A NEW YEAR MESSAGE: THREE THINGS TO PRACTICE
(Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church 1/4/2015)
At the outset, let me greet each one of you a very happy, prosperous and blessed New Year. There are three things, some nuggets of wisdom that I will share with you today. I hope you will remember to practice them in the months ahead.
The first saying is this: “Do not dwell in the past; the old has passed away; behold the new has come. Let go of the past and move on with the future“
In Scriptures, there are at least three popular places where this advice is found.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah comforted the guilt-ridden Israel by telling them of the future. Because of Israel’s sins and unfaithfulness, misfortune has fallen on them. Their divided kingdoms (Israel and Judah) were overrun by the Assyrians and many of their leaders were exiled in Babylon. Their captors even taunted them to sing their songs to Yahweh by the rivers of Babylon but they cried, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange and foreign land?” But now, in moving to the future, God spoke, “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing, now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert, and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
In the New Testament, St. Paul was admonishing the Christians in Corinth about the challenge of the ministry of reconciliation. Division from within and persecution from without are hampering the spread of the gospel. Paul reminded them that despite their trials, there is “a treasure in the earthen vessels” that will make them endure suffering. As gold is refined by fire, so is their faith sharpened by pain. They are not to conform to the values of this world but be transformed in the renewal of their minds. When one becomes a Christian, he puts on Christ. His values are no longer like that of the world. So St. Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come “(II Corinthians 5:17)
In the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, the apostle John saw a vision of a new heaven and a new earth and the voice of the One who sit upon the throne said, “I am making everything new.”
This Christmas I posted on my Facebook the video- story of a nurse named Wanda, who was called to comfort a new patient in their hospital in the Brooklyn and was surprised to discover that he is her long-lost father. She was five years old when her father left them. For many years, he was good as dead for Wanda, her mother and her siblings. Then for some strange serendipity, a dying man was brought to their hospital and of all the nurses there, it was she who was assigned to take care of him.
As their eyes met, both had the feeling that they were related. Then she asked for his name and it confirmed her suspicion that he was her father. Father and daughter had a happy reunion: she brought her children and introduced them to their grandpa. At the television interview, Wanda said that she has forgiven the past and don’t even want to know why he left them. All she wanted to do is to shower him with her love and that would be the memory that she will cherish. This is the joy, of forgetting the past and moving on to the future.
So if there is a new message that you must hear on this first Sunday of 2015, let it be this: forget the past, forgive and move on. There is a clean slate of a new year ahead.
The second saying is this: “If you lost money, you lost nothing; if you lost health, you lost something; if you lost hope, you lost everything.”
This was the advice of John Wesley, the Anglican priest who founded the Methodist Church. Wesley was concerned about the growing materialism in England in his time and then loss of hope from many who could not keep up with the cost of living.
Wesley himself was not poor. As a matter of fact, he had a few estates. But he was preaching about the priority of godly values over material riches. It is said that when people are obsessed with wealth, they forget God who gives the blessings. They focus more on the gifts and forget the Giver. So Wesley has a cavalier attitude with regards to money. A story is told that when he lost one of his houses from fire, instead of being upset, Wesley said, “Thank God; one less stress from my mind.”
Wesley believed that God gives us money and makes us wealthy, so that we can help the others, especially the poor. So he said, “Earn as much money as you can; save as much money as you can; and give us much money as you can.”
Recent research discovered that the happiest people on earth are those in Denmark. A CNN reporter went over there to investigate. And he interviewed many families about why they are the happiest. One family said that they all have the basic necessities in life and they are contented. In Denmark, there are practically no poor people, but there are also no super rich people.
In our American society, there are so many who are poor but there are also several people who are super rich. Multi billionaires---and yet many rich people are not happy. And in so many countries, there are so many people who are very, very poor, and a few people who are filthy, filthy rich. The very, very poor are of course, unhappy because they are deprived. But the very, very rich are also unhappy because they are insecure. So there is a correlation between wealth, contentment and happiness: enough wealth plus contentment equals happiness.
Third and finally, this is my wish and prayer for all of you: “I wish above all else that you may prosper and be of good health, even as your soul prospers” (III John 2).
This was the greeting of St. John to his friend, Gaius. John saw the wholeness of the human being as spirit, soul and body. True happiness is holistic. Some people may be physically healthy but if their minds are stressed, very soon the body will give way. Some people maybe intelligent and have all the capabilities, but if their spirit is not attuned to God, very soon, their lives will fall apart.
So the prosperity that St. John is talking about is godly prosperity, prosperity that is rooted and grounded in love and compassion. If the world is the Lord’s and everything in it, then we must know what God intends for our health and wealth. We must know that everything has a purpose under heaven. If God so blesses us with material wealth, we must learn to share it; if God blesses us with good health, let us not forget God of our time and talent; and if God blesses us with good minds, then we must also use it for the glory of God.
So there you are my friends:
1. Forget the past and welcome the new.
2. Do not lose hope.
3. I wish above all else that you may prosper in mind, body and spirit.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). If he saved you in the past, he will save you now and in the future. His mercy never changes, his faithfulness never changes. Amen.