Identity: You’re A New Creation
2 Corinthians 5:16-20
Rev. Mike Bailey
“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; 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.”
Summer’s almost here isn’t it? Do you know when it begins “officially” by the calendar? That’s right, next Sunday, June 21st. I suspect for many of us there are other “markers” that summer has arrived, regardless of the official date. Our young people who are students in Guildford County schools will wake up Wednesday to summer! You know why! School will be finished. Others will have had the great celebration of graduation. Some of us think summer has arrived, when after 9 months of eating sorry, spongiform excuses for tomatoes, we get a homegrown tomato, slathered on fresh white Bunny Bread some Duke’s mayonnaise, some Curtis bacon (see I’m loyal) and some lettuce; that’s summer. Others, know summer is here when they get their first NC peach; freestone of course the sweet juice runs down their chin! Turn to a neighbor and share with them what marks summer for you! Great! Continue the conversation after worship. Make a friend and be a friend; build community.
For many, summer means vacation. You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of vacation they take. An adventurous person may fly to the pacific and dive WWII shipwrecks. Others enjoy a “stay-cation” and that tells how much they love their home. Sometimes summer is marked by attendance variances at Christ Church. Someone told me early on that Christ Church is an “up and down” church in the summer; we like to go up to the mountains or down to the beach! Vacation can reveal much about one’s identity.
Summer for United Methodist ministers and lay members of annual conference is marked by the meeting of annual conference. Ours meets at Lake Junaluska this week. Last week, the conference in the eastern half of the state met. Lauralee, my wife, works for that annual conference as their foundation’s Director of Planned giving. Here’s something that reveals much about my family: last week I took vacation time to....drum roll please....attend Lauralee’s annual conference and this week, Lauralee is taking vacation to attend ours! We look forward to it! Now, to say I attended her’s is a bit of an exaggeration; I went to some sessions but mainly was her go-fer. Her Foundation had a major banquet type of event. I helped set up and was relegated to the registration desk taking tickets. My friends as Duke did a double take seeing me, from the “other” annual conference to them in attendance. They did a “triple take” with me, pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in North Carolina’s third largest city, taking up tickets. One assistant dean at Duke asked, “What did you do to get demoted like this?”
I wasn’t demoted; I was being a husband, nothing was different! All of this reveals much: our family is the original nerd herd, vacationing to attend scintillating United Methodist meetings! We’re looking forward to days filled with resolutions, debates, report approval and glorious worship. The House of Representatives can’t seem to get much done with 435 representatives; just watch how our United Methodist bishops in NC manage parliamentary procedure with up to 3400 delegates!
Seriously, keep your pastors and lay delegates in your prayers; it’s an important year. And, if you visit our conference web site, you can watch it all on your computer from gavel to gavel. If you do that, make an appointment with me next week for some pastoral counseling to help you get a life! Taking a vacation to attend two annual conferences says something about one’s identity! But there’s much more to identity, isn’t there?
Today, we have our third sermon on our identity in Christ. We began our series by considering how much identity theft goes on for Christians in today's world. We learned that our foundational and primary identity is as a child of God and that there is so much in contemporary living that can lead us into a type of spiritual amnesia! Then last week Louis preached on how we all have an eternal soul and are built to last. Importantly, we also learned that the Holy Spirit can shape us and grow us spiritually, with our cooperative discipline, throughout our lives. This week, we are going to consider how the fact that we are new creations in Christ shapes our view of others, our selves, the church and the future.
Saint Paul, in our passage today offers us some keen insight it to our true identity. Paul has such powerful language in our text: “We regard no one from a human point of view....if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation – everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”
This means when we, using Paul’s language, “regard” others, we regard them as God regards them, which is as a beloved new creation.
This means when you look, think about, behave and act toward others, put your God goggles on!
That person who broke your trust; that person who rubs you the wrong way; that person who is radically different from you in age, stage in life, sexual orientation, politics, income, nation of origin, immigration status, race or language – if they are in Christ – you are to see and act toward them as God does, one of God’s beloved new creations; you are to put your God goggles on!
And here’s the beautiful social dimension; when we do this corporately, what a church, what a beloved community, what a living, breathing, actualized Body of Christ on earth we become; and how the world needs us to do so; this world filled with all kinds of hurtful “isms” that only the love of Christians can defeat.
Now it’s not always easy is it, even in the church! There are always people who are to us, in the term coined by John Ortberg, EGR people: Extra Grace Required people; you know who they are for you. But hear this clearly, it’s possible to be this beloved community, shaping the world with Christ’s own love and justice; it can happen; it can be done in our lives! Not by us, alone, however. Paul is clear in our passage that such ministry of reconciliation and viewing of others “no longer from a human point of view” is from God. You see, we can regard others, with our “God goggles on”, only upon our becoming new creations in Christ, ourselves.
And that’s hard for a lot of us because it involves surrender; surrender of pride, the need to control, to win, and to hold onto the power of not forgiving someone. It’s hard because it means giving up those habits, attitudes and categorizations of others without even getting to know them, that arise from our sinful, old ways, fallen creature-likeness. You know the ways of the old creation in our lives – the ways of prejudice, spitefulness, grudge bearing, power seeking, and status desiring, close-minded ways.
There’s hope. To be a new creation in Christ means admitting and surrendering all of that – turning it all over to the Christ and constantly inviting the Holy Spirit to do a serious “attitude check”, to reveal where the old ways are trying to crop up in us again and seeking the Holy Spirit’s help to rid our hearts, lives and minds of such detestable attitudinal weeds. This is becoming and being a new creation in Christ and leads to us seeing others as new creations too!
And living like this individually and corporately colors our world with the love and justice of Christ! And doing so moves us more deeply and closer to the ultimate new creation, the one Paul said the cosmos is groaning for and toward; the same ultimate new creation John of the revelation labeled the new heavens and the new earth. It’s the in breaking, flowering new creation that happens every time God’s will is done on earth, by you, by us, as it is in heaven and will eventually be fully arrived.
It’s happening you know; it’s breaking in more and more each day, with every act of kindness and justice, you, we engage in. So you may as well get on board; you may as well get with the program.
Here’s the grace note: it’s the greatest, most significant way to live life; loving God, loving all, freed from hate and fear and finding seeking to find security and identity in all the wrong places! Jesus showed it can be done. The Holy Spirit is with us to help us. It can be your life too; even today; even now.