Sunday, March 06, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent

2 Corinthians 5
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[b] even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[c] we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[d] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Sure you know about stone soup, but what about storm soup?

Up atop the Oak Ridges Moraine, there is a small village named for a famous prince, a rather pretentious name for such a small place, and atop the mount named for the famous prince there is n old Methodist Church and behind that church is a small seniors residence with the equally pretentious name “Royal Oak Court.”

It is a windswept place, atop the moraine and atop the mount, and behind the church, and even though the residents of this small place with the pretentious name never actually have to go outside in a snowstorm or any other kind of storm for that matter, they seem uniquely gripped by the idea of surviving storms, and surviving them together.

And so there comes a time, when too many of the residents of the small home with the pretentious name will watch the weather, and convince themselves that a catastrophic storm is coming and someone—it is never clear who, but it might be my mother—declares ‘storm soup!’

I say declares because people will mobilize, gather with cans in hand, secure large pots, open said cans and pour them into common pots, mixing the soups together! Thus storm soup goes from theoretical comfort in a can to actually pots of soup ready to ensure the theoretical comfort of people who were never in any real danger in the first place. So let’s listen in:

Me: Bit of snow up there, eh?
Mother: Yes, we declared storm soup!
Me: Storm soup, eh? Was it that bad?
Mother: Not really, but the soup was nice.
Me: For the love of all that’s holy mother, you don’t mix the cream soups with the non-cream soups, do you?
Mother: No, we tried that once, and learned our lesson.
Me: What were you thinking?
Mother: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So there are two morals to the story of storm soup: the first is never mix cream soups with non-cream soups—that’s an abomination—and the second is they’re all in it together, in pots, and even beyond the pots.

On annual meeting Sunday we would do well to remember that we’re all in this together, that we’re mixed up in this enterprize called congregational life, and together we become the body of Christ. We are a new creation, according to St. Paul, and to understand this we need to look at some of the rest of his words—his message to the churches.

But before we do, I want you to think about Paul and his role in perhaps a new way. Imagine Jesus as the prodigal son, eating and drinking with tax-collectors and sinners, getting in trouble with the law, dying on a cross, and finally being reconciled with the Father and receiving abundant grace. Now think of Paul as the older brother, left to straighten out the mess that this devil-may-care itinerant has left behind, faithfully inventing the church we need while the prodigal Jesus gets all the attention. We tend to treat Paul as we treat the older brother: half listening while he tells us what all this really means—when we just want to be part of the ongoing party.

So we listen to Paul, not just because he’s the serious one, but because of his unique care for the churches, in Asia-Minor and Greece, and here in Weston. The first thing that ought to stand out in what Joyce shared with us today is the assurance of pardon contained therein—”So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” I take a bit of poetic liberty with the verse, but it remains one of the central ways we mark the forgiveness that is ours in Christ Jesus—we are a new creation.

I had the opportunity to hear bishop and theologian N.T. Wright back in the fall and he took this idea of a new creation and began with this simple but profound summary: “The God who made heaven and earth intends to draw them together at the last.” He spoke of St. Paul—at some length—and the various ways Paul weaves the idea of a new creation into his emerging vision of the church. And he spent a lot of time on Romans 8.

(Just as an aside, we spoke the other evening about the proverbial desert island and the books we would take, but if it was a question of the chapters I might take, Romans 8 would have to be one of them. I encourage you to read it again, and especially read it anytime you are feeling discouraged.) So Paul says:

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption...”

Not surprizingly, we treasure these words, and we hear them speaking directly to us. As I said, read them when discouraged, but also read them as collective advice, advice to the churches, since that was Paul’s primary intent. Paul is deeply concerned about the state of the individual soul—we know this from his various greetings—but he is primarily concerned with the state of his churches and the way they are collectively working to transform the society around them.

“Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” The God who intends to draw heaven and earth together at the last needs agents, and that would be us. Call us leaven, call us the hands and feet of Christ, call us children of God—the lesson remains that God’s mission has a church in the world, doing what is required to draw heaven and earth together: “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Before I continue, I want to pause for a moment and do a little missiology with you, one of those ‘everything old is new again’ areas that we should note. Missiology is simply the study of mission, and in recent years assumptions have begun to change.

So, when I was at school, we learned that God’s church (that’s us) has a mission in the world. Define the mission, take it to the surrounding streets and voila! Doing God’s work. But somehow that stopped working. Churches tended to define mission in ways that interested them, or were less messy, or cheaper, and couldn’t understand when the mission failed. The old model—God’s church has a mission—wasn’t working.

Then some people began to rethink mission, under the splendid umbrella of missiology, and realized we had it backwards the whole time: rather than God’s church has a mission it should be God’s mission has a church. God is already busy in the world, transforming lives and communities, and our job is to get on board—to get mixed up in the work that God is already doing. The God who made heaven and earth intends to draw them together at the last and we need to help.

Let me give you a concrete example you already know. Downstairs, in the hallway, first door on your right, is the harm reduction office. Inside you will find the clean needles and crack kits and condoms that we distribute, helping prevent hepatitis and HIV and all the other unspeakable diseases that threaten people with the illness of addiction. So God invented harm reduction, we saw that God’s mission to the community includes clean needles and crack kits and condoms and we decided to help. God’s mission has a church.

(Just as another aside, it was eight years ago this month that I had my first tour of the church, and when I glanced around downstairs and saw bowls of candy I thought ‘O, I like this church!’ Then I looked closer and saw the bowls were filled with colourful condoms and thought ‘okay, very brave. I like this church.’)

God’s mission has a church. The truth is that like storm soup, as soon as we get mixed up together, we become something new. Anyone is Christ is a new creation, the past is done, and new life has come! This means forgiveness but it also mean mission. It means that together we can respond to what God is doing and get on board. Together we can help draw heaven and earth closer, knowing that this is God’s ongoing plan. We can help, because as soon as we get mixed up together, we become something new. Amen.


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