We are traveling on a “journey of the heart,” walking these Lenten days toward resurrection. Embracing transformation,
new possibilities, and new life is what our journey is all about. But we still have work to do before we arrive in the garden
with an empty tomb. As we look towards Easter on the distant horizon, we might be tempted to try to go faster. But if we
listen to the Apostle Paul, we are reminded that we still need to walk slowly and with great care. Before we can get to the
new creation of Easter, we have some repair work to do within our own hearts and in our world. So far on our journey,
we have travelled through the desert, barren wilderness, countless stars, and promises of God both large and small.
Like threads that sew together a patchwork quilt or repair a favorite garment, this week we begin binding together our
journey with repentance, reconciliation, and repair.
Does it feel like the world is coming apart at the seams? Perhaps there is too much going on in your personal life to
even look up and pay attention to the world. You might say, “I’ve got trouble enough on my own.” One of the things
that we are called upon to do during Lent or periods of personal reflection about God is to pay attention to the places
in our lives where things are fraying at the seams, repair them even.
A couple of months ago now I saw this incredible video of someone repairing holes and worn spots in clothes. When
I repair something, I try to match the thread to the garment. I try to make the repair invisible. The person in the video
was doing the exact opposite. She selected a thread or even yarn that contrasted with the garment. Then, she sewed a
design that not only repaired it better, but it was beautiful and interesting, flowers, geometric designs, patterns. It turned
something that I would have thought was ruined and beyond repair into something that was even better than the original.
What if we could do that with the world around us? That’s part of what Paul is talking to us about here.
What can we do to repair the torn, frayed fabric of society? To repair systems and structures, we usually need to break
them down to basic levels, see where the problem is, address the root causes of failure, and then begin rebuilding. It is
not hard to look around this world, our own communities, perhaps even our own families, and see a thousand different
fissures – cracks where God’s harmonious creation has somehow gone awry. Part of the good news is that we don’t have
to do it all by ourselves. In fact, it is impossible, but we can start by doing one thing for one person. As the saying goes
and you can see in your bulletin: “Helping one person may not change the world, but it could change the world for one
person.” [graphic somewhere in the bulletin] It is not about grand gestures, but rather small acts of kindness, small steps
made in faith, small displays of love and solidarity. Each daily action that embodies lovingkindness does not necessarily
make an immediate, large impact. But as we keep loving and walking in grace, our collective actions, all together, can add
up. They can begin to make a new world—a whole new creation!—if we only have eyes to see it. That is what Paul tells us
in today’s Scripture passage. This week we are back in 2 Corinthians. This time we are looking at chapter 5 verses 16-21.
Hear the word of the Lord.
16 [Paul says,] So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we
once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the
new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled
us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling
the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us
the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making
his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who
had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Paul urged the gathered community in Corinth to expand their vision, to see that “everything has become new”
(2 Corinthians 5:17). This kind of seeing moves beyond what our eyes can plainly see. Humanity has always tended
to focus on what is broken, what is limiting, what is imperfect – both in ourselves and in the world. What if, on our
way to building a new and better world, all the limits we put on people and things were suddenly taken apart? What
if we started to see the world through the eyes of Christ, whose eyes saw human difference as an opportunity to expand
the reign of God on earth?
But it’s hard. Sometimes it feels like it is getting harder every day. All of the conflict. All of the times when a difference
of opinion becomes a justification for hatred. When we see people who think they are our enemy trying to hurt us, the
people we hold dear, or things that we think are important, it is natural, fleshly, worldly to want to strike back. You have
either heard, said, or thought, “You can hurt me, but don’t mess with someone I love.” or “I can forgive someone who’s
hurt me, but not someone who’s hurt the one that I love.” Those perspectives get to our deepest rawest emotions.
One of my favorite movies, from the 1980s is Steel Magnolias. Are you familiar with it? A small group of women of a certain
age live in a small town in Louisiana. They are friends and neighbors, and their paths cross in many places in their lives, but
one place that they see each other on a regular basis is at Truvy‘s beauty shop. Near the end of the movie one of the ladies,
M’Lynn, has lost an adult daughter with Juvenile Diabetes to death. She has watched out for and protected this now adul
t child all of her life. Now, she is gone. The funeral is over, and her friends gather around her. They’re worried, and they
ask her how she is.
She says, ” I’m fine. I’m FINE. I’M FINE! … I’m so mad I don’t know what to do … I want to know why … WHY! I don’t
think I can take this. I just want to hit somebody until they feel as bad as I do. I just want to hit something. I want to hit
Isn’t that it? Even if we don’t act on it. It’s natural to feel that way on the inside. As we are being recreated by God, we are
being transformed to someone who can offer reconciliation with our neighbor, even with someone who has hurt us, and
yes, even someone who has hurt someone that we love.
Jesus saw through all barriers and boundaries, broke them to the point where even death lost all its finality. Jesus saw
through all brokenness and hopelessness, and poured himself out to the point where love conquered all. What if part of
our Lenten discipline involved learning to see with grace-healed eyes? What if we learned how to see with a newer, broader
vision so that the widening of our vision led to a widening of our hearts? What if we focused on the threads of creation that
bind us together and through the work of reconciliation began to stitch the threads of a new creation–threads that would
bind us closer to one another and to God?
Our reading from Paul calls back to a prophecy from Isaiah about the world made new: “Do not remember the former
things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make
a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19). Paul continues this ancient theme, telling us the new
creation is always and everywhere in our midst. It is always being created. And it is created by us through Christ. We are
God’s vision. We are the ones that are resurrected with Christ. We are the ones who, while walking in the wilderness, have
found Living Water in the desert. It is no longer enough to simply see and perceive that a new world is possible. Because
we are to be the agents of reconciliation who keep working to bring God’s vision into reality. Paul proclaims, “So if anyone
is in Christ, there is a new creation.” Anyone? Anyone! Are you in Christ? Then there is a new creation. Is anyone around
you in Christ? Then there is a new creation.
The Lenten wilderness is a place where it becomes necessary to shed some of our old ways. We need to let go of sin and
selfishness, greed and self-centeredness to make room for this whole new, resurrected life into which we are called to
live. Paul asks his community—and us—to “be reconciled,” “trusting the ministry of reconciliation to us.” The thing is
that it is really God that does this reconciling. God is reconciling the creation to God’s self, but as the newly recreated,
we are the ambassadors. We are the ones that get to tell people what has happened even if they don’t see it yet, even if
we don’t fully understand it yet.
Today, is movie day because there are a couple of other films I want to mention that illustrate this well, The Truman
Show and The Matrix. In these movies, “the main characters each face a crisis of learning that the world that they have
always known is not the “real” world. For Neo in The Matrix the world he knows is a complete fabrication, but learning
this information places him in a war in the real world. For Truman, the world and lifestyle created for him by a TV producer
are not satisfactory to him once he discovers that there is a whole new world beyond his experience. Knowing that there is
another world makes him long to experience it. Neither character can go back to life as normal because they have
[a new way of seeing their life] a new way of knowing. They are now aware that the real world is beyond anything that they
previously imagined.” (Carla Works, “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21,”
https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1595, accessed 02/21/2019)
Have you ever taken one of those personality tests? They are all over the place online. What animal are you? What Disney
hero are you? There are tests that you can take to find out if you are the right fit or temperament for a particular job or
career. Before becoming a pastor I had to take one with over 600 questions, by hand. It took days for my hand to recover
from holding my Number 2 Pencil. A popular one is the Myers-Briggs test. I am borderline in a couple of the classifications,
but the results for me is always the same, INTJ. INtuitive-Thinking-Judging. It doesn’t mean that I’m judgmental. It means
that I assess things. Overall, it means that I am a “bottom-line” kind of person. I am interested in results. Does something work
As I observe this broken world (or even the new one), the attitude of I’m right. You’re wrong. Bend to my will or else, doesn’t
actually work. In the short term, if you have enough force, it can have the illusion of working for a short time, but in reality,
people are keeping their heads down, biding their time until they feel strong enough or see someone who can be their protector
when they feel that they can come forward and exert themselves again.
On the other hand, Reconciliation. Repair. Reborn. New life. New creation. Those are things that last. I respect you. I listen
to you. Not, I tolerate you. I humor you, or I placate you until I can get away from you and lash back at you from a safe distance.
This broken world is full of conflict, and it’s growing. Or, as I mentioned, our awareness of it is growing. Every day. I see the
pendulum swing further and further, and just when I think that it can’t go any further, some new unbelievable thing has happened.
You know what. I may not be able to do a single thing about it. I can do things like vote and pray, but most of all, I can see the
person standing in front of me. With God’s help, I can see them as God sees them, and I can love them as God loves them. I can
recognize that I am a new creation, and I am not stuck in old “act and react” kinds of patterns. I live in the new creation. I can’t
go back to the old way. I can’t pretend. It starts or restarts right here, right now as we return to God.
I don’t know if you have been watching the videos that go along with our church project to read through the Bible this year. I’ve
been experiencing new ways to think about what the Bible is saying, especially the parts that I’ve found difficult because it seems
repetitive or it doesn’t seem to apply to our lives now. When we were in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy there were a lot of
laws about cleanliness, which is not about making sure that we are free of germs. The penalties for non-compliance could be
severe. It is amazing how often the penalty was death though not everything. Touch a dead body, come in contact with bodily fluids,
and so on. If one was unclean, they could not participate in the life of the community until they had been cleansed. If you touch
something unclean, you become unclean, contaminated. It seems archaic, and being under the new covenant, we are no longer under
the law. We can ask, what does it really matter?
However, some of the laws teach us about morality, kindness, and mercy. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Treat parents, widows,
the destitute with respect. Help and take care of them. This is good stuff, and it does still apply to us today. While we are not under
the Mosaic Law, it is still a part of Christian life, part of the example that Jesus gave to us.
One other thing that the old laws show us is the importance of purity and goodness when it comes to God. Think of the sun in the sky.
Like the sun, God provides light and warmth, goodness. Life would not exist on Earth without the sun. But, if you get too close, what
happens? Think of living on the planet Mercury. Right next to the sun. For us, unprotected, unshielded, Death. Incineration. So, part
of the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to allow humans to come close to God without effectively getting burned by the fire. As God is
holy, nothing can come into God’s presence unless it is cleansed or holy. Otherwise, it will be burned up.
However, a new thing happened with Jesus. Rather than the old way of uncleanliness or contamination spreading from person to
person, Jesus touches people and makes them clean, purifies them. Through Jesus, it is holiness that spreads from person to person,
but we need to maintain it. We need to stay connected to the source. This allows us to be in the presence of, to have a relationship
with, God. This is the new creation. This is God reconciling the world to himself.
Can we go back to the old way and pretend that we don’t know? Paul is adamant that he cannot go back. Perhaps, the reason that
things look so bad is that we are now seeing them with new eyes, new awareness, where before we were oblivious. Reconciliation will
involve letting go of our old ways of seeing. How can our Lenten journey help us to see beyond the obstacles and stumbling blocks,
the places where the fabric of humanity seems too threadbare and torn? And how can we begin to open the eyes of our hearts, to dream
of a world fully reconciled and renewed, resurrected and restored?
Do you have trouble seeing things this way, a new way of living and being? Does it feel easier and more comfortable to keep
things the way that we’ve always known them? Do you resist the new life and the change that might mean? The good news is
Christ keeps calling, beckoning, pulling at us, drawing us together so that all Creation might be reconciled to God. The good
news is that when we see the frayed edges of human injustice and indignity with the eyes of Christ, then we are compelled to
start the work of repair, the work of mending.
The world will never glimpse God’s vision unless we share it, unless we make a concerted effort to say with our hearts and our
lives: this is where the world has been torn. This is where it is broken, but . . . this is where love is calling us to go . . . This is what
love is calling us to bind and to build. Let us heal the hurt with the ties that bind it back together in Christ. Let us point to the places
where water flows in the deserts of life. Let us work to live into the fullness of God’s good creation. Let us see beauty while creating
harmony, justice, and reconciliation – one small act at a time.