Making All Things New

Wheat Field with Reaper and Sun
Vincent van Gogh
Date: 1889; Saint-rémy-de-provence, France

CONFESSIONS
Saint Augustine of Hippo

I asked the earth and it answered, “I am not He”; and all things that are in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they answered, “We are not your God; seek higher.” I asked the winds that blow, and the whole air with all that is in it answered, “Anaximenes was wrong; I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and they answered, “Neither are we God whom you seek.” And I said to all the things that throng about the gateways of the senses: “Tell me of my God, since you are not He. Tell me something of Him.” And they cried out in a great voice: “He made us.” My question was my gazing upon them, and their answer was their beauty.

Revelation 21:1–8
All Things Made New

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”


Vincent wanted to be a preacher.  On a pretty Sunday in 1876, he preached his first sermon.  It went well enough, but his eyes only began to sparkle as he described God’s beauty in the world.  He said

I once saw a very beautiful picture: it was a landscape at evening. In the distance on the right-hand side a row of hills appeared blue in the evening mist. Above those hills the splendor of the sunset, the grey clouds with their linings of silver and gold and purple. The landscape is a plain or heath covered with grass and its yellow leaves, for it was in autumn. Through the landscape a road leads to a high mountain far, far away, on the top of that mountain is a city wherein the setting sun casts a glory. On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand.

Not much came of Vincent van Gogh’s hopes for ordination. He pursued theological studies in Amsterdam in 1877 unsuccessfully before moving to Belgium to begin a ministry without it. By the end of 1879 he had become convinced that he was a failure and decided to take a break to figure it out.  He thought painting would help him relax until God’s will for his life became clear.

The Creator delights in creation, especially when it occurs in its pinnacle – that which he made in His image.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

God loves to take what is old or worn or broken or useless or tired and transform it. God loves to take into Godself all the hate, all the sin, all the excruciating pain and mind-numbing, heart-freezing sorrow of human existence and then do something marvelous and wonderful with it, offering something new in its place. God loves to take all of our tears and our hurts and our regrets, our shame and our guilt and then do something extraordinary with them, transforming them. God takes on every death force in ourselves, in our families and relationships, our communities, nations, and world and decisively redeems and restores. That’s the goal, that’s the purpose, that’s what God is doing now and that’s the direction of God’s time. It’s the promise of the Christian experience.

I invite you to meditate on 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new,” this week and claim this vision for yourself; ask yourself:

What does this verse mean in this season of your life?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


You can read all the biographies you want about him, but through it all van Gogh will still not have revealed himself to you. For van Gogh to reveal himself to you, you need to look at his paintings. As the Greek Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras writes: “We know the person of van Gogh, what is unique, distinct and unrepeatable in his existence, only when we see his paintings. There we meet a reason (logos) which is his only and we separate him from every other painter. When we have seen enough pictures by van Gogh and then encounter one more, then we say right away: This is van Gogh. We distinguish immediately the otherness of his personal reason, the uniqueness of his creative expression.”

The difference between the arts and the sciences now becomes clear. When I see a painting by van Gogh, I know immediately that it is his. But when I come across a mathematical theorem or scientific insight, I cannot decide who was responsible for it unless I am told. The world is God’s creation, and scientists in understanding the world are simply retracing God’s thoughts. Scientists are not creators but discoverers. True, they may formulate concepts that assist them in describing the world. But even such concepts do not bear the clear imprint of their formulators. Concepts like energy, inertia, and entropy give no clue about who formulated them. Hermann Weyl and John von Neumann were both equally qualified to formulate quantum mechanics in terms of Hilbert spaces. That von Neumann, and not Weyl, made the formulation is now an accident of history. There’s nothing in the formulation that explicitly identifies von Neumann. Contrast this with a painting by van Gogh. It cannot be confused with a Monet.

The impulse to create and thereby give oneself in self-revelation need not be grand, but can be quite humble. A homemaker arranging a floral decoration engages in a creative act. The important thing about the act of creation is that it reveal the creator. The act of creation always bears the signature of the creator. It is a sad legacy of modern technology, and especially the production line, that most of the objects we buy no longer reveal their maker. Mass production is inimical to true creation. Yes, the objects we buy carry brand names, but in fact they are largely anonymous. We can tell very little about their maker. Compare this with God’s creation of the world. Not one tree is identical with another. Not one face matches another. Indeed, a single hair on your head is unique-there was never one exactly like it, nor will there ever be another to match it.

The creation of the world by God is the most magnificent of all acts of creation. It, along with humanity’s redemption through Jesus Christ, are the two key instances of God’s self-revelation. The revelation of God in creation is typically called general revelation whereas the revelation of God in redemption is typically called special revelation. Consequently, theologians sometimes speak of two books, the Book of Nature, which is God’s self-revelation in creation, and the Book of Scripture, which is God’s self-revelation in redemption. If you want to know who God is, you need to know God through both creation and redemption. According to Scripture, the angels praise God chiefly for two things: God’s creation of the world and God’s redemption of the world through Jesus Christ. Let us follow the angels’ example.

Global Journal of Classical Theology 1 (1999).

The Pains Of Sleep by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay,
It hath not been my use to pray
With moving lips or bended knees;
But silently, by slow degrees,
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eye-lids close,
With reverential resignation
No wish conceived, no thought exprest,
Only a sense of supplication;
A sense o’er all my soul imprest
That I am weak, yet not unblest,
Since in me, round me, every where
Eternal strength and Wisdom are.

But yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony,
Up-starting from the fiendish crowd
Of .
shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng,
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will
Still baffled, and yet burning still!
Desire with loathing strangely mixed
On wild or hateful objects fixed.
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl!
And shame and terror over all!
Deeds to be hid which were not hid,
Which all confused I could not know
Whether I suffered, or I did:
For all seemed guilt, remorse or woe,
My own or others still the same
Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.

So two nights passed: the night’s dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper’s worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream,
O’ercome with sufferings strange and wild,
I wept as I had been a child;
And having thus by tears subdued
My anguish to a milder mood,
Such punishments, I said, were due
To natures deepliest stained with sin,
For aye entempesting anew
The unfathomable hell within,
The horror of their deeds to view,
To know and loathe, yet wish and do!
Such griefs with such men well agree,
But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?
To be loved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem

 

Psalm 61:2

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.


Rick WilcoxSamuel Taylor Coleridge is best known for his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  The poem is the tale of an old sailor and his journey through the self-inflicted consequences of choice. In today’s poem, Coleridge likewise speaks of his own agony from drug addiction, the cruel and ironic outcome of something first taken to relieve pain.  From this depth, Coleridge says his prayers were ‘aloud in anguish and in agony.’

Earnest prayer is difficult and untidy, and we are grateful for the poet’s honesty.  As Malcom Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:

One of the reasons why Coleridge can speak very directly to our own age is that he lived in and confronted addiction, and its attendant self-loathing, which seems to be one of the deepest, if most hidden, curses of our own age. In an age which should theoretically offer us greater possibilities of freedom than in any previous generation, we have in fact used that freedom to devise our own trammels and cages, and our entire culture of consumption seems designed at once to promote and conceal addictive and obsessive patterns of behavior. The specifics of the addictions may have changed since Coleridge’s time, but he fearlessly enumerates their real psychological and spiritual consequences…

How has anguish driven you to prayer?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) was born in Devonshire, England, and began studies at Jesus College, Cambridge, which he then abandoned. In 1795 he met William Wordsworth, with whom he collaborated in literature and poetry. In 1798 he published Lyrical Ballads, which included his famous poem “The Ancient Mariner.” He studied Kant in Germany, and wrote several great poems. But from 1802 his powers declined, probably because he was struggling with his growing addiction to opium. Yet in 1816 he published “Christabel” and “Kubla Khan.” In theology and religion he reacted against the rationalism of his early years, and came under the influence of the Pietist J. Boehme and the pantheism of Spinoza. Many date his “Christian” period from about 1810. He urged the use of imagination and creativity, and attacked rationalistic orthodoxy. As is well known, J. S. Mill described him as, with Jeremy Bentham, one of “the two great seminal minds of England of their age.” Newman and Maurice were also greatly impressed by him.In Coleridge’s thought, Bernard Reardon writes, “The basis of faith, then, is not argument but experience” (From Coleridge to Gore [London: Longman, 1971], 65). As regularly occurs in hermeneutics, he distinguished between reason and understanding. He followed Kant in excluding religion and morality from logic alone. Like Schleiermacher, he understood God as One with whom humankind can hold communion. A Christian creed, he held, should not be as cheerless as atheism. He was also influenced in this period by Schelling and Romanticism. Sin, he believed, is the subjection of the will to an external control. He called for a “new and more perceptive approach to the Bible” (From Coleridge to Gore, 81), and was familiar with much current German NT scholarship. Whatever in the Bible “finds me,” he wrote, demonstrates the witness of the Holy Spirit. Reardon considers him “The first of the great nineteenth century ‘thinkers’ ” (88). Truth, he believed, concerns life, not simply thought.

Anthony C. Thiselton, “Coleridge, Samuel Taylor,” The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 248–249.

See Malcolm Guite’s masterful work on Coleridge here:

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)

Date: 1890; Saint-rémy-de-provence, France *
Genre: portrait
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 81 x 65 cm
Location: Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

Heaven On Earth

capture

On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?

― Martin Luther King Jr., from Strength to Love


When Jesus taught us how to pray, He included this mysterious phrase: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He taught that our priorities and the direction of our lives should be based on this commandment from Matthew 6:33 –

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

If we are to pray for God’s kingdom to advance in this world, how should we then live?  The question can only be answered by understanding the essence of God.  Just who is this King and what is the nature of His kingdom?

The Apostle John states it clearly in 1 John 4:7-11

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We celebrate the willingness of God to step into the broken lives of His children. Abandoning heaven, He emptied Himself and embraced the poverty and vulnerability of a manger.  His love is one of inconvenience, commitment and sacrifice.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our being and likewise to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The story of the Good Samaritan was told in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” and therein we find the essence of God which we are to embrace.

The Good Samaritan was simply going about his business, having a normal day when suddenly he was offered an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God.   Jesus noticed his response.

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Luke 10:25-37

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Dig Deeper – The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

One of the most famous depictions of the parable was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in May 1890. It is based on an earlier work by Delacroix in 1852, which shows the Samaritan straining to lift the wounded traveller on to his horse. Delacroix used dark colours, except for the Samaritan’s robe, which is painted in a brilliant red. Van Gogh replaced Delacroix’s dark palette with brilliant light hues, allowing every detail of his active brush strokes to be seen. Our attention is first claimed by the Samaritan himself, and his wounded passenger. Around them, we see a great gorge, through which a torrent of water cascades. Then our eyes stray to the left, where we see the priest and the Levite disappearing into the distance. Van Gogh does not suggest that they are running away from the wounded man. They just pass him by, without a thought, as they proceed on their journeys.

Van Gogh hints at the extent of the care which the Samaritan bestows on his patient through the box to the lower left of the painting. It is fitted with secure fastenings: its contents are precious. The story itself suggests that the box contained ointment and bandages. It now seems virtually empty, its contents having been lavished on the wounded man. The Samaritan has also relinquished his place of relative comfort and safety on his horse to the stranger. As the Samaritan raises the man, single-handedly, on to his horse, we notice his flimsy, loose sandals. The remainder of his journey over the rough, rocky terrain will not be comfortable.

~Alister McGrath, from Incarnation