“See, I am making all things new.”
How appropriate to read these words on this day; a day when we remember those who founded and led this nation. This day, we remember that the founders of this country went out onto a proverbial limb — a new continent — with hopes and dreams to fight the injustice that was all around them.
That same idea is at the very heart of our reading from Revelation today. “See, I am making all things new.” Roman occupation of Jerusalem had reached its peak, and the salutary future of God’s people seemed unlikely at best. In John’s apocalypse, we hear and see images of God establishing a new city, where death and mourning would be no more.
Well, I’ll admit — I know more about these biblical texts themselves than how Washington himself would have interpreted them, although I’m sure he held them dear. So I want to offer a few other interpretations today. One of my favorites is from St Augustine, the late-fourth-early-fifth century theologian and bishop of Hippo, who used these verses to foretell of a new age of life, healing, reconciliation and justice that would come.
Then there’s Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century German who single-handedly attempted to “make new” the entire Catholic Church. He considered this talk of “New Jerusalem” to be an ideal — not an earthly city found in our time and place, but a heavenly city — a city where we each have one one foot firmly planted.
And yet, perhaps the most powerful interpretation — and it is ever-important today — is from the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1968 speech “I See the Promised Land.”
“It’s all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s [people] must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee.”
At the heart of all these approaches — and, I might presume, at the heart of George Washington’s interpretation — is a steadfast faith that God is doing a new thing.
The leaders of this nation did — and I think still do — believe that God is active in our everyday lives, drawing us out of ourselves for the sake of injustice and inequality. The leaders of this nation did — and still do — believe that this country should cherish its religious, racial, and cultural diversity. And the leaders of this nation did — and still do — believe that there is work to be done in maintaining that diversity.
On this day, and every day, we must remember two things. First, God is still doing a new thing — in Trenton, in our nation, and in the world. And second, these new things are not an escape from the old things, but rather a deeper entry into the very same place. It is an invitation to see the breadth and width of God’s creative and redeeming work in our midst.
See, God is making all things new. So death and mourning will be no more — for God is doing a new thing. Crying and pain will be no more — for God is doing a new thing. Shame and guilt and division will be no more — for God is doing a new thing. Racism and classism and hatred and bigotry and islamophobia will be no more — for God is doing a new thing.
Today, we remember the legacy of the first president of these United States of America. We celebrate the man and men — and don’t forget the women working behind the scenes — who were open to a new way of living.
May we see the ways in which God is making each of us new, every day. May we be open to a new way of living, one that grants life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all people. May we forever observe good faith and justice toward all nations. May we forever cultivate peace and harmony with all.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. Amen.