Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 14, 2015

2015.06.14 “Join the New Creation!” – 2 Corinthians 5: 6 – 10, 14 – 17

Central United Methodist Church
Join the New Creation!
2 Corinthians 5: 6 – 10, 14 – 17
Pastor David L. Haley
June 7th, 2015

 NewCreation

“New!” “Improved!” We’ve seen it on thousands of products, but could it ever be true for us? Can we find a way – any way – to come up with new and improved versions of ourselves? Assuming we’re not completely satisfied with the old version, and who of us ever are?

Of course, there are plenty of suggested ways to do so, just check out the self-help aisle of any bookstore. Change your body, your mind, your hairstyle, your wardrobe. Have surgery or do meditation or join a group of some kind. But will that really make a new you, or just the same old you, made-over? Is this just wishful thinking?

It was during the 1952 election when Illinois’ own the late Adlai Stevenson was asked by a reporter what he thought of Norman Vincent Peale’s book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which some might see as a kind of wishful thinking. Stevenson responded, “Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”

Today we continue our reading of the 2nd Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, and the truth is – at the same time we find the Apostle Paul appealing and yet sometimes appalling. One moment Paul can be so human, confessing or boasting, as he is today in the first part of the text, defending himself and his credentials against his Corinthian detractors.

But in the next moment Paul can be inspired, as he is in the last part of the text, saying things Christians have cherished for two millennia, a wonderful example which we read today: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5: 17)

Wow, where did that come from, and what could Paul possibly mean? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a follower of Jesus for quite some time now, and I’m not feeling too new, nor is the world we live in looking anything like a “new creation.”  What could Paul mean, and what does it mean for us to participate in this “new creation,” that – according to Paul – was initiated in Christ?

Last week I introduced you to Paul, and how only a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, while on his way to persecute Christians, Paul encountered the Risen Christ. According to Acts 9: 3 – 6:

. . . as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

But wait: Why did Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.” Paul was not persecuting Jesus, but the followers of Jesus. Was it from this experience that Paul learned of the solidarity of Jesus with his people? Is this why – in Paul’ theology – to be “in Christ” is one of his most common phrases? It might be safely said – I think – that Paul is the first Christian mystic. For Paul, to be a follower of Christ is to be “in Christ,” even as Christ is also in us.

These are difficult concepts to understand, and it’s for this reason that I usually avoid Paul in my preaching, there’s just too much to explain. Usually, when we think of Jesus, we think of the historical Jesus, who said and did those things we read about in the Gospels. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus was the Christ, the Risen and Anointed One, with whom his followers had and still have a spiritual, mystical relationship, with whom we commune in worship, in the sacraments, and in prayer.

In our text today, Paul says several amazing things, all of which we could go on about, if we had the time. But I think the most amazing, astounding thing Paul has to say in today’s text is this:

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

What? A new creation; the old has passed away; everything has become new? If he were talking about baptism it might make sense, but for most of us baptism was long ago. Where’s the new creation? As I said at the outset, “I’m not feeling particularly “new” these days, nor seeing signs of a new creation, what about you?  What could Paul possibly mean?

Personally, I think the best modern interpretation of what Paul meant by “new creation” was given 60 years ago. It was given in a sermon preached by Paul Tillich, possibly the most important theologian of the 20th century, on the occasion of his retirement from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1955. At the beginning of his sermon, “The New Being,” Tillich went so far as to say this: “If I were asked to sum up the Christian message for our time in two words, I would say with Paul: It is the message of a “New Creation.”

Said Tillich:

“Christianity is the message of the New Creation, the New Being, the New Reality which has appeared with the appearance of Jesus who for this reason, and just for this reason, is called the Christ, the Messiah, the selected and anointed one is He who brings the new state of things.”

“We all live in the old state of things, and the question asked of us by our text is whether we also participate in the new state of things. We belong to the Old Creation, and the demand made upon us by Christianity is that we also participate in the New Creation. We have known ourselves in our old being, and we shall ask ourselves . . . whether we also have experienced something of the New Being in ourselves.“

“What is the New Being?’ asks Tillich? “The New Being is not something that simply takes the place of the Old Being. But it is a renewal of the Old which has been corrupted, distorted, split and almost destroyed. But not wholly destroyed. Salvation does not destroy creation; but it transforms the Old Creation into a New one. Therefore we can speak of the New in terms of renewal: the threefold “re,” namely, re-conciliation, re-union, and re-surrection.”

“Reconciliation, reunion, resurrection – this is the New Creation, the New Being, the New state of things. Do we participate in it? The message of Christianity is not Christianity, but a New Reality. A New state of things has appeared, it still appears; it is hidden and visible, it is there and it is here. Accept it, enter into it, let it grasp you.”

So the question for us posed for us is this: “Are we participating in the new creation inaugurated by Christ, or are we still mired down in the old creation? Are we practicing reconciliation, not only with God, but with others? Are we re-united with God, with ourselves, and others? Are we practicing resurrection, which is not a dying and rising into a life to come, but a day-by-day dying to our old life, and rising into our New Life, into the New Creation. It radically changes not only the way we look at ourselves, but the way we look at others, judging not from the outside, but the inside, seeing not what others see, but what God sees, in every human being for whom Christ died.  However, nobody – not even the Apostle Paul – said living this way would will be easy.  We are constantly pulled back into the old life.

Parker Palmer writes about faith and life, and how they intersect. In his book, The Active Life, Palmer give us an analogy of how hard it can be to change our ways, in an experience he had during an Outward Bound adventure.  Palmer says:

I took the course in my early 40s, and in the middle of that course I was asked to confront the thing I had fears about since I had first heard about Outward Bound: a gossamer strand was hooked to a harness around my body, I was backed up to the top of 110-foot cliff, and I was told to laying out over gods own emptiness and walk down the face of that cliff to the ground 11 stories below.

I remember the cliff all too well. It started with a five-foot drop to a small ledge, then a ten-foot drop to another ledge, then a third and final drop all the way down. I tried to negotiate the first drop; but my feet instantly went out from under me, and I fell heavily to the first ledge. “I don’t think you quite have it yet,” the instructor observed astutely. “You are leaning too close to the rock face. You need to lean much farther back so your feet will grip the wall.” That advice went against my every instinct. Surely one should hug the wall, not lean out over the void! But on the second drop I tried to lean back; better, but not quite far enough, and I hit the second ledge with a thud not unlike the first. “You still don’t have it,” said the ever observant instructor. “Try again.”

Since my first try would be the last one, her counsel was not especially comforting. But try I did, and much to my amazement I found myself moving slowly down the rock wall. Step-by-step I made my way with growing confidence until, about halfway down, I suddenly realized that I was heading toward a very large hole in the rock, and – not knowing anything better to do – I froze. The instructor waited a small eternity for me to thaw out, and when she realized that I was showing no signs of life she yelled up, “Is anything wrong, Parker?” as if she needed to ask. To this day I do not know the source of my childlike voice they came up from within me, but my response is a matter of public record. I said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

The instructor yelled back, “Then I think it’s time you learned the Outward Bound motto.” Wonderful, I thought. I am about to die, and she is feeding me a pithy saying. But then she spoke words I have never forgotten, words so true that they empowered me to negotiate the rest of that cliff without incident: ”If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” Bone deep I knew there was no way out of this situation except to go deeper into it, and with that knowledge my feet began to move. (Parker Palmer, The Active Life, pp. 32-33, quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year B. Volume 3, pp. 137-139)

Brothers and sisters, if we can’t get out of the old life – and we certainly can’t do it by ourselves – by the grace of God, let’s get into the new life. Let’s rejoice in God’s New Creation, inaugurated in Christ. There everything old passes away, and everything becomes new! Only there shall we find our new, improved self, the person God wants us to be.  Amen.

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