Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pentecost 2 - Year B

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation!” Paul exclaims, “Everything old has passed away! See, everything has become new!”

Another translation says it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new world.”

No doubt, many Corinthian Christians were happy with the old world. They were comfortable, there was food in the fridge and the bathrooms were clean. Moreover, the Corinthians were at the centre of the Mediterranean cultural universe. Art and philosophy flourished. This was where the best and the brightest gathered to get their big break. Corinth was a huge town. It had a massive temple that drew people from all over their known world to be healed by the pagan gods. East met west in Corinth as an animated axis of commerce.

Corinth was the place to be. They had a lot to be proud of. It made sense that many Corinthian Christians were comfortable, even ecstatic to be part of such a cultural epicenter. Why wouldn’t they be?

And yet, Paul beckoned them to a whole new world. He spoke to them in a language that was so different from the one that gripped their imaginations. Paul said that, if anyone is in Christ, it is as if the whole world has been transformed. Everything else dies.

That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s like what German theologian Jurgen Moltmann meant when he said, “We have attempted to view the resurrection from the viewpoint of history. Perhaps the time has come for us to view history from the viewpoint of the resurrection.”

When Paul looked at the world, he didn’t see what everyone else saw. He saw the world with resurrection eyes; he saw a world made new because Jesus was risen from the dead. And he wanted everyone to see the same thing.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? If only we had those same eyes. If only we could see what Paul saw then we might be able to believe more strongly, live more joyfully, and serve more faithfully.

Some folks probably heard Paul’s message and sniggered at such spiritual naïveté. It sounded good, if not thoroughly whimsical. They expected preachers to say stuff like that. That’s what we get paid to do. But sometimes when our lives rub up against some things that preachers say, the friction is in danger of starting a grassfire in our souls.

No doubt, someone in the back row of the Corinthian church heard Paul’s words not as good news, but as the weirdest thing he heard all week. “Everything has become new? There are days when I can barely drag my butt out of bed, when depression grips me so hard that I can barely breathe. How is my life new? How am I a new creation?”

Two rows ahead, an older woman knows just what her neighbour’s talking about. It had been almost a year since her husband died. Her life was made new but not in the way that Paul was talking about. Hardly a minute goes by that she doesn’t think of him, or see his shadow in the corner of her eye, reminding her that he is gone, leaving her alone.

Across the aisle, two teenagers, a brother and sister looked longingly at each other. They hoped and prayed that their home life would be made new, that their parents would stop fighting, that their mom would stop drinking.

I’m sure that’s the congregation Paul was preaching to because this church was just like every other church.

So, it’s not as if Paul was indifferent to pain. After all, his resume is loaded with prison beatings, starvation, and ship wrecks. He watched his friends being executed for their faith.

Paul didn’t live a protected life, safe behind the clanging gates of his new suburban duplex. Paul lived where he could feel the heat billowing from the fires of Hell.

If anyone had the credibility to make such outrageous statements, it was Paul.

But still, what does that mean for those who feel like they haven’t been made new, those who are still waiting for this “whole new world,” those who simply can’t see the world through resurrection eyes?

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new world. Everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!”

A whole new world.

I wonder if this new world shows itself when a Stephen Minister sits by that depressed man’s bed, listening, and breathing out the prayers he can’t say for himself, being God’s gentle presence, and Paul’s promise of a new way of looking at the world.

Or maybe it’s like the women who invited the widow to the quilting group or to join their bridge club, knowing that this might be the only human contact she’ll receive all week. This may not be the healing she longs for, but many of them have been down this road ahead of her, and can guide her through the rough patches.

Or maybe it’s like the faith mentors inviting the teenage brother and sister out for coffee and checking in with them, being a sanctuary when their home life is rife with anger and addiction, a refuge from the pain they go home to.

I know this isn’t sexy. It doesn’t have the drama of what people envision when they imagine a world transformed.

But it is like what Jesus meant in this morning’s gospel when he compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds; tiny, insignificant. But it grows softly, like it doesn’t want anyone to notice, until it becomes the largest of shrubs and provides food and shade to all that surrounds it.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes doesn’t mean that we see a world free from pain and grief, but it does mean that we see a world where God is alive and working, and pointing it out to others so they can see it.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes means daring to believe God hasn’t given up on us or the world, but that we see glimpses of God’s future today, in how we love each other, how we look after those who need our help, how we pray that the world might receive the salvation that God so desperately wants for it.

All we can do is scatter the seeds of God’s love and mercy and healing, and God nourishes and cultivates the seed and soil so they can grow into what God wants them to be.

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation!” Paul exclaims, “Everything old has passed away! See, everything has become new!”

Or, again, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new world.”

May God give us resurrection eyes to see this whole new world. Amen.