Sermon from 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2012
II Corinthians 5:6-17
The movie “Napoleon Dynamite” hit the theaters when I was a sophomore at the University of Texas. For those of you who have not seen the movie, “Napoleon Dynamite” is about a high school kid, Napoleon, and his quirky life, his quirky friends, and his quirky relationships. But what I enjoy most about Napoleon Dynamite is his family.
Napoleon has an older brother who still lives at home in his parents’ house and dates girls through online chat rooms. Napoleon has a grandmother, who doesn’t quilt or crochet, but who rides four wheelers out on the sand dunes of Idaho. And, most memorably, Napoleon has a quirky uncle – Uncle Rico.
In reality, Uncle Rico was once the backup quarterback on his high school football team. In his mind, Uncle Rico still plays quarterback for his high school football team. He sits at restaurant counters and props up his arms to make his biceps look as big as possible. Uncle Rico practices throwing the football everyday. Uncle Rico even buys a time machine so that he can go back a couple of decades and play high school football again. He says that, “If only coach had put me in during the big game, we would have state for sure.”
Uncle Rico lives in a fantasy land. Uncle Rico lives in the past. The memories of his previous life overshadow his current life. Uncle Rico has no future because he is in the past.
Paul would have some very stern words for Uncle Rico. In his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul calls on those who are living in the past. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” This church in Corinth was a community torn by bitter strife and division. It was a community fraught with sinfulness, temptations, and disputes. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to think of those attitudes, that infighting, as things of the past. Paul wants the church in Corinth to fully realize that Christ has made them new. By virtue of their baptism and their participation in the Christian community, they are no longer what they used to be. They are free! Free from the strife and division and sinfulness that held them captive. They are free to step out from under the shadows of the past and to look forward to their future.
Uncle Rico-ism is as strong today among us as it was among the Corinthian Christians two thousand years ago. Many of us, as individuals, live under the fear and the shadow of our former lives. We cannot undo the things that we did – we cannot unbecome the people that we were. Emotionally, we are bound to the past, whether it was full of glories of full of darkness. Spiritually, we cannot look forward because our prayers are consumed by what we have done or did not do.
But in Christ, we are now free! We are free from what we were. Whether you were an alcoholic, or whether you contracted a disease, or whether you were rode the bench on your high school football team – you are now free! You can come out from under that previous marriage, those bad financial decisions, those unwise words. In Christ, everything old is passing away and everything has become new. In Christ, you are a new creation.
But we are thinking too small.
Over the past three hundred years has humanity become infatuated with individualism. This focus on the self is a toxic byproduct of the Enlightenment. But for us, we can only be Christians when we are in a community with other Christians. Remember, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are addressed to whole groups of people, not individuals. Jesus accomplished his ministry with a band of friends and followers. Even today, an individual cannot take communion alone; there must first be a community.
So the Church too participates in this new creation. What the Church once was cannot dictate what the Church will be. Let’s face it, there are many, many ugly episodes in the annals of church history. The Church experienced many times when greed and racial division were the order of the day rather than peacemaking, generosity, and justice. But we do not have to live under those shadows. In Christ, the Church is freed from its sins and errors. We can boldly proclaim that the Church is in Christ, and that in Christ the Church is a new creation. When we, as the Church, participate in acts of mercy, harmony, and justice then we are participating in that new creation. Everything old has passed away, see, even the Church is becoming new.
But we are thinking too small.
It is not just individuals who participate in the new creation. It is not just the Church that participates in the new creation. The whole world – everything – participates in the new creation. This is the fullness of the Christian hope: not that we float off to heaven but that heaven comes to us. Heaven and earth are not two separate realms. Heaven and earth are fraternal twins, created together, as two parts of the same whole. Our hope as Christians is that one day God will decisively act and that heaven and earth will be rejoined, remade. Or, as Paul says, “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
This is exactly what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And the last image in the bible, the great vision of the Revelation to John, is not about fiery death or destruction of the world. The last images in the scriptures are actually of heaven and earth coming together in one beautiful, and lovely embrace; like twins who were separated at birth and who have been reunited. This is the new creation!
Our hope is that this earth, and everything we see in it that is beset by sin and tragedy and death, will one day look exactly like heaven, where there is only peace and abundance and life. For yes, even the world has a touch of Uncle Rico-ism. The whole creation lives under the shadow of all the foul and evil things that have been perpetrated here. But in Christ, those things are abolished. There is a new creation – everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
You, as an individual, do not have to live in the past any longer. What you once were is dead – you are a new creation in Christ. The Church, what it was once no longer matters – we are a new creation in Christ. The whole world, though it believes in violence and degradation, will become new again as God rejoins the Kingdom of Heaven and the earth.
Paul would say to Uncle Rico, “Take off your headband. Put down the football. Stop trying to recreate the past. You are new. Christ has made you fresh. Look to the future, to a beautiful world where heaven is earth, and the earth is heaven. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”