Sermon for Sunday, March 27, 2022 || Lent 4C || 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
This sermon is about the spiritual discipline of beginning again. In our lives of faith, God invites us to cultivate the posture of the beginner, no matter where we are on our spiritual journeys. The capacity to begin again is so important because it keeps us filled with curiosity and wonder as we approach each day of our lives. In today’s second lesson, Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
I’ve always loved this verse, and even more when you take out the few words the English translation added to conform it to our grammar. What it really says is, “If anyone is in Christ – New Creation!” It’s as if Paul is so excited to talk about newness that he can’t get the words out fast enough. This new creation is not a single instance of newness. That would be a replacement, like changing out the air filters in your car. No, this new creation is a continual refreshment, a constant renewal of our spirits as we walk with God throughout our lives.
The very first sermon I ever preached was on this verse about new creation. I was interning at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Dallas, Texas the summer of 2003 between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was one of five interns, and part of our internship was preaching on a particular Sunday. This church is one of the biggest Episcopal churches in the country, so the nine services each Sunday could easily accommodate all our sermons on the same day. I drew the 9am family service that took place down in the cafeteria. At this point in my life, I had only really ever heard my dad preaching, so I figured I would try to preach like him – without a text. After a few sleepless, anxiety-riddled nights, my fellow interns convinced me at least to jot down a few notes. I did this on some church stationery before getting ready for the service. I still have the notes somewhere but I couldn’t find them to show you.
The service started. I was vested with a microphone pack dangling from my alb’s pocket and the lav pinned up here like this one. During the first bit of the service, I rehearsed my sermon over and over in my mind. At last – it was only like ten minutes – I got up to preach. The other four interns were all in the front row supporting me. I started talking, and for the life of me I can’t remember what I said. But I know it was completely incomprehensible. It was like I had forgotten how words put to order the right in. Excuse me. Like I had forgotten how to put words in the right order.
Then something tremendous happened. I was stumbling along, sweating bullets, and making no sense, when the microphone pack fell out of my pocket. It cracked loudly against the linoleum floor and ripped the lav cord clean off. I stopped like a deer in headlights. Everyone was staring at me. Horror and concern were etched across the faces of the other interns. I took half a deep breath and said, “Let’s pause for some technical difficulties.” I then spent a laborious minute reattaching myself to the microphone. With the mic back in place, I took the other half of the deep breath and let it out slowly.
And when I started talking the second time, I found the words that God had placed on my heart to say that morning. I began again, and I would not have done so if the Holy Spirit had not nudged the mic pack out of my pocket. I began again, and the second time God helped me access the trust that every preacher needs in order to deliver a sermon. I began again, and this time I was less conscious of my own nerves and more conscious of the faces of the people who were listening to me.
I began again. And now, almost twenty years later, every Tuesday morning I begin again with a blank document open on my computer. I start typing and my sermon materializes somehow over the next few hours. During that time, I seek that same trust that God instilled in me when I had to begin again that summer Sunday morning in Texas.
The younger son in Jesus’ parable also begins again. After breaking his relationship with his father and family, he goes to a distant land and squanders his inheritance in what the King James Bible calls “riotous living.” He finds himself in the lowliest place he can imagine, longing to fill his empty belly with the pigs’ slop. And in that low place, Jesus tells us the younger son “comes to himself.” With this moment of clarity, he begins again. He decides to go home and face whatever consequences his father might have for him. He could have spent the rest of his miserable life with the pigs, but that’s not the story Jesus is telling. Jesus is telling a story about second chances. The younger son begins again, and when he reaches home, his father celebrates his return. He is not the same person he was when he left, nor the person he was when he envied the pigs. He is a brand new person: the sum of all his past experiences and the potential of all his future days combined in the always new moment of the present. And it’s in the always new moment of the present that the father blesses him.
And it’s in the always new moment of the present that God blesses us. In my first sermon, I was so concerned with being finished and sitting down that I skipped past the part where I was actually preaching. But God wouldn’t let me move past the present moment. When the mic pack fell out of my pocket, God wrenched me back to the present and said, “Here. This is where you belong. This is where I am. Begin again.”
We enter the reality of our new creation in Christ by remaining grounded in the present moment, seeing each moment as a new and beautiful instance of God’s creativity. We cultivate mindfulness so we don’t get caught in the past or whizz forward to the future, but rather stay here, now, in the only moment that ever truly exists.
A few days ago, the day I wrote this sermon in fact, my seven-year-old son came into my room as I was getting dressed in the morning. I was thinking about all the things I had to do that day and wondering if I had time before taking the kids to school to fold the laundry. And my son said, “Daddy, will you play LEGOs with me before school?” His invitation hit me right in the gut and brought me zooming back to the present moment. I took a deep breath and began my day again. And together, he and I built a new creation.
Banner image is the little Clone Trooper Walker my son and I made that morning (with the Millennium Falcon in background…that one took a little longer.)