Text: Revelation 21:1-5 (Msg)
Listen to the sermon: Restoration Project
In the past several months I have become a fan of the History Channel, but I’m not watching the documentaries. Pastor Bob was the history major, not me. Instead I have been watching a reality show called American Pickers. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz are owners of an antique store called Antique Archaeology and the show follows them as they search for antiques to sell. Sounds stuffy, but it’s not like that at all. They are not searching for curio cabinets, china, or tea sets – although I don’t think they would turn those down for the right price. Instead, they mostly look for everyday items from long ago.
For example, Frank, the bearded one, is a bit of an expert on advertising. He loves to find old gas station signs and cardboard cutouts that might have been in an old drug store.
I feel more of a kinship with Mike, the taller one because, like me, Mike loves motorcycles. Whenever I catch a glimpse of a motorcycle, or hear one rumble by, I am distracted and need to look. Mike seems much the same, and when he finds something cool, like an Indian motor or a Norton gas tank, his enthusiasm is contagious.
Whoever wrote the description of the show for the History Channel’s website did a masterful job:
Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz are on a mission to recycle America, even if it means diving into countless piles of grimy junk or getting chased off a gun-wielding homeowner’s land. Hitting back roads from coast to coast, the two men earn a living by restoring forgotten relics to their former glory, transforming one person’s trash into another’s treasure. American Pickers follows them as they scour the country for hidden gems in junkyards, basements, garages and barns, meeting quirky characters and hearing their amazing stories.
I like the phrase “on a mission to recycle America.” When I think recycling, I think of the other trash can in my kitchen where we put our aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic milk jugs after we use them. Or I think of the box in my office in which I put the paper I use. When the can and box are full, I put them in a special green container at our home that is picked up separate from the trash. It goes away and I am told magically returns to me as a different can, different bottle, different milk jug, or another paper product.
The kind of recycling the American Pickers are about is different. There is another phrase in that promo that jumps out at me – “restoring forgotten relics to their former glory.” Recycling through restoration, bringing things back to look and operate as originally intended.
I sometimes go to car shows for the same reason I watch American Pickers. I enjoy seeing vehicles I remember from my youth restored to look and run like they did when they were new. I remember my grandfather’s powder blue Impala, and at a car show I may see one from about the same year. My first car, a 1969 Plymouth Satellite, isn’t very collectible, but had the same body as a Roadrunner – and every once in a while I will come across one of those.
In fact, I have fantasized about restoring an old motorcycle, like a 1970s Triumph Bonneville (the bike I was convinced was the coolest thing I’d ever seen when I was about 12), as a retirement project someday. I think it would be fun to tear it all the way down to the frame and rebuild it from top to bottom.
A good restoration job is amazing, and can take years to complete. Every bolt needs to be removed. Every part cleaned, examined, and possibly restored or replaced. Wiring needs to be redone, cables need to be made new, hoses need to be replaced. Often when we think of a restoration, we think about cosmetics – paint and chrome. But a master restorer will also be concerned with how it runs, spending as much time with the parts one will never see, as with the parts you do.
On our youth mission trip a couple of weeks ago, I was struck with the fact that God is the master-restorer.
There is an old sermon story I have used before, so I apologize to those who have heard it, but it is so appropriate today.
A mom calls all of her children in for lunch one day during summer vacation. The children had spent the morning outside playing, so she immediately sends them into the bathroom to clean up before coming to the table. When they arrive, she notices there are only 6 of her seven children at the table. She waits a few minutes for Jimmy, but he doesn’t arrive. She asks the other 6 if they had seen him. “Nope,” one of them says.
She goes into the bathroom searching for Jimmy. He is not there. She looks in his room. He is not there. She comes back to the table and asks the other 6 where Jimmy is. One of the younger children finally speaks, “We were playing hide-and-seek, and we can’t find him.”
“Where were you playing this morning?” Mom asks. No one at the table wants to answer. “Was it at the construction site across the street I’ve told you to stay away from?” One of them nods.
“Let’s go find Jimmy,” mom says as she leads the six children across the street to the construction site. They search and search, calling his name, shouting “olly olly oxen free” and “come out, come out wherever you are.”
Finally, out of the corner of her eye, mom sees the lid of 55-gallon drum slowly close. She walks over, pops the lid, and there is Jimmy smiling from ear to ear because he has found the greatest hiding spot in the history of hide-and-seek – a 55-gallon drum of roofing tar. Mom reaches in and pulls Jimmy out, takes a look at him covered in tar, and places him back in the drum. Then this mom of seven says, “Son, it would be easier to make another one than it will be to clean you up!”
I love that story, not only because it cracks me up, but also because it reminds me God, like that mom, is the master restorer. We know the mom is not just going to abandon her child and have another one. So too God is not going to walk away from us, or the rest of his creation, and start again. Children are not disposable to moms, and neither are we to God. He never gives up on us. God is in the process of cleaning us up, restoring us and the rest of creation.
On the youth mission trip, we spent the week looking at a portion of Revelation 21:5 where Jesus says, “Look, I am making everything new!” (MSG). What a powerful verse to reflect upon in the midst of all the restoration work I saw going on that week. Houses were being repainted – transformed from faded and often incomplete, to looking more like they did when they were first built. Porches were being torn down, and replaced with brand new, better functioning porches.
Lives were also being renewed. One woman who had a team of youth painting her house, was at the end of her rope and resources. Her house in disrepair, and she shared with me how the city was threatening to fine her if she didn’t get her house painted. She barely made enough money to live on doing ironing and sewing out of her front room, and didn’t know how she could pay for fines or painters. She feared being forced to live in a facility where her life would no longer be her own. If you were with us last week, you heard Maggie Asman’s story of this woman, who told the youth working at her house they represented Jesus to her, and they had “saved her life.”
Another home worked on was a former gas station that had been converted into a residence. There were three generations of a family living there. Two crews of youth had been sent – one to build a ramp to a door to allow for greater access by one of the elderly members of the family who was finding it difficult to navigate the stairs, the other to replace the floor of the front porch which had become unsafe. One day, one of the members of the house became agitated because he was dissatisfied with the work the crew was doing. It was apparently quite an ugly confrontation. There was some of taking both crews off the site. Instead, they stayed, humbly redid their work, and by the end of the week the one who had been complaining was out working side-by-side with the youth to get the job done.
There was a third home where the homeowner worked the night shift. So she was accustomed to sleeping during the day. She stayed up the first day to meet the crew and soon decided she needed to be with them as much as possible. She missed a lot of sleep that week so she could spend time with the youth. She was getting so much more from them than just a new coat of paint on her house.
Finally, as a youth leader, I third restoration happening. Not only were homes restored and homeowners renewed, but something happened in the restorers as well. Last week we heard Cameron’s story of going from doubt to faith because of the sign of 10 airplanes flying by when he asked for one. That is just one of several I heard from our middle school and high school youth whose lives are being transformed through our week of service.
These are parables of what God is doing for us everyday. At the end of the flood story where Noah saves his family and animals through Ark, God promises, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). God promises to never again hit the reset button. God is not about destroying, or throwing away. The earth is not disposable to God. Like the American Pickers on a mission to recycle America, God is on a mission to restore the earth.
In broad strokes, this is the story of our faith. God originally created the world as good. Then sin enters, and the world is changed. It is broken and flawed. But God does not give up on us. God begins the restoration process with a man named Abram, who is later renamed Abraham. He blesses him with a family and tells him he is being blessed so he and his descendants may be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3). The rest of the Old Testament contains story after story of the people being blessed by God, then walking away from God, only to again be restored into a relationship with God.
Then we enter the Gospels, and Jesus comes on the scene, and we find him healing the sick, giving hope to the poor, feeding the hungry, and casting out demons. Jesus is continuing the work of his father – restoration. We are called to make everything new.
The story of the Bible begins in a garden paradise called Eden and we are promised in the last book of the Bible, ends in a city, Jerusalem new-created. Heaven and earth are new-created. And God comes to dwell fully with men and women. God has moved into the neighborhood.
This is our hope – the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world becoming one together. God’s restoration project complete.
The American Pickers call what they are looking for “rusty gold.” To the untrained eye, it looks like junk – a rusty motorcycle frame on one end of a barn; the motor in pieces on a table; the gearbox leaning against a wall; the handlebars hanging from the rafters. In that, they see beauty. They know when they take time to clean it up and put it all together, they will have something better, something renewed, something valuable.
One of the things I most love about our verse for today is the tense of the verb. Notice, Jesus does not say, “I have made everything new,” past tense as if it is already done. Nor does he say, “I will make everything new,” as if he is saying “good luck for now, but someday it will get better.” Instead he says, “I am making everything new,” present tense. I find great comfort in that.
I don’t know about you, but there are times when I think I must be quite a disappointment to Jesus. I see the mistakes I make over and over again. I see the places where I am not all he created me to be. I recognize I have been a Christian for more than 30 years, and still there are struggles, doubts, fears, sin. There are times when I know I should be more trusting of God to provide, and yet my worry keeps me up all night. There are times when I lose my focus on God, and make things all about me. There are times when I allow the stresses of the day to overshadow the hope I have. Some days, I can be really hard on myself about that.
I have this idea, and maybe you do too, that when I gave my life to Jesus I ought to be done. To put it plainly, I want my conversion to be like Paul’s. One day Paul was persecuting Christians. The next day he was knocked off his horse by a vision of Jesus. The next day he became “super Christian.” That’s my summary of how it looks. But I think Paul would even laugh at that. His letters in the New Testament point out his struggles from time to time.
I think also about the “testimonies” I heard in my youth that sounded like Paul experiences. “I was going in the wrong direction. Then I met Jesus and I started preaching, and I’ve never struggled again.” I admire those people, and I want that kind of experience, but that isn’t the way it has gone for me.
Years ago, at a seminar, I got this pin with a series of letters on it. It says, “P B P G I N F W M Y” It stands for “Please be patient. God is not finished with me yet.” Because in our lives, Jesus has not made us new; and it is not that he will make us new; but he is making us new. It is happening right now.
Next Sunday, Bob will start a new sermon series where he is going to talk about the church being called people of “the Way.” You see, being a Christian is not about a destination, a place we have arrived. It is about being in the Way, on the journey, being made new every day.
This is our call as the people of God – to participate in God’s restoration project of making everything new. Sharing the good news that God cares about us and is making us new – even in the midst of our suffering.
I see it on the mission trips where people’s lives are renewed and restored. I hear about it when the Prime Timers tell about bringing dinner to a women’s rehabilitation center where they heard stories about being healed from addictions to drugs and alcohol. I see it when I go to the Pikes Peak Workforce Center at Tri-Lakes Cares, and see people working to become employed. I see the pictures of it from the support we give to the Crawford House through the quilts and the clothing. I hear about it from the GriefShare group which is going to begin meeting again in a few weeks, helping people heal in the midst of grief after the loss of a spouse or someone else close to them. I bump into it at Serrano’s and Its a Grind when I see groups of you struggling together through difficult times, offering prayer and encouragement. When I go to visit someone in the hospital and hear you have already been there. Oh there is example after example of our work with God in God’s restoration project for the whole world.
Maybe we can rewrite the American Pickers description for us:
Christians are on a mission to recycle the world, even if it means diving into countless piles of grimy junk or getting chased off a gun-wielding homeowner’s land. Hitting back roads from coast to coast, these men and women follow Jesus by restoring people to their former glory, transforming brokenness into newness. American Pickers follows them as they scour the world for hidden gems in forgotten neighborhoods, hurting people, soup kitchens and unemployment lines, meeting quirky characters and hearing their amazing stories.
Look, says Jesus, I am making everything new. May we join him in that work.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version available online at http://bible.oremus.org.