Sermon Sunday 14.6.2015

By the Reverend Dr. David Sinclair

 

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:

everything old has passed away;

see, everything has become new!

 

Everything has become new – how do you do that?  How do you make everything new?  Do you want everything to be new?  Do you want a tomorrow that is different?  Or would you prefer a tomorrow that is pretty much like today?

 

The answers will probably depend on how you think of the world, the country, the city, the church, or indeed yourself.  Often people are prone to thinking that they want change at a distance; they often want the world to be different; they frequently think the society they live in ought to be different; they might think their church ought to be different (but it still needs to be their church, one that remains sufficiently the same for them not to be discomfited in any way); they’re much less likely to think that they themselves should be different – or to acknowledge how all these possible differences are connected.

 

We generally want the world to change – but not in a way that puts any expectation on us.  We want the society to change to be more like us.  We want our church to change to fit our expectations better.  But we, of course, are fine just the way we are.

 

There is today a vast literature, even a business, of change management – and much of it, actually, is very good and very helpful.  But it’s good and helpful for business and other organisations that are trying to make what they do, or how they do it, new.  They’re not trying to change the people; they’re not saying that we need to be made new.  When we come to the writers we read this morning, however, that is what they’re after – not a new way of doing things (though that might be involved), but a new ‘us’.

 

Ezekiel wants to create a complete alternative to everything.  The whole edifice, he says, will be changed: I’ll take a sprig from the old and plant it, and it will take over.  The new will grow and the old will wither; the great will be brought low, and the low will rise.  The old system, he tells his listeners, is rotting and creaking; it’s not capable anymore of supporting the weight it’s being asked to carry.  So tomorrow will come but it will be different.

 

This is not something growing from the stump of the old; it’s not a new shoot from old roots; it’s a sprig from the newest bit of the tree – right at the top, the light green bit, the bit in the spring colour, the bit that is freshest, youngest, brightest, the bit where the energy is.  That’s where to start again.

 

For Jesus, the coming of the kingdom is much more mysterious.  To have faith in this coming, this tomorrow that will be new, is to have faith in the God who grows it.  It’s all in the seed that is sown into darkness, placed in the earth, and there to take root, to take shelter, to take its time – and it will appear when it and God are ready.  And for Jesus the faith in the kingdom of tomorrow does not require an inquiry into the ways of God, or an examination of what is going on.  Unlike the change management industry, it will involve no detailed analysis of process and procedure; it simply involves waiting.  After all, if you start digging up the seed to see how it’s getting on, you’re not likely to have a result worth the name.  But the waiting, he says, is worth it.  Given time, given patience, given faith, the mustard seed will provide shelter and shade and a safe place to live for the birds of the air.

 

God, then, is at work whether we know it or not, whether we understand it or not, whether we believe it or not.  God’s ‘job’, if you like, is to create the new, nurture the new, grow the new, bring the new to birth and to life and to light.  And we have learned, earlier in the same chapter of Mark’s gospel, what gets in the way of all that.  We remember the parable of the sower – and the seed that is grabbed before it’s had time to take root, the seed that is lost because it’s crowded out by other things, the seed that shoots up quickly but has no staying power.  And all these losses are, in their different ways, a lack of faith.

 

In a sense, Jesus is telling the story of tomorrow from the other end from the way Ezekiel tells it.  If Ezekiel concentrates on the necessity of newness, the need to start again with the freshest material available, Jesus speaks to those whose expectation of newness is too immediate to allow change to be real.

 

Once, when living in a large house with about a dozen other people, it was my turn to do the cooking.  I went in to the larder looking for food, and found a large supply of potatoes all laid out on a tray; they were beginning to sprout, so I thought it was high time they were used – so I cooked them and we ate them.  ‘I thought we were out of potatoes,’ said someone at the table.  ‘No,’ says I, ‘there was a whole tray of them.’  ‘You mean the tray of seed potatoes waiting to be planted?’ came the question.  I was only twenty – and was lucky to reach twenty-one!

 

But the danger is ever-present, especially in our consumerist culture of instant gratification, that seeds meant to be planted will instead be eaten, and their potential snuffed out.  And the same is true of the seed that produces plants that shoot up: we, whether we are keen on newness or keen to see it as useless, we will be tempted to demand instant results – and, with so many instant results comes almost instant disappointment.  And those who looked for the results will be disillusioned, and those who forecast failure will be only too happy to announce its arrival.  Have faith, says Jesus.  Newness is on its way; tomorrow will come – unless one of these other tactics gets in its way.

 

Paul, in his discussion of newness, gets in to the same territory as does Jesus.  He too speaks of a hope that grows and develops out of view – we walk by faith and not by sight.  Paul too recognises that to attempt to analyse and dissect the work of God is ultimately an attempt to thwart it.  He speaks of the death of Christ and, by implication, of his burial in the earth, out of sight, beyond our understanding or knowledge – but then he universalises what God has done in Jesus: ‘if Christ has died then all have died’.  We’re involved, he says, we too are planted with Christ; we too are to grow into what God would have us be.

 

And then Paul uses this phrase, ‘εν Χριστω’, in Christ.  If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.  If we are sown, it is in Christ.  And there, in the womb of the Saviour, we are grown, developed, made new.  Just as in Jesus’ parables, we are not asked to understand, to analyse, to explain – we are simply asked to have faith in the God who cares for us.

 

There is, says Paul, a new creation; and we have to ask if that is what we want.  Do we want to be changed – not just at the last trumpet, but in the here and now?  Do we want to be the agents of change that we are being grown into?  Do we want to see a tomorrow that is different from today because we are different from today?  Because Paul is definitely suggesting that, unless we adopt some of the avoidance techniques of Jesus’ parable of the sower, we are involved in the new creation of God.

 

But here’s the thing: it seems like Paul and Jesus both thought that all this has very little to do with our wishes or decisions or volition; all this is the work of God.  God is eternally the God of new things, of new creation, of a new tomorrow, a new heaven and a new earth.  Just by being here today, just by dallying with the God of Jesus, we are enlisted, enrolled, maybe even press-ganged into a faith in new things, new creation, new tomorrows.

 

So how do we react to that?  Is it an imposition, a presumption, a trial, a curse – or is it a hope, a destiny, a promise?  Is it something to embrace or to repel?  Do the avoidance techniques suddenly seem much more attractive?  Are we with the ravens who will gobble up the seed of change before it has a chance to do anything serious?  Are we with the weeds who would choke the promise of newness?  Are we with the shallow soil that will shoot up the newness so fast it can only fail to thrive?

 

Or do we know ourselves planted in Christ?  Do we know ourselves commissioned to grow into the newness that God wills?  Do we have the faith to believe that even we can be agents of God’s kingdom, of God’s constant change, of the hope of the coming tomorrow?

 

And do we recognise in this idea of being in Christ that new creation in the biblical sense is not about a moment (it’s not a ‘big bang’ theory), it’s about a process – about growth, development, evolution.  Planted in Christ, we are made new gradually but inexorably; whether we realise it or not, whether we understand it or not, whether we can explain it or not, even whether we believe it or not.  We are set on a journey of renewal so that, in God’s good time, we can produce a kingdom life of shelter and shade, of justice and peace.  We are, in the words of our last hymn, ‘changed from glory into glory’ – the glory of the Christ in whom we are made new; the glory, as John puts it, of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:

everything old has passed away;

see, everything has become new!

 

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