A few weeks ago, I mentioned in the sermon one of my mother’s favorite movies, “The Quiet Man,” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, in which the main character, Sean Thornton, was caught in a no-win situation, having to choose between fighting for his wife’s dowry and keeping his vow to never fight again. While he made the right choice – fighting for his wife’s love – the story has a tragic sense simply because Sean moved to Ireland to get away from fighting. He quit boxing because he regretted unintentionally killing another man simply to win some money; he left America to get away from notoriety and personal shame. Sean was looking for a fresh start; so he returned to his ancestral home, which, as he said in the movie, had become another name for heaven for him.
Looking for a fresh start, going home to “heaven,” Sean shows us a common desire among people and hints at where we can find it. There are many people who are looking for a fresh start in life, whether to get away from a past full of guilt and regret or to break cycles of attitudes, decisions, and behaviors that have caused harm in one’s own life or for others. The problem for people who are looking to start over or to remake themselves is that whatever it is “I” might do or wherever “I” might go to get a fresh start on life, “I” am still “me.” No matter how much we want to change, no matter what kind of effort we exert, we still have our memories, habits, and inclinations that either keep reminding us of who we were or keep tempting us to go back.
So, like Sean, we look to find a fresh start in “heaven,” a perfect place where we can find our perfect self, a place that is far removed from the pain of the past and the problems of the present. However, heaven isn’t merely an escape; it’s not simply a destination. Heaven is the dwelling place of God where God makes everything new, as John described in Revelation 21:3-5:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
It’s no wonder that we might look to heaven for a fresh start, since God promises not only to deal with the pain and suffering of the past but to eliminate it and make something new.
Unfortunately, most people look to heaven and that new beginning as a final destination and not something that we can experience in the here and now; however, there’s Good News! While John also describes the creation of a new heaven and new earth as part of God’s plan, Paul tells us that this new creation begins in us when we put our faith in Jesus, writing in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Very simply, new life in Jesus is a fresh start.
Better than the fresh start we’re looking for, it’s the fresh start we need. We’ve seen this illustrated over and over as we’ve been following John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry. With every miraculous sign, Jesus demonstrates that he has the power, authority, and purpose to give us a fresh start through the new life he came to bring. With each physical healing, Jesus points to a fresh start, as he did with the lame man in John 5:14 when he said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” With each demonstration of God’s grace and forgiveness, Jesus offers a fresh start, as he did with the woman who was caught in adultery, saying in John 8:11, “Neither do I condemn you…. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
As much as the people around us want and need a fresh start, may we who have received new life from Jesus show not only that we have it but also how they might receive it. Let us live as new creations – thinking, speaking, acting as people who have been transformed because we live by faith in God’s presence – both in the here and now and into eternity in heaven.