Sunday, June 16, 2024
Becoming in Christ
Psalm 20 & Second Corinthians 5:6-10
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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In 1990, Bill Irwin decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. He wasn’t the first person to successfully complete the twenty-one hundred mile trail in which many have forded streams and endured all kinds of weather. What made Bill Irwin’s journey stand out is that he was the first blind person to complete it. Irwin was fifty years old at the time, a recovering alcoholic and a committed Christian. 

He memorized 2 Corinthians 5:7: “We walk by faith not by sight” and made it his motto during his journey. He did just that. He didn’t use a GPS or Maps modified for a blind person. He only had his walking pole and his faithful German Shepherd guide dog, Orient, named after the Orient Express.

Sure, there were people who hiked parts of the trail with Bill, like Eddie Lough and his eleven-year-old daughter, Emily, who met up with him in Pennsylvania. Eddie recalls that while Orient was a capable and faithful guide dog, one got the sense that another presence was helping lead both Bill and Orient along the way. 

Irwin successfully completed the trail, but it wasn’t easy. He estimates that he fell about five thousand times, battled hypothermia, cracked his ribs and almost drowned while crossing a swollen stream. But he did it. All while repeating to himself “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

I hesitated telling you this story because I personally would not recommend doing what Bill Irwin did. I’d be nervous if he decided to just hike Rosy Mound with Orient. Certainly I was not the only person who felt this way. I’m sure there were friends, family members and people from his own church who tried to persuade him to not do this and perhaps even called it a “crazy” goal. 

While I can’t think of anyone in our church at the moment planning to do something as crazy and dangerous as Bill Irwin, as Christians, I’m sure others look at us like we’re crazy simply because of what we believe. I’m sure you’ve had someone ask you the question – or maybe you have asked the question: ”Why believe in a God you can’t see?” or “Following Jesus hasn’t made your life or the world any better so why keep believing in him?” We may not be hiking the Appalachian Trail like Bill Irwin, but all of us walk by faith and not by sight. And sometimes that means continuing to follow Jesus even when others call us crazy for doing so.  

While the opposition we face as Christians is not anywhere near the opposition that the Corinthians faced, they too needed the reminder that to follow Jesus is to “walk by faith, not by sight.” Last week we discussed how the early church in Corinth had grown weary due to conflict outside and inside the church. Paul understands it would be easier for them to leave this life and be with Jesus because they wouldn’t be harassed for their faith in Jesus. The reality, however, is that they’re not. And neither are we. Whether we are living life with Jesus or here on earth, we are called to live in such a way that pleases Jesus. So what pleases Jesus? Simply put it’s a life lived out of Jesus’ love for all. Or to use a church word: “A righteous life.” 

The quote on your bulletin says this: (slide 1)

“A righteous life…is accomplished not by trying to achieve a righteousness of one’s own but by receiving righteousness from God as a gift.”

As always, this is easier said than done. To live a righteous life is to first accept Jesus’ love for us. His love is seen in how he was perfectly obedient to God when we could not be, to the point of suffering and dying on the cross even when Jesus was scared to do so. Perfect obedience to God is what is right. This is why it’s called “righteousness.” That is what we see in Jesus. His perfect obedience to God or righteousness covers our disobedience. 

 We see examples of this all over scripture: 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—Ephesians 2:8 (slide 2)

Faith and righteousness are not of our own doing, but are gifts from God. In Jesus, God graciously lived the righteous life that we could not. That’s the gift.  We must first humbly accept this gift to live a righteous life that pleases God because God will never force us to believe in Jesus. 

One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from Mark: “Help my unbelief!”-Mark 9:24 (slide 3)

This comes from the story of a Father who asks Jesus to heal his son. The Dad is very humble and asks Jesus if he can and if he would help them and to please take pity on them. Jesus replies, “If ‘I can?’ All things are possible for those who believe in me.” To this the dad exclaims “Help my unbelief!” Jesus does help this father to believe and his son is healed.

Moral of the story: We can’t even believe in God without God’s help. Jesus is the one who lived the righteous life that we couldn’t. However, Jesus wants to help us live the kind of lives God wants us to live. We must first accept the gift of righteousness that comes from Jesus himself.

In another of his letters, Paul tells the Galatians: “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,[f] who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When Paul says it is not himself, but Christ who lives within he is not saying that he has become Jesus. Rather we become more like Jesus when we live out of the faith and righteousness of Jesus christ. 

When Jesus is the source of our lives we can’t help but be changed. 

(slide 4)

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ- 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

We won’t always do this perfectly. The only one who could was Jesus. 

Again, Jesus himself desires to make us new creations. Again we cannot do this without him. We must first accept Christ’s help by receiving his gift of perfect obedience on the cross that led to his resurrection and gives us new life. Accepting Christ’s love for us is what pleases God. 

When we do that we are changed. And while we walk by faith and not by sight, we will see how God makes us new creations in Jesus Christ. 

Fleming Ruteledge, an Episcopalian priest, once shared a story about southern activist, folklorist, and theologian Will Campbell. She writes: 

“Will’s extraordinary New Testament radicality enabled him to maintain relationships with black victims of the KKK and at the same time with the KKK murderers. Literally. Brothers and sisters, that’s not “inclusion.” That’s the resurrection of the dead.”

 In other words that’s an example of becoming a new creation in Jesus Christ. 

She goes on to say that all his life, “Will Campbell has said, over and over, that it is God’s intention, not just to “accept” the ungodly, but to unmake the ungodly, that is you and me, in a way that we could never do ourselves.

At the 1998 trial of KKK Grand Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, Will Campbell went back and forth between Bowers and the family of a man he killed, civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer. When asked by reporters how he could do this, ’Will growled, ‘Because I’m a (insert inappropriate swear word that uses the Lord’s name in vain) Christian.’” I would’ve liked to have known Will Cambpell.

When we accept Christ’s gift of righteousness and faith as seen in what he (not we) did on the cross we too will be able to do radical things like Will Campbell. We may not be involved in something as high profile such as the trial of a KKK Grand Imperial Wizard, but nonetheless, we will be able to do what we first thought was unthinkable when we accept Jesus’ gifts of faith and righteousness. Even though they may be small actions they still make a huge difference.

With Christ as our center we’re able to engage gracefully, yet truthfully with friends and family with whom we are are in conflict. With Christ as our center we are able to disagree with others without vilifying them. When Christ is our center we’re able to hear God’s voice above the numerous other voices that tell us we’re crazy for living by faith not by sight. 

But it all begins with Jesus Christ. What he did in perfect obedience on the cross that led to new life for all. The next step is to ask God to help us accept what Jesus did for us all. When we do, we are one step closer to becoming the people God has called us to be.