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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
March 31, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Lent 4C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: March 31, 2019 – Lent 4C

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

We Are All Dead


              In the 1999 movie, The Sixth Sense, psychologist Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) tries to help a boy, Cole Sear (played by Haley Joel Osment). Cole tells his secret to Malcolm with that famous line: “I see dead people.” Malcolm is skeptical but comes to believe Cole. He suggests Cole use his gift to aid these spirits. Cole does so in a dramatic way by helping a dead girl who had been secretly poisoned by her mother, uncovering evidence that saves her younger sister from the same fate. Cole then suggests to Malcolm, who believes he is having trouble in his marriage, to talk to his wife, Anna, while she is asleep. Malcolm comes home and finds Anna asleep while their wedding video is playing. She asks Malcolm why he left her. She drops his wedding ring on the floor. Then Malcolm realizes that he has been dead this whole time, shot by an angry former patient. Malcolm tells his widow that he loves her and departs, his unfinished business complete.


              Malcolm does not realize his state for nearly the entire movie. In a way, the same is true for us. We, too, are already dead. But it isn’t just us who have died. All of creation is also dead. The whole cosmos – everything that has been or is now is already dust and ash. Why? Because something fundamental happened on a Friday afternoon long ago. The Christ who was in the beginning with God, who was the Word that emanated forth from the Father to bring creation into being, who was the “Author of Life”, as Peter calls him in Acts, died. The Word of God, the Author of Life, God himself died on a cross on a Friday afternoon. Therefore, Paul says, all have died. Everything has died because Christ died.


              This is not a horror movie trope, although it sounds like one. We are dead people who belong to a dead world. But that’s not the end of the story. It would be incredibly depressing if it were. No, you see, at the same time, there is a new creation. Christ doesn’t just die. The season of Lent reminds us that death is never the end. New life always comes out of death. And as Christ rose from the dead, a new creation rose as well – one that God has made us part of. And therefore, it’s a new creation which God calls us to orient our lives toward. To live in. To be of. We are simultaneously dead and alive, belonging to one world and living in the next.


              And if you think this is crazy talk…well, it IS! But Christ isn’t the only example of this death and new life. At the risk of rehashing last week’s sermon, here’s another.


              For the Israelites, Egypt was the dead world; the world they left behind. God heard their cries and brought them out of Egypt. But the process of dying to Egypt and rising to live in a new land took longer than forty years. Most of the Israelites who only knew life in Egypt could not let go of it. Even though they were enslaved there, even though they were brutalized, they romanticized the dead world they left behind. They didn’t remember the beatings, the orders to make bricks without straw, the subjections and humiliations they endured. No, they remembered the food! The leeks, onions, and garlic! The “fleshpots”, as the King James Version has it. The whole of wilderness journey, as well as the rest of the Old Testament, is a story about God trying to hammer in the invitation to live in a new land and the summons, therefore, to be in right relationship with God as their Lord and King and with each other. To remember where they came from and the God who leads them.


              But the sad part about God’s people of any time and place is this – our heads are hard as cement. No matter how much God commands, cajoles, coaxes, or invites us, we are drawn back to the old, dead world. Why? Because we want to live where we think we know how things work, where we have a sense of order and control. Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, prolific author, and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, talks about three boxes that we live in – one of order, one of chaos, and one of reconstruction. Most Lutherans (and many church-goers in general) grow up in the first box – the box of order. When we’re raised, we’re given a way of thinking about ourselves, others, and the wider world that makes sense. So we think we know how the world works. How God works. What our responsibilities are in how we are supposed to live and what we “owe” (and I use that economic term deliberately) to God and other people. Others – many in Blackford County – grow up in the second box, the one of chaos. One where nothing makes sense. One where Mom or Dad beat or scream for no reason. Where one goes to bed hungry or cold. Where the lights or heat or water are sometimes off. Where one grows up feeling worthless. Where the only joy and respite might be in drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or sex. In short, it’s a box where the world seems cruel and meaningless. How terrible to grow up in the box of chaos! But there’s a similarity between the boxes of order and chaos. They are extremely difficult to leave. They are our worlds. They are all we know. And when we hear the gospel that announces the death of the old and the birth of the new, our first reaction is not to run to it with open arms. No, the first reaction is usually fear or fury.


              Notice how the women at the tomb and the male disciples react after Jesus rises. They aren’t joyful or happy – not at first. They’re scared out of their minds! The women run away in terror and the men dismiss it; that is, until the men actually see Jesus, and then they are frightened, too! They see and touch the impossible. What should not and cannot happen happens. The new thing that Jesus does is threatening.


              And the same is true for us. When something shakes up or destroys the orderly (or disorderly) world that we know, we can become frightened or angry or even sad. Even if it is a good thing. Like the birth of a baby, which Sarah and I anticipate. The old world that the parents know dies when that new child is born. Or, say, when a child leaves home. Or when a new pastor comes to town and starts making you (sorry, I mean INVITING you!) to learn all kinds of music you don’t know! Those changes – and many others, good, bad, and in-between – can be threatening.


              What Jesus did and what Jesus continues to do is put to death the world we think we know. That’s the world where everything is measured in a transactional way. That’s the world where might makes right. That’s the world where my tribe is always right. Where I do things my way, or conversely, have zero agency at all. That old world is dead and continues to die. But as I said before, that’s not the end. Jesus also makes alive. He raises us up just as he was raised up. We now live in that new creation that God has made through Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s not individualistic. It’s not a matter of looking at things the right way. It’s an objective truth. As Paul says (and the NRSV has it better), “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” There is a new creation for all who are in Christ, even for those who have physically died. Death does not separate them from God’s love or from the new creation that God has prepared for them.


              That’s what happens to the younger son. He dies to the world he once knew – which encompasses the box of order he grew up in and the box of chaos he fled to. When he returns to his father, he is suddenly ushered into a world more wonderful than anything he expected – the third box of re-order. Robe, ring, fatted calf. A great feast. Unexpected and undeserved. As the father says to the older brother, “This brother of yours was dead and is now alive. He was lost and is now found.”


              We, too, were dead and are now alive in Christ. And therefore, as Paul writes, we are his ambassadors. We have the privilege to be representatives of Christ and his new creation wherever we go, with whomever we meet. Turn to page 12 in your bulletin. Under “Serving Our Lord Today at Zion”, who are the ministers of the church? (Pause.) Yes. They’re you. There are no volunteers in Christ’s church. There are ministers. Ambassadors. Representatives. That’s all of us. In all places of our lives.


              God help us, then, to realize that though we have died and continue to die, Christ has made and continues to make us alive. He ushers us out of the old world we think we know behind to embrace the new world he brought by his life, death, and resurrection. There’s another term for that, expressed better than I by brother Martin himself. Thesis 1 of the 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” God help us continue to repent, to turn from what has died to what Christ has made alive.


              Let us pray.


              Lord Jesus, you have brought a new world into being. Help us to continue to repent of our old selves and the old order for as many days as we live and embrace the new creation, which was present in the beginning and has been brought into fullness by you. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.