’m going to go out on a limb here and ask if anyone’s seen the 1999 science-fiction blockbuster movie “The Matrix” starring Keaunu Reeves.
A lot of us pastor and theologian types love to see the connections between the movie and Christianity, although it’s not a Christian film, per se.
The plot is simply this:
A young, computer programmer prodigy moonlighting as a computer hacker is approached by a small group of people who know the truth:
That the world we live in today is only a computer-generated facade covering up for the real world, which has been completely devastated by nuclear war.
The reason for the false reality is for power and energy…
…We’ll leave it at that.
The main character, Neo, is seen as being “the chosen one” who can save the world from the evil bondage of this false reality, and finally allow people to see what the true reality is.
The premise, then, is that things aren’t really what they seem.
Today, I’d like us to think about what it means to have a false world and a real world, and exactly what Paul means when he says that Christians are part of a New Creation, which we read in 2 Corinthians 6.16-21.
Here we are on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Lent, which means “lengthen,” refers to the lengthening days of spring.
The days grow longer as they stretch toward summer,
and it’s a time of revival, or rejuvenation, of new life.
In many ways, we can see spring as a New Creation and as a time of resurrection.
What has laid dead and dormant over the long winter is now being refreshed by spring rains, gentler temperatures and a closer sun.
And all around us, we see the evidence:
From the tulips growing in the church yard, to the grass in our own yards growing greener and waking up.
We hear the birds in the morning — first the robins, then the sparrows, and the geese flying back home overhead.
And just a few random chunks of snow are tucked away in shaded corners, and the dirt, dust and salt that littered the curbs and sidewalks are being swept clean.
It’s certainly a time of renewal and revival.
In our reading in 2 Corinthians this morning, we find the apostle Paul defending himself from attacks of foreign missionaries who contest Paul’s authority and believe they have all the correct answers.
The conflict is causing a rift in the church that Paul planted,
and this letter of Paul’s not only has to reestablish Paul’s moral character and his calling by Christ,
but he has to establish some basic principles of the faith that have been challenged.
It was no secret that Paul was suffering from physical maladies, but he also was being persecuted — having been beaten and thrown in jail on more than one occasion — for preaching the Good News.
In Paul’s day, it was a common notion that if something awful was happening to you, it was most likely God who was punishing you for some sinful behavior.
See the Book of Job…
Paul tells the church in his heartfelt letter that just as Christ suffered through no sin of his own, Paul suffers;
more, Christians — those who follow Christ — will suffer too!
The language Paul uses to convey this point is that of resurrection:
Those who understand the truth and live by the truth of Christ know two things:
That there will be pain, discomfort, suffering and persecution in following Christ; and
That while we are weak now, we will be strong in the resurrection.
In the movie, “The Matrix,” our hero, Neo, wakes up to the true reality of the world.
The rest of the people are living in a computer-generated dream!
Only a few who are courageous enough to seek the truth and take the blinders off of their eyes can see the devastation in which the world is in — and worsening!
The only way to save the world is to break this “code” of lies.
The problem is is that the false world is far more comfortable then the real world.
But the only way to make the real world better is to understand that the current false world is heading for sure destruction.
Paul tells the Corinthian church much the same thing:
While the world thinks it’s strong, and to be strong means to have God’s blessings upon you and conversely, if you’re weak, it means to have God’s punishments upon you, Paul says look to Christ.
Strong in his weakness.
Therefore, Paul says, those who the world sees as weak are actually strong.
They know the truth.
Who is Paul talking about?
Faithful and obedient Christians.
A better world
You see, a faithful and obedient Christian understands what the condition of a broken world is and works toward a common vision that makes this world a better place.
It takes prophetic imagination, as theologian Walter Brueggemann likes to say.
But the only ones who can see it and understand it are the ones who understand resurrection.
And the only ones who confess resurrection are those who follow Christ.
Only Christians see the new reality.
You see, Christ’s death for all people has resulted in a new reality.
Paul calls this new reality a New Creation.
His language is two-fold:
He is teaching the church about the realities of New Creation from resurrection; and
He is displaying what it means to be engaged in apostolic ministry: That working to bring this new reality of the Gospel to a world blinded by a false reality often ends in pain and suffering.
Like Neo in “The Matrix” movie, there is much suffering.
There are whole majorities of angry people who feel threatened by the true reality.
It’s much easier for them to control life in a false world.
A world where God isn’t allowed.
Does that sound familiar to you, my brothers and sisters on this day and in our world today?
As we work through this season of Lent, we are continuously reminded of New Creation.
New Creation is the true reality.
But who can see New Creation?
Only Christians, Paul says.
He says in Verse 17 that “…if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”
He adds in Verse 20 that “we are ambassadors in Christ! God is negotiating through us.”
But this is where it gets really heady:
Are you ready?
What does New Creation really mean?
Again, Paul says — and listen very carefully — in Verse 17 that “…if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation.
What does that mean to you?
What does it mean to be a part of something?
Yeah, it means while you are a part of it, the it is something more.
You can’t be a part of something without another part.
Do you see?
What is the other part?
The other part
Well, I’m glad you asked.
And here’s the answer:
Christ’s death for all people has resulted in a new creation for those in Christ, 5.14-17.
The new creation is a new reality for those untied to Christ in faith,
and the parts are:
Well take these realities here one at a time.
As individual Christians, we are transformed when we give our lives to Christ and confess Christ as our Lord and Savior.
When we confess this, we’re changed from the inside-out.
We suddenly are awakened to a love and a happiness that is unparalleled in this world.
We suddenly see our lives here and our future lives in heaven as one that demands a response of gratitude for Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
And an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of this salvation is that as we move from selfishness to selflessness, we begin to see the true condition of this broken world.
That leads into the second reality:
B. Communal Reality
Again, when we begin to be transformed from the old world to the new world that Paul speaks of — this old reality falls away, and a new reality is apparent.
The deeper we are in our faith and our connection to Christ, the more we see the injustices and suffering in this broken old world.
And the only response as faithful and obedient Christians is to work together toward renewal:
That means work for justice, peace and equality, bringing as many people to Christ as we can,
and changing the power structures in the old world into new structures of Christ’s love, mercy and grace.
It is loving others as Christ first loves us.
Not just those who look or act or worship like us, but all of God’s children.
And finally, when we are transformed as individuals and as communities, then — and maybe only then — do we understand the cosmic new reality.
C. Cosmic Reality
That sounds science-fiction in itself or maybe new-age nonsense, but it really just means what it is:
The entire universe — just like our selves and or communities — has died with Christ and has risen with Christ.
The entire world — universe — is renewed.
The thing is, only we who have been transformed can see it.
Remember, Paul says in Verse 16 ff:
“…from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”
Do you see?
Theologian Justo Gonzalez explains that passage this way:
“…Paul does not say that God was in Christ reconciling believers with God, but rather that ‘in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.’
“And this to such an extent that ‘everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.’”
Christ defeated death on the cross.
Christ was resurrected, and with it, we, our communities and our world also died with Christ and is resurrected with Christ.
Gonzalez writes: “The present order of society, the values by which we live, the things on which we pin our hopes, they are all dead!”
No matter how confident they are in themselves or how powerful they seem.
They’re all dead.
All in the ground.
The new reality is for those and only those who confess Christ as their savior.
As we work to strengthen our individual faith, we have to work to strengthen the faith of our community;
and inso doing, we also have strengthen the condition of our world.
In the Matrix, Neo gets to choose whether to see the new world, and he does so by taking a red pill;
or he can choose to remain blind to the false reality, the old world, by swallowing a blue pill.
The man offering the realities is named Morpheus.
He tells Neo in the famous scene:
“You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
“You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth.”
Well, we are right in the middle of the Lenten season, and we’re really not supposed to be discussing resurrection yet —
but we must know the reason for resurrection:
that before it could happen, there had to be sacrifice.
There had to be death in order to bring new life.
That’s not a metaphor.
Resurrection is proof of new life, but we can’t simply focus on this gift without understanding why it needed to happen:
We’ve said a few times both here and in The Gathering during this season of Lent that Christ’s perfect obedience to the Father in taking our sins to the cross cancels out our perfect disobedience against the Father.
What that means is that we have restored relations between sinners and God.
If sin is death, then reconciliation is life.
Resurrection is the promise of new life.
But not only in the future after we die physical deaths; but today, now, as we live as new creations because risen Jesus made us new creations.
We get to see that now.
And in this season of Lent, we understand that the image of salvation is both horizontal —
— in the new reality between each other, our brothers and sisters who are God’s children —
and it’s vertical, reconciling us to the new reality between us here on earth and God in heaven.
Those horizontal and vertical planes meet at the center of the cross.
The place of mercy.
In living as PART of this new creation, we are reminded daily, yes, but YEARLY in this season of Lent of the gift that we truly were given:
A completely new self.
A new community.
A new world.
A full revival and restoration;
a revival and a resurrection as we move from the dead of winter to the life of spring.
As we struggle to stay strong to our sacrifices and offerings in this time of Lent,
let us daily remember that the things that cause pain and suffering in this world are already defeated.
Death has been defeated!
But only if we take off our blinders that are so firmly placed over our eyes by the old world and the old reality;
only if we, like Neo, take the red pill and see the truth;
only if we give our love and obedience to Christ in faith.
Then, and only then, will we be bold in our courage to not only withstand our walk to the cross;
but to celebrate the abundant life that Christ has given us,
and share it with one another in the new creation we are and are called to live into.