Pentecost 2 June 14, 2009

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17                                             

Mark 4:26-34                                                                      

 

 

Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.

                               — 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

St. Paul’s, Concord, has called a new rector. Her name is Kate Atkinson and she was in town last week house hunting. Though it will not be until late August that she takes up her duties, inevitably there will be things the people of St. Paul’s want to consult her about before then. At our Central Convocation clergy breakfast last week, we were talking about the pitfalls of getting sucked into a job before you’re really on the ground. You never know all the ramifications of what you’re being asked to decide. An innocent decision may have unknown and lasting symbolic significance, labeling you one way or another for your entire ministry.

 

Before I started at my last parish, I was confronted with such a question, posed by the altar guild. Did I want red wine or white for the Eucharist? Red wine tends to stain linens, so the altar guild wanted me to decree white. But red is better symbolically, the color of blood. The interim priest had switched from white to red. What would I do? A dilemma!

 

Thinking fast, I said, “What do you think Jesus would do?” I was proud of myself for thinking of this response. People are always coming to Jesus in the gospels with test questions, and he always throws them back at the questioners, inviting them to a deeper level of reflection. But Jesus never had to deal with this altar guild. They knew immediately what he would have answered. “Jesus would have said white wine; he was practical.” Now I prefer the symbolism of red, so I ignored practicality. And from that day I had set myself against Jesus in the eyes of that altar guild.

 

I tell that little story by way of illustrating how hard it is to do what the readings this morning ask us to do: to move from our old orientation around ourselves, what we like and don’t like, what makes us feel secure and comfortable, what’s “practical,” to a new orientation—a new being—in Christ. To move from being citizens of the kingdoms of this world to being citizens of the kingdom of God. It’s very hard to make that move. If we even think of Christ at all when it comes to a decision, we usually do what that altar guild did, and really I did too, reading our own desires into him rather than trying to make his desires our own.

 

When we think about our worship, what these Sunday services are about—well, most fundamentally they’re about transforming our orientation from old self-centeredness to new Christ and kingdom of God centeredness. We gather each week from out of our separate lives in the world—bringing to church our needs, our fears, our brokenness. But we go forth, if our worship is successful, transformed into a new creation, a community brought together in all our diversity and united in the peace of Christ, and then sent forth to be Christ in the world.

 

That transformation is accomplished by hearing and reflecting on the word of God. It is accomplished by prayer for the world and the Church. It is accomplished by confessing our sins and receiving absolution. It is accomplished above all by Communion, by sharing the one Bread and one Cup that are the Body and Blood of Christ—by taking Christ into ourselves sacramentally so that, nourished by him, we become him. Does this happen all of a sudden or every Sunday? No, the transformation is gradual, cumulative. It is the work of a lifetime.

 

Well, what does it mean to be joined to Christ in this way, to become citizens of God’s kingdom? In a sense that question can’t be answered—or rather, the answer must be discovered by each of us in our own way. That is why Jesus taught in parables, riddles that his listeners had to explore for themselves. But in another sense, what becoming Christ means is clear as we reflect on his life and death and on the lives and deaths of the saints. It means sacrifice of self for the good of God and of others. It means not succumbing to fear, even fear of death. It means trusting always in the presence of God and trying through prayer to be still and put ourselves in God’s presence. It means loving others, especially those who do not love us. It means forgiving others and asking forgiveness for ourselves. It means being always thankful for life and seeing the gifts of God in everything.

 

There is a radical simplicity in all this. It does not take a college degree to understand it or a lot of money to attain it. You don’t have to have worldly power or a beautiful body or youthful energy to become this new creation in Christ. Indeed, all of these things may make it more difficult to pursue Christian transformation, harder to give up our old self. You just need patience and commitment, and desire—above all desire—to receive Jesus in your heart and live him in your life.

 

 

 

 

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