Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:17
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.

New in Christ

A man recently joined a church and his excitement about this event in his life was evident to his friends.  One of his friends, who cared little for religion and was often critical of ‘religious freaks’ was curious about this sudden interest, said to him over lunch one day, “I hear you’ve become a Christian.”
“Yes”, said his friend.

“Then you must know a great deal about Jesus”, said the friend rather cynically. “Tell me, what country was he born in?”
“I don't know”, replied the convert.

“Well then, how old was he when he died?” asked the friend.
“I don't know”, replied the new Christian.

“Well, can you tell me what he taught, or how he did miracles, or how he ‘supposedly’ came alive again from the dead?” asked the friend.
“I don't know that either.  I’m only new and I’ve got a lot to learn,” responded the convert.

“You certainly don’t know much about what you believe especially since you’re so involved in the church and claim to be a Christian”, said the friend.

“I don’t have any argument with you there," replied the new Christian, “I might not know a lot of the finer details about Jesus’ life and I want to change that – but at this moment this much I do know.  A year ago I was a drunk. I was in debt.  My family was falling to pieces.  My wife and children would dread my return home each evening.  My life was a mess and I could see that I was on a downward spiral and about to lose everything that I valued – my wife, my family, my job. I needed to do something but I felt helpless. 

Anyway, I was talking to my neighbour one day and during our chat he told me about this young lad who had left a good home and since then his life had really gone downhill.  He ended up living at the local rubbish tip sorting trash. And as he was going through some of the smelliest stuff you could ever come across, he started thinking about his family and how he had wronged them and how much cleaner and warmer he’d be if he could just live in his dad’s garden shed. 

It took a while to get up enough courage and he had a speech rehearsed in his head about how sorry he was and that he didn’t want any favours and so on.  When he got to the driveway his dad was working in the garden and what happened next was unbelievable.  He was totally blown away by the welcome he received from his father.  There was only love and genuine excitement.  The whole family came together and they threw a big party.  That was so totally unexpected.  He got back to his old bedroom in the house and he was treated as if nothing had happened.  His life was completely and unexpectedly changed.

As my neighbour was telling me this, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit envious.  This guy had such a lucky break – to have a father like that and to be given a second chance.  My life is in the garbage dump at the moment.  That’s the kind of change that needs to happen in my life. 

Little did I know that my neighbour was actually telling me a story that Jesus once told. I soon learnt that this story is about Jesus’ love for even the worst people, especially people who had lost their way like I had and were hurting the people who loved them the most.  It’s a story that tells how my lifestyle was even hurting my Father in heaven, God.

Now I’ve given up booze, we’re out of debt, and my wife and I are in love once more.  There is peace in our home and my kids aren’t afraid of me.  All this Jesus has done for me.  I may not have all the facts about Jesus sorted out in my head, but this much I know; Jesus’ love has given me a new start”.

This new Christian may not have all the facts about Jesus down pat but one thing is for certain, his Christianity is more than a head thing; it is something that has brought about a change in his life.  It has renewed his direction, restored relationships, renewed his life and this is an ongoing thing.  It didn’t just happen on a certain day in a certain year, but this renewal is an everyday thing.

Belonging to Christ, or as Paul put it, being “in Christ” is not just some theoretical pie in the sky Christian mumbo jumbo that only pastors and theologians talk about, it is something that is very real and is at the core of our Christian faith. 
How God loves us and embraces us even though we have done nothing to deserve such acceptance and mercy;
how we can gladly and without fear own up to our sins and be certain of God’s forgiveness and welcoming embrace;
how God understands us and helps and strengthens us and shows us nothing but love when our lives are nothing but train wrecks;
all of this is centred on this one and all important point – to use Paul’s words, “Christ changed us from enemies into God’s friends” (2 Cor 5:18).  Without the suffering and death of Jesus removing the barriers of sin and death between us and God, we would forever be enemies of God, forever in the garbage tip of misery like the man in my opening story/.

Think of the story of the prodigal son.  While he remained separated from his father and his wrong doing and disrespect and guilt stood between him and his father, there was no way there was ever going to be a change in his life.  Even after he had made up his mind to go to his father with a sad and repentant heart, he still didn’t know whether his life would change.  In fact, he might be worse off as his father could easily condemn him and banish him forever. 

It was only when he experienced the arms of his father around him, the smile, the laughter, the warmth of forgiveness that he realised that his life would now be different. His old life of rebellion and remorse and living in a pig sty was over; a new life had begun.  He was no longer an enemy; he was once again a child of his father.

This is what the apostle Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians when he says, Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). This is favourite theme of Paul as he explains to his readers that being a Christian, being “in Christ” changes our values, attitudes, principles, and the ways we speak to others and treat them and the place that we give God in our lives. 
Being “in Christ” means that we become like Christ in every aspect of our lives and that we are Christ-like to the people around us. 
Being “in Christ” means
that our lives are so interwoven with Christ,
that we shun temptation just as Jesus did,
that we endure hardship confident of God's love as Jesus did,
that we are patient and kind, compassionate and understanding, generous and supportive just as Christ has always been to others,
that we readily reach out to others just as Christ did even though it might be hard going.

In Galatians Paul says, “You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself” (3:27).  He is saying that when we are baptised we are joined with Christ, we put off the old clothes of sin and the new clothes of a life in Christ.  We are to look upon our lives as though we are no longer connected to the old “sinful me”; that “me” which wants to make myself the centre of my own little world, that “me” which wants to remove God to the sidelines of life; the “me” that is selfish and inconsiderate toward others.  God has begun a revolution in our lives.  He cleared away the old and brought in the new.  He gave us a new life.  As Paul says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17). 

In the cartoon strip Hagar the Horrible is addressed by a Monk.
In the first frame, the monk, Bible tucked under his arm, says to Hagar, “Remember, it is better to light a candle than to sit in the dark.”
In the next frame, we see the monk disappearing over the horizon, and we see Hagar, looking out at us – saying – “But I enjoy the darkness”.

That’s how it is with us and our sinful nature.  There are times when we prefer the darkness. Like Hagar, our human nature enjoys the dark side of life.

Renewal is a continuous event. 
Daily we repent, admitting that we are too willing to resurrect our old ways.
Daily we return to our baptism and are renewed and reoriented. 
Daily we are reminded we have been made friends with God through Christ and that we are “in Christ”; we belong to Christ and not even our sin can stop our Father in heaven from loving us.
Daily we are forgiven. 
He forgives us and restores us as his beloved children pledging once again his love and help as we journey through life’s ups and downs.

Today as we continue our Lenten journey towards Holy Week, the Gospel reading draws our attention to the lad who is given a fresh start and we hear Paul telling us that because of Christ, the old is gone and we have been made new.

The question that remains and needs to be asked especially in this Lenten season is, “How has this fresh start, this newness, brought about change in my life?”  Or are we a bit like Hagar the Horrible and prefer the darkness rather than the light, sometimes by choice, and sometimes because things just get out of hand and we get carried away by the evil in our lives?

The text today is not simply a fact or a creed-like statement; it is about hope, comfort, peace, and the assurance of God's never-ending love.  No matter what circumstances life may throw at us, whatever others may think of us or whatever we may think of ourselves, nothing can take away the hope, the peace and the love that comes from knowing that we are “in Christ”; every day is a new day and one day total and complete newness in heaven. With Christ every day, even our dying day, is a fresh start.

 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
10th March 2013

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