Sermon for Sunday March 6th, 2016, the Fourth Sunday in Lent

The Lessons: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The Text: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

The Theme: A New Beginning in the Lord Jesus Christ

INTRODUCTION

One of the traditional names for the Fourth Sunday in Lent is “Refreshment Sunday.” Though there are other names for this Sunday, such as Laetare Sunday, meaning “to rejoice,” or Mothering Sunday, the idea of Refreshment Sunday is one I would like to explore today. Traditionally, in the Roman Church, centuries ago, this name was given to the Fourth Sunday, because it was a time when the strict discipline of fasting was relaxed a little, and the Pope on this Sunday used to pass out loaves of bread to the poor who lived in Rome. The practice of giving refreshment and blessing to the poor in a time of fasting is proclaimed and commanded in Isaiah 58. When we collect groceries to deliver to the Palo Alto Emergency Food Closet, we are giving a gift of refreshment to the poor.

THE LESSONS TODAY

Refreshment is implied in all our Lessons today, and the kind of refreshment that belongs to an altogether new beginning. In the Old Testament Lesson, Israel starts a new life in Canaan, the Promised Land, and the provision of manna from heaven stops because they are now able to eat the food produced by the land. From the Psalm we learn of the blessing and new beginning after one’s sins have been forgiven, a lesson the returning prodigal son also learns in our Gospel reading.

A NEW BEGINNING IN CHRIST

From our Epistle Lesson, we learn of the great opportunity for a new beginning in Christ, a new kind of life made possible by His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. One principal purpose of Christ’s sacrifice is spelt out by St. Paul in a verse which precedes the beginning of the Epistle for today (2 Cor. 5:15):

He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

St. Paul was writing to Christians when he wrote this, and pleading for them to no longer live sinful, selfish lives, but to be reconciled to God. In the verse I have quoted, St. Paul explains one important purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection for the sake of all mankind. This purpose was a reorientation of people’s purpose in life, that instead of living to satisfy their own desires and ambitions, they should live by faith in, and dependence on, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for their sake. This is the refreshment given by Christ to all who have believed in Him – a total change of focus and priorities, the forgiveness of sins not as a justification for continued selfish living, but as an impetus to living for the sake of Christ, by faith in Him. This is our refreshment, since it renews and refreshes our whole way of thought, of speaking and of living.

The opening sentence of our Epistle makes sense according to this great perspective of renewal and refreshment:

Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

(2 Corinthians 5:16, KJV)

Because Christians have been born from above, born again, or born of water and the Holy Spirit, their knowledge of human beings, even of Christ, has been utterly transformed. Instead of knowing a person only by appearances or by the things we can logically deduce from his words and actions, we now receive in addition, the knowledge the Holy Spirit gives us about a person, and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we learn the things that are valuable to God. In this way, our knowledge of human beings is not limited to a knowledge “according to the flesh,” or carnal, or merely rational, but is spiritual, in that it is informed by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual knowledge, however, does not imply that the all-knowing God will relay to us all the knowledge that He has about any person, but only what we need to know for the sake of choosing and doing God’s will, and avoiding harm.

This great refreshment given by the Lord Jesus Christ to all who turn from sin and believe in Him, means a whole new creation, a new way of life, a new order in one’s life (2 Cor. 5:17). St. Paul’s term “in Christ” means being a Christian. Christians are “new creatures,” in whom “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The Greek word for “creature” can also be translated “creation,” so that it can be understood both as the thing created and the process of creation. This difference can be seen in the various translations of this phrase in different versions of the Bible. What can be understood from this is not only that we are new creatures in Christ, but we are continually being renewed and re-created in Him by His Holy Spirit. All our old habits, attitudes and patterns of thought, where they conflict with Christ, are to be reckoned as gone, as “passed away,” and we are to put on the newness of Christ with a sense of purpose and rejoicing, as if we have just been given a whole new look, just as Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel were restored to their original clarity and beauty in this account.

For five years in the early 1500’s, the artist Michelangelo lay on his back and painted scenes depicting the fall and the flood on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

But the magnificent art started to fade almost immediately. Within a century of completing his work, no-one remembered what his original frescoes had looked like. Painter Biagio Biagetti said in 1936, “We see the colors of the Sistine ceiling as if through smoked glass.”

In 1981, a scaffold was erected to clean the frescoes that adorn the chapel. With a special solution, Fabrizio Mancinelli and Gianluigi Colalucci gently washed a small corner of the painting. They then invited art experts to examine the work. The results were stunning. No one had imagined that beneath centuries of grime lay such vibrant colors.

Mancinelli and Colalucci’s success prompted the restoration of the entire ceiling. The task was completed in 1989. It took twice as much time to clean the ceiling as the artist utilized to paint it. But the result was breathtaking. For the first time in nearly five hundred years, people viewed this masterpiece the way it was intended, in all its color and beauty.

(Al Janssen, The Marriage Masterpiece. Tyndale, 2001)

THE GREAT PURPOSE OF OUR NEW BEGINNING IN CHRIST

In Christ, Christians have become a new creation of God. Through Christ’s reconciliation of mankind to God, and by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, Christians have been reconciled to God, and must continue to live at peace with God by turning away from all sin in their lives and doing God’s will in every area of their lives. We have received this great refreshment not for our own sake, although it is for our own good, but for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the Lord committed to St. Paul the message, the Gospel, of reconciliation, so the Lord has also committed to us this Gospel. Because of the great new beginning we have received from God, because of being reconciled to God through Christ, we have a responsibility to safeguard this Gospel, be true to it and share it with people so that they, too, may share in this new beginning, this new order of creation, the refreshment and the renewal given by Christ to the world.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

What about you? Will you be faithful to the Gospel that you have received? Will you continue to live at peace with God? Will you help people see that in Christ they can have a new birth, a new beginning?

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