A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on November 20, 2011.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;* even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,* we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,* not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
Jesus taught that people in whom God’s grace and truth has been planted, taken deep root, and kept uncluttered by pride, materialism, and self-centeredness will be fruitful to God. These people will be divine agents of love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, patience, faithfulness, and justice in the world.
In the lesson we’ve read from Second Corinthians, Paul claims that people who are in Christ—abiding in Christ, to follow what Jesus said at John 15 and in keeping with the Parable of the Sower about being fruitful—are actually part of a new creation! We’re part of a new order, a new realm, a New Being. Anyone who is in Christ (the abiding and well rooted follower of Jesus) is part of a ministry by which God is working to fix the world. Christ is head of what amounts to a Holy State Department that includes anyone who is “in Christ.” So what does that mean for you and me as followers of Jesus?
Followers of Jesus are radically different. We’ve become part of God’s new order, new creation, and new dimension. We’re God-focused rather than self-focused. We see life in fundamentally different ways from the rest of the world.
- We live for love.
- We live to advance divine joy.
- We are committed to shalom—true wellness.
- We are people of divine faithfulness and truth.
- We are people of sacrificial generosity that looks like extravagance to the rest of the world.
- We are people of mercy and kindness, not vindictiveness and inhospitality.
- We are people of patience and forgiveness.
- We are people of justice.
Although this is the kind of world people claim they want, it isn’t the world most people consider themselves obligated to produce. But for followers of Jesus, this is what living is about. Living isn’t about getting the most stuff from as many people as one can while giving as little back as possible. It’s about doing what Christ did and living as Christ lived. That’s what living means as part of the “new creation” Paul mentioned.
Followers of Jesus are revolutionaries. The new creation demands a fundamental and radical re-ordering of everything. The new creation is the kingdom of God. We’re called to make the will of God happen in the here and now. We’re called to be agents of the kingdom of God in every breath and heartbeat. That means we’re called to challenge some things.
One year to the day before he was murdered, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed this challenging obligation when he publicly declared his opposition to the U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. Here is what Dr. King said from the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
King was calling for revolutionary change. He was talking about moving the United States from being the world’s leading war-maker to becoming the world’s most faithful peacemaker. He was talking about moving from concerns about making profits to being concerned about what our business efforts do to people. He was concerned about moving from basing national strength on personal riches to looking at how those who Jesus called “the least of these” live.
King was preparing for a Poor People’s March on Washington when he was killed. He was preparing to Occupy Washington with poor people to dramatize the inequities in American society and the wickedness of our misplaced values and priorities. Sadly, those who claim to respect King seem more interested in trivializing him than by following his call for revolutionary change.
Perhaps they aren’t “new creation” kind of folks. Perhaps they aren’t revolutionaries. Perhaps they don’t want a revolution at all. After all, revolutionary change is a messy thing. The ministry of reconciliation that one enters by being “in Christ” isn’t about maintaining the status quo. It’s about eliminating the status quo in favor of the “new creation.”
Jesus Christ exemplifies “new creation fruitfulness.” Jesus did more than talk about being fruitful. He showed us what new creation fruitfulness means and how it acts.
New Creation fruitfulness always operates from the unconditional, uncompromising, and non-discriminatory principle of divine love. Love for God, love for oneself, and love for others as one loves oneself is the fundamental principle by which new creation fruitfulness functions, even when doing so means one must suffer. That’s what Jesus did and that’s what followers of Jesus will do as ambassadors for God.
New Creation fruitfulness works for shalom. The root of the Hebrew word “Shalom” means wholeness, completion, wellness, perfection. When we are “at peace” we feel a sense of “wholeness.” Just as we try to achieve a sense of wholeness as individuals, so we seek a feeling of wellness as groups, a state of “peace.” “Shalom” begins within ourselves and expands to our friends, our communities, our campuses, our nations, and our world. Shalom is not just about “peace” — the absence of conflict – it’s about a sense of “wholeness” or “completion.”
Jesus demonstrated this devotion to “wholeness” or “completion” in his ministry. There was no contrast between theory and practice. Jesus lived to nurture wholeness and completeness in others.
New Creation fruitfulness advances joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, and generosity by living with others in the power of divine grace. It is living with humility. It means living with compassion for the suffering others endure and determination to relieve it and eliminate its causes. It’s living with extravagant generosity, even toward those who are enemies.
New Creation fruitfulness is faithful and just. Faithfulness involves commitment even when it is not popular, pleasant, or even personally advantageous. And justice means behaving toward others as we would like God to behave toward us. It means acting in our social relations according to the divine mandate that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
This is robust living. It’s not for faint-hearted folks (people who have no deep roots in God and dry up under fire). It’s not for double-minded people who’ve become so consumed by materialism, personal advantage, and self-indulgence. New Creation fruitfulness is for people who want to see God’s kingdom come on earth and are determined to live out that purpose in everything.
This involves a lot more than handing out gospel tracts and holding prayer meetings. It involves challenging the existing order with the mandates of the New Creation. It means living in obedience to the example set by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. It means confronting and eliminating every practice, power, and custom that doesn’t square with divine love.
Following Jesus means being ambassadors of the New Creation God introduced in Jesus. There’s no greater work in the world. The issue for you and me is whether we love and trust God enough to commit ourselves to it. We answer that question every day and in every breath and heartbeat. By God’s grace, let’s answer by living that makes the kingdom come. Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.