Stepping through the Door, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

A sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley on March 27, 2022

Turn in your Bible to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. Paul is writing to the church describing his intent to come and see them, but he has been delayed in leaving. Immediately preceding our text today, Paul reminds the church that what keeps him and his companions going in the face of hostile persecution. “The love of Christ urges us on because we are convinced that…he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

This is important for us to remember. Paul’s motivation for doing what he’s doing is because Christ’s love is urging him forward so that he can tell as many people as possible that Jesus died and was raised for all people. Paul wants people to experience the same life change he has experienced himself. Let’s now turn our attention to today’s reading beginning with verse 16.

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. 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, 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.[1]

After a very emotional ten days, I drove my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter to the airport as they had to get back home to work. They also had to get back before this blizzard hit Boston. Time slowed down for me once I kissed them goodbye and started back home. It was Sunday morning and the streets were pretty clear but I drove slowly nonetheless. You see, I really did not want to go home but I must. I walked slowly from the car to the front door of the apartment and literally froze as I grabbed the door latch. My hand was shaking as I held the handle for about twenty to thirty seconds before I walked into our apartment all alone for the first time since Kelly’s death; as I stepped through the threshold, I was very conscious of stepping out of a wonderful past while heading into a very unknown and perhaps a very lonely future. It was one of those moments you do not forget as it gets etched into your memory. Walking through that door I realized my life was forever changed.

Beloved, this is what Paul is describing today in our text. He’s saying that when a person is pursued by the love of God and they turn to embrace Jesus, their life is never the same.  As Paul puts it, he or she becomes a new creation; it’s a funny word Paul uses for ‘creation.’ It’s the ancient root word for cosmos; in other words, a person’s entire universe, world, environment get a heavenly reboot and a new operating system is installed. Paul reminds us that our old life dies because of Jesus’ death on the Cross; through the Risen Christ, an entirely new life begins for us. Everything in our lives has changed as we step into a redeemed future; each of our lives will never be the same again.

At least they shouldn’t be. Frankly this is why Paul is writing the Corinthians. He’s reminding them that a relationship with Christ demands a life that is different from those that are, as Paul says, in the world. It’s a new life not because it’s some quid pro quo arrangement with God where we are made whole and are saved so therefore, we have to act in a certain way to continue being loved; on the contrary, our lives are so radically different because they are lives full of divine peace and joy.

Friends, our lives will change in at least three ways after we embrace Jesus. First, the way we see the world, others, God, and issues of injustice changes. The second thing that changes is our language and the way we speak of God, of others, of the world, and its injustices. Finally, our community changes because the virtues our old networks and groups value do not fulfill the same type of values our Christ-infused life embrace. Get embraced by Jesus and the way see, the way you speak, and the people you hang out change.[2]

It’s at this point we need to pause, sit back, close your eyes a moment, and take a breath. In the silence you experience as you retire to the back of your mind to ponder, I want each of us to reflect upon questions like these: Do I see others from a worldly point of view or through the eyes and understanding of God’s? Does my life outwardly demonstrate that I am a brand-new creation, that I have had a total system reboot, and live a light that reflects the healing love of the Lord? Then again, I need to ask if there’s really no difference in the tone and texture of my life after I have professed to follow Jesus? Can the people I encounter around the kitchen table, the board room table, the check-out line, or in the classroom even tell I am any different from the rest of the dog-eat-dog frenzy in the world? Does the way I speak about others, social issues, politics, or social justice change?

Paul is reminding us that Christ reconciled us to God. As such, our new life in Christ is one that has the specific ministry of sharing the unmerited love from God we received with others. This ministry we have been given is part and parcel of this change of ours as we step through the door to Jesus. He says that when we fall in line behind Jesus, we are sent out, not as apostles per se; rather, we are sent out as ambassadors of Christ in the world. For what it’s worth, the word for ambassador Paul uses in the original language is where we get the word presbyterian. Paul is calling us to literally be presbyterians in the world spreading a message of reconciliation. If love is the highest spiritual gift all Christ-followers are given, the delivery system to share that love is through the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation literally means ensuring that the books are in order, where all the debits and credits line up evenly. Balance is restored, not only in the accounting ledgers but more importantly in our relationship with God and those around us.

It means restoring balance and reconciliation with those we know and with those we don’t know. Restoring balance and reconciliation of not only individuals but of communities. Restoring balance and reconciliation with people we may not like very much as well as with people we feel a sense of hatred toward. Scholar Casey Thompson reminds us, “For once we have discerned Jesus to be the Savior of the world, we cannot limit our estimate of other human beings—the born or unborn, exploiters or murderers, terrorists or militarists, frauds or failures—as dwelling beyond his reach. We cannot see any person as anything other than a creature for whom Christ has died and risen, and thus as one meant also to become “a new creation.””[3]

Yesterday, the Session examined this incredible Confirmation class. One of the things we had them do was recite the Apostles Creed. When they were done, I asked a question that was not on their exam. Basically, I wanted to see how well they engaged in doing theology. So, I asked them, “Why did Jesus descend into hell?” Their answers were profound.

Jesus descended into hell because “He didn’t want to leave anyone out who may not have had a second chance.” Another replied, “Because he descended into hell, it reminds us that there is no place too dark and scary that God can’t go.” Wow. Just wow.

This is what Paul is talking about. Because God was/is/ and shall actively go to people as well as to the spiritually dark and scary places to reconcile the winners and losers, the pious and the misfits, the Republicans and the Democrats, as well as the Russians and the Ukrainians to both himself and to one another. God does this through Spirit in and through each one of us here.

Today, these young men and women have embraced Jesus just like you. Today they have been and are reconciled to God. Now, it’s their turn to be vital presbyterians, ambassadors, engaging in a ministry of reconciling others to God as they are. Their profession of faith is their stepping through the door leaving the past and walking into a new life and future; their lives will never be the same because their lives will never be the same.

Can people tell we have been reconciled to God? Can they experience in us that our lives are not the same? How effective of an ambassador am I?  Do we see and speak about God, people, or institutions differently than before we met Jesus? These are all relevant questions to ponder on this fifth Sunday of Lent. Let us pray. 

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] I read this by Rev. Dr. Alan J.  Roxburgh in a book that has been misplaced. I wish I could remember the book! He is the one who highlighted these changes in newly faithed people.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide by David L. Bartlett,  Barbara Brown Bartlett .

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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