Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Creation!! (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

The love of God controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died.  He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.

So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards.  Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now.  So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation.  The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them.  He has trusted us with this ministry of reconciliation.

So we are ambassadors who represent Christ.  God is negotiating with you through us.  We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”


Many of you have met my sister, Christel, who lives in Newton with her husband and their two boys.  Mike and Christel love an old house they can buy and fix up.  A few years ago, they bought their current home – one built in 1878 at the edge of Newton’s historic district.

I remember when she called to express their excitement after they got the house.  A big family home on a deep lot with mature trees – sweeping front porch, 12-foot ceilings, five fireplaces.  Yes, it needed some work, but it would be both their family home and their newest project.

I drove up to see the house.  I pulled up to the address, looked over their new beloved, prize possession, and thought, “What a dump!”  But as I got out of the car, I thought, “Maybe it will get better on the inside.”

It did not get better on the inside.  “Don’t stand there!  You might end up in the basement!”  “Don’t use the upstairs shower, because it will rain in the main hall if you do!”  “Don’t mind the 20-foot hole in the foundation; we’re planning to have someone come and take a look at it.”  The tour through this funhouse of residential obstacles continued, and when it was over, I said the kindest thing I could think of and say honestly: “I am so happy for you!!!”

Truer words have never been spoken.  I see a heap, but she sees something different: a precious jewel that just needs to be cleaned up, polished, and restored to its original beauty, and because she loves the house, the intense labor of love is totally worth it.

I wonder – if God sees us the same way. 

Our Scripture reading today from 2 Corinthians 5 rests in a promise of how God sees us and, therefore, how we are called to see others.  If the saying is true, that “seeing is believing” or “perception is reality,” how we are seen by God and how we see others is no small thing.

You’ve seen those drawings where if your eyes focus one way, it looks like one thing, and if your eyes focus another, it looks like something else.  Here is one of the more well-known examples of that – what do you see here?

Now – which one is right?  Is this a picture of an old woman facing you looking down, or is this a picture of a young woman turning her head away from you?  It’s both, of course, but what you see depends on your perspective – it depends on what you focus on.

Put a half-glass of water on the table: some of us will say it is half-empty, some of us will say it is half-full, others of us will wonder where the Diet Pepsi we ordered is.  What you see depends on your perspective.

Today, when you came into worship, my guess is that everyone noticed the painting that’s been done in here over the last two weeks – but, what did you focus on?  Did you notice the warm and inviting colors that were chosen, how the cracks in the plaster walls have been repaired, how the beautiful woodwork that’s always been there just pops out, how the original beauty of this room has been restored?  Or, did you notice the dust that’s still on the floor, that something didn’t get put back exactly as it was, or the paint fumes?  How you see this particular project will depend on your perspective.  Our perception shapes our reality.

That’s what Paul was getting at in today’s Scripture reading.  There is more than one way of looking at something.  For his purposes, it’s a contrast between seeing things from a human standpoint and seeing them from God’s point-of-view.

It’s really a question of vision – not so much what we see, but how we see. Without Christ, we see other people from a human perspective – we see and we make judgments through the lenses of color or creed, of nationality or economic status, of gender or sexual orientation – every time we look at another human being through these lenses we are looking at them from a human perspective.

What we realize, particularly from today’s Scripture, is that our human vision is so much less than what God desires; that my vision, your vision, our human vision requires correction so that we will see as God sees.

When we talk about the fall of humanity, of the role of sin in the world, one compelling way to think of it is that we no longer see correctly.  We have lost our God vision, and must rely on our faulty human vision, full of its ungenerous judgments toward others and our presumptuous prideful claims about ourselves.

What we must realize is that seeing other people in this way is not the perspective God desires for us, indeed, it is far from how God created us in the first place.  We must never lose sight of the reality that God created us in God’s image – that doesn’t mean that we physically look like God, but that we are created in love as God is love, and with the capacity to love as God loves.

The image of a loving God is marked indelibly on each human heart; it just needs to be restored.

How we see things becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that what you see is what you get.  If you are always looking for the negative, then guess what, you’re going to see the negative 100% of the time.  If you’re always looking for the best, then that’s what you’ll see.  Here in the church, we’re always looking for people who see more of the positive than the negative, whose vision is in synch with God’s perspective, who contribute more than they complain.  These are the people we look to for leadership and direction; these are the people who can help us see more like God sees; these are the people who can help us become the kind of visionary community God wants us to be.

Come back with me to my sister’s house.  Whereas some folks would gut it or even tear it down and start from scratch with something new, which would be easier, faster, and, in the long run, probably cheaper, the work her family has done and continues to do on their house is a restoration project.  It’s not renovation or remodeling, it’s restoration – they see the beauty that is already there and just waiting to be exposed.

So they don’t throw away and start over.  Original fixtures are salvaged – doorknobs, hinges, pieces of trim, windows, switchplate and vent covers.  Layers of accumulated stuff are removed – dirt, grime, paint, rust, all of it.  Repairs are made.  Whatever can be reused is.  They scour salvage stores and restoration warehouses looking for just the right door or lighting fixture, or faucet handle.  When they do have to put in new components, they carefully research their options and find those that best match the period and character of the house.

When they’re done, it will feel like a new house, but they will have simply revealed what was there all along.

So it is for those who are in Christ and part of God’s new creation.  Life in Christ feels brand new, but in reality, it is the restoration of the image of God that was there all along, but for whatever reason, couldn’t be seen. 

What’s more, the restored image of God gives us the ability to no longer see people from a human perspective, but from God’s.  That’s pretty huge, folks.  Because, if God sees us as precious and beautiful, if God sees us as beloved children who bear God’s image – what would it mean for us to do the same?  To do as the Bible tells us, to serve as “ambassadors who represent Christ,” – seeing other people more like God sees them.

God looks on us with love even when we aren’t all that lovable, and that even when we felt like worthless trash, in God’s eyes, we have always been priceless treasure.

Human vision sees a heap; Godly vision sees a precious jewel that needs to be cleaned up and restored to its original beauty – and what you see is what you get.

May your sight be worthy of the loving God whose image you bear, and in whose name you are sent.  It’s an intense labor of love; and it’s totally worth it.

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