Saturday, March 27, 2010

All the Difference

All the Difference
Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-21; Lk 15[1]
Some of you may know that I’m a fan of history. At present, I’m reading through Shelby Foote’s three-volume Civil War, which runs a total of about 2900 pages. What fascinates me about history, among other things, is that you learn about people who made all the difference in our world today. For example, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, an English teacher from Maine, led his unit at the Battle of Gettysburg in a last-ditch charge that probably turned the tide of the battle, which turned the tide of the Civil War. And the outcome of that War was that we have a one nation in this land, a federation of states united under the Constitution.
You may have heard of Col. Chamberlain. I doubt you’ve ever heard of Dadabhai Naoroji. Mr. Naoroji lived in India in the 19th and early 20th centuries—under British rule, of course. He played a leading role in organizing various Indian political groups that worked for independence from British rule. It was his contention that British rule drained India of important resources and contributed significantly to the poverty that plagued India. In 1892 he was actually elected to the British Parliament, and continued his efforts from there. You may never have heard of Naoroji, known as the “Grand Old Man” of India, but I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of one of his protégés, Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi. Ghandi was probably the single most influential figure in the movement for Indian independence—through his courage, his integrity, and his personal sacrifice he made all the difference in the struggle that led to the founding of the largest democracy in the world. And of course, Ghandi was, in turn, a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., who was probably the single most influential figure in the Civil Rights movement in this country. By advocating the strategy of non-violent resistance that Ghandi pioneered, Rev. King made all the difference in the effort to ensure true equality under the law for all people in this country.
So whom do we credit with the advances of Civil Rights in this country and around the world? Martin Luther King, Jr.? To some extent, yes. Mohandas K. Ghandi? To some extent, yes again. Dadabhai Naoroji? Once again, yes. But there were also many other countless individuals, some whose stories have been told and retold, like that of Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of the bus, and others whose courage and sacrifice remain unsung. Each of them made all the difference in particular situations.
We have been talking about what it means to take the steps of faith during Lent this year. In a very real sense, I think we tend to experience the transformation that the Apostle Paul describes as undergoing a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) in steps and starts. And at each step of the way, some one very likely made the difference in encouraging us to make that next stride forward. It may have been a Sunday School teacher or a Pastor or a confirmation teacher who helped you confess “Jesus is Lord” for the first time and recognize that you are not your own, but you belong to God. It may have been a parent or a close friend or even a total stranger who enabled you to embrace the faith that God is working to bring life and love and peace to all things and everyone rather than remain stuck in the hopelessness of our world. It may have been a grandparent or a favorite author or one of the great saints of the church who helped you trust in the faithful mercies of God in the face of the tragic suffering in our world. We all have many people who have contributed to our spiritual journey throughout our lives.
I would suggest that through all of the individuals who made the difference in our lives, it was the compassion of God our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer that was effecting the change, working to transform us from within, making us “new” in the process of making all things new. There have been many theories through the ages from the brightest minds in the Christian world as to just what it is that changes us when we experience salvation. Some have attributed it to the justice of God making something of a legal exchange between Jesus’ obedience and our disobedience. Others have used the idea of punishment that we deserve for offending God’s honor but Jesus takes on himself. Still others have emphasized power of Jesus’ death and resurrection that sets us free from what imprisons us. There may or may not be some sense of truth in these “theories of the atonement.”
But it seems to me that no one ever experiences transformation that may truly be called a “new creation” apart from a profound experience of the love and mercy of God embracing us, accepting us and welcoming us home. At least that was the testimony of St. Paul—he says that his experience of the love of God poured out for us in Jesus Christ brought him wholeness and a whole new outlook on life. I think there are many of us who could add our “Amen”! We have all been “prodigals” in one way or another, and it is the experience of God’s compassion and mercy and love that has transformed us from the inside out, and it is continuing to make all the difference in our lives until we fully become that “new creation” that is promised by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/14/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

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