Few things could represent all that is wrong with our world more than what happened on October 2, 2006. A man, a father of two children himself, walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA with a bag full of weapons. By the time police got into the schoolhouse, the man had shot ten Amish school girls between the ages of 6 and 13, five of them died. The man had also killed himself.
Obviously, to say that this Amish community was grief-stricken is an understatement. This was exactly the kind of thing that their lifestyle was supposed to avoid. Instead, an outsider had come in and in just seconds destroyed the peace they had worked so hard to maintain. One might have expected that this was a chance for the Amish to denounce the evils of the rest of the world. This was a chance to point out the value of their own way of life and how backwards the dominant culture was in allowing something like this to happen. It was exactly the kind of time in which many people would point fingers, place blame, and demand justice.
But instead of demanding justice, these people who had lost so much spoke only of forgiveness. On the same afternoon that the shooting took place, the grandfather of one of the little girls who was killed was already speaking words of forgiveness about the man who had murdered his granddaughter. That same day some from the Amish community went to the family of the gunman to comfort them in their loss. Later that week, there were more Amish than non-Amish at the shooter’s funeral.
It’s almost as if those in the Amish community were playing by a completely different set of rules, as if they lived in a different world than ours. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence, hurt, and grief by hurting those who had hurt them, they took the pain upon themselves and suffered it out of existence. Whereas the rules of this world dictated that they should have exacted revenge, the Amish saw a world in which forgiveness was more powerful than pain, love more powerful than a gun.
Of course, violence is not the only cycle that threatens to perpetuate itself through our world and thereby wreak havoc and destruction. There are other destructive cycles in our world that may not get as much news coverage but are just as corrosive; the kind of cycles of poverty and brokenness that exist in Kansas City’s urban core. There, a mother works two jobs, neither of which pays enough, but she keeps working them both just to be able to provide for her children. She can’t get a better job because she never finished high school. She never finished high school because her dad split when she was younger and her mom had to work two jobs just like she is now. So she didn’t have any parents around to make sure she did her homework or stayed out of trouble. She didn’t have anyone to teach her how to make good decisions in life. So she repeated the same mistakes her mother made. Now she can see the same thing happening with her own children. She has to work so much that she can’t be home enough to help her children do their homework or learn how to make a future for themselves. They will likely grow up to make the same mistakes and put their children in the same position and so on and so on down through the generations. And none of this is due to laziness or lack of hard work. The truth is this mother works twice as hard as most who live twice as well but she is paying for the mistakes of her parents and she knows that her children will do the same unless someone intervenes to help her break this hopeless cycle.
She finds out that there are people offering help in the basement of her apartment building so she goes to check it out. She is hesitant at first. She’s not sure why a bunch of wealthy, well-educated, white folks are so eager to help mostly poor black kids who are struggling in school. Her experience has always been that the wealthy, well-educated, and white usually leave town when things start to get tough but here are some who are intentionally coming back into the city to try to make things right. She begins to trust them. Her kids begin to talk about this group as their family. In a school system where black males are more likely to be arrested than to graduate, these kids are going on to college and talking about how they plan to give back to others some day because they have been given so much. And somehow, in the basement of an apartment building in a rough part of Kansas City, something new and different has been created. In the very midst of the old and tired ways of this world with all its brokenness and pain, a little colony of new creation filled with hope and possibilities has been born.
One last story; this one maybe not as dramatic as the other two but no less transformative. It is the story of a boy who grew up going to church, who never knew life outside the church. He knew all the Bible stories and all the Sunday School answers. He took his faith seriously, he prayed and read his Bible regularly, was always involved in teen activities at church, and was careful not to hang out with the wrong crowd. He had plans for college and a successful future.
But then he began to get this funny notion that God was calling him to be a pastor. And implied in that notion was a question from God; “How much do you trust me?” God began to show him how much his trust needed to grow. God began to show him his own weaknesses, his insecurities, and his imperfections but God also showed him that God’s grace was sufficient for him because the power of Christ was perfected in these weaknesses. He began to see that the more he trusted in God, the more risks he took for God, the more he did what felt weak and uncomfortable for him, the more Christ shined through to others. And over time that boy learned to become confident not in himself but in God and what God could do through him.
My guess is that if you could somehow compare side by side that young man today with the boy that he once was then you would see that there was something radically different about him. Yes, you would be able to see the continuity too. You would be able to see that this was now the same boy only older. But I believe you would also be able to see that God had done something mysterious and undeniable along the way. You would see that somewhere along the way God had transformed this boy who knew about God into a young man who trusted in God. You might say that compared to that boy, this young man was a different creature, that he was a new creation, that while he had remained the same person everything about him had also been made new.
“And He who sits on the throne said ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” That is our singular hope. Not only that God sits on the throne of the whole universe as we said last week but that the one who sits on the throne love us so much and cares so much for all of his creation that He is making all things new. God began that work of renewal in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And one day God will complete that work by making our whole world, all of creation, new.
But even today, the signs of that new creation are all around us. Even as we live in this beaten and battered world that is broken by sin, God’s Spirit is working to renew our world. We see it in stories like those that I just shared. We see that new creation taking place in every act of faithfulness by those who follow Jesus. We see it in a congregation that is willing to take risks, make sacrifices, and get uncomfortable in order to share the love of Christ with others.
Because God’s making all things new is more than just a future hope. For those who follow Jesus, it is what shapes our present reality. So much of our lives are determined by our past decisions, our past mistakes and misfortunes. But by the grace of God, we have a chance to have our lives shaped by God’s future rather than our past.
God is making all things new. God can make us new. God can use us to bring about new creation in others. The one who sits on the throne says “Behold, I am making all things new.”