a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 for the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, RCL Year B
preached on June 17, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
I’ve been thinking back a lot recently. Between all the moving and cleaning out going on here at the church and at the manse, I’ve seen a lot of things that bring back wonderful memories! It’s been almost seven years since I began serving as your pastor, and somehow it feels both like I’ve been here forever and like I just arrived yesterday! In my cleanings, I came upon a cassette tape from a worship service on a warm August afternoon in Oxford, Mississippi, back in August 2005, when St. Andrew Presbytery ordained me to this ministry. I didn’t get a chance to listen to the tape, but my memory could hear many things, especially the joyous anthem offered by the choir. They sang a musical setting of this very text that they had sung many times before, and its melody and message echoes in my memory even today:
Therefore if we are in Christ, we become a new creation;
behold, the old has passed away; with the new comes celebration.
We are ambassadors, ministers for Christ:
come join the celebration!
All of this is from our God, who unites this congregation.
Much of my love for that song comes from my love of this text from 2 Corinthians that we read this morning and especially the idea of the new creation that it brings to mind. Here as Paul looks back on his relationship with the church in Corinth and his own pilgrimage of faith, he gives us both a central claim of our faith and a great promise of something new. First, he emphasizes once again the importance of the past event of Christ’s death in giving us life:
The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
In Christ, we share the full benefits of his death, but not just for that reason: in his death, we also gain the promise of new life. Because of all this, everything changes. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we have to look at everything differently. Because all share this incredible gift of new life, we can’t look at people the same way that we used to. Because we once knew Christ from a human perspective but now see him so differently, we have to look at everyone with those new eyes. In looking back, we must look forward differently.
This new way of looking ahead culminates in what Paul calls the new creation.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation;
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!
The new creation is the pinnacle of Paul’s theological understanding. We hear it week after week in the promise of the assurance of pardon – “anyone who is in Christ is a new creation: the old life is gone, a new life has begun” – as a reminder of the abundant grace of God that changes everything and reshapes even our greatest sin. We get a first glimpse of it as God takes the very dead Jesus of Good Friday and breathes a new and different kind of life into him on Easter Sunday. And we see it taking full shape and form day after day as our world is transformed into something new and different and wonderful by God’s power at work in our world.
This new creation is the ultimate goal and end of our life and our faith. We are not seeking that popular image of heaven guarded by St. Peter waiting at some pearly gates. We do not walk through our days looking for some sort of golden paradise to enjoy for all eternity. We do not await the transformation of all things into something that ends up being joyful for only some of us. Instead of journeying toward any popular image of heaven, Paul says that we instead seek this new creation, a different way of life where all know the fullness of God’s love, justice, and peace, a transformed world marked not just by perfection but even more by wholeness and peace, a new way opened by the death of no less than Christ himself so that life can prevail for all. Ultimately, in the new creation, we are freed from where and what we have been so that we can be the people God calls us to be in the days ahead.
The idea of the new creation is incredibly radical. It challenges so much that we have told ourselves about this world and the next. The new creation insists that we don’t have the last word and that God can and will and is doing more than we can ever imagine or dream to transform all things. The new creation suggests that the things that are ahead will not just be a more perfect version of the way things are now or the way we remember things being in the past, but the future new creation will instead bring the full transformation of things into God’s greatest and most perfect intentions for all creation. And the new creation reminds us that ultimately God is the author and director of what is ahead, and that we are invited and encouraged to be a part of it. Because of what God has done, we look back differently – and we look forward differently, expecting a new way to emerge in and through and because of Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is a tremendous gift and a tremendous challenge. It’s great to be able to look back differently, and it is even better to have a different way of looking forward as we seek to join in the work of the new creation. But, since the new creation isn’t clearly among us yet, and since it looks so different from what we so often expect, this isn’t always very easy. In fact, in its final verse, our last hymn probably expresses my greatest feeling about the new creation, for we are waiting for God to finish this new creation in us and through us and around us, and so often there is just not much we can do to make it happen ourselves. But if we just sit idly by, waiting for someone else – even God! – to do it for us, we will miss out, for at its core the new creation is something that we must claim as our own. We can’t just look for others to do it in spite of us or wait for God to make it happen – we have a role and a responsibility to step up and embody this new way in our world.
This is not easy to do. We have to set aside the ways of this world, the ways of death that insist that life as we know it is enough, the ways of human thinking that suggest that some rightfully have more power and presence than others, the ways of uncertainty that keep us caught up in the way things have always been rather than being open to something new. We have to open ourselves to thinking differently about things, not just assuming that everything can be like it once was or that the way we have always done something is the best way for it to be done. And in the midst of it all we have to battle through our fears, our hurts, and our anxieties, trusting that God will remain present with us even when things are changing faster than we could ever imagine and praying that God will ease our fears so that we can be a full and willing part of these new things that are emerging in our world.
So amidst all that thinking back I’ve been doing lately, my vision of it all has changed a bit. I’ve seen God’s presence clearly in all of it, as things have come together in unexpected and wonderful ways, as God has clearly been walking with me every step of the way, and as God has eased my fears and given me hope that there is something new ahead. And I’ve also seen little glimpses of that new creation, too, small places where new things are creeping in through the cobwebs, brief glimpses of new light emerging amidst the darkness of our world, and even some bigger moments when all the new things that God is doing become clear.
In these days, as we look back a bit and look ahead all the more, may we see the journey with new eyes, with a strong sense of God’s presence going with us on the journey and a clear vision of how we can be a part of God’s new creation so that we can be a part of the renewal of all things by the power of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.