Beholding the New Creation

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Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
May 10, 2009
Available online at:
http://www.mpbconline.org/sermon.php?sermon=2009-05-10
Text: II Corinthians 5:13-20

Thirty-five years later, I can hear the voice of Paul Lehmann in a classroom at Union Seminary reading these words of Paul and speaking about his friend, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life opposing Hitler and helping Jews escape from Germany:

For the love of Christ controls us, lays claim to us, compels us, grasps us at our deepest being.  This is the heart of Christianity for Paul: the love of Christ permeating and shaping our lives, sweeping through us as breath carrying oxygen to every cell in the body.

Paul’s words in this passage are more than prose; they are incantation.

For the love of Christ controls us
because we are convinced that one has died for all
therefore all have died.*

For Paul the cross was a cosmic event.  It was not just the crucifixion of Christ; it was also the crucifixion of the world.  The world as we knew it died that day.  And the resurrection of Christ three days later was the resurrection of the world, the dawning of what Paul called the New Creation.

For the love of Christ controls us
because we are convinced that one has died for all
therefore all have died.
And he died for all,
that those who live might live no longer for themselves
but for him who their sake died and was raised.

We no longer live self-enclosed lives but for Christ, and the great work of God in Christ.  What is this “great work”?  We will get there.

From now on, therefore
we regard no one from a human point of view
even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view
we regard him thus no longer.

How can we let go of the human standards which we use to diminish one another?  Our judgments which whittle people down to the smallest, meanest parts of ourselves: by size, color, dress, accent, education, theology, gender, income, politics.  Look how much weight she’s gained!  He didn’t finish college, you know.  Look at her clothes!  He doesn’t believe that childish stuff, does he?  She voted for Bush?!  Bless her heart.  Look who’s seated near me today; I hope we don’t pass the peace.  A character in a Buechner novel prays: “Forgive us every face we cannot look upon with joy.”  It sneaks upon us.  We think we’re free of our human judgments, then bam!  The judgments return.

But look at who we really are?  Children of God!  Every one of us one for whom Christ died, God giving God’s life for us.  Our judgments of others carve us up inside.  Every true welcome makes us more whole.

So Paul writes:
From now on, therefore
we regard no one from a human point of view
even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view
we regard him thus no longer.

We did it to Jesus too, cutting him down to our size rather than letting ourselves grow to his size.  How did we categorize him, regard him from a human point of view?  Some gossiped about his uncertain parentage….  “From Nazareth?  What good can come from Nazareth?”  Some said he was a prophet, messiah, John the Baptist re-headed and come back to life — that’s a scary thought.  Some called him a magician, the devil’s surrogate….  Single; can’t trust that!…  Celibate; that’s weird….  Loves Samaritans; must have Samaritan blood in his veins.  Some said he was mentally ill.  Out of his mind.  The “quest for the historical Jesus” can sometimes open a window onto who he was; other times it’s an exercise in projection, whittling him down to our size.  Just another way of regarding him from a human point of view.  Paul is interested in the more-than-historical Jesus.

For the love of Christ controls us
because we are convinced that one has died for all
therefore all have died.
And he died for all,
that those who live might live no longer for themselves
but for him who their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore
we regard no one from a human point of view
even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view
we regard him thus no longer.

And now we come to the great work of God in Christ:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ
there is a New Creation;
the old has passed away;
behold everything has become new.

The old translations focused on the individual dimension: If anyone is in Christ, he, she is a “new creature.”  We use that translation in our church covenant: “We are discovering in this experience,” we say, that is, in the experience of the love of God in Christ and in community, “our freedom to become new creatures.”

But in fact the phrase is much bigger than personal transformation, as important as this is; it is the transformation of the world!  If anyone is in Christ, there is a New Creation.  The gospel is about personal transformation, but personal transformation within something greater, the transformation of the world from old creation to New Creation.  Jesus called it the Reign of God.

So in 2001 we took advantage of this broader meaning of the phrase new creation, not just new creature, and we added this sentence to the church covenant:

We covenant to be a community of God’s new creation and affirm that we are open to all and closed to none.

Our openness is not based on some notion of liberal tolerance, but on the basis of God’s New Creation which is overcoming the divisions, bigotries, hatreds and fears of the old creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ
there is a New Creation;
the old has passed away;
behold everything has become new.
And what is the shape, the essence of this New Creation?

All this is from God, who through Christ
reconciled us to God’s own self
and gave us the ministry [diakonia] of reconciliation.

Reconciliation!  That word is in our church covenant too!
We covenant together to nurture this church as a community of faith and as an instrument of reconciliation in the world.

Yes, this is our ministry, our diakonia, our service, our servantly calling: Reconciliation!
Reconciliation!  This is the great work of God in Christ.  It is the eternal longing of God — at-one-ness with God, self, and neighbor.

The first reconciliation is with God our Maker, Lover, Healer, Friend, before and after everything else, the Beloved.

What then, why then, is the estrangement we feel, this dislocation, this lostness, this orphaned existence?  Whatever and whyever it is, God has done and is doing everything from God’s side to heal the breach, to bring us home.

All this is from God who through Christ
reconciled us to God’s own self
and gave us the ministry [diakonia] of reconciliation.
That is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God’s own self,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting to us the message [logos, the divine word] of reconciliation.
For Paul the trespass issue was big.  It dominated his guilt-haunted conscience.  So for him what God did was to cast away all trespasses, wipe that slate clean.  They no longer mattered.  The new had come.

You can relate: the trespasses you hold against others; the ones others hold against you; the ones you still hold against yourself.  They are there and they bind you.  For Paul the grace of God had swept them all away.

Trespasses may not be what separate you from God.  You are an injured self, whose wounds isolate you.  A dissolved self, or anxious self, or orphaned self, cast adrift from the Ground of your Being, from the God who loves you and dwells in you.  You’ve been sold a picture of God who terrifies you, a God distant and judging and ready to punish.  But, one has said, Jesus is the answer to God’s bad reputation.

Whatever the cause of separation, God has crossed the bridge and come to meet you.
That is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God’s own self,
not counting their trespasses against them, [their “anything” against them]
and entrusting to us the message [logos] of reconciliation.

This is God’s great work, and now ours.

So we are ambassadors of Christ
God making God’s appeal through us.

Then the final imperative:

We beseech you
on behalf of Christ:
be reconciled to God.
Kalallagate
Be ye reconciled.

Let what God has done be.  Let it be.

But here is the hitch.  It is not as easy as saying it or hearing it.  Life’s longest journey is the fourteen inches from head to heart.

We must confess, I must confess.  Sometimes the New Creation is ravishingly present, others time desolatingly far away.  There are places and there are days the old creation holds sway, and the New Creation seems a cruel dream.

But we cannot open ourselves to the New Creation unless we acknowledge its absence, in self and in the world.  If it were always, everywhere, present why would Jesus have taught us to pray everyday: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven?”  We do not pray for what we have.  We are every day “praying in” the New Creation.

Wordsworth makes our confession:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!1

But our life in Christ is not just confession of what is not; it is also witness, joyful, exuberant, grateful witness to where we have seen and felt and experienced the New Creation, in ourselves and in the world.  Paul Tillich puts it as well as I can imagine, with modest, truthful words:

We want only to show you something we have seen and to tell you something we have heard: that in the midst of the old creation there is a New Creation and that this New Creation is manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ….  We want only to communicate to you an experience we have had that here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves is a New Creation….2

Yes, that’s it: here and there in the world, now and then in ourselves, the New Creation.

What if, what if, we created a new culture of witness — I think we already have a culture of confession, of acknowledgment of where the New Creation is not.  What if we created  — a new culture of testimony where we would share with one another the here and there in the world and the now and then in ourselves where New Creation has happened?!  Where we have seen and experienced it.

I think we would surprise ourselves how much “here and there” and “now and then” we had experienced.  And I think through testimony we would be opening our lives and our eyes to even more.

A peony in bloom; a Berlin wall toppling; a forgiveness given or finally received; a community bold to say and to try to embody: “open to all and closed to none.”  Here and there in the world, now and then in ourselves.  The hand of a child resting in the hand of her mother; our mother as our first church.  The last three minutes of Stravinski’sFirebird; the sight of the eyes of a friend as joyous to see you as you are to see them.  The moments when tears come unbidden and you feel part of life, part of God.

The stories would tumble over themselves, our witness would multiply and the New Creation’s here and there and now and then would grow closer and closer.

For the love of Christ controls us
because we are convinced that one has died for all
therefore all have died.
And he died for all,
that those who live might live no longer for themselves
but for him who their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore
we regard no one from a human point of view
even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view
we regard him thus no longer.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ
there is a New Creation;
the old has passed away;
behold everything has become new.

All this is from God who through Christ
reconciled us to God’s own self
and gave us the ministry [diakonia] of reconciliation.
That is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God’s own self,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting to us the message [logos] of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors of Christ
God making God’s appeal through us.
We beseech you
on behalf of Christ:
be reconciled to God.
Katallagate
Be ye reconciled.
The Word of the Lord
Amen.


*In the delivery of the sermon all italicized passages were chanted.
1William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much with Us,” line 1.
2Paul Tillich, The New Being (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), p. 18.

This sermon is part of a new series compiled by the NC Council of Churches in conjunction with our lectionary-based worship resource Acts of Faith.  We believe that issues of peace and justice can be expressed in the worship life of congregations, and we remain committed to providing accessible and relevant resources to make this a reality.  This sermon was used with the permission of the author, and the views expressed in it are solely the author’s. Please contact us if you are interested in submitting one of your sermons for consideration.

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Chris Liu-Beers, Former Program Associate Chris Liu-Beers, Former Program Associate

Chris worked on immigrant rights, farmworker justice, sustainability, worship resources, and the Council's website. He left the Council in 2014 to run Tomatillo Design, a company that builds affordable websites for nonprofits.

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