Sermon: Jan 1, 2017 – “Everything is New?”

“Everything is New?”

2Corinthians 5: 17

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel a little bit abroad, particularly in the UK and other European countries. I particularly love some of the ancient cathedrals and old churches you can find in that part of the world. Some of the architecture is just amazing and when you consider the age of some of these structures it is even more amazing. There are churches and cathedrals in the UK that are 3 or 4 hundred years old and some ruins that are still standing that are close to 1,000 years old.

If you have gotten to know me a little bit, you may know that I sort of like construction and remodeling; building a house here and there or otherwise being involved in a project. So it shouldn’t surprise you too much if I were to tell you that part of the fun of visiting some of these really old structures in the UK for example, is to look at what has happened since they were built. Just as an example, it is very common to find electric lights and perhaps a restroom in the lobby of a cathedral that was built in the 18th century. Now, you don’t have to be an A student of history to know that during the construction of a cathedral in the mid 1700’s, the workers were not installing electric lights and plumbing for a restroom. This had to come after the fact.

Let me just tell you that remodeling of this type is extremely difficult. So I am always interested to have a look and see if I can figure out what they did and how they did it. This difficulty is also present if you choose to remodel an existing house. There are certain things you can move or eliminate, but there are other things which you cannot. Personally, my most recent remodel situation where I had to work around a lot of existing structure was a house in Clarkston that we lived in right before we moved into the parsonage. All of this is just to say that I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to remodel an existing structure and have that structure maintain most of the original character. Even though the ancient cathedrals in the UK have a few electric lights and a restroom in the lobby, they still look pretty much the way they did in the 18th century. That is truly remarkable if you think about it.

I have also had a bit of experience building houses from scratch. That is, from the foundation forward, everything is new construction. This is much, much easier. New construction is a breeze compared to some of the problems you encounter with a remodel.

So I wanted to get back to this scripture I read a few minutes ago. We can read in the text from Second Corinthians that if anyone or perhaps anything is implied here, is in Christ, there is a new creation. The text goes on to say that everything old has been abandoned or passed away as the scripture says, that means it has died, it is no longer useful, it is dead, and after that death of everything, all things have become new.

I believe it is very important, particularly in this text, for us to consider some historical context. I have mentioned before that the letters of Paul are some of the earliest writings we have in the New Testament. This text from second Corinthians is a good example. When this letter was written, Christianity as a faith tradition was perhaps only 30 or 40 years old. Everything was new. Most of the converts to Christianity were coming from either Greek mythology which was an ancient understanding of things, or from ancient Judaism, which was also old by comparison. It was easy to claim that all the old ideas, the old customs, the old traditions, all the old rituals – all that has passed away and in this new way of thinking, as a Christian, everything was new.

What an enviable position to be in. Imagine starting a new religion where everything can be new and you can make choices about how things are done or how things are understood. It is much easier than trying to modify an old religion. This is why I began this discussion with an emphasis on how difficult it is to remodel an existing structure. There are a lot of challenges associated with a remodel and if you can just begin from scratch, it is much easier.

Now, I happen to believe that Jesus never intended to start a new religion. I believe that Jesus had a mission in his sights to reform ancient Judaism and Christianity as a faith tradition never entered the mind of Jesus. Like I said, that is my belief; it doesn’t have to be your belief. But what happened after the execution of Jesus is really interesting. Rather than attempting the rather formidable task of remodeling ancient Judaism, a brand new faith tradition sprung up in its place. The task perhaps was just too big; the people who controlled ancient Judaism were just too powerful; perhaps no one involved in ancient Judaism saw a need for change; whatever the reason, a remodel of ancient Judaism did not take place. As the text states, all things became new.

All this information leads me to the point where I think we need to take a long look at where we are as a church and as a faith tradition right now. It is my belief and understanding that we are in need of some serious remodeling, and I’m not talking about paint or carpet or light fixtures. I’m talking about remodeling of Christianity as a faith tradition and the remodeling of the church in terms of our tradition and our rituals and our customs. But here’s the problem; we can’t just start over. The text that I read a few minutes ago says that all things become new. We can’t do that. We have a faith tradition that is over 2,000 years old. We have an existing structure. There are some things we can move, some things we can relocate, but we cannot just start over. Like an ancient cathedral that needs some electric lights and plumbing for a restroom, we need to figure out how to make the changes we need without destroying the original structure. We need to remodel Christianity to once again make it relevant and appealing to our modern culture, without destroying the framework and the foundation of the faith tradition itself. This is not an easy task.

For example, I think many people would agree that the church exists to minister to the community in which it is a part. In other words, the church is in a community and the church ministers to the people of that community. So what happens to the church if the community that it is in begins to change in dramatic ways? Does the church change with the community? Probably not.

I don’t think anyone would argue that Lewiston is exactly the same as it was in 1950 or 1960; a lot has changed since then and we live in a very different place even though it is still called Lewiston. But has the church changed with the community?

When I speak of the revitalization of our church and the remodeling of our faith tradition certainly this includes some of the physical updates to our building that we are beginning to see. But it also includes some new ways of thinking, new ways of approaching ministry, new ways of governing ourselves and new ideas of what it means to be involved in a church. Many people don’t have the same amount of time to volunteer that they once did is one example. Most families that are living in Lewiston now have both parents that work full-time, they don’t have as many children, but those children are way busier than any of us can imagine and spare time to volunteer at a church just doesn’t exist like it did in 1960. This is just one example of how a community changes around a church, and the church doesn’t necessarily change with it.

We must find new and creative ways to remodel our church structure, our ways of thinking about church and even the very faith tradition we call Christianity, or else what is predicted in our text will actually happen again. Christianity is now what is old. To be in Christ does not mean the same thing that it meant 2,000 years ago. If we are to prevent everything old passing away and all things becoming new, we must undertake some significant remodeling. But as I stressed early on, remodeling is much more difficult than new construction. But this is the task that lies before us. A new year is beginning and our new church is also beginning to take shape.

I wanted to take just a minute and introduce you to an idea that is in response to this difficult task of remodeling our church. This is what I call a prayer calendar; we will be creating a 2017 prayer calendar for anyone who wants one. The idea behind this prayer calendar is that each one of us has special dates in our lives that are more difficult for us than the rest of the year. Someone has referred to these special times as secret anniversaries of the heart; I think that is an accurate and appropriate way of describing these special dates. In my life, March 24th is such an anniversary.

What I would like for everyone to do that wishes to participate is to fill out the form that was included in your bulletin today. The form asks for just a name and a date; we don’t need to know the details. Please put your completed form in the offering plate as it comes around. The idea is that over the next few weeks, all these secret anniversaries of the heart will be collected and transferred to our prayer calendar. Then during all of 2017, as these anniversaries come up, those who wish to will pray for each individual on the calendar on that particular day. It will only take a moment, but the positive energy that comes from the prayers of all of us will help each of us through that particularly difficult day.

Once the prayer calendar is filled in with all the names of everyone that turns in the forms, we will produce these calendars in the office and then make them available to anyone who wants to participate by praying for each individual. We will be asking for a $5 donation to help cover the cost of the calendar, if you choose to participate.

This is just one small way we have begun our remodeling process. There is more to come. Perhaps not all things will become new as the scripture suggests, but some things will pass away, and behold, some things will become new. And that is food for thought. Amen.

 

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