2 Corinthians 5:6-17

 So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. We live by faith and not by sight. We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord. So our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home. 10 We all must appear before Christ in court so that each person can be paid back for the things that were done while in the body, whether they were good or bad.

Ministry of reconciliation

11 So we try to persuade people, since we know what it means to fear the Lord. We are well known by God, and I hope that in your heart we are well known by you as well. 12 We aren’t trying to commend ourselves to you again. Instead, we are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us so that you could answer those who take pride in superficial appearance, and not in what is in the heart.

13 If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake. If we are rational, it’s for your sake. 14 The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. 15 He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Down, But Not Out – Crazy for God

Nature is really fascinating.  I love the way the dandelion blooms out into a yellow flower, the flower dries up and it looks like it is completely dead and gone, and then it bursts out into that white puffy ball that kids love to pick and blow on.  Right?  It’s fun to watch the seeds scatter into the wind.  It is so poetic that after the dandelion appears to be dead, the most fruitful part of the plant is born!  It is the white puffy seeds that keep the plant going for the next generation.

The Apostle Paul talks a lot about all the trials and hardships he suffered for the sake of Christ.  In his mission to tell the world about the life, death and resurrection of his Lord, he was imprisoned and beaten with a rod, he was hungry, cold, ship wrecked, and whipped.  In the last two weeks, we have read scripture from 2 Corinthians where Paul described his body a clay pot; we clay pots are useful, but we are also fragile and easily broken.  And yet, Paul had learned through all the things he went through that God can use that brokenness and weakness.  Paul talked about the way that the tents that are our bodies are just temporary shelters — they will eventually be torn down, and our ultimate home is in heaven with God.  Paul was certain that because Jesus was resurrected, he would be, too.  Even so, Paul was confident that his earthly body was useful for the eternal work of God.

The dandelion reminds us that our time on this earth is pretty short.  Our time is limited.  Eventually, our bodies grow weak and the hardships of life bruise us and break us down.  Yet as long as we are living and breathing, God is not through with us yet.  In fact, perhaps the best is yet to come; perhaps our most productive time is ahead.  Perhaps God intends to use our weakness to show how great God is.  Like the dandelion, God can transform us into a new creation — God can make us into a version of ourselves that is totally different and unexpected, but a new version of ourselves that has the potential to bear great fruit for the kingdom of God.  In fact, this is a huge part of what happens when we live close to God and strive to imitate Christ.

In today’s scripture, Paul said it this way in verse 17:

So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new            creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things      have arrived!

Now Paul is talking about a couple of things.  He is talking about the new heaven and the new earth.  When Christ returns there will be a new heaven, a new earth, every part of creation will be restored to wholeness.  But Paul is also talking about the way that we are renewed now — while we are living on this earth.  While we are on this earth, when we are in Christ, when we believe in Christ and when we follow Christ, we become a new creation.  And I think Paul gives us some examples of what this looks like in this scripture.

Look back at verse 6.  Paul tells us this:

So we are always confident, because we know that while we are     living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. We         live by faith and not by sight. We are confident, and we would        prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord. So our            goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away    from home.

Paul says that living in our bodies on earth is not our real home, but that our real home is with God.  He even says that the believers would prefer to leave their bodies and be in heaven with God.  Did you know that many of the early Christians were killed for their faith?  Just like Paul, in the first few centuries, Christians were often imprisoned, beaten and tortured for their faith.  One way that they were tortured and killed is that they were put into an arena and people watched them be ripped apart by wild animals like lions and bears.  And if you read some of the stories about these martyrs of the faith, you will hear some of these same things that Paul said.  They talk about wanting to be in heaven with their Lord.  They even preferred to be killed in this terrible way so that they could be in heaven with God.  Martyrdom was the highest honor because they were reaching the highest imitation of Christ in their deaths.  And the fascinating thing is that during this time people were becoming Christians in huge numbers because of the example of those who were martyred.  In spite of the threat of death, people would risk it all to follow Jesus.  They were so sold out to God that even being tortured and killed for God was a good thing if it brought glory to God.

That is a new way of living.

            Paul says in verse 7 that the believers live by faith and not sight.  They believe in the one true God even though they can’t see him, even when they are knocked down!

That is a new way of living.

Paul writes in verse 16 that “the love of Christ controls us.”  The love of Christ controlled their response to every person and every situation — not their own self-interests, but the love of Christ.

That is a new way of living.

            Building even more on this idea, in verse 16 Paul writes that “we won’t recognize people by human standards.”  Imagine how different the world might be if we looked at every single person in the way that God sees that person.  Imagine if we didn’t see the person as black or white, male or female, rich or poor, immigrant or citizen, but as God’s creation and God’s dearly loved children.  Imagine if we didn’t judge people by human standards but looked at each person through the eyes of God’s love.  Imagine how our daily news might change.  Imagine how our facebook feeds might change if we saw people through God’s eyes.

That would be a new way of living.

            And apparently, others were starting to recognize that these early Christians were living in a new way.  Apparently, these Christians were so different from normal society that Paul’s opponents were claiming that he was out of his mind.  Verse 13 says: “If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake.”  Now, I should warn you that there is a long history of people accusing God’s servants of being crazy.  I don’t have time to talk about all of those, but I have some Bible scholars in this church who love to dig into these things, so you see some verses listed on your screen that you can check out later. (See, 2 Kings 9:11; Jeremiah 29:26; Hosea 9:72).  But know that when we are really living for God, when we are really living out our faith in the radical way that Jesus calls us to, we look crazy!  We look crazy because the way of the world is to live not for God, but to live for whom?  For self!  Look out for number one, right?  We live for ourselves.  And so, people who aren’t sold out to God don’t get it.

I mean think about it.  It sounds crazy:

–When God’s people would want to be martyred for God’s sake,

–it sounds crazy – when people practice walking by faith and not by sight, (I mean really? Isn’t hard to believe when you can’t see?)

–it sounds crazy – when the love of Christ controls us and not the love of self,

–and it sounds crazy –  when we don’t judge people based on human standards —

people are going to call us crazy.

When we truly become a new creation in Christ Jesus our Lord, we look crazy!  The world does not understand why we would live for God and not for ourselves.  You may have noticed it too.  You may have noticed that people who have devoted their lives to God often do things that fail to make sense to less spiritual people. They trust God, even in dire circumstances; actually they trust God especially in the worst circumstances. They live sacrificially, accepting far fewer comforts than they might otherwise enjoy.  Sometimes they even suffer death because they refuse to renounce their faith.  (Donovan).

A lot of people think my mom is crazy.  You may remember my mom because I’ve talked about her before.  In fact, you may even remember thinking she’s crazy.  She’s 78.  She has a pacemaker, stents and COPD.  Sometimes its hard for to breathe, and she gets really tired.  She wears oxygen at night and periodically during the day.  But most days, she goes to LaQuinta at 10 am, and she picks up the leftovers from the breakfast in the lobby.  And she boxes it up in “to go” boxes and she delivers it around Russellville to people who might need a little extra help stretching their food budgets.  It has become a whole project involving other people and other sources of food.  She was responsible for organizing the delivery of 4500 meals in the last 9 months.  She has become the love of God to some people who really feel disregarded, disrespected and abandoned.

She talked to me yesterday about all the new friends she has made, and how she and her helper always say, “I love you.”  And she said many of her friends now say, “I love you,” back to her.  She says that she continues to do this work to bring God’s love and hope to her little corner of the world.

Even though she’s my mom, I have to say she is sure using her weak body for God’s purposes.  She is walking by faith and not by sight.  The love of Christ controls what she does – I often think, she’s doing too much, she ought to just enjoy her retirement.  But Christ really is in control of her.  And she is recognizing people as God’s children and not judging them the way we humans tend to.  I have seen the change in her.  She is a new creation in Christ – she is bearing great fruit for God’s kingdom.

When her health declined a few years ago, she must have thought God was through with her.  But God is never through with us.

So I think our challenge——is to allow God to make us into a new creation.  A creation that might look totally different than how we once were.  God is not through with us yet!

Our challenge is to become people who are so loving, so generous, so forgiving and so focused on being used by God that people call us crazy.

If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake.

May the love of Christ control our every thought, word and deed.  In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.