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! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (CEB)
Sunday I led worship with an interesting worshipping community. On the face of it, they look like most congregations. What made them interesting was that it wasn’t one congregation, but two. These two average-sized, traditional congregations have discerned that the Spirit is leading them to do a new thing. Sure, part of this is reacting to their current circumstances and challenges, but this doesn’t seem to be all there is. My prayer is that regardless of what led these two congregations to the place of active discernment regarding their futures, the path they travel together will lead to an amazing new creation.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
When I walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning, I was surprised to see it was one-quarter full – with the choir! In the summer! Even though this was only the third time they have worshipped together this way, the combined choir sounded beautiful. As people came in to the sanctuary, I could tell which congregation they were from because of their nametags.
But as a visitor, that is the only way I could tell.
Leading this service was full of grace for me. I didn’t sense fear of what was coming – but hope. I didn’t see irritation that worship didn’t go their “way” – but active participation. I was greeted – and welcomed – after the service by members of both congregations. After the service, there was a coffee hour (my boys rated the food quality and selections as a 10). Without looking intently at nametags, it seemed like a good mixer: no boys on one side, girls on the other like a middle school dance.
Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. – Luke 17:33 (NRSV)
That being said, the road ahead is not a well-paved, four-lane highway. It will probably be more like a labyrinth, where at times the way ahead is clear and at others, it seems like they are far from their goal. Somehow these two congregations will need to learn one another’s stories and rituals while at the same time being willing to create new stories and rituals as a new worshipping community.
Thinking about this new creation brought our baptism to my mind. We don’t often dwell on what it is we are dying to. This is one reason we include a renunciation of evil in the baptismal liturgy. In order to be born to new life, to become a new creation, there is something in and about us that must die and remain buried in the water.
This may be one of the greatest challenges facing these congregations – and really all congregations as we seek to discern and obey God’s call in this time and place. Unlike our sin, what the Church has been is not evil to renounced (although we do have some sins that need confessing). Instead it is like the stories of these two congregations that need to be told, celebrated, and then let go. Our humanity will always connect us to our past, so reflections of the old will always be found in the new. But when we emerge from the waters of baptism, we find our past, our present, our future bound in the identity of Christ.
We like the idea of a new creation, but are we willing to die to what we’ve been in order to receive new life?
Appropriately, below is the appointed prayer for last week. As I prepared to preach 1 Kings 3:5-12, it was a prayer I could pray honestly for myself – and one I could pray for these two congregations:
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know my necessities before I ask and my ignorance in asking: Have compassion on my weakness, and mercifully give me those things which for my unworthiness I dare not, and for my blindness I cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. – The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime, Phyllis Tickle