Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 6

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:17
If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

The new is here!

Every now and then we hear a story of how a person’s life has been completely turned around – you might say that person gets a new beginning.  Just a quick example.  Let’s call him Joe.  He said, “A year ago, I was a drunk.  I was in debt.  My wife and children dreaded my return home each evening.  My life was on a downward spiral, and I was about to lose everything that I valued – my wife, my family, my job. I needed to do something, but I didn’t know what.  I was helpless. 

I hit rock bottom one Friday night and was jailed for a weekend for being drunk and disorderly and apparently punched the arresting cop.  That meant my stay in jail turned into a long weekend. After I sobered up, I was so full of self-pity and remorse that I was ready to step in front of the next bus.  Sometime during my stay in jail, a bloke, I suppose a kind of chaplain, dropped in for a chat.  I laid it all on him.  I sobbed like a baby as I told him how my life was down the toilet.  My wife and kids were afraid of me.  I was out of control.  I wanted to change.  I didn’t know how to do it. 

As he left, he gave me a card with an address on one side and some words on the other.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.  But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins” (Romans 3:23-24).  I stared at those words late into the night.  They were speaking to me.  I didn’t know much about Jesus, but these words said that God is able to accept me as messed up as I am, and he can set me free from the demons that have gripped my life”.

Joe continued, “The road wasn’t easy but 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.  I’m still learning about Jesus, but this much I know; Jesus’ love has given me a new start”.

As you can see, for Joe, this new start was something real and a very much a 180 degree turn around in his life.  It was more than getting his theology about justification right; it was about how his direction in life was renewed, his relationships were restored. 

As I see it the text from 2 Corinthians creates a problem for us and even for Joe.  Let me read it again. If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  I would say that most of us here this morning are regular participants in the church, and even if you aren’t, the question is,
What does it mean to be a new creation and how much difference does it really make in our everyday lives? 
How do we get this new creation? 
How does this newness really change us? 
And if we have had an experience like Joe, how do we maintain this newness?

Let’s see what Paul says.  He starts, “If anyone is in Christ”. Those two words, “in Christ”, are used 55 times in the New Testament and so I would guess from that, they pack some importance. 

Some translations try to explain this small phrase as “being joined to Christ” or “in union with Christ”.  These are good tries at explaining what “in Christ” means but if I join or unite say two pieces of wood together by whatever means (nails, glue or dowelling), I can find a way to separate them.  But if I drop food colouring into water there is no way I can separate the water from the colouring.

That is what Paul means when he says we are “in Christ”.
Being “in Christ” means our lives are intimately interwoven, interconnected, intertwined with the living Christ;
that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from Christ;
there is a deep unique unity;
his life is our life, our life has become his life,
his passions and values have become our passions and values.

·      Being “in Christ” has placed us in a special relationship with our heavenly Father.  “In Christ” we are accepted, and the guilt of our sin is gone because Christ has taken our sin on to the cross and died for us. 
    “In Christ” we are pardoned, forgiven, reconciled and given a new place in God’s heart.  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Pauls says in Romans (8:1).

·      Being “in Christ” means that we have direct access to our heavenly Father through prayer and through his Word and Sacraments.  He is not distant; we are not unworthy. We are his beloved children. 

Like the son in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  When the wayward son returned home and was held in the embrace of his father, his past failings as a son and as a human being were wiped away. It was as if they had never happened.  He was home and was enjoying something he had never experienced before – a total renewal, a recreation of his relationship with his father. 

·      “In Christ” we are no longer defined by our past failures or even our achievements but live in the grace of God and how God sees us. Paul says, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

·      “In Christ” we are given a new confidence.  Our lives are so interwoven with Christ and his love for us that in the face of temptation and doubt we know that Christ’s power in us will enable us to overcome these.

·      “In Christ” we are given a new boldness in the face of death.  Death has been defeated.  It is not the end of us but the beginning of something new and exciting in heaven.

·      “In Christ” the Spirit fills us with faith and trust in our living Lord that even in the darkest and most terrifying moments in this life, Jesus will walk with us and give us the courage to see these through and to come through them stronger and more trusting.

·      “In Christ” we see people as Christ sees them.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are patient and kind, compassionate and understanding, generous and supportive,
    readily reaching out to others just as Christ reached out to those who were unkind to him. 

·      “In Christ” we see ourselves connected with our fellow believers sharing our struggles, victories and faith journeys as well as challenging and encouraging one another in the mission of Christ in the Church.

In Galatians Paul says, In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (3:26,27 NIV).  Notice this complete immersion in Christ.  When we are baptised, we are one with Christ, we put off the old clothes of sin and put on the new clothes of a life in Christ. 

“In Christ” our lives 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 has turned us around and cleared away the old and brought in the new.  He gives 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). 

This is where this text gets a bit tricky for us.  Paul isn’t talking about turning over a new leaf or a refurbishing our life or doing a patch up job.  Paul says, “The old has gone (been done away with), the new has come!”  “In Christ” this a new creation, a total replacement of the old.  Christ in us is interwoven in everything we say, do and think.  He died to make us completely and totally new. 

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  I only need to look back over the last week, and I can readily see that the newness I have in Christ has been sorely lacking.  Being honest, do you see that too often the newness you have in Christ has become just a head thing and not a heart thing that is part of everything you do?

In the cartoon strip Hagar the Horrible, a 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 while we are in this world where evil and sin and temptation and our own sinful nature still exist.  We admit that like Hagar, our human nature enjoys the dark side of life – we like our selfishness, our personal addictions, our private hang-ups and flaws and it’s easy to find excuses.

Sometimes our best intentions end up all wrong.
Living a life “in Christ” is not easy.  Even the apostle Paul struggled with this when he said,
I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do” (Romans 7:19). We can relate to that.  We know what we ought to do as people who are “in Christ” and yet somehow sin in us takes control.  There is something in us that perverts God’s will in our lives.  We lack the power to overcome sin and temptation.

This is a battle that we face every day.
Being made new “in Christ” is a continuous event; a daily event, life-long event.
Daily we admit that we are too willing to resurrect our old ways and so go to God without excuse and repent of our weakness.
Daily we are reminded we have been made friends with God through Christ and that being “in Christ” not even our sin can stop our Father in heaven loving us.
Daily we can give a victory shout because “in Christ” we have been made new in the cross of Jesus.

The question that challenges us every day,
“How is this newness, changing us?” 
In what ways are we different because we are “in Christ”?  
We have been filled with Christ and are called to live like Christ, how is this changing our attitudes and the way we treat those close to us and those who are strangers?

And when we fail, or doubt whether we are worthy to be called the children God because we are in the pigsty of sin, do we remember that “in Christ” we are made new and lovingly embraced by our heavenly Father? 

Remember, “in Christ” every day, even our dying day, is a new day .


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th June 2024

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