"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
(2 Corinthians 5:6-10; 14-17)
This Sunday marks the beginning of a new Conference appointment. Even though I'm being reappointed as pastor of St. John the Apostle, each year is a new appointment. Preachers are only appointed one year at a time. That's part of our system for insuring that every church has a pastor and every pastor has a church. The final piece of business at every Annual Conference is the reading of appointments. It's exciting to hear all the names of all the churches and the pastors who will be serving them read aloud. It's even more exciting to sit there and hear the Church's name read and then to hear your own name read following it. Every reading of the appointments marks the beginning of something new. Even for those who are returning for their fourth, fifth or sixth year. It's something new.
In one of the churches I was appointed to several years ago, there was a little blonde headed boy by the name of Barrett Lockwood, who fell in love with me and me with him, the day we first met. Whenever the Lockwood's were at church, Barrett would follow me around and grin up at me whenever I noticed him. Barrett was a little shy and never said much. Then one day I saw him in the grocery store. At first he just looked at me. You could see that he thought he knew me and was puzzling over who I was. Then there was that instant of recognition. The light went on and Barrett came running over and hollered, "Mommy, Mommy. It's the new creature. It's the new creature from church."
And he was right. As you read the words of Paul in this letter to the Corinthian Church, he says: "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" Through the transforming and forgiving power of Christ we have all become new creatures, new creations. Through the saving grace of Jesus Christ we have been given second chances. We've been cleaned up, fed, clothed in a new suit and sent out to live for God. Paul reminds us of all of that and then gives us guidelines for living the life of faith.
He says, because we are new creations: "We walk by faith, not by sight." "We no longer live for ourselves, but for Christ." and "We regard no one from a human point of view."
I. BY FAITH, NOT SIGHT:
A. What does it mean to walk by faith and not by sight? I remember reading one time about a missionary who was translating the Bible into one of the African tribal languages. The people of this particular tribe were simple and so was their language. They didn't have any words for belief or faith and so the missionary was having a hard time communicating the Gospel. One day one of the locals came in after having carried a heavy load. He walked over to a large, sturdy wooden chair. Sat down and liet out a sigh. Then he turned to the missionary and said, "It feels good to rest my whole weight on this chair."
That's when the missionary realized how to describe faith. Faith is resting our whole weight on God. It is resting the weight of our cares and worries; the burdens of grief and sorrow, anguish and heartache and even our anger upon God. It is letting God bear the whole weight of our lives. That's what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.
B. And we've seen how that is translated into everyday life. We all know the Palm Sunday tragedy that struck the United Methodist Church in Piedmont, Alabama. While they were celebrating Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a tornado struck and destroyed their church. Rev. Kelly, the pastor, lost her six year old in the storm. And yet, despite the storm, their faith continued. Battered and bruised Rev. Kelly boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Still grieving, still battered and bruised, the courageous survivors of this storm held their Easter services in the midst of the ruins of their Church. They proclaimed the good news of the resurrection, of new life, of Christ with us; they proclaimed the message of hope to the community around them. How? Through faith and not by sight.6
Bishop Ndoracimpa, Bishop of the Burundi Conference, returned to Burundi after his Annual Mission journey only to find his own country in as much turmoil as the neighboring country of Rwanada. There were death threats made upon his life. On the second day back home, one of the young men who assisted him around the house was brutally murdered and a note attached to the body which warned the Bishop to leave or the same would happen to him. The two American Bishops who accompanied Bishop Ndoracimpa back to Burundi urged him to leave but he told them he had to stay for his people. They reminded him of the death threats and he reminded them of the resurrection and said, "I would rather die than be unfaithful. Besides, what have I to fear if I believe in the resurrection?" Bishop Ndoracimpa is walking by faith and not by sight. We're called to do the same.
II. LIVE FOR CHRIST, NOT SELF:
A. Through the grace of Christ's death and resurrection, we are transformed and made New Creations in Christ. As New Creations we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. As New Creations we're called to live for Christ and not for our selves. That means we're to think of Christ and others first. It's a means of prioritizing our lives and our faith.
One of the most beautiful examples of living for Christ and not for ourselves which I've heard lately comes from Richard Jensen, a Lutheran minister in Fremont, Nebraska. He writes:
She had been a charter member of Trinity Church when it was founded just after World War II. She was an "original" and she was faithful. Every Sunday she sat in the same place, third pew on the right, just past the first pillar. Generations of members of Trinity Church had grown accustomed to seeing her sit in that pew. Few knew her name, however. She didn't mingle much and didn't seem like she wanted to be bothered much by small talk. So the folks just called her, "The Lady in Blue." That's because she almost always wore a blue dress to church. "The Lady in Blue" and her place in the pew had become a part of the fabric of life at Trinity.
And then one Sunday, her place was vacant. "The Lady in Blue" was nowhere to be seen. Everyone noticed, you couldn't help it. There was just a kind of vacuum at Trinity Church that morning. The pastor announced from the pulpit that their "The Lady in Blue," whose name was actually Grace Givens, had passed away early in the morning of a sudden heart attack. The funeral would be on Wednesday morning at 10 at Trinity.
Quite a few of the older members of the congregation gathered that Wednesday morning to pay their respects to this woman whom hardly anyone knew by name. After the committal service many of them gathered back at the church for a light lunch. Grace Givens' daughter had come back to town for the occasion. Her name was April Givens. April had spent the days prior to the funeral making arrangements for the burial service and going through her mother's things. She got quite an education as she sorted through her mother's belongings, diaries and financial affairs.
"So sorry about your mother's passing," Tom Warren said to April. "We hardly knew her, you know. But she was always in her place on Sunday morning."
"Are you the Warrens whose son Frank had such a sickly spell some years back?" April Givens asked.
"Yes, yes we are. Why do you ask?"
"Well," said April, "I ran across your name and Frank's in mother's prayer diary. For a long period of time it appears that Mom prayed for your family for an hour each day."
"For us," Tom replied with unbelief in his eyes. "I had no idea she even knew who we were."
April Givens had many conversations like this the day of the funeral. When she met the Browns she told them that she had discovered that it was her mother who totally funded the scholarship the church gave to their son to get through college. "We had no idea," said the Browns.
There were many more whom the "The Lady in Blue" had prayed for and helped out through her years of membership at Trinity. As April Givens revealed her mother's secrets to people that day, their responses all sounded about the same. "But I hardly knew her." "How did she even know we had that need?" "Why would she do that for us?" "I didn't even know her name."
The people of Trinity Church were dumbfounded to discover all the myriads of ways that their "Lady in Blue" had served their needs through the years. It was astonishing. It was the best kept secret in Trinity Church. (1)
"The Lady in Blue" was a New Creation who lived for Christ and not for herself. As New Creations, transformed by the grace of God in Christ, we're called to live for Christ and not for our selves.
III. REGARD NO ONE FROM HUMAN POINT OF VIEW:
A. We have been made new creations through Christ. We're called to walk by faith and not by sight; to live for Christ and not for ourselves; AND to regard no one from a human point of view. When we regard people from a human point of view, then those old human prejudices get in the way. When we regard people from a human point of view things like skin color, sex, language and nationality get in our way of accepting each other as Christ has accepted us. The Scripture tells us that none of those things, none of the outward things make any difference to God and they shouldn't make any difference to us.
There's a current TV commercial in which a sexy tennis star says, "Image is everything." The Bible says, "Ehh, Wrong answer." It's not how we look or how we appear to others that counts. It's how we appear to God and God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. Paul tells us that because we have been raised with Christ, "therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view." (2 Cor. 5:16)
B. Emilio Lopez received a surprise call from his bishop. The bishop asked if he would be interested in serving a white congregation in a neighborhood becoming Hispanic. Emilio said, "Yes." Because of the transition of the neighborhood, many of the white members were leaving and only a few of the Hispanic families were attending. It was a challenge but one Emilio Lopez was ready for. He revitalized some of the white families which had been leaving. And many of the families in the community began joining the Church. However, not everyone was pleased with what was going on. Marv Lebold, for example, wasn't pleased at all. Marv and his family had been members for years and he was so upset by the changes that he grabbed the pastor one day, shoved him against the wall of the church and hollered: "What are you doing here? What are you trying to do to my church and who are all these new people you're bringing in?"
Pastor Lopez was scared. But as he prayed about it and thought about it, he realized that Marv Lebold was probably nervous about the fact that many members of the Lebold family were coming to celebrate Christmas at the Church. And he wasn't sure how they would react to this multi-racial congregation.
Marv and his family did attend the Christmas service. And his fears were justified. It was very different. The service was conducted in two languages; English and Spanish. The live manger scene had an Hispanic Joseph, and white Mary, a baby from El Salvador and two of the wise men were black. The Lebold family thought it was a wonderful expression of the Christian faith.
A week after Christmas, Marv Lebold made an appointment with Rev. Lopez. He entered the pastor's office sheepishly and said, "I've come to apologize. I was wrong. The Christmas service, especially the cast of characters, really got me. I've changed my tune."
Marv Lebold saw what Paul was talking about. During that Christmas service, he saw through the eyes of faith. He learned that as New Creations in Christ, "we regard no one from a human point of view." (2 Cor. 5:16)
Back when I was in High School, every afternoon I would come home from school, open the refrigerator door and get out all the ingredients to build me a sandwich of Dagwood Bumstead proportions. I had a special favorite which I called "The Dinger." Both my friends and my family couldn't believe the concoction but to a sixteen year old boy it was heaven between two slices of bread.
"The Dinger" consisted of peanut butter, spread thick on two slices of bread. To this you added at least two slices of bologna and a slice of American cheese. The cheese had to be between the two slices of bologna or it didn't taste right. This was laid on one slice of peanut buttered bread and another slice of bread was added. To this second slice of bread was added honey or if we were out of honey, Hershey's, chocolate syrup. (Sometimes, if I was really, really hungry, I would add a handful of potato chips.) Then you took that second slice of peanut buttered bread and carefully lining up the bread just right, so it all faced the same direction, you mashed it all together. To me that was ambrosia.
Well, a couple of years ago, I got to thinking about "The Dinger" and decided to build one. I got all the ingredients together slapped and smeared and stacked and smashed with anticipation of reliving some of those "sixteen year old boy" memories. "The Dinger" I built was the finest one ever conceived. (I used honey, not chocolate syrup.) I could hardly wait. I opened my mouth and sunk my teeth into what I thought would be the moment of a lifetime. And it was. I nearly choked. How I could have ever eaten such a horrendous combination and survived I'll never know. My attempt at returning to my youth turned my stomach.
The old saying that you can't go home is true. The reason it's true is that our ideas, our perceptions, our experiences, even our taste buds have all changed. Our ways have changed and so have everyone else's. None of us are what we remember. And to me that's Good News, for some folks have risen far above what they once were. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! "
For those of us who have changed, that really is Good News. For we can see and rejoice in what we have each become through Christ and not try to choke down what we once were. We really are New Creations through Christ. It is the grace and transforming power of Christ's love which made this New Creation of each of us and it is Christ's love which urges us on.
As New Creations empowered by the love of Christ, we're called to walk by faith and not by sight; to live for Christ and not for ourselves and to regard no one from a human point of view but see them from God's point of view. Let the love of Christ urge you on this week. Live as God's New Creation.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. 56 Lectionary Stories for Preaching, (CSS Publishing Co. Inc., Lima, Ohio, 1993.) pp. 37-38.
2. 56 Lectionary Stories for Preaching, (CSS Publishing Co. Inc., Lima, Ohio, 1993.) p 9.