Today we're going to conclude the sermon series that we've been working on for the past few weeks--a sermon series on Grace entitled "New." For the past couple of weeks we have been focused on one passage of Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-17. I know, it seems weird to just preach on one passage of Scripture for three weeks. Just think of it as one long sermon in three parts.
So what exactly does 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 say? Well, let's read it again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!
In Week 1 of the series we learned that: Who you were is in the past, who you aren't isn't interesting and who you become is a choice.
In Week 2 of the series we learned that: When Jesus loves away your past, he transforms your present.
Today we are going to be focusing on this very important, vital truth: A new life in Christ is worth living.
Let me ask you a couple of questions. When we say that faith is a "heart" rather than a "head" thing, what does that mean to you? Which one sounds better than the other, just right off the top of your head. What's the difference between the two?
Here's the thing, what you tell yourself about yourself matters far less than how you act. You can walk around telling yourself (and others) that you are a "good person," but you might actually be the kind of person who lies, cheats, has no ethics in business, lusts, is addicted to drugs, booze, gambling, shopping, porn, you name it.
So in your head you are saying one thing, but your actions indicate who you really are.
In the same way lots of us call ourselves Christians, and we claim to have experienced transformation--the kind of transformation that we talked about last week. But our lives, our actions, the way we conduct ourselves shows very little evidence that anything about us has changed.
Our inspiration for this sermon series has actually been drawn from tattoos. That was a pun. Okay. It wasn't a very good one, admittedly. But why tattoos in a sermon series? Well, I definitely see tattoos as a symbol of grace--how we can be marked by our past, but not defined by it... how we can be claimed by God, defined by his love, marked by his grace... there's a host of reasons.
I know that lots of people have opinions about whether Christians should have tattoos or not. Honestly, the huge debates in the Church during the late 90's and early "Oughts" have subsided, and the tattooed folks kind of won.
Did you know that over 40% of young adults between the ages of 18-28 have tattoos? That's over four times as many as the Baby Boomer generation--the generation that kind of defined civil disobedience and such. So when I see something like that happening in our culture, I get curious. It makes me wonder what's at the root of it all, and what things we all sort of share that make those kinds of trends possible.
In their book Modern Primitives V. Vale and Andrea Juno wrote the following:
A tattoo is more than a painting on skin; its meaning and reverberations cannot be comprehended without a knowledge of the history and mythology of the bearer. Thus it is a true poetic creation, and is always more than meets the eye. As a tattoo is grounded on living skin, so it's essence emotes a poignancy unique to the mortal human condition.But for every person like yours truly who waxes curious and philosophical about the cultural implications of tattoos and tattooing, there are a thousand morons who put permanent marks of idiocy on their bodies.
Consider the following people who thought they were being so cool and trendy by having Chinese symbols and Hebrew writing tattooed on themselves--without actually researching what the words they were tattooing on themselves actually meant.
|This guy's soup experience was so incredible he wanted to commemorate it for all time.|
|I think this probably sums up this dude completely.|
|This bright bulb must have used a mirror to transcribe this phrase which is supposed to be "Child of God." She didn't realize that Hebrew reads right to left, though. So it spells "dog fo dlihc"|
|This guy tried to spell the name of God coming out of a burning bush, but what he wrote instead was |
"He Shall Be Pregnant"
So where am I going with this?
These tattoo fails remind us how important it is to have our inside match our outside and vice versa. Just like these poor people were convinced their tattoos said one thing, the evidence didn't back it up. It doesn't matter so much what we think about ourselves if our actions don't jive with it. We need congruence with our head and our heart.
When there isn't congruence with your head and your heart, you might say that you and God are simpatico, and that everything in your Christian walk is hunky-dory, but if you don't show your faith by moving and being in the world in ways that honor God--it's like saying that you have an "upward" faith but there's no "outward" to show it.
On the other hand, there is a difference between just doing good deeds in the world, and doing good because you are following Jesus' example. This doesn't mean that only Christians can do good things, and be good people. It just has to do with the reasons why they do them, and who gets the credit.
This is the opposite of having an upward faith with no outward to show it. This is saying that you have an "outward" faith with no "upward" to glow it.
Ha. You like how that went, didn't you?
I know what some folks are saying right about now--"Clever, preacher man. But honestly, I know lots of non-Christians who are nicer than most of the Christians in my life. What difference does Jesus really make in this?"
A lot as it turns out.
In his groundbreaking study on religion in America, sociologist Robert Putnam discovered the warm and fuzzy osmosis of true believers on people who really didn't "get" God all that much. His research revealed that when Christians who live generously and practice their faith with sincerity befriend non-Christians, the non-Christians actually become more loving, kind, generous, and more open to matters of faith.
So what kinds of feelings do you think you engender in people who aren't Christians? Does your inside match your outside? Are you practicing an upward faith with an outward focus.
Or are you sporting a tattoo that you could swear declares you are a child of God--but to the world it just looks backwards and convoluted?
When your head and your heart are congruent... when your inside matches our outside, when you have an upward faith with an outward focus... when people around you become better just by being around you... Then you know: This new life that you have embraced--a new life in Christ--is worth living.
How do we know that we have things balanced? How do we know when our inside and outside are the same?
First, you will have that Upward/Outward kind of faith--when your relationship with Jesus causes you to look out into the world with his eyes.
It's when you take seriously Gods's commands to care for Creation... to seek to end poverty and give hope to the poor... to feed the hungry... to engage in peacemaking and healing actions that reflect the true Kingdom of God.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a parable that taught his disciples about what it meant to be a true follower. The righteous are welcomed into God's kingdom because they took care of the thirsty and hungry, clothed the naked, gave hope to the captives and welcomed the stranger. They wonder aloud:
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Or we find this from the book of James 2:18:
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
Second, you will have an Outward/Upward kind of faith--when your visions of the world cause you to "look up" to Jesus as the only true answer to the problems that you see. And this kind of spiritual shift can only happen when you finally put your trust in Jesus as the beginning and the end of not only our faith, but also our belief in a better world. How dos this happen? Not by accident. Keeping a solid relationship with Jesus requires prayer and ethical living. It requires right worship and the sacrifice of your will.
It means that whatever you do--you do in the name of Jesus and to his glory.
Matthew 28:19 reads,
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
When Jesus commanded his followers to "make" disciples what he meant was bring people along, teach them in the faith, show them a more excellent way. And the only way to do that is when our insides match our outsides. And in the end, we do all that we do in Jesus' name.
When a crippled man asked Peter for some alms in the book of Acts, Peter could have easily just handed some money and kept on walking. But instead he said this,
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Peter didn't just meet the man's immediate needs, he provided healing that would last him a lifetime--and then some... all in the name of Jesus.
What would it look like if Christians really got this? I think it would change the world, don't you? What if people really knew us for our love as the old hymn declares, rather than for what we are against?
One of my seminary classmates was part of a conference on poverty that took place in a wintry urban setting. The participants gathered in a warm downtown church, sharing catered lunches, talking ad nauseum about poverty issues and what the church should or shouldn't be doing to solve the problem. They felt pretty good about themselves.
Meanwhile, a homeless man who was ill, crawled on to a set of stairs outside the church where he could feel a bit of heat coming out of the door. At some point during the day, he died from exposure and infection. The participants in the conference had the misfortune of discovering his body.
Needless to say, that really changed the conversation they'd been having about what outward faith looks like in action.
Do we really show Jesus as a church? As individuals? Does our inside match our outside? Do we have an upward/outward; outward/upward approach to our faith that resonates with the people who don't know the first thing about following Jesus?
Or are we like the participants in that conference--so consumed with feeling good about ourselves and looking good to the people around us that we neglect the dying on our doorstep?
Brothers and sisters, a congruent faith, a faith balanced between head and heart---this is a faith worth having. And the new life in Christ that it leads us to when we embrace is a life worth living.