2 Cor 5:16-21
by Elizabeth Bussmann-Morton, Environmental Officer, Diocese in Europe, Church of England
NOTES ON THE READINGS
For forty years the Israelites have been wandering in the desert. This about to end and the people are preparing to enter the land of promise. Although the Israelites had not always been good, God had always been good to them. We read how, in the wilderness, he provided them with Manna to eat. For years they had wandered, utterly dependent on God. In this passage we read how they celebrated the Passover for the first time after their liberation from Egyptian oppression and slavery. Vs. 9 probably fits better with the preceeding verses, where the new generation of men were circumcised, the physical sign of their covenant relationship with God. God said to Joshua: Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt’ – words which resonate with God’s rolling away of the stone from the tomb at Easter. Neither Egypt nor the darkness of sin and death can get in the way of the power of God’s love to redeem and give new life.
This Psalm reminds us vividly that sin is a reality in the heart. There is something fundamentally wrong in human beings. It is pointless to believe that we can ‘cure’ what is wrong by ourselves. Not to acknowledge our sin can lead to physical sickness, too. The psalm is a study on the theological experience of forgiveness.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Karl Barth was once asked what he would say to Hitler if he had the chance. Barth’s surprising response in light of the atrocities Hitler committed was that all he would say was to quote Romans 5.8 “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Why? Barth knew that only the unparalleled mercy and forgiveness of God, the unstinted gladness and grace of the gospel, could have prompted the Fuhrer’s genuine repentance. If Barth had accused him, even if justly, of his great abominations, he would only have prompted Hitler’s self-righteous defense, his angry justification of his allegedly “necessary” actions.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 contains another passage that could be used in this circumstance:
Vss. 19-21 ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation… We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The key to this passage? Those in Christ no longer regard or judge people on the basis of their accomplishments, their influence or their position. If the love of Christ is in us then we are free to be open and accepting of other by seeing them through the eyes of Christ, who gave himself for everyone!
Once we have learned to see Jesus as the Saviour of the world, we cannot limit our estimate of other human beings – the born or unborn, exploiters or murderers, terrorists or militarists, frauds or failures — as living beyond his reach.
We cannot see any person as anything other than a creature for whom Christ has died and risen, and thus as one meant also to become “a new creation”. See Hebrews 11 roll -call of the saints!
N.T. Wright-Simply Christian – God’s Kingdom is already here. Christians are those who are already living ‘After death’, since Christ has raised us from the grave. More properly we ought to speak of the world to come as ‘life after life after death’
As Christians we are called to be ‘Ambassadors for Christ’ that is what the Body of Christ is – emissaries and envoys of the Gospel. We are called to embrace the ambassadorial call as the unsurpassable privilege!
DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to take up the responsibility given to us by our Creator God -that is the responsibility to care for his creation – ALL of his creation. I emphasis the ALL as so often people think immediately of the natural world around us. But all of creation includes ALL human beings – whether close to home or far away across the world. One often hears the expressions it is a small world or a global village.
In today’s world communities and individuals are connected and interdependent as never before. This is due, amongst other things to mass travel and trade links between countries. What we eat, buy – our whole lifestyle leaves it’s footprint all over the world.
Today’s readings teach us a lot about relationships with our brothers and sisters wherever they may live.
Joshua 5:12 tells us how after their long arduous journey from Egypt, the people who had been provided by God with manna to eat, now at last were able to eat ‘the crops of the land of Canaan.’ This must have been a real joy for them. Grateful as they were that God provided Manna – it must have been a real pleasure to once again be able to eat crops they had been used to.
There is a saying: ‘stay close to the ground’. This is often given as healthy diet advice. Meaning that the closer one stays to the original crop, the less likely it is to be processed food. The further away from the ‘produce of the land’, the less nutritional value food has.
Good advice practically and physically but also the spiritual implication. ‘stay close to the food’. Savour, remember, and be renewed by the ways God provides for and sustains us, both physically and spiritually.
By keeping our connection with the bread and the land, we also keep our connection with God who gives us all we need to live. This was the way of life for many indigenous peoples. They worked and lived from the land and although they worshipped their gods without knowing about God, they knew instinctively that this was fundamental to life. Many farmers have been enticed away ‘from staying close’ to the land by big companies, looking for a profit and selling them seed, fertilisers and other chemicals – at the same time making them reliant on them. Or monocrops have taken over due to ‘demand’ from other countries – leading to impoverished soil and adverse effects on climate.
Psalm 32 talks about happiness – something sought after by all human beings. What is happiness? It has been said that the entire study of Christian morality is best understood as ‘training in happiness’- an ongoing initiation into the desires, attitudes, habits, and practices that make for a happy and good life.
But rather than an endless pursuit of happiness in commodities, wealth, status etc. Ps. 32 states that happiness comes when we are made right with God, when we experience forgiveness, not from being important, accomplished, busy or organised. Psalm 32 also tells us that righteousness is not about being sinless. It is about acknowledging sin, accepting forgiveness and spending time engaging with God’s teachings, trusting God more than self and then being happy in the one who leads us on our way.
We live in a culture of ‘blame’, it is ‘in’ to put the blame on everyone else rather than ourselves. Not dealing with our ‘sin’, ‘wrong behaviour’ can be paralysing if not dealt with. Psalm 32 shows us how we should act.
v. 5-6 acknowledge, ‘confess’ our sin to God; v.7 accept forgiveness; vv. 8-9 follow God’s instructions, v. 10 trust God rather than ourselves; v. 11 ‘Be glad in the Lord’. Happiness is found by putting God at the centre of our lives.
At our deepest core, to be human is not to be a sinner but to be loved. To be righteous is not to be sinless but to be forgiven and freed. To be in Christian community is not to downplay brokenness but to accept it and be transformed by the One who healed brokenness on the cross and whose name is and always has been Love. In a culture driven by competition, instant gratification, the quest for perfection, and looking out for number one, this psalm offers a world-changing direction. Caring for Creation – our relationship to other human beings both near in our congregations/fellowships and far – across the world. As Paul writes in great detail, Christian communities should be places where we feel safe and can share our experiences as we walk in the way of Christ together. A far cry from much reality!
And so to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – ‘IF ANYONE is in Christ, there is a new creation.” In many ways a summary of all our readings!
It is because Paul is in Christ that there is a new creation. Everything old to him is now new – mourning and crying and pain are no more. Everything is now viewed from a God-drenched point of view, rather than seeing things through ‘fallen human eyes’. ‘Being ‘in Christ’ enables one to begin to see a whole new world, a world that is conceived in imagination, but birthed by lives of faithful discipleship.
In many Christian communities today, the imagination has become impoverished, atrophied, sick.
New Creation, is conceived in imagination – and imagination begins in prayer, in the images that God plants within us. Prayer, of course, begins in holy silence. Only then can we ‘hear’ the subtle movements in our hearts and spirits, only then will Christian communities start to hear the call of the new creation. We will stop seeing the world from a human point of view; we will start seeing it with the eyes of Christ.
In prayer the church can see a world where death and pain and addictions are no more, a world where everyone has a decent place to live, a world where children can be taught in safety …
A world where everything becomes new by an act of faith, the act of trusting that the future
God discloses to the church CAN be brought into being.
These visions of a new creation are born when the church takes time to stop and listen to God …
As Christians we are called not to be effective or to get things done BUT to be faithful.
Caring for Creation includes Caring for all God’s children – all human beings God created, loves and cares about. How? We need to pursue that vision that Paul had and begin to see things from God’s perspective. From the perspective of the Resurrection events, the launching of the Kingdom,
We need to strive to be Kingdom people with Kingdom values not worldly. To be in Christ – a new creation – capable of seeing the growing new creation everywhere. Only when we can begin to do this will we really be motivated to start Change! In our lives, in our church community life, in the life of people everywhere – when we see them all as new creations – what they could be? What an adventure!
Luke (15:1-3, 11b-32) The parable of the ‘Prodigal Son” is well-known. But it has some particularly pertinent but difficult words which resonate in the times we are in at the moment – with the war in the Ukraine.
Most people will probably agree that what is needed is ‘Justice!’. This parable however, offers us another perspective – a view of the Kingdom that is not always acknowledged or understood clearly. The parable clearly illustrates God’s loving mercy over and above our call for ‘justice’. Rather than anger and punishment over what has been done there is an overflowing of ‘abundance’ in God’s reaction to the ‘lost son’ returning.
All this is the overwhelming scandal of God’s grace!
How can this speak to us in our reactions to what is going on – not only in the Ukraine but in so many other places all around the world? What is the danger of claiming the standards of the world, in which justice is praised over and above mercy – instead of the other way round…..
Take home message: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
by Rev Elizabeth Bussmann, Diocese in Europe