Tuesday, September 3, 2013

If Anyone Is In Christ--New Creation!"

Concordia College Chapel Worship
September 4, 2013
Celebration of ELCA 25th Anniversary
II Cor. 5:16-21

Dear friends in Christ, in hearing this Word may you know the unfathomable love of God who makes all things new.  Amen.

“If anyone is in Christ….new creation!”

“If anyone is in Christ—new creation!”

I have it on good authority (from the English prof who sits in the President’s office, no less!)…that if you include this phrase in a composition assignment for course #IWC-100, your instructor will get out the dreaded red pen and deduct points!

Why?    Because “If anyone is in Christ…new creation!” isn’t even a complete sentence in English…though it is a faithful, literal translation of St Paul’s first-century Greek text.

“If anyone is in Christ…new creation”    Bad English, jarring Greek, but it captures what’s at the heart of everything for persons who’ve been caught in the updraft of God’s new thing in Jesus Christ.

Paul fractures language here because Jesus Christ has fractured the cosmos….Christ has upended it all, in his death-dying life, his self-emptying death, and his hope-reviving resurrection.

“If anyone is in Christ….new creation!”

When Jesus died and was buried, everything old passed away with him….and at dawn on Easter, everything new stepped forth into the morning light “in Christ.”

And nothing has been the same since that first Easter….and no one who’s been overtaken by this business, no one who’s been joined to, incorporated into this Christ, no one comes through this experience unscathed.

It’s all over folks.   Space and time and life itself—as we used to know it—it’s all over, done, finished.   “If anyone is in Christ—new creation!”

These words have been claimed by our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America during 2013 as we celebrate our 25th anniversary as a church body.   We ELCA-types, recalling with gratitude a quarter century together are choosing to identify ourselves as “always being made new” in Jesus Christ.

That’s not your typical church anniversary theme verse.  

Usually, when Christians observe church anniversaries they choose themes that look backward, celebrate what has been, take stock of where we’ve come from.  

But this 25th anniversary of our ELCA is intensely, intentionally forward-looking.  It’s about what God is doing and will continue to do.  No dusty, musty nostalgia here—this is about “always being made new.”

I wish I could tell you that we in the ELCA chose this verse because we already get that 100%.  Yessiree we ELCA folks are “hands down” the newest, freshest, edgiest church body in North America!

I wish I could make that claim, but you know I can’t. In fact, I doubt that any organized church, with articles of incorporation and deeds to real estate and five-year strategic plans…I don’t think any such group can claim to be 100%  “new creation.”  

Truth be told, we all have one foot firmly planted in the old creation, the passing-away world as we have known it.  We are in this strange frontier, this liminal in-between space, with habits and loyalties and investment in the old creation…..even as we catch glimpses of and are beckoned to, drawn toward God’s new creation.

So, in this 25th anniversary theme we find a strong aspirational aspect.  We aspire to, we strive to lean into the new thing God is doing….and at least part of us trusts that this is indeed our hope, this is what moves us and continually calls us out of the old creation and into God’s new creation.

In this anniversary year we in the ELCA are saying that we’re ready to bet the whole farm on the notion that God is in fact making all things new, starting with us, starting with this church body that is proud to claim Concordia College as one of its crown jewels.

So what is it that we aspire to as God’s always-being-made-new church?  

1.    We in the ELCA aspire to a life based on nothing but the gratuitous mercy of God in Jesus Christ.   As a pastor friend of mine likes to say:  “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.”   No blunder you’ve made, no gnawing guilt, no shame that dogs your days….none of those things has any power over us in Christ who has reconciled the whole world—the cosmos!—to himself.  

2.   We of the ELCA aspire to inviting everyone—and I mean everyone—to journey with us toward God’s future.   A church that is always being made new in Christ sees itself less as a comfortable enclave of the like-minded….and more as a flinty band of discoverers ready to follow Christ into costly, bracing mission in a hurting, longing world.  If that appeals to you, please come along with us!

3.   We who are the ELCA aspire to learning the truth, speaking the truth and living the truth.   As Christ’s always-being-made-new people (especially living in this community of higher learning) we dare to believe that if all truth is in fact God’s truth, we need not hold back from exploring, pondering and engaging such truth in whatever form it takes. We are unafraid to look truth right in the eyes because we believe that Truth is a Person who walked on this earth, died for his friends, and been raised from death to disclose the deepest Truth that resides in God’s aching heart…the Truth of God’s hopeless devotion to all whom God has made.

4.   We who call the ELCA our home aspire to a bold and encompassing wholeness in serving God’s mission…a wholeness that refuses to divide and conquer—a wholeness that seamlessly blends telling the story of Christ with serving in the manner of Christ.  This wholistic vision is so appealing that more persons like you are applying for opportunities like YAGM—Young Adults in Global Mission—more of you are applying than we have positions funded to receive you at this time.  So in celebration of our 25th anniversary we in the ELCA are going to go after the dollars to remedy that!

5.   We ELCA-ers aspire to live on the basis of our hopes rather than our fears.  There are all sorts of religious folks who think you somehow have to scare the hell out of someone in order to save them…who believe fear is a dandy motivator to bring us into God’s orbit.   An always-being-made-new church, and a college of such a church, like Concordia, will instead exude the sweet fragrance of Good News that woos us, that attracts us with the winsomeness of Jesus and his wonderful way in the world.

Back when I was in college--when dinosaurs roamed the earth—there was a popular lapel button with just these nine letters on it:  PBPGIFWMY…standing for “please be patient; God isn’t finished with me yet.”

Thank God, that is true for all of us, in Christ Jesus:  true for you, true for me, true for this church, true for this college.  

If anyone is in Christ—new creation!

Isn’t that amazing?
In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

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