Many of us make resolutions at the start of a new year, so let me propose three that move beyond goals typically found on such lists.

1. Let us resolve to acknowledge our true place in the universe.

“Oh” was all my son could say when he saw the majesty of the Sierra Nevada mountains on a family trip several years ago. Looking at the night sky evoked a similar sense of awe and wonder in the writer of Psalm 8, inspiring them to write in praise to God.

German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher rightly observed that all religious experience begins with the realization that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves and that we don’t have to be here.

Such realizations can evoke a sense of wonder and awe at how our lives are graced and gifted. We begin to realize that we are part of an intricate, sometimes frustrating but also dazzling cosmic puzzle.

So, let us resolve in this new year to expose ourselves afresh to the beauty of the earth and the glory of the skies, that we might be awed and praise God anew for the giftedness of our lives and so better understand our place in God’s universe.

2. Let us resolve to trust God for our future.

My theology professor in seminary cautioned us about making too much of the book of Revelation when thinking about end times. He said, “We’re not desperate enough to understand it.”

I think he’s right. Revelation is not really about when Jesus is going to return and give people what we think they deserve. It is a call to trust.

We don’t know much about the situation that provoked the author to write Revelation, but times were bleak. Christians were being persecuted, maybe by the Roman government or some faction of it. Some Christians had been killed.

The readers of Revelation needed to know that their present was not all that God had for them. So, the author encouraged them by writing of visions, monsters, cosmic battles, judgment and of a remade heaven and earth. These are literary devices, not pre-written history.

Revelation 21:1-6a is part of the final vision in the book — a vision of a renewed heaven and earth, the kind of universe God wants.

In that remade universe, there is no sea (an ancient symbol of chaos) and everything works in harmony. There is no death, no pain, no suffering, and we experience God’s presence all the time.

The author gives readers one final reason to trust that God will do this: the God who says, “I am making all things new” is the true sovereign.

Maybe we can relate a little bit to the readers of Revelation given after all that we have endured the last couple of years. We need to hear that God is not taking us back to the past, or condemning us to an eternal present, but instead is remaking our world into something better.

So, let us resolve in this new year to help one another trust in the God who is making all things new.

3. Let us resolve to discern where God is at work.

One of my assignments in preaching class in seminary was to pick a parable to preach on. My best friend chose Matthew 25:31-46 and did a really good job.

After a long silence, our professor said, “No one should preach on this parable until they are old and experienced.” You could sense the air being sucked out of the room.

To be fair, the professor was worried that the parable raises a lot of questions that could cause problems for one’s ministry.

Are we saved by works and not faith? Who is being judged — the nations or individual persons?

Who are the least of these that are shown hospitality — Christians or people who are really poor and vulnerable?

Why is everyone, both those who get in and those who are cast out, surprised?

These are troubling questions that the parable raises when we read it closely. It is good to be troubled and frustrated, for that is exactly what parables are meant to do. Parables are riddles that force us to think in new ways.

So, what if the parable is trying to show us that God may be at work outside the bounds of those who see themselves as insiders? What if God is at work outside the bounds of the institutional church?

Yes, the church is God’s instrument of working in the world, but we have too often limited “the church” to the visible institution with its buildings, committees, classes and programs.  While these are not bad things, many who no longer attend church find God elsewhere than the institution.

One preacher’s kid — of all people — says: “My experience is God is not in many churches right now. I find God much more accessible in the community square. … What we need to do is be converted … to those who are doing the work of God whether they call it that or not.”

This is not a new sentiment. In the 1960s, Baptist theologian Harvey Cox observed in his book God’s Revolution and Man’s Responsibility that Major League Baseball integrated before the church and asked what was wrong with that.

Cox contended that churches needed to catch up with what God was doing or risk being left behind. This parable invites us to rethink who, where and what counts as servants of and service to God.

So, let us resolve, in this new year, to discern where and how God wants us to serve, as individuals and as a community of faith.

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