Sermon for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists for March 4, 2018
Texts: Ezekiel 36:24-29, Colossians 3:10-14
I visited the farm last week. I pulled into the driveway and drove back to the barn. My four-year-old granddaughter came out of the barn carrying a sack of potatoes that looked like it was half as big as she was. At her side was the dog, Rexi, smiling and wagging her tail. My granddaughter tripped and fell forward, dumping the sack of potatoes on the ground and landing on top of it. She got back to her feet, picked up the sack of potatoes again, cradling it in her arms as she came to the car.
Now, here is the fantastical part of this story. That was not really a sack of potatoes she was carrying. It was a cat. And not just any cat. It was Jack. Jack came to the farm fifteen years ago as a wild animal. Fifteen years later, Jack is still mostly wild. If you have visited our farm, it is unlikely you have ever seen him. Jack is afraid of people. If someone he doesn’t know comes around he disappears. Completely. He tolerates me but if I make any sudden movement, he leaps away.
So when I saw Kyra carting him out of the barn like a sack of potatoes, I was surprised. And when I saw her fall, drop him, and land on him, then saw him stay put until she could get back to her feet and scoop him up in her arms again, I was astonished beyond measure.
Jack is a new cat. After watching his performance with Kyra, I can’t call him a wild cat anymore. He has a new identity. He’s a lover cat.
Being Christian is about being new people. In the most dramatic stories of our faith, people go from being killers to being healers, from being thieves to being trustworthy and generous, from being evil to being good.
The Bible story that illustrates this change most beautifully is the story of the Apostle Paul. First he was Saul the persecutor, devoted to eradicating the followers of Jesus. Then he became Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ.
A friend of mine has a story like that. When he first began attending church he was a homeless meth addict. After his fourth or fifth time in rehab he managed to escape the addiction. He went to college and then began work as a geologist.
His new identity was radically different from his old identity.
Like Jack he became a new being. A new person.
But for most of us, life is not so dramatic. We talk of our identity in Christ, but there has been no movie-worthy change in our lives.
What does it mean for us to be new creatures in Christ Jesus?
Let’s return to the barn yard.
I mentioned that when my granddaughter came out of the barn with the sack of potatoes that turned out to be Jack the Cat, she was accompanied by the dog, Rexi.
Rexi is a loving dog. But this is not a change. Rexi has been a loving dog ever since she was born. She was born under our kitchen table. We have known her all her life. And she has always been a lover dog.
How can we speak of newness in Rexi’s life?
Only this: every morning, Rexi starts over being a loving dog. When I lived on the farm, every morning the minute I opened my eyes, Rexi was there wagging her tail ready to greet me.
Now, when there are two little kids who can be holy terrors, she keeps them company. She makes them know they are loved.
Most of us are more like faithful dogs. The newness in our lives is the rising of the sun and another opportunity to do it again. To thump our tail, to smile, to bring joy.
I’ve known many other people who were born in the church. They have spent decades in the church, living exemplary lives at home, at work, at school. What does newness mean for them? It means waking up in the morning to do it again. Again, today they are aware that they are children of God. Again, today, they will extend kindness to people around them. Again, today, they tell the truth, they will fact-check every statement they are tempted to share on Facebook. Again, today, they will do good work. Again, today, they will practice forgiveness.
Our newness consists in living out again today, our identity as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.