Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Sermon Theme: “Remade in Christ?”
(Sources: Concordia Journal, Winter, 2013; Emphasis online commentary; Emphasis online illustrations; original ideas; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 23, Part 2, Series C).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Oftentimes, when young people go off to college, they drift away from the church, and often close the door to Jesus, who, at an earlier time, lived in their hearts. That certainly was true of me when I went off to college, and that’s why there are Lutheran chapels on so many college and university campuses. However, as a student, I used to look the other way when I walked by the Lutheran Center on the campus.
But then one day, when I was walking to class, feeling really down about financial woes, living off jelly bread sandwiches, and about to run out of Mama’s homemade jelly, feeling certain I would never graduate from college and struggling with what to do with my life, I began to sense Jesus walking with me, and smiling at me with the most incredible warmth. That day, I was persuaded by the presence of Jesus Christ that I was completely loved, totally forgiven, and fully pleasing to Him. I was persuaded that God had a plan for my life, and that He would help me work it out!
In our sermon text for today, Paul develops two dominant themes: One, new creation, and two, reconciliation. I would suggest to you that new creation and reconciliation are two ways of saying the same thing. At the very end of our text, Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The passage describes Jesus as a sacrificial victim, fulfilling the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and consequently bestowing righteousness upon us.
Paul wrote about this even more explicitly in his letter to the Romans, and also in Galatians and Ephesians. But it seems that no matter how often many people read and reread Paul’s letters, they maintain some ideas and attitudes that are not Christ-like. It is no accident that our gospel text for today is the parable of the prodigal son.
In the beginning, God created us in His own image. We are what He says we are. When God reconciles us to Himself by forgiving our sins, He is not using an accounting trick, He is giving us a new identity. We are a “new creation,” because He says so. Not because you think so of yourself or of somebody else.
Paul reminds the Corinthians that the death of Christ was a cosmic event in which God reconciled all humanity to Himself, not holding their trespasses against them. It is always a mistake to oversimplify this great mystery. In Christ, God took the initiative and embraced the whole lost and broken creation in His arms of love. In that act, God brought us all into a right relationship with God. But it is necessary for us to intentionally respond to that saving work and to “be reconciled to God.”
We must learn to live in that right relationship with God. Our text says, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new.” Of course, struggling on our own, it is very difficult, no it is impossible, to live in that right relationship with God. If you don’t realize that, just think how severely Jesus interpreted the Commandments. He said not only do you violate the 5th Commandment by committing murder, but also you violate it by hating another person in your heart. And He also said you violate the 6th Commandment not just by having sex with someone not your wife, but also by just thinking about doing such a thing in your mind and heart.
Now you may toss off the Lord’s interpretation as a bit much, but when God says something, He means it. So that doesn’t let any of us off the hook, does it? For example, we’ve all felt hatred toward someone at some time or other, haven’t we? But God means what He says!
Even though we are a new creation in Christ, that doesn’t mean we never sin again, it doesn’t mean we are always totally in the spitting image of God, does it? Otherwise, why do we need to take Holy Communion; why do we need repentance and absolution; why do we have to pray daily, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”? No matter how dramatic your born again experience, the Old Adam in you is still there, waiting.
But our new identity in Christ does make a difference that is noticeable. It makes a difference in how we view Christ and others. It keeps us in good courage in the face of the burdens of life, and it gives us an awareness that the heart is more important than outward appearances.
To be sure, the theme of reconciliation goes along with the theme of “new creation.” That’s why our gospel text contains the most powerful parable in the whole Bible, the parable of the prodigal son.
Those of you who have worked in business have no doubt used the word “reconcile” to mean making sure that the amount of money in the cash register is the same as the amount encoded into the register. So reconciling is something you as a businessman do.
Unlike reconciling cash registers and bank accounts, reconciliation with God is much simpler, with much less for us to do to correct the problem. Not that it didn’t take any doing, but that God has done it all! We could never track down, let alone correct, every error, every sin, we’ve committed in our dealings with God and with our neighbor, but God simply declares the accounts reconciled in the words of our text: “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself.”
This is illustrated by the parable of the prodigal son, which can only be understood correctly by realizing that the father of the prodigal son represents God the Father Himself.
In the parable, not only does the son squander all the money and then lust for food fed to the most hated animal of the Hebrews, thereby violating the kosher of the covenant, but the son also has the audacity to come back and try to renegotiate a peace of some kind. His brother is a model son and yet receives little praise if any from the father. The father offers the son reconciliation even before the son can beg for forgiveness.
Some folks have a hard time with this story, they wouldn’t let a good for nothing son come back that easily and ignore the good son, just ain’t fair they might say. But before you complain, realize this is God the Father welcoming us back, reconciling with us lost sinners, taking up back as though we had never strayed. Our human reasoning makes this difficult for us to understand and to accept, and so we never get the point of what Christ is all about! If we never really understand that, then Christianity is no different from any of the other religions of the world. Paul was saying to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Galatians, the Romans, “Don’t you get it!? Don’t you get it!? Don’t you get it?!”
We know we’ve finally “got it” when we know in our hearts what I came to know in my heart on that day on my college campus: Yes, we are completely loved, totally forgiven, and fully pleasing to God, through no merit of our own, and God has a plan for our life!!!
God made the sacrifice, God does the forgiving, God does the reconciling, I can’t do that. So what CAN we do? We can do daily what we sing about regularly in our offertory in the red hymnal and what Mark just sang about in our sermon hymn: We can sing or pray the prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, oh Lord, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and renew a right spirit within me.” A remake in Christ will follow! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.