A New Creation

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Joshua 5:9-12, and Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

This verse from our Epistle reading today is one of the single best descriptions of the practical Good News that I know of. The narrative Good News of course is the story of Jesus: his life, his ministry, his death, his resurrection, his sending of the Holy Spirit for all his disciples. But the practical Good News, the effective difference that story of Jesus makes for us, is summed up so well by saying this: If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.

That verse speaks to us of new beginnings. It tells us Good News that the redeeming love of God sets us free from the bondage of old hurts, old wounds, old mistakes, old enmities, old sins – and sets us free for new possibilities, new opportunities, new potential, new love and compassion and wisdom and celebration. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new speaks to us the promise that in God’s love we no longer need to be limited by the sins of the past, but can be shaped and formed and transformed to be co-creators with God of God’s peace. We can be ambassadors for Christ, working out God’s mission of reconciliation in ourselves, and for our world.

Look at how that new creation works in our first reading today, from the Book of Joshua. After the people cross the River Jordan into the Promised Land, God says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” That was a day of new beginnings for the Israelites. On that day they were set free from the disgrace of Egypt, the opposite-of-grace that is bondage and slavery and oppression.

They had been physically liberated from Egypt, of course, forty years before, when God had acted with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand, when God had stood before the people in a column of smoke and a pillar of fire, when God had split the waters of the Red Sea so that the people of Israel could pass over on dry land, but the armies of Pharaoh were trapped and defeated and drowned.

They had been physically liberated from bondage and slavery – but they carried that bondage in their hearts and minds and souls for many years. Moses led them to Sinai to receive God’s law, God’s Torah; but the people demanded Aaron make them an idol, like the idols they had known back in Egypt. Moses promised them that God would feed them, and God gave them manna from the heavens; but the people craved the garlic and the onions and the leeks and the savory meats they’d eaten back in Egypt. Moses promised the people a new relationship in covenant with God, a new purpose and meaning and mission in life to be God’s people in the world; but the people were afraid of God, and longed for the distant, aloof, “God of the ancestors” they’d told stories about back in Egypt.

The people were physically free of Egypt; but for forty long years the bondage of Egypt, the dis-grace of Egypt, stayed with them. For forty years God led them in the wilderness, testing them and teaching them, forming them to be a faithful people, preparing them for a new life in a new land, purifying them from the dis-grace of Egypt that still bound and oppressed their souls.

And then, after forty years, the time had come. Under the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor, God brought the people over the River Jordan and into their promised land. That very day, the story says, they ate the food of the land; the manna that had sustained them in the desert for forty years ceased, and they ate the crops their promised soil had produced.

When they did that, they entered a new relationship with God, not only receiving the sustenance God gave them, but co-creating with God, using their own skills and abilities to raise and tend the crops to which God gave the growth. They entered a new relationship with God, to build a society in their new land that was not based on oppression and slavery and power, but based on God’s Torah, co-creating with God a society of justice and righteousness and hesed, steadfast covenant love. They entered a new relationship with God, to worship God not as slaves, but as God’s own people, in freedom and with responsibility and in love. And God said, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt”; and it was a new beginning, a new entrance into sharing God’s own creative power.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

And we are called to that same kind of new creation in our society, too. Think about Staunton, think about Newtown, think about our community and our state and our nation. Where do we experience the dis-grace of bondage and oppression, where are we trapped in old division and fear? And where can we be ambassadors of reconciliation to open up new possibilities of justice and well-being and steadfast covenant love? Where might we be part of the process that everything old has passed away; see, everything is becoming new!?

But it is not only a new society that we can help co-create with God. Renewed societies need renewed people, and the new creation in Christ is something that happens within us as well.

We see those personal new beginnings in our Gospel reading today, in this story Jesus tells of two sons who are trapped in self-centeredness and greed, and who are set free for new relationships and reconciliation.

There is the younger son, of course: the infamous wastrel who who has become the veritable poster child for selfish and irresponsible behavior. He takes his share of the inheritance – which isn’t really his, because his father isn’t dead yet – and he goes off into a distant land and wastes everything right down to rock bottom. And even when he decides to go home, he only goes because he desires the bread his father’s hired hands eat. But while he is still a long way off, his father sees him, and runs out to greet him, and hugs him and kisses him, and gives him good clothes, and orders the caterers to prepare a huge party. A huge party. Because, his father says, “You were lost and now you’re found; you were dead, and now you’re alive again.”

It’s a story about new beginnings, about the power of love to put aside old hurts and griefs and to begin in relationship anew. The father’s forgiveness sets the young man free – free from bondage to his past mistakes and past errors in judgment and past heartlessness and cruelty – free to discover new possibilities, new potentials, for trust and faithfulness and love and coming to his true self. The father’s forgiveness evokes God’s own creative power and lets the son be anew.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

But that’s not the only new beginning here. There is also the matter of the older son, the good boy who never let his father down – and who resents every minute of the younger son’s forgiveness. The elder son is returning from the fields, and he hears in the house music and dancing, and he refuses to go in, because, as he tells his father, “I’ve worked for you like a slave all these years, and you never even gave me as much as a goat to party with my friends.” The elder son, it turns out, doesn’t like being the good boy, the responsible boy, the I-never-did-anything-wrong boy. He has been living in his father’s house for years – and the whole time he has been harboring bitterness and resentment and self-righteousness, he has never enjoyed everything his father has, because he never thought he was getting anything for himself. So he remains outside, trapped in his own anger, trapped in his own version of self-centeredness and greed – maybe not as obvious as his brother’s self-centeredness and greed, but every bit as pernicious.

And so the father goes out to him, too. And the father says to him, “Son, you are always with me; everything I have is always yours. You can join the celebration any time you want. All you have to do is come inside.” The father offers his older son a new beginning, a new potential for relationship, so that the son no longer looks on his father as a slavedriver, so that the son can let go of anger and bitterness and resentment, and really enjoy the riches his father wants to share with him. The father’s invitation evokes God’s own creative power, and lets the son be anew.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

And we are called to that same kind of new creation in our souls, too. Think about your own life, your own relationships, your own sharing in the inheritance of God’s riches all around you. Where are you laboring under old self-centeredness and recklessness and greed? Where are you trapped in old bitterness and resentment and self-righteous wrath? And where might God be opening to you the new beginnings of love and compassion and reconciliation and joy? Where is God running out to welcome you home, to invite you to come into the house and join the celebration?

May you hear today the practical Good News: If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Amen.