Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The New Way of Being

Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 17:22-24, 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, Mark 4:26-34 (Proper 6B)

We have just heard two short parables that Jesus tells us are about the Kingdom of God. It was a favorite metaphor of his—a political metaphor used to describe a spiritual reality. St. Paul, from whom we also just heard, does not use this metaphor. He speaks this morning instead of a “new creation.”

I want to suggest to you that these two metaphors are basically synonymous and can be used interchangeably: the Kingdom of God and the New Creation. And it is Paul’s metaphor that may ring truer for us in our day, that we can work with more easily.

More than fifty years ago, the great 20th century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich asserted that the New Creation, or “the New Being,” as he put it, was the central message and purpose of Christianity.[1]

Christianity is the message of the New Creation, the New Being, the New Reality which has appeared with the appearance of Jesus who for this reason, and just for this reason, is called the Christ. For the Christ, the Messiah, the selected and anointed one is He who brings the new state of things.[2]

What is this New Creation, this New Way of Being?

First of all we must say that in our existence it exists alongside what could be called the Old Creation, the Old Way of Being. The Old Way of Being is characterized by division, anxiety, fear, violence, greed, any of the myriad ways we separate ourselves from God and one another, and, indeed, separate ourselves from ourselves.

We are asked to be a part of the New Creation in the midst of the Old Creation. We know all too well this old way of being in our own lives. What Christianity asks of us is that we also participate in the New Creation inaugurated by Jesus.

In this regard the New Creation is like the Kingdom of God in the parables of Jesus this morning. It is like the mysterious and hidden seed that sprouts into growth and bears great fruit. Or it is like the sprig of which the prophet Ezekiel speaks this morning that God plants on a high mountain and it grows to be a great tree.

The New Way of Being in our world can be mysterious and hidden, and we must sometimes wait patiently for its growth, but we can do so in trust that grow it will.

But again, just what is this New Creation?

An important word we can use to describe this new reality is “transformation.” Where the New Creation is, is where transformation has occurred. The transformation is not something that we do, but that God does. Our job is not to create transformation but uncover it—to see transformation where it has already occurred.

Our job, in short, is to recognize and participate in what God has already done. And by participating we are participating in God’s ongoing work of transformation. God can use us in God’s work of transformation if we allow ourselves to be used.

Some examples of what I am talking about.

First, personal. The New Creation exists in my life every time I am able to say, “I am a child of God.” I am God’s beloved and with me God is well pleased. That is what I am in this new order of things. I am not who the world says that I am, whatever label that is. Nor am I who I often say I am in my anxiety and fear.

When I can say, “I am a child of God,” no matter what the circumstance of my life, there is the New Creation.

Second, relational. Paul speaks about this aspect this morning.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…

When we are living this new way of being we are able to see through the labels and judgments we make on other people. We are able to see children of God, again, no matter what the circumstance.

This is not an easy thing all the time. Sometimes, frequently, people do not act like children of God. They live in the Old Creation and act out of it. We are given eyes to see, however, through that. We are able to see with God’s eyes. Here is a child of God even if she isn’t acting like a child of God, so the way I relate to others is affected. In the words of our Baptismal Covenant, I seek and serve Christ in all people, and respect everyone’s dignity.

To do that is transformational. It transforms the Old Creation into the New Creation.

Third, corporate. I want to apply this to our life as a parish. What difference does it make to look at ourselves as a New Creation? It means we see ourselves as a community of faith rather than as a collection of individuals. As a community of faith we have a calling. God wants us to do something, has a purpose for us.

Among other things this means that even when the circumstances of our life are difficult—when we, for instance, struggle financially or fail to grow as we would like, we remain a hopeful people. We continue to act out of abundance, not scarcity. We continue to expect that God is calling us to do God’s work, and we continue to do it.

We are entering a time when it will be our opportunity yet again to act out of this New Creation. This week it is likely that both our Vestry and that of St. Stephen’s will renew the covenant for cooperative ministry that we first entered into two years ago.

In a joint conversation, the Vestries clearly felt that the covenant has been a positive thing. There are challenges, but no deal breakers. We have begun to build a relationship with one another and some trust has begun to form.

It is time, we recognize, to move deeper, to go more deeply into what the original purpose of the covenant was, to support and expand ministry on the West Side of the city of Rochester.

Now when we say that we can have two reactions: Old Creation or New Creation. The Old Creation says things like, “We are already doing all that we can. We don’t have the resources to do more.” It also says, “I’m not sure I want them playing in my sandbox.”

The New Creation says, “We can’t do any more than we are doing alone, but we can do more together. God is calling us and God will enable us.” God will provide for what God wants to be done.

And God is calling us. A ministry of some sort to the children of St. Stephen’s neighborhood is being handed to us. Children in that neighborhood are showing up to church all on their own, without their parents. They’re even stopping by during the week whenever they see that somebody is there. Something is happening.

That in itself is a New Creation way of thinking: “something is happening.” God is doing something and we need to respond.

And we are beginning to. A team of people is being put together to do some dreaming about what might be possible, including to look at what others are doing elsewhere. If you want to be part of that dreaming, let me know. Dreaming is always a New Creation activity.

The challenge our faith always puts before us, be it on a personal, relational or corporate level, is the challenge to live in the New Creation. And it is a challenge. The Old Creation is everywhere, working in subtle and not so subtle ways to hold us back and hold us down. It is a struggle to be constantly throwing it off, but that is just what we are called to do.

We are called, as Paul says, to see no one and nothing any longer from a human point of view. We are called to see with eyes that transform the old into the new.

[1] “The New Being” in The New Being (Scribners, 1955), pp. 15-24.
[2] Ibid., p. 15.

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