"A NEW CREATION"

II CORINTHIANS 5:16-21

JANUARY 6, 2013

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            In the early days of cell phones, before everyone seemed to have one, a television commercial began with a stirring question: "Wouldn't you love an exciting new career that could change your whole life?"  According to the commercial, all you needed to have a totally "new" and "exciting" life was to launch a career selling pre-paid telephone cards.  The commercial made it clear that this career opportunity requires no direct sales on your part.  You can be the wholesale distributor in your area!

            Now many of us enjoy talking on the telephone.   And many of us have family and close friends living far enough away that we frequently call long distance to keep in touch.  So prior to the proliferation of cells phones, having a pre-paid card for phone calls was quite handy.  Still, we have serious doubts about the totally fulfilling and life-changing affects of selling prepaid phone cards, whether at the wholesale or retail level.  But there is something that we can do to change our lives and the lives of others in a dramatic way!  The Apostle Paul talks about that in our passage for today.  Please turn to  II Corinthians 5:16-21 in your bible and follow along as I read.

 

            From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

            We begin the new year with a new sermon series.  I'm calling it "What's New?" based on passages in the bible that refer to different things in and around us being "new" because God has gotten ahold of us.  Today we begin with our being a "new creation," and as we reflect upon our being a "new creation," I want to highlight three things in our passage for this morning. 

            First of all, I want us to note the Apostle Paul's signature phrase.  He uses it in verse 17.  It's the phrase "in Christ" and if you have spent any time at all with the Apostle Paul on vacation or at Starbuck's or at home, the phrase sounds very familiar to you, but nevertheless let's take a moment to understand what it means. 

            Every person has some favorite phrase he or she uses very frequently.   For the church lady on Saturday night live it was "Isn't that special?"  For Billy Crystal it was "You look marvelous!"  For Gomer Pyle it was "Shazam."  For Mr. T it was "I pity the fool."  For Mr. Whipple it was "Please don't squeeze the Charmin."  For me, I often use the term "coola moola."  I use it to express delight.  I borrowed it from one of Trudy's good friends, Diane, and I now use it more than her friend does. 

            The Apostle Paul's phrase was more theological.  He would say in Greek "en Christo" or in English "in Christ."  These two words, or a slight variation of these two words such as "in him," occur 165 times in the letters of Paul.  165 times.  Given the frequency of how often those two words appear in Paul's writings, he used those two words more frequently than I use my two words, "coola moola."

            But what does it mean to be "in Christ?"  Most simply it means, being a Christian, but it means more than that.  Think of it this way:  just as fish live and survive in water, we as Christians live and survive in Christ.  Christ is the atmosphere that surrounds us. 

            The June 5, 2000, issue of Time magazine had two seemingly unrelated articles about teenagers.  One had to do with a new illegal drug at the time, ecstasy.  Teenage and twenty-somethings quoted in the article claimed that ecstasy made them more joyful, peaceful, empathic and understanding, as well as more open and honest with others.  Unfortunately, once the high is over, all those "benefits" go away too.

            The other article was about another trend: religious revivals.  The article focused on a Christian revival that struck a particular high school in Mississippi.  Participants reported an outbreak of joy, peace and understanding among the students, in other words many of the same benefits attested to in the ecstasy article.  Only, these benefits didn't go away hours after the revival, instead they were expected to continue and increase and spread to others long after the event ended.  Why?  Because Christ became the air they breathed rather than the drug they took.

            Second, note Paul's reference to our being a new creation.

            Twelve years ago Mel Gibson appeared in the comedy What Women Want.  He played an advertising executive  in Chicago.  His life dramatically changed when he was jolted by electricity and developed the ability to read women's minds.  This ability, to read women's minds, enabled him to advance his career by developing ads for products that women want.

            The Apostle Paul says we have been struck by a power greater than electricity.  He says we have been struck by the very power and presence of Jesus Christ which should lead to a different point of view, a different view of ourselves and a different view of others. 

            Let me offer a little context here.  If there were ever a church I wouldn't want to pastor, it would have been First Church Corinth.  It was Paul's largest church in terms of numbers, but also his most contentious flock.  They argued over preachers and sermons.  They sat at church potlucks according to economic status.  They were convinced that some members were more important and had more to contribute than other members.  In other words, they had a "worldly point of view" when it came to church life.  So Paul, in our passage for today, appeals to them to adopt a different point of view.  He reminds them that they don't have to be always keeping score. They no longer need to tear up their congregation with one back room deal, one secret meeting, one slanderous conversation after another.  All of that is no longer necessary because they are a new creation!  He says, "everything old has passed away."

            Most of us want to believe that about ourselves, but we don't.  We don't always see ourselves or think of ourselves as a new creation.  We see ourselves as pretty much the same old mess.  We make new year's resolutions to try to improve, but we know we won't keep most or any of them.  But ... but ... that is the wrong point of view.  We need to adopt another point of view, Paul's point of view, which is really God's point of view when God thinks of us.

            You see, God thinks of us very, very highly.  I'm reminded of the auctioneer holding up an old violin, battered and scarred.  He looks at it wondering why anyone would ever think that it was worth his while.  But he holds it up anyway and asks the crowd, "Who will start the bidding?  How about a dollar?  Anyone a dollar? How about two dollars?  Only two dollars?  Two dollars?  Will anyone make it three? Three dollars anyone? ... Three dollars once, three dollars twice ..."

            Suddenly he is interrupted by a voice from the back of the room.  A gray-haired man comes forward and picks up the bow of the old violin and wipes off the dust.  He tightens the strings and then plays a melody so pure and so sweet on that old violin that it sounds as sweet as a song the angels of heaven might sing.

            When the gray-haired man finishes playing, the auctioneer continues with a voice that is quiet and low.  He says again, "Who will start the bidding for the old violin?"  He holds it up high with the bow and cries, "A thousand dollars?  Do I hear a thousand dollars?  Who will make it two?  I hear two thousand dollars.  Who will make it three?  Do I hear three thousand dollars?  Three thousand once.  Three thousand twice.  Going and going and ... gone!"

            The people cheer!  The crowd is exuberant!  But one of them asks, "I do not quite understand - what changed its worth?"

            Swiftly came the reply, "The touch of a master's hand."

            We have been touched by the hand of Christ.  We may feel like a battered and scarred violin, but we are no longer.  We need another point of view.  We need God's point of view.  We are a new creation.

            One more thing I want us to note.  Given the fact that God has touched us and turned us into something new and valuable, note how God then calls us to a ministry of reconciliation.  Note verse 18, "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation."

            Now, the word "reconcile" has a number of meanings!  For instance it has a financial meaning.  That is to say, we reconcile our bank statement.  When it comes to bank accounts, we check for mistakes monthly,  and we correct them and we come up with an accurate balance which reflects the actual state of our funds.

            We also use the word "reconcile" to indicate a process of repairing broken relationships between two or more people, or between a person and God.  For instance, whenever a couple who was separated or divorced decides to go back together, we say they have "reconciled."  Actually, repairing a relationship isn't all that different from balancing our checkbook!  When we repair a broken relationship, we have identified a problem or mistake, we have made an effort to correct it, and we have achieved a new balance which allows us to reestablish that relationship.

            Before his death, former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey wanted to reconcile with his political adversary, Richard Nixon.  The shame of Watergate was still fresh in the public's mind, and few people wanted to link their name to Nixon's, but Humphrey didn't care about the political repercussions.  In his final days, he wanted reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace.  The Rev. Jesse Jackson helped to bring the two men together for just such a reconciliation.  As a final gesture of a reconciled relationship, Hubert Humphrey arranged to have Richard Nixon sit in the place of honor next to his wife at his funeral.[1]  That's reconciliation.

            We are in Christ.  We are a new creation.  We have a new point of view.  We do not see others in the same way and we do not see ourselves in the same way.  We have been touched by the master and the master calls us to touch others with God's message of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Thanks be to God.  Amen. 


[1] John C. Maxwell, Be a People Person (Victor Books: Wheaton, IL, 1989) p. 20.