Thursday, 9 April 2009

Easter Sunday 2009

2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2

Easter Sunday 2009

Happy Easter: Christ is risen!

So what? John tells us that John goes into the empty tomb, and that - although he does not yet realise that the scripture talks of Jesus' resurrection - he believes. And then it tells us that he and the others 'go home'.

The most significant event in human history has just happened in front of their noses, and the disciples look at it and go home.

I guess that they need time to work out the implications of what has just happened. And I also think that John is making the point that the event on its own will not change anyone. The thing that changes people is the coming of the Holy Spirit.

But Paul, writing between 15 and 30 years after the event has had time to think - and he is writing to the Corinthian Christians urging them to live in the light of the resurrection.

And for Paul in these verses, it comes down to how we view other people.

V16 is key: So from now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view
Instead we regard people with resurrection shaped glasses

That is how we now look at Christ.
V16, ‘Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer’

Jesus disciples regarded him at the crucifixion as a major let down
Jews would have looked at Jesus on the cross and seen him as a man cursed by God
Paul had regarded Christ as an imposter, a fool.

But for those who look at Christ through resurrection shaped spectacles, they see love instead of powerlessness, victory over sin and death instead of failure, God’s wisdom instead of foolishness.

For society today it is not much different.

We look at people and what is important is your status, wealth, job, title, charm factor (Nigella Lawson's mother: told her daughter, 'People do not wish to be charmed, but to be charming. Your job is not to charm people, but to make them think that they are charming'.)
What is important is the amount of good or harm that you could do me. What is important is how attractive you are, how influential: and that depends on your age, your sex, the colour of your skin, your cultural background, your education, what you wear (Mark Twain, 'Naked people have had very little influence on society).

But for the Christian, the person who looks at people with resurrection shaped glasses, it is different.

Just as we do not regard Jesus Christ as the world regarded him, so we do not regard people as society regards them, but in view of the death and resurrection of Jesus:

So what does that mean? How do we regard other people in the light of the resurrection

1. WE REGARD THEM IN THE LIGHT OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST.
Paul writes that he is compelled by the love of Christ.

That means that we look at people as beloved by Christ:

That is the challenge. At the meeting about homelessness: one lady asked about the people who were legitimately excluded by existing hostels. What were we going to do about them?

The person who we would dismiss as worthless is beloved by Christ. Remember the sheep and goats of Matthew 25 (although that is talking in the context of the Christian community)

That is made clear in the emphasis that Paul puts on the fact that Christ died for all people (v14). This is dangerously close to the language of universalism – but v15 does talk about people who choose to no longer live for themselves but for him

So when we are tempted to dismiss someone, to consider them as worthless because they do not further our well-being or interests, or the well-being of others, we need to remember that nevertheless, here is a person for whom Christ died. Here is a person for whom God the Father was willing for his Son to die.

2. WE REGARD THEM WITH THE LOVE OF CHRIST.
When Paul says that he is compelled by the love of Christ, I do not think that he is just talking about something that is outside of him. I think he is talking of his own motivation. Christ's love has been poured into his heart, and so he looks at people as Jesus would look at them.

I guess the real challenge for me is to regard people with the same sort of love.

Sadly, the main reason that we do not wish to go out of our comfort zone to serve others or to tell them of the God who loves them, is because we do not actually love them ourselves.

And the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit and the pouring out of the love of God in our hearts are all connected. It is because Christ died and rose, that he can send the Spirit. And it is because of the work of the Holy Spirit among us and within us that we can begin to love with the love of Christ.

But we need to stay close to him, to spend time seeking him, to continue to be obedient to him, to allow his word to dwell in us - so that his love grows in us. We've been looking at the fruit of the Spirit. It is fruit; it grows. And the first of the fruits is love.

3. WE REGARD PEOPLE IN CHRIST AS A NEW CREATION
v17: 'Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!'

The old has gone: The life of death, with the old motivation and the old behaviour and the old desires and the old fears and the old destination has gone.

The new has come: the new relationship, the new family, the new motivation, the new power for living, the new ambitions, the new pattern of living, the new hope.

We are to regard ourselves in Christ as new people
The old you died with Christ.

When the Spirit made you alive in Christ, the new came.

So at one level, you are a dead person. At your baptism service you were united to Jesus in his death. Your baptism service was the funeral service of the late and very unlamented old you. It was the funeral service of the you who sought status, security, comfort, satisfaction for physical desires – before anything else; it was the funeral service of the great big 'I' that would put itself in the centre of each of our lives.

And we are to live as dead people - dead to ourselves: v15: 'And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again'.

So when selfish ambition rears its head; when lusts start to control; when fear begins to say obey me rather than do what is right, say to them, 'You are dead. You have no power over me. You died when Christ died on the cross'.

And we are to live as people of the new creation, as resurrection people: as people whose home is not here, but in the future resurrection.

So we do not seek the honours of this world but of that world - we look to see how we can please the one who loves us. And we are to live as people who are reconciled to God, who have been forgiven, who do have the Spirit - even when we do not feel it!

And we are also to regard others who are in Christ as new creations.
Recently at a meeting, where a man started grilling me about what I believed. I got the impession that he was trying to suss out if I truly was converted. I found that quite sad - fully understandable, I am an Anglican vicar - but still quite sad. I really do think that as Christians our default position should be that of trust. It is what I would call a hermeneutic based on 1 Corinthians 13 - a hermeneutic of love. 'Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres'. We take people at their word. If they profess Christ, we receive them as brothers and sisters.

So we are called to treat people in Christ as part of the new creation. They are part of the body of Christ, they will be transformed, they will be there in the resurrection

4. WE REGARD PEOPLE AS PEOPLE WITH WHOM GOD LONGS TO BE RECONCILED.
That is why we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. The task of the church, the people of God, is to bring people to God and God to people. We are the priests of the New Testament. And we do that by declaring the message of the cross and resurrection, the message of God’s love and of sins forgiven and of the gift of God’s new life to us (‘the righteousness of God’).

We urge people to be reconciled to God. We implore people to be reconciled to God.
But this is not just for non-believers
One of the things that struck me about this passage is that Paul appeals to the 'you' to whom he is writing, to people who he addresses in the next verse as 'fellow-workers'. He speaks to non-Christians and to Christians alike, and he urges us to be reconciled to God.

We have been cut off from God. We cut ourselves off from God, and as a result we were under the condemnation of God.

But God longs for reconciliation. And in sending Jesus, his Son, God has done everything necessary for us to be reconciled with him.
Christ 'died for all' (v14); 'God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them' (v19), 'God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (v21)

And so Paul implores us, 'Be reconciled to God'. Live it. Live 2 Corinthians 5:15
Don't take your conversion or your baptism or your right knowledge or your one-time experience of the Holy Spirit for granted. Don't presume on your role or your reputation in the church. It makes no sense claiming to be reconciled with God, if we are ignoring him. He does not want people who wear the marks of Christianity or speak the language of Christianity, but who do not live the resurrection life. He longs for people who know him, who love him, who long for him, who trust and obey him, who are growing in him, who praise and thank him - not because they ought to, or because words are put in their mouths, but because they choose to.

So even if you are a Christian, even if you received Christ many years ago, may I urge you to live as people who are reconciled with God. We need to learn to live the life of the new creation (story of girl who was deaf, who at age 12 received a cochlea implant and heard perfectly. But she needed to learn to listen)


Jesus Christ is alive.
We do not look at him as the world looks at him.
We do not need to look at people as the world looks at them.
Instead we can learn to look at people with resurrection shaped glasses

We look at people in Christ as part of God’s new creation, as resurrection people
We urge all people – including ourselves - to be reconciled with God, to live as friends of God and as resurrection people.

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