Unbridled

Prepared for and preached at Oviedo Presbyterian.   Texts: Psalm 32:8-11 and 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.

This passage from 2 Corinthians may sound familiar. It is often cited in our assurances of pardon, reminding us that we are made new: The good news of the gospel is that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.   Or we may cite the portion reminding us that our sins were placed on the one who had no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

We also hear portions of this passage as we are called to reconciliation with God and with one another- even as we pass the peace with one another during our service from week to week.   And benedictions or calls to mission often include that memorable phrase that calls us to be Christ’s Ambassadors.

But it is hard to consider a paragraph or sentence or two from any of Paul’s letters without looking at his thoughts leading into the passage.   So let’s back up a bit.  In this portion of the letter to Corinth, Paul has been writing about the difference between the eternal and the temporal.

At the start of chapter 5, he writes that we living people are more like tents than the permanent dwellings we long for.  That our true selves are the resurrection bodies we will one day experience. But for now, we live here, in these imperfect bodies that are dying from the moment we are born.  And while we wait for Christ’s return (or our home-going) there is work to do.  We live to please God.   Or as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.

This is true of us, Paul writes, because  “Christ’s love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And Jesus died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him (Christ) who died for them and was raised again.”

We live, not for ourselves, but for Christ.  And Christ’s love compels us. 

The love that conquered sin, the love that overcame death, the love that rolled away the stone, and revealed the resurrection power of God…
this is the love that compels us.

Paul continues – where we begin our reading today:  From now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  From the moment we are in Christ, we don’t see others  according to the flesh, blinded by these temporary bodies.  This body- with the failing eyes and slowing metabolism, bad knees and, well,  all this- this isn’t me.  The old is gone, the new has come!

Those who are in Christ… WE who are in Christ… are made new.  

We can now understand one another from a more eternal perspective. It is as if we have access to a whole different universe, right here within our own.

My family is a little nerdy.  OK, maybe a lot nerdy.  And one of the shows we really enjoy is a British import called Doctor Who. The Doctor is a Time Lord, and he is able to travel anywhere in time and space. Now… Some of the story lines in the show explore the idea of multiple universes… the idea that there could infinite versions of our present that vary – based on the consequences of our choices and actions.  All sort of lined up parallel to one another.   So..if you had access to a Time Lord or some knowledge and the right tools, you could jump from this reality to another to observe what life might have been like if you’d chosen a different spouse or career or route to church.

I’m not sure that we would accept the idea of alternate universes as part of our Christian worldview, but it helps me to understand what Paul is saying here.  He is talking in this passage about two theological dimensions- two different realms:  The physical reality in which we walk around, and the Kingdom of God.  The way things are now and the way they will be at Christ’s return.

Paul is saying that the temporal, temporary self is gone, even as we continue to live in these broken, tired bodies.  In Christ, the new, eternal self that we think of as our heavenly existence is already brought to life.   Right now.

 All of this is from God. 

All of it.  Even our faith.  We needed God’s Spirit to reveal the truth to our hearts before we could stand and proclaim Christ as Lord.  And there’s more to come… God will one day give us a place among those who worship God in the languages of every tribe and nation.   We will each be provided a crown to place at the feet of our Lord and Savior.

But right here, in this world, today- God has given us abundant life.  We have freedom from the bondage of sin.  We have new eyes that allow us to see the world as God does: With compassion, mercy, grace, love and hope. We have power – resurrection power-  the power of the Holy Spirit to change the world.

God has reconciled with the world through Christ, not counting sins against anyone. And as people who are reconciled with God, we are given the ministry of reconciliation. As such, we are to be Christ’s ambassadors.   

Now, I don’t know that I can extend Paul’s metaphor so far as to compare grace to diplomatic immunity… But like ambassadors from other countries living here in the States, we are living in a place that is not our home.  We are people from God’s reality, representing Christ in this world.  When we are living in the power of the Holy Spirit, listening closely for God’s direction, seeking direction from God’s Word, this world really ought to feel very foreign to us.

Jesus paints a picture of what God’s Kingdom can and should look like in the passages from Matthew and Luke that we call the Beatitudes.  In those teachings, instead of lifting up, honoring and blessing the rich, the powerful and those who enjoy the fruits of those power structures, Jesus warned and rebuked them, saying:

Woe to the rich, you have received your consolation and compensation.
Woe to those who are full and over-stuffed, for you will be hungry.
Woe to those who laugh at others’ expense and misery, for you shall mourn and weep.
And Woe to you when people falsely speak well of you, for the false prophets received those same accolades.

And against all the expectations of the people around him, Jesus blessed and raised up the poor, the mourners, the merciful. He honored the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the ones who suffer for righteousness , the ones so hungry and thirsty that they are losing hope and heart.

The very people that society scorns, tosses aside and shames.  The children of God who live on the margins, not because they want to, but because we have failed to bring them back into the community.  These are the women and men who need desperately to hear the message of faith, hope and love. Of God’s grace, offered freely and lavishly.

But so are are the rich, the overfed, the proud and the vain.  So are the people who choose to ignore the plight of the poor, hungry and powerless.  All need to hear and see the message that God has written on our hearts:

Christ died for all, Christ makes all of us new. All of us need to know this truth.

So, as reconciled people, we are God’s righteousness and Christ’s ambassadors.  Which begs the question, “How then shall we live?”  Our psalmist answers this way:

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding, but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Despite growing up in Texas, I don’t know a lot about horses or riding. But one of the few times I did ride growing up has to do with bits and bridles.

Now, I couldn’t have been more than 5 when my Dad offered to help a neighbor break a Shetland pony.  The goal was to take this strong-willed little horse and get it ready for someone to ride.  I don’t know how long he worked with the pony, using a bit and a rope to guide it around the ring, over and over and over again, helping it get used to taking direction.

He would reward it with apples and carrots.  And he would swat it with his strong hands if it acted up.  Over time, the little pony needed less coaxing, and Dad could add length to the rope, eventually letting the lead go slack.

I’m pretty sure this was great training for my Dad, too, given the strong-willed daughters he would raise, but I digress…

Since the pony was too small for my dad to ride, he used a long rope to lead it from behind. That way, the pony would have a feel for how a rider might use the bridle and bit to direct him to the left or right.

Eventually, Dad deemed the pony safe to ride. To put the pony to the test, he brought me and my brother out to the ring.  He put us on the horse, Andy up front and me on the back. Let’s just say that the ride didn’t last long.  I very quickly found myself flying off the horse and into the hay. The horse had learned to trust Dad, but he didn’t trust us.

We learn to trust a lot of things in this world, don’t we?  The question is whether we learn to trust God.

We are not puppets or playthings to God.  We are real humans, making real choices and exerting our wills, hopefully while listening and seeking God’s will for our lives.  You see, Christ not only freed us from sin, but in Christ we are free from the captivity of legalism.  God’s righteousness is imparted to us; God’s grace redeems and justifies us; God’s Spirit sets us apart and begins to sanctify us.

As we seek God’s direction and learn to hear and trust God’s voice, we begin to understand the great freedom that love brings to our lives.
As we love God, we also begin to enjoy the work of loving our neighbors.
As we dig deep into the teachings of Jesus, we understand that the gospel is more than a belief in who Christ is.

The good news is that God’s reality is our reality.  That God’s Kingdom does come when we pray and work for God’s will to be done.  When we trust that these things are true, we can walk through this world unbridled. 

As God’s righteousness, we are given the strength and the opportunity to continue the ministry that Christ began:
We are free to bring sight to the blind;
We are free to offer hope to the hopeless, food to the hungry, and shelter to the homeless;
We are free to release captives from their bondage;
We are free to dance and sing and lift high the name of Christ;
We are free Christ’s ambassadors, sent out to reconcile others to God, to tell our stories, inviting all who have ears to hear our plea,  “Be reconciled to God!”

May we never become accustomed to the brokenness of this world.
May we never call this reality “good enough” and make ourselves at home.
May we always long for the life God promises, not only for ourselves, but for all people.
Because Christ died for all, so that all might live in him, through him and for him.

Amen.

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