Friday, July 8, 2016

New Creation is Everything

This is the message I preached on Sunday, 7/3 at St.Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church. The text is Galatians 6:7-16..

I'm not a big fan of a lot of jewelry, but I love the variety of crosses that people wear. The Jerusalem
Cross is near the top of the list. What's unique about the Jerusalem Cross is the four smaller crosses that are part of it. The smaller crosses stand for Jesus' wounds in his head, hands, feet and side.

And of course, being Irish, I feel a special affinity for the Celtic cross with all its interconnected knots. And in the middle is the symbol of the Holy Trinity, which is a triangle of inter-connected rings. These crosses are not only beautiful, but tell the salvation story.

Then we have the cross our Lord Jesus Christ died upon. There is nothing attractive about it. It isn't pretty like our jewelry. The wood was not smooth and clean. At times, so many were crucified by the Romans, thatthere wasn't time to cut the trees down, meaning some were crucified on live trees.

Christ suffered the least admirable, the most ugly, the least classy way to death, showing that he is unimpressed by any kind of boast.

If we want to better understand the Apostle Paul and his passion for the gospel, it can be summed up in this truth--Jesus died on a cross. It was the most humiliating thing imaginable. It is not an achievement, quality or possession. It is not beautiful or stylish. It is not even something about Paul himself. It is however, all that Paul wants us to know about him. It is all that matters.

Doesn't it seem strange to boast of a cross, the symbol of death and defeat? After all, kings sit on thrones. They are not nailed to crosses. Kings hold a scepter, not a reed. Kings drink wine from silver goblets, not vinegar from a sponge. No wonder they taunted this so-called king who was suffering a humiliating death.

The Galatian believers struggled with Jewish teachers who taught that the Galatians had to do more than accept God's gracious offer of faith through grace to become God's children. They taught that non-Jews had to be circumcised, like the Jewish people, in order to please God. What they were promoting was grace AND something else. God's work in Christ on the cross and faith in that was not enough. Earlier in Galatians, Paul states vehemently that those Jewish teachers were wrong, to the point where he wrote, "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12).

Paul said, such proselytizers wanted to "boast about [the Galatians'] flesh," meaning to boast about their success in proselytizing. They also wanted to avoid being "persecuted for the cross of Christ (v. 12). Paul's attitude was of course, the polar opposite, not wanting to "boast of anything except the cross of... Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v. 14).

The "world" Paul speaks of is not the created world, but the "present evil age" (1:4). Paul still had to fight with the evil age, but lived in a "crucified" relationship to it. He recognized that this order is passing away, for in the death and resurrection of Christ, a new creation has shattered the old order.

With all that Paul had done in teaching, preaching and bringing people to Christ, he did not seek praise or boast about all he had done. Paul warns here against spiritual pride. We can make the cross or faith in it, a matter of our own doing by turning faith into works instead of a gift. The only thing Paul wanted to boast about is the cross and its transformative power in his life.

Paul applies crucifixion language to himself almost as often as he uses it of Christ. In Paul's understanding of the world, we not only look back to Christ's death to find our identity, but we somehow also share in Christ's death in the present. Earlier in Galatians, Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (2:19-20).

For Paul, "Three deaths have occurred: Christ died, the world died, [and] Paul died" (Craig Koester). "All of the old antagonisms and their bitterness stored up for generations: [are now] dead. All of the old ways of measuring ourselves and one another: [are now] dead. All of the fleshly definitions of who is in and who is out: [are now] dead" (Doug Lee).

The new creation is the evidence of the transforming power of the cross--the changed lives of people who have met the Christ of the cross, who by grace have submitted in repentance and faith.The new creation is the new community in Christ. It is a community that does good works--not in order to be saved, but to respond in love to the Lord who saved us. Living in the new creation in Christ is living the live of love.

Paul writes that works like circumcision, are nothing! "...but a new creation is everything!" Saul of Tarsus, enemy of the church, became Paul, the servant of Jesus and author of much of the New Testament. Augustine the intellectual skeptic and pleasure seeker, became a devout theologian and leader of the church through meeting the Christ of the cross. Francis of Assisi who was a wealthy playboy, soldier and merchant, became a pious monk and reformer of the church. The list goes on: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All were transformed by the power of the cross.

So, how does this apply to St.Timothy today? Do we realize that God transforms our lives by the power of the cross? Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians, "A new [creation] is one in whom the image of God has been renewed. Such a creature cannot be brought into life by good works, but by Christ alone."

Do we realize that in our baptism, we have been made new creations? Are we comfortable describing and sharing our personal transformative experience of Christ? If not, why not? Paul and the other apostles and Christians throughout the centuries have suffered and died for this faith. We do not suffer in such a way here in our land.

Do we have to know a lot to share God's love? No. As we live our lives in Christ, God will give us opportunities to share our faith. If we love our neighbors, they may just wonder why we are the way we are. That gives us the opportunity to testify about what God has done in our lives.

As a church, we are sometimes distracted by results. We wonder, what more do we need to do to bring people into our church? This is one way of reading what Paul means by "sowing to the flesh." Some churches today have become obsessed with their own efforts at creating an image that will produce success. If they are not growing into a mega-church, then they think they are doing something wrong. One could say that they are obsessed with quantity not quality. We should always focus on quality first. If we are doing the right thing, the numbers will come. And if they don't, so be it. It's God's will that controls the growth of our church, not ours. We are to continue to "sow to the Spirit" in faith and hope which is the only way to maintain a life of self-giving love over the long haul. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote, "With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort" (1 Cor.15:58, The Message version).

That is the message for today!

Amen.

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