Sunday, June 13, 2021 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Open our entire selves, Ever-creating God, to your refreshing and transforming Spirit. Guide us to perceive your world from your perspective, not our own, and certainly not through the lenses of the world. Help us be New Creation! Amen.
How quickly the world changes! I saw a graphic just this week, a world map, showing how much of our globe has not seen opportunities for vaccinations. In stark contrast, our nation actually stood out, a place where the vaccine is readily available and is being offered now to some of our younger members of the country. With this rate of vaccinations, safety protocols are changing rapidly. Perhaps not as fast as some would like…and actually a bit too fast for others. We have new freedoms, and the stress and anxiety that comes with even the positive changes. As we wrestle with these changes and how we feel about them, we find ourselves in Pride Month, still struggling with full rights and acceptance for our LGBTQIA+ family and friends. The work dismantling racism continues to be an uphill battle; with black persons, people of color, and indigenous peoples living still under the fear and pain of oppression.
On top of all this, our St. Paul’s family is living through transition and change, and is suddenly coming up against some hard realities with our beloved facility. We said good-bye to Loving Care Pastor, Debbie Allen, hello to Church Administrative Assistant Maude Rith, and will be again saying good-byes with me next week. Our budget looks vastly different with our building use so limited—the halls don’t ring as much with the sound of music because much of OPUS lessons, rehearsals and ensembles can’t meet within the building. Global Roots Playschool has been closed during the pandemic. No home schoolers, or special events, or concerts. Our parsonage is facing around $100,000 in maintenance work on the exterior. Our church is undergoing emergency stone repair costing around $20,000. And our capital campaign for the future care of our beloved church home still stands close on the horizon.
And so, in this midst of all this, we hear Paul’s letter to us today. Paul says, “Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us?” Ruts? Rocks? I don’t know, Paul, looks more like abyss and mountain—not rut and rock. Pandemic, homo & trans phobia, racism, staff and leadership changes, big building maintenance bills, funds for the future… definitely feels like more than a rut or a rock, at least from a human point of view. Yes… Paul is purposefully underplaying the struggles that the church is facing as he builds to the climax of his letter-sermon. We can call these mounting pressures of change ruts and rocks because, as Paul starts preaching in verse 16, we don’t look at the world in the same way anymore. We don’t see things from a human perspective. We look with the eyes of Christ. We look beyond the physical and see the potential. We see resurrection. We see how life renews with a bang!
Paul says, “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created anew. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it!” The phrasing in the Greek—remember, Paul didn’t speak English—suggests that Paul is practically shouting. Today we would envision it as Paul TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS! Paul shouts, “If anyone is in Christ, if ANYONE is in Christ…NEW CREATION!!!” NEW CREATION!! NEW CREATION!! “Let there be light…” and there was a big bang! We are created anew!
That is where we are right now! That is why it is so important to hear Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians as if it is written directly to us. For you see, through the wonder of God’s Holy Spirit, it is. It is written directly to and for us, the 21st century church emerging from pandemic quarantine; trembling with the calls for justice from the LGTBQIA+, Black, People of Color, and Indigenous communities; juggling leadership changes; facing financial needs. How do we walk the path of Christ in this strange and difficult world? How do we remain faithful with all the pulls of the world? As Paul says, we die with Christ to our old ways. We surrender ourselves to the new birth that God is orchestrating in our midst. We close our human eyes, our limited perception, and open ourselves to the vision of the Spirit, even though it can be scary and painful to embrace such transformation.
We can trust Paul. He knows what he is talking about. On the road to Damascus, the persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, journeyed with letters authorizing him to arrest people and lead them to their death for following Jesus. And then Jesus showed up, through the Spirit, and shut Saul’s eyes—left him blind on the side of the road. Three days later in the city of Damascus, Ananius, a follower of Jesus, washes the old ways out of his eyes, and Paul emerges—the Great Apostle—born anew. He no longer saw the world from a human point of view. He emerged in Christ—New Creation!!
That gift is before us too. As we are able to gather more, be in person more, we have this wonderful opportunity to ask discerning questions and seek a new path forward; a path that incorporates the best of our past and the wildest hopes of our future. Take those reflection questions in our bulletin to heart, meditate on them, and prepare for the amazing future you will work toward with Pastor Beckie, starting in just a few weeks.
- What is God’s vision for worship going forward, when over half of the worshipers join in online, many of whom do not live within commuting distance of the church ?
- In what ways can we ensure that our children and youth develop worship habits in order to grow into adults who treasure worship and not find it foreign?
- How are we called to offer spiritual formation to all in this changing world? To adults and youth and children…potentially together?
- How do we rise to meet the financial challenges of the parsonage maintenance, stone repair, and future of our beloved buildings?
- How does the church become a front-runner in the work of justice, and not a silent spectator? How will we get our ‘hands dirty’ in the birth of Beloved Community?
- What will our fellowship look like, our play look like, our relationship building look like, structured in a way in which we share the work and joy, and not simply wait for a few to do all the preparations for us?
This is just a sampling of the questions we could be asking…should be asking. The old life is gone; a new life emerges. Let’s look at it together! New Creation! Amen.