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New Creation
By Rev. Keith Gunter
01/22/12

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
THE REV. KEITH GUNTER
JANUARY 22, 2012

New Creation
Genesis 1:1-5
1 Corinthians 5:11-21


In my preparation for this message over the past couple of weeks, I have kept one note kind of at the top of all my notes, to, in some sense humbly, remind me of what we are doing in meeting in preparing God's Word. One theologian simply said this about 2 Corinthians 5: "This is one of the most theologically charged passages of any of Paul's letters." Reminded by the holiness of that and the sense of what Paul was trying to get across, it made me think of this one book. You see, I found this book several months ago while waiting on a flight in the Atlanta airport. The book caught my eye; it was at the bottom of the shelf; it was one of those books that always kind of draw your attention because the name of it was simply this: The Book of Awesome. How does that not catch your attention? You know, I couldn't help, and sure enough, it was one of those desperate moments when you needed something to read, and so I bought it. But within this small book, is over 150 moments in which the contributors said these were the things in life that are awesome. Let me give you some that you may or may not agree with.

The Book of Awesome says, "The final seconds of untangling a big knot is awesome." "It's playing Scrabble with your friends, and in one move you draw a 'Q" and a 'U'." "It's a good floss after a tough steak." (I may get some Amen's from this congregation in a moment.) "It's awesome when you have that stretch at a highway rest stop on a long road trip." "It's awesome when you are at a vending machine and you pay for one item and yet you get two." And finally, one that I have practiced all week long: "It is awesome, when you peel an orange in one piece."

Let me add one more this morning, pulling it from Paul's letter, you see I believe it's awesome when we remember those moments of deep loneliness, the moments of hurt when we wonder who we can call, those moments in which we recognize and confess the depths of our sin. You see, I believe it's awesome that we can sit in moments of great pain and wonder, and we have many, many questions. You see, I believe it's awesome, that in those moments, that we can remember that Christ died for all. That in that moment, Christ drew us to him, and in those moments, we became a new creation in Christ with a new perspective, and thus, maybe it makes sense when we read what the psalmist says in chapter 66, verse 5, "Come and see what God has done. How awesome is his works on man's behalf."

You see, this sense of awesome, this sense of awe and wonder and majesty of God, comes from the grace and mercy in which we know. Paul talks about it and says, "When we have this sense of awesome, this new creation, this new way of being, we see humanity in a whole new way."

Pastor John Ortberg talks about this in his early days of being a parent, doing one of those dreaded flights from the east coast to the west coast with his two children. It was one of those flights that wasn't full, but he was in the back of the airplane next to the engine and the noise, hoping to keep his children quiet throughout the flight. And of course, as pastor kids always are this way, they were loud. And not just loud in conversation they were loud in everything they were doing. People were trying to sleep. John and his wife were doing everything, pulling out all the tricks, every piece of candy and entertainment they could find. He says at one point, he felt horrible because the seat in front of him – his child was pulling out the stuffing from the seat. Seeing his distraught, he kept noticing a young couple. The couple rose up, doing one of those casual look-backs throughout the flight. He was worried about it, and finally, one of the couple stood up and walked back, and he looked at John in the face. And he saw the kids making all the noise, and said, "Oh, if only I would have two kids." John in that moment, a heaviness fell upon him, trying to figure out this other man's story, and finally the other man continued, "No, if I only had two kids – you see, I have six kids."

You see that slight twist of perspective, that new sense of humanity, and maybe that new sense of grace and mercy that we can have. This is what Paul speaks to, and we see this even more so as we faithfully view the cross, and even the words of our Savior, those beloved words, when God says, "Behold, I make all things new."

"I make all things new." Those moments of those words in my life have given me a sense of peace. Sitting and hearing the loss of loved ones, and you hear the pastor say, "Oh, He makes all things new."

It is hard to understand "new" in our world this day. You see, for us, we say to be new is something we have to purchase. We can smell things that seem new. You know, I have even had people promise me and they would say things like this, "Oh, but it's like new."

But what is being new like? What is this promise, this consequence of Christ dying for all and making us new? How does it work and what does it mean? How does God take a broken and tattered me, a self-conscious me, frustrated, worn-out, concerned about the relationships I am in, concerned about my own finances and being able to say, "God, how do you make things new?" You see, I believe that this passage, much like Isaiah and much of scripture, calls us to look back, calls us to see where God's mighty hand has shaped us and moved us and drawn us into a new place, a new way of being.

Amy and I purchased a home in Hendersonville where we will start this new church. To do so, when we bought the house, we had to have a vision for it because the walls in this home, every single one of them, were a different color. Pastels. Bold colors. On the same wall. And people did not understand it because we would invite friends and neighbors over, and they would walk into the house after the painter had spent over a month in our house, and they would say, "Oh, your house is nice." We felt like they didn't appreciate it. So do you know what we did? We would immediately grab them and pull them over to our computer, pull up the pictures of before, and say, "Now, do you understand how wonderful our house is?"

You see, it takes for me, and maybe for many of us here, to know what life was like before, to draw back to those moments and say, "Look at our lives and look what has happened." Maybe that's a good dose for all of us this day, to see how we have been shaped, how God's mighty hand has worked in our lives. You see, I am a pastor's kid, a very loud and disobedient pastor's kid at times, and yet the church shaped me. Oh, I remember moments where I would sit in the pews, and all of a sudden my mom would look for me and could not find me. But I am thankful for the Elder in the last row who found me.

You see, one of the first churches my father served at, the tradition of this historic and beautiful small church, was that the pastor's family would sit on the front row. Do you know how hard that is for a first grader? I remember one Sunday in particular was difficult for me. My father was preaching – I am sure it was absolutely wonderful with words inspired by God – but I could not stay still. My mom kept reminding me to be still and to be quiet. Finally, before she could stop me, I stood on that front row, and said, "Well, why doesn't Daddy be quiet?"

Yet God shaped me, using the church and relentless Sunday School teachers, those who kept bringing me in and being patient with me, and kind. Allowing me to dream, allowing God to reconcile himself to me. In all this, in God's solemn mercy, he guided me, that I might become the righteousness of God. That my message could be the message of reconciliation. Thus, this is what Paul writes to the church, he says, "I know you, your history, and you know mine."

The ministry of reconciliation – it is about witness. It is bearing witness to what God has made otherwise, what God has altered, and this is truly an act of God. This is what it means to be a part of being a new creation in Christ. Just think, God took my life and reconciled it – where it could have been this, God made it otherwise – he altered it into a new way of being.

This is consistent with God from the very beginning. Oh, those words from Genesis, "God, who in the beginning took, out of nothing." The theological phrase for that – ex nihilo – says "out of nothing, out of chaos, out of emptiness, out of void, out of darkness."

My brothers and sisters, we have all been there. Moments when we have had to live out of nothing. Moments in which we think darkness and emptiness and void has surrounded us, and it is in that moment in which the very character of God, through Jesus Christ, continues to speak, and he speaks light into the darkness. God speaks through Jesus' light into the darkness.

This is our ministry; this is our calling as disciples of Christ, to speak boldness and light to pierce the darkness with great hope, bearing witness to our God who has moved in the past, even maybe when we did not realize it.

I will never forget sitting with a good friend of mine, Jackie. She was 25 years old, and it was one year after she had been diagnosed with cancer. The treatment had gone well and she was beginning to feel better, she was wearing a wig she says, "Keith, I want to tell you my story. I know you know it, but I just want to say it one more time and relive those moments." And I will never forget sitting with her in those moments as she told her story, and she kept talking about how God brought her back through this moment of darkness. And you know where she told this story? It was her decision. She says, "Keith, I want you to hear this story – so let's meet at the hospital." We sat in the waiting room, just feet away from where she first was diagnosed. That place, at one point, was a place of darkness, of despair, was now a place where she saw it in a new way of life, a new way of being. You see, each day, we are given that opportunity to witness to that – to our children, to our friends and even to strangers, to say, "Oh, it was once this but now it is this."

It is our job, as it says in the very mission statement of this church, to make Christ known. This is what New Creation Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee is all about. A community that in its very name, seeks to lift up and point out and embody the reconciling act of God's grace in Jesus Christ. This is our hope and our prayer, from my family and to your family. It is not simply the mission of that church but of all churches because we will all sit in moments of great despair. We will look and wonder, "How did we get to this spot?"

Let us pull in the words and the hope and the awesome deeds of God that said Christ died for all. Let us celebrate and share that awesome deed with those around us, so that maybe, maybe, we can speak as God has called us to speak; we can share, we can bear witness, we can serve, we can love and we can teach, knowing that we are shaping God's hope, God's light in this world.

So if I can be so bold this day, to give you an assignment that God gave me this past week – as you go home, or maybe as you sit tonight, right before you go to bed, take a moment and look back – look back and recount your life and the things that have happened, the moments of frustration and darkness, to where you can say, "Ah, you did this, oh Lord, so that you can now do this new thing." And it is not to erase those memories but to lift them up and to celebrate. "Oh you did this then so that you can so that you can do this now."

This church has borne witnessed to me from the very beginning when it first introduced this idea of a new church because it said, "We are this church and we have done this, but we believe now that God has called us to this new thing." That has been a witness to my life and my calling. I pray that it is on yours as well – that on this day, you can say, "God you did this, what new thing, what awesome deed, will you do next?"

To the glory of God the Father. Amen.
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