Sermon for Sunday, June 17, 2018 || Proper 6B || 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Having trouble uploading the video today, so I’ll get it up as soon as I can.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” These are today’s words from the Apostle Paul written to the people of Jesus’ Way found in the city of Corinth, Greece. Except that there’s a couple extra words inserted in the English translation. Paul doesn’t actually say, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” He’s far too excited to bother with appropriate sentence structure or correct usage of linking verbs. No, what Paul really says – and I have to read this with a lot of exuberance to get the right effect – what Paul really says is this: “So if anyone is in Christ – new creation!”
Paul cannot wait to tell us of this new life, this new way of being, this new creation that happens when we live “in Christ.” But my question is: what does that mean? What does it mean to live “in Christ?” Why is Paul so excited?
Well, Paul himself understands this “new creation” business better than most. On his way to the city of Damascus to arrest some people suspected of being followers of the Way of Jesus, Paul met the Spirit of Jesus in a real, visceral, immediate encounter, which knocked Paul to the ground and blinded him. “Saul, Saul,” (his name was still Saul at this point) “why are you persecuting me?” came a voice, and Paul somehow knew it was the voice of Jesus. And that persecution Jesus spoke of – it was all too real. Paul had assented to the stoning of Stephen, whose only crime had been feeding the poor in the name of Jesus. Paul had been spewing murderous threats against the people of the Way and had received permission from the high priest to throw Jesus’ followers into prison whenever he found them.
But after his fateful meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul changes. New creation! He lets go the venom in his heart, the murderous meditations, and embraces the life-affirming love that Jesus expressed and that his followers engendered on their best days. With the same singular focus Paul used to track down his former foes, he now proclaimed the love of Christ crucified and risen. And he spent the rest of his life nurturing communities of Jesus’ Way all over the Roman Empire. Somehow on the road to Damascus, Paul crawled inside the life of Christ. Paul was a new creation in Christ, and he lived out that new creation, however imperfectly, until the end of his days.
So when Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, new creation is the result, he speaks from personal experience. But still the question remains: what does it mean to be “in Christ”? This phrase – “in Christ” – calls to mind two images. The first is sartorial. Indeed, throughout his letters, Paul uses the metaphor of clothing to present his message.
“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” says Paul to the Galatians. To the Ephesians, he says, “You were taught to…clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” And to the Colossians, Paul says, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
To be “in Christ” is to wear Christ’s life like a garment, to wrap yourself in the fabric of God’s life-giving ways. In other words, Paul invites us to make Christ’s life the first thing people notice about us, like a well-cut suit or a lovely dress. When we are in Christ, we so clothe ourselves in Jesus’ priorities of compassion and kindness and humility and righteousness that they are the first things others see when we they look at us. These life-giving ways will become our first and lasting impression upon those who may never have encountered such a way of life. They will experience the new creation that we have become when we put on Christ, when we step in Christ like clothing.
Now, we need the other image, as well, because the clothing metaphor runs the risk of being taken too far. For, if we wear Christ like clothes, can’t we just take this new life off whenever we want? Our second image goes like this. Remember, Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” We can substitute the word “love” for “Christ” here and the sentence reads just fine. “If anyone is in love.”
What’s it like to be in love? To be head-over-heels, can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t stop thinking about the subject of your love, can’t wait until the next moment you get to be together. Leah and I met the Monday of Holy Week in 2010. I told her I really wanted to see her again, but this was – no joke – the busiest week of the year for me, and I didn’t want her to think I was blowing her off…and…
We ended up seeing each other three times that week anyway.
To be in love is to suddenly have the center of your world’s gravity shift so you now orbit around another. Hopefully, the feeling is mutual, so you end up circling together like the perfect cosmic dance of a binary star system. When true love is operating, we discover a selflessness we never knew existed, and we no longer live for ourselves alone. Being “in Christ” is like being “in love.” When we live “in Christ,” the star we orbit is the Light of the World. And we discover ourselves as new creations because our focus shifts away from our selfishness and towards Christ’s generosity and service.
These two images help me to envision what Paul, in his great exuberance, claims when he says, “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” We wear Christ’s life like a garment so the first thing others notice about us is our compassion and kindness and thirst for justice and peace. And we no longer live for ourselves alone, but for Christ who lives in us.
Right before we share Christ’s Body and Blood today, we will pray, “Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.” One spirit in Christ – we take Christ’s presence into us, so that as Christ dwells in us, we dwell in Christ. And we discover again and again the newness of the creations God is still designing us to be. When we embrace our status as new creation, we can more readily participate in renewing this world so that all of God’s creation can be brought back into right relationship with the Creator of all that is. So today, I invite you to clothe yourselves in Christ and fall in Christ as you would fall in love, that we might help God make all things new.