A new creation

1 Corinthians 5:1, 6-17
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost - June 17, 2018
First Reformed Church, Secaucus, NJ

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See! Everything has become new.

Sometimes the proclamation rushes on ahead of us. For those of us getting deeper into the aging process, we may not be so eager to see everything old pass away. And we know in our bones that not everything has become new. In fact, we look around us and see some of the same old, same old. Politics in Hudson County and the nation have not been transformed. Most of us have not made dramatic changes for the good in the past days and months.

Perhaps you have been as shocked and distressed, and saddened and angered as I have been at the news of recent weeks, Perhaps you have seen the picture of the two year old girl at the border, and know that thousands of children and their parents have been separated as both children and adults are placed into detention.

It's easy to look around and see all the ways in which the world is not right. Sometimes with scripture when we hear this dramatic statement, “In Christ there is a new creation,” we do well do go back and think through how it is that we got to this place, where everything has become new. Because in front of us, in our faces, in our own experience, everything is not quite new yet.

The Apostle Paul is the one writing this letter, to the Church in Corinth. It happens late in his ministry and late in his life, not too long before he will be put to death by the old creation. Paul, you may remember, was a Pharisee, he was super-religious, he tried his best to do all the right things, he tried to observe the law to the best of his ability, he struggled to keep himself and his faith pure.

And when he found things which ran counter to his understanding, well, frankly, he did wrong. He was a moralist, and he believed that wrong should be eradicated. So he encouraged others to persecute the followers of Jesus. He supported them, he organized them, he went on missions to ensure that those people were put in their place, whether it was brought back into the fold of the Temple, kicked out, or put to death.

And then something happened. Paul had his eyes opened to a new world, a new creation, a new vision of what God is doing in the world. It took him a while to see this through, we hear about his moment on the road to Damascus, but we then hear nothing about him for years, while he went to be discipled into this new faith as a follower of Jesus. He went through a learning process of adjusting his perception and adjusting his belief to fit this new reality of a God who reached into his life and said “Paul, things are different from what you saw, things are different from what you believed. I am up to something new in the world, and I want you to be a part of it.

In this letter, this letter to the Corinthians, this church which is torn by division and disagreement and which is not doing things the way he liked them. Paul, the old Paul, would be inclined to wade in there with a sword, and marshal his soldiers and smite the wrongdoers, and so recall people to the Right Way, the way that he knew. The way that he’d been taught, the way he believed in, the way things just had to be.

But Paul has come to know that God has an entirely different plan for transforming the world. This particular passage, and I borrowed a few verses from before the reading, which you probably heard last week, say so many things that open us up to a bigger reality than we are inclined to see right in front of us.

"We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made by human hands, eternal in the heavens." Now, I bet you love this church. I bet you love this building. It has been important to you in your faith. It is the place where you come every Sunday, and other days, to learn about God, to worship God, to serve God and neighbor, to get deeper into God's Word and God's mission for you in the world.

But you know this building is not perfect. This building... I see that expression, Lorna. That's the look of someone who's had to fix the plumbing, or get bids for a new roof. You may love your home, but you know it too is not perfect. The rent is too high, the stairs are creaky, the heating system is old and in need of replacement. However loving and good it is, your home will not stand forever. It was not there at the beginning, and sooner or later it will go away in favor of something else.

But we know that God is a better architect, and a better builder, than we can hire for ourselves. In our Father's house, there are many mansions, many rooms, there is always enough in our Father's kingdom.

I talked about this earthly tent that we live in... So, also today we are celebrating Father's Day. God, ordained fatherhood. In the beginning. None of us would be here if it were not for fathers and mothers. I hope that your father was a loving father. Mine was, but like my home and my church, he wasn't perfect. He worked hard, he cared about his family, he loved his wife, he loved his kids, in fact he loved us so much, that he and my mom went out and adopted me and my sisters. he and my mother had a vision of their vocation in life that involved nurturing children. And they didn't discover it accidentally.

But - surprise! - my father was not perfect. He could be gruff and uncommunicative. His hard work was often overwork. And for all the time he spent in our church, some of it was devoted to complaining about others and how they couldn't see things the right way - his way.

But God saw him through to the end. And when he died he was fortunate enough to be with his loving family, and with the sacraments of the church. Communion was brought to him in the hospital, he took it and died, secure in God's grace, his goodness and faults all redeemed. Where we all hope to be.

Down in Brownsville, Texas, you probably saw this on the news, too... There's a Walmart that went out of business and is being used as a detention center for migrant and refugee boys. And God help us, on the front of the building there is a stylized image of a sun, it might be rising, it might be setting, and the name of the facility. Casa Padre. Father's House.

When we see what is wrong in front of our eyes, we need the eyes of God to know when the world is trying to pervert us, and have us turn away, or call good, or rationalize away what is purely wrong. Whether it is wrong in our sight or in God's, we'll find out soon enough. But when we see a wrong, we are not called to stand by.

We're not necessarily called to go to war, either. We're called to stand with those who are oppressed. I hadn't noticed this before, but it struck me while we were reading the scripture today. "if we are beside ourselves, it is for God..." If we're doing things that look a little crazy, it might be because we're crazy, but it just might be that we look crazy to the world who does not know the God that we know. "And if we are in our right mind, it is for you" (2 Cor 5:13).

It is for you. When we are out of ourselves, and with another, especially those who are suffering, especially those who are oppressed, especially those who are in danger,... it is for God, and we are in our right minds when we are standing in that kind of a place.

"We walk by faith, and not by sight." I remember like it was today the first moment I really heard those words. It was September 11th, 2001. I was in New York. I was preparing to go to my first day of classes that year. One of the planes flew right overhead. I heard it just as I was waking up. Then I heard the news. The seminary class, those who were there, gathered in the chapel for prayer and scripture reading, and to somehow grapple with what the world had brought to us.

And I heard these words. "We walk by faith, and not by sight." If we pay too much attention to what's going on in front of us, sometimes the vision is horrible, sometimes we can be deceived, but if we walk with the eyes of faith, we are never going to be deceived. We might be on a difficult road, we might stumble, we might not see the rocks in our path, But when we walk by faith, we are walking the road that God would have us walk. Even our missteps, then, fit into God's plan.

"For the love of Christ urges us on." I know a woman who is blind. She lost her sight shortly after her 50th birthday, on the when her son was getting married. She'd finished a lot of the cooking, and then she went to rest, and when she work up... no sight. There's a medical reason, there was diabetes, she knew it could happen, but that was 14 years ago. And not a Sunday goes by when she doesn't raise her hands to the Lord, and say, "God is so good to me. "

God is so good to me. She misses her sight. It makes her life more difficult. But you should see her walk by faith. You should see her walk, sometimes with the help of someone guiding her arm, sometimes with her cane, sometimes reaching out for the stair railing...

But she walks. She walks because God has given her the vision she needs, not to see with her eyes, but to see with God's eyes, with God's vision, with God's hope, and with God's love.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away. See! Everything has become new. Because for a long time now God has known what kind of trouble we get into, and God loves us so much that God came to be with us, to suffer with us, to live and die with us, and rise us up, beyond our troubles, beyond our sin, beyond our disagreements, beyond the evil which we do or which is done to us, because our God is a God of hope, a God of redemption, a God always - as we remember every single Sunday and hopefully every single day - a God of new life.

Images:
Two year old Honduran girl at border.
taniadimas, Trip, Sand, Desert, CC0 Creative Commons.
Casa Padre.
Rod Waddington, ld and Blind, Dassanech, Ethiopia, (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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