Sermon: Jan 3, 2016 – Why not Church Resolutions, too?

Text: 2Corinthians 5: 7, 17

for we walk by faith, not by sight.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The other day I was trying to take a picture with my smart phone. This may not seem unusual to you, but for me it is quite rare. If I’m going to take a picture, chances are I would prefer to use a real camera…but that is another story. Now, I don’t know if you get along with your smart phone or not. With me the relationship is a bit of a roller-coaster ride, one minute I really like the technology and the information it puts at my fingertips and the next minute I’m thinking about feeding it to the garbage disposal. We don’t always get along and to make matters worse, it is usually something I did wrong that makes the dumb thing smarter than I am.

So I’m taking this picture and I hold the phone up and I can’t see anything; the screen is all blurry and dark. I shift the phone around a little bit and change my grip, and then I can see myself! I’m thinking this is weird and it’s never happened before, what’s going on? Most of you know this already, but a smart phone has a selfie mode that switches the lens somehow so that the image points back at the operator. I’m not exactly into selfies, and when I do shoot one it normally involves a tripod and the timer on a regular camera…but again, that is another story. I guess somehow without realizing it, I inadvertently hit the button on the touch screen to put the phone into the selfie mode rather than the regular camera mode. Perhaps if I took pictures with my phone more often I would get familiar with how it all is supposed to work, but I don’t. It took me a few minutes to find the right button again and get the dumb smart phone back into the regular camera mode.

Of course I grew a wee bit frustrated with the entire process, but eventually took the photo I was after. Now, a week later, I am able to use the experience in a positive way as a sermon illustration; funny how that works!

This idea of pushing a button and the entire universe is now looking back at you is intriguing on several different levels. Take the scripture I just read a few minutes ago as an example. Those of us in the church have always considered this scripture about anyone being in Christ is a new creation, the old person falls away and a new person is born, descriptive of the process of what happens when someone begins to follow Jesus seriously. There are plenty of personal testimonies of the drug addict or the criminal that had a life transformation in the process of learning about and following the person of Jesus. The old life of drug addiction falls away, and behold everything has become new! This is how most of us, I believe, see this scripture. It is a valid interpretation and it is verified occasionally through life experience. But, like an onion, this scripture could also have more than one valuable layer.

I’m wondering if the church has ever taken a selfie through the lens of this scripture?

In other words, has the church ever considered that being “in Christ”, so to speak, qualifies us for rebirth and renewal and to have the opportunity to allow old things to pass away and for everything to become new? Have we in the church ever considered that this scripture when turned back toward us has the same transformative power to make things new as it does to transform the drug addict? Is it time for us in the church to take a selfie through the lens of this scripture and begin to determine what is old and needs to pass away and what the church might look like when “everything becomes new”? I think it is. Actually I think it is past time for us to do this.

One way for us to think about what might pass away as old and what might be reborn as new in the church would be for us to ponder some New Year’s resolutions for the church for 2016. People make New Year’s resolutions, so why not the church? I think we can and should make some resolutions with an eye toward fulfilling the essence of this scripture in 2 Corinthians. What would our resolutions look like if they were specifically written to help the old pass away and to bring about the birth of the new? Isn’t this what we need? Isn’t this what all the seminars and focus groups and books that have been written regarding church renewal and revitalization, isn’t this exactly what they are talking about? Finding ways to allow the old to pass away and finding other ways to welcome the birth of something new? Have we not been talking about this for decades, and yet nothing concrete ever seems to come about? Why do you suppose that is?

When people create New Year’s resolutions, they almost concede in advance that the resolutions will never be kept. It is just too hard. You resolve to lose some weight, get out of debt or learn to play the piano; and yet at the end of the year, the old resolution is forgotten and a new one is made. Perhaps the church has been following the same pattern, we just call it something different.

Perhaps one way to increase our chances of success when making resolutions is to better understand what the differences are among things like resolutions, goals, hope and wishful thinking. I believe that a resolution is something you resolve that you currently have the power and capability of actually doing. Goals and dreams, hopes and wishful thinking are something else; but a resolution, I think, is something that you currently have control over.

For example, we could make a resolution that we want to double our membership in 2016; we could make the resolution, but it would fail because we don’t have the power or the capability to actually do that. What we can control is how we welcome visitors, for example, and we can make resolutions regarding that process. If we happen to increase our membership as a result of that resolution, that would be great, but we should only make resolutions about things we can control.

Over the next several weeks, I want to explore this idea of resolving to do things we have control over. I think it would be valuable for us to begin to think about what is old and what needs to be new, and what positive steps we might take as a congregation to accomplish these things. We can resolve to do certain things we have the power and the capability of doing, and if we focus on those things, perhaps some of the larger goals and dreams and aspirations will begin to take shape as well.

As we begin to move beyond the Christmas season and into 2016, I think it is always a healthy exercise to consider what has been accomplished and what we would like to see happen in the year to come. I believe that a poem written by the African-American theologian Howard Thurman accurately points us in the direction we need to go and may help us focus on what needs to be accomplished.

Here is that poem:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

What resolutions can we make that will help us accomplish the work of Christmas which has now begun? That is the question we will be exploring over the next few weeks and that is also food for thought. Go in peace and go with God. Amen.

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