itself—sabbath. I must relearn what it means to rest. Because when I have the time to simply be, I grow restless. Sunday mornings this was especially true. So I continue to learn with you the gifts of sabbath, another offering from our God of new things. Even so, twelve weeks passed in a flash, and as I drove to Plymouth on the morning of October 3, I wondered how ready I was to return. Yet almost immediately as I entered the offices, walked the halls and basked in the familiarity of this place and the people, my heart swelled with affection—for all of you and for this hallowed space we call Plymouth. What immediately caught my attention, even before my first Sunday morning, was the abundance of energy—the freshness that was happening with each day. And then on Sunday, October 9—my first Sunday back—the church was buzzing and radiantly alive. I met new folks and embraced so many of you seasoned members, each one eager to tell me about “a new thing” at Plymouth. The Holy Spirit has breathed life into our scriptural words . . . Behold I am making all things new.
And too, I have heard from some of you that even within the newness, you are in search of connection, that you are longing for your heart to be touched and opened with a welcoming passion, that while there is a lot to do at Plymouth, it needs to be balanced with an infusion of being, of offerings to lift our spirits made weary by the woes of the world and personal sorrow. What do we do with the God of intimacy and relationship who dwells with us? May we be ever mindful of the way this Divine leads, paying special attention to growth in relationship and the blossoming of love. Are you ready to welcome in a new chapter for Plymouth Congregational Church?
A new chapter doesn’t need a New Year’s Eve or a fresh calendar month. As I listened to the voice within saying over and over, “Behold, I am making all things new,” I understood the beckoning personally to a new chapter and the invitation to receive the gifts of change with grace. Remember the cargo van? That was packed full of my oldest daughter’s belongings and our 15-year-old cat. Ellie and I drove it across the country to get her settled in her new permanent home in Boston. And one of those non-disastrous road trips? That was spent driving another car filled with my precious Hannah and her possessions so as to move her into her dorm room at Gustavus Adolphus College. While I continue to be a relevant and necessary presence in my children’s life (right, Hannah?) my role as a mother has drastically changed. My nest is now empty. A new chapter. That major life transition I referenced earlier in this message? This very week I will move from my home of 18 years—the house in which I raised my children, the place in which I have lived the longest in my life, a space that has been the container of the most beautiful memories as well as the most painful ones in my life—and with eager anticipation will share a home with my beloved. A new chapter. The development here at Plymouth to add a Director of Spiritual Formation to our essential staff will evoke necessary and welcome change in clergy portfolios, and I will be given the ability to embrace the development of innovative and relational offerings. A new chapter.
Individually and collectively we are being invited into a new thing. From pandemic to possibility, now is the time to co-create with the God who has been entrusted to us within a renewed community of relationship and spiritual connection.
I am so glad to be back to experience this new chapter with you.