A New Creation

St. Paul writes that what matters most is not keeping Torah but a new creation (Galatians 6:15).  He also wrote:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).   Reflecting on the idea of a new creation, theoretical physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne writes:    

faithphysicist“The old creation has its own fruitfulness and brings about its own possibilities. Yet it must be delivered from the frustration of its impending mortality, just as Jesus was delivered from the bonds of death by his resurrection. In each case a great act of God is called for, but an act which must be the fitting fulfillment of what has gone before, not its arbitrary abolition. Just as the cross and the resurrection are part of the one drama of the incarnation, so the old and new creation must be part of the one drama of God’s purpose for his creatures.”    ( The Faith of a Physicist

Polkinghorne argues that just as God’s act of salvation is the continuation of His act of creation, so too the resurrection is the continuation of the incarnation, and the new creation to be inaugurated by God will not be the abrupt discontinuation of creation (this world) but the continuation of it in a new way.  God is not going to create heaven and paradise out of nothing, rather He is going to transfigure and transform what He has already called into existence.  Thus the Church and the sacramental Mysteries and any miracle are not the discontinuance of God’s creation, but rather the beginning of experiencing what God has never stopped and in fact is continually working through His creation, our world and us.

Reflecting on the Parable of the Good Samaritan

eatthisbookIn reflecting on the Parable of the Good Samaritan  (  Luke 10:25-37 ),  biblical scholar Eugene Peterson in his excellent EAT THIS BOOK writes (referring to the parable’s “lawyer” as the “scholar” who wants a definition of “neighbor”):

“Why does the scholar ask for a definition?  Clearly, because he needs to defend himself against responding to the text personally. Defining “neighbor”  depersonalizes the neighbor, turns him or her into an object, a thing over which he can take control, do with whatever he wants. But it also depersonalizes the scriptural text. He wants to talk about the text, treat the text as a thing, dissect it, analyze it, discuss it-endlessly. But Jesus won’t play the game. … Jesus tells him a story, one of his most famous, the Good Samaritan story, concluding, as he had begun, with a question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man…?”  The scholar is impaled by the question: the words of Scripture can no longer be handled by means of definition, “who is my neighbor?”  The text insists on participation, “will you be a neighbor?”  Jesus insists on participation. Jesus dismisses the scholar with a command, “Go and do…”  Live what you read. We read the Bible in order to live the word of God.” 

The Good Samaritan (2002)

Sermon notes from 2002      Luke 10:25-37             The Good Samaritan

The teachings of Jesus to love God and love neighbor are found in the Jewish Torah:

Deuteronomy 6:4 Is known as The Shema of Israel : You shall love the Lord your God with all of your soul, heart and might.

Leviticus 19:18 You shall love your neighbor as yourself

If Jews in their own Law, the Torah, were commanded to love God and love neighbor, then what constitutes Christian Love?
Christ did not come to institute a new religion because the Jews didn’t have the right message. God had given them the Torah, the Law, so they knew what they were supposed to do. The lawyer who came to see Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson, knows the right answer, the answer which pleases our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember in the Gospel Lesson it is the lawyer who says to ‘love God with all of your soul, heart, mind and strength’ and it is the lawyer who says ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is not Jesus speaking, the man knows from the Torah the proper answer.

But sadly the man uses the Torah to justify himself, rather than to actually obey the commandment. The man is most interested in making himself look good in the eyes of those around him, rather than in actually shaping his heart and his thinking by the commandment.

This I believe is what Christ does for us : He shows us what it is like to have the law of God in one’s heart and mind, guiding one’s thoughts and actions. Christ shows us that it is possible for us to obey God, and not just superficially like the lawyer, but from the depths of our being, and in every daily situation. Christ models for us what it is to be a true human being in the eyes of our God.

But more than simply modeling for us a way of life that we are to imitate, Christ also makes his love available to us. We can be united to Christ. We can have Christ be part of our lives. Christ can live in our hearts and minds. We have the opportunity to experience the divine love in and through the church community, in and through the sacraments, in and through the spiritual life which is supported by the Body of Christ. The sacraments in Orthodox language are part of the mystical life of each and every Christian. The sacraments are a real part of how we are united to Christ, and how He becomes Lord of our hearts and minds. We no longer have to live by obeying a Law which is external to us. Now, the Word of God can dwell in our hearts and minds, if we allow it through the community in which the Gospel is proclaimed and in which the mystical sacraments are experienced.

As one of you told me in an email this week: “I want good to happen, the Spirit to move among us, Christ to be not only in our midst but also in our awareness and actions and choices….”

That is what should be happening in and through the mystical life of Christian community.

Love of neighbor: desire their well being, do good to them, pray for their salvation. It does not mean “feel for them the same emotion that you feel for your wife, parents or siblings.” This is the difference between the Greek words Agapan not philein.

Love of God and love of neighbor: if our life is guided by a continual jostling for power or a need to dominate others, or short term gratification verses the long term need of others, or the need to be right all of the time, or the desire to feed our own appetites and passions for money, prestige, possessions then we are not guided by love for neighbor.

We will not be able to love as Christ modeled, taught, commanded, if the neighbor becomes the competitor for life’s limited resources, the drain on our personal economy or well being, the thing that prohibits me from getting what I want.

Love of God and love of neighbor is about a Christ-like humility. The willingness to serve. It is a way of life that we can imitate, and it is a power of God that can be infused into our hearts and minds through the sacramental life within the Christian community.