Tension: Old and New

Last Sunday we began a three-week series entitled “The Tension of Faith.” We are exploring the tension we often experience in the life of faith as followers of Jesus. We began last week by looking at the tension between what is seen and what is unseen. As followers of Jesus, we are called to walked by faith, which means over and over again we have to make a decision to place our trust in what we can’t see, because ultimately we believe that the things we can’t see, things like grace and hope and love and the presence of the Holy Spirit, are actually more true, more real, more permanent, more powerful than the things we can see. 

This morning, we’re going to continue to explore this theme of spiritual tension, but today we’re going to look at the tension between old and new. In our reading from Second Corinthians, we hear one of the most powerful descriptions of spiritual transformation in the entire New Testament. Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!” The old has passed away; the new has come. Now this language of old and new is found all over of the place in the Bible. We refer to the two main sections of the Bible as the Old Testament and the New Testament. When we talk about the life and ministry of Jesus, we speak about the movement from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The early Christians talked about taking off the old self and putting on the new self, just as you might take off an old garment and put on a new one. 

All of this language of old and new tells us something significant about what the first followers of Jesus were thinking. It tells us that for the first followers of Jesus, they believed that the whole world was different because of what God had accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Nothing was the same. Everything had changed. This is the promise of new and abundant life we have been given in Christ. This is the promise of new creation. But here is the thing I want us to recognize this morning. There are different ways of interpreting and understanding what this promise of new creation is all about. 

There was a time in my spiritual journey when I thought about this promise of new creation in terms of a transaction. For me, the movement from old to new as simply an exchange. “Out with the old; in with the new!” You might think of this transactional model as sort of being like a big spiritual rummage sale. We bring all of our junk, all of our baggage, all of our spiritual clutter, and we want to simply get rid of it. We exchange it for something better. Out with the old; in with the new! At one level, that is exactly what has happened. As Christians we believe that in Christ something definitive has happened. The old has gone and the new has come. But at another level, it’s much more complicated than that. And it’s more complicated because if we look at the world around us, we still see the old handing around. We thought we could just bundle up all our injustices, all our addictions, all our pain and hurt, and just get rid of it at this big spiritual rummage sale. But guess what? There’s still injustice. There’s still addition. There’s still pain and hurt. There is still senseless violence and hatred in our world. The old way of life keeps hanging around. And so, there must be something more than this transactional model. It can’t be quite as simple as out with the old; in with the new. 

And so, this morning, instead of this transactional model, let’s talk about a transformational model. Instead of “out with the old; in with the new,” let’s try this: Out of the old emerges the new. Do you hear the difference? Out of the old emerges the new. 

When I was a student at Virginia Theological Seminary, I would often take walks around the campus. Oddly enough one of my favorite places to go was the historic cemetery. It was a quiet, secluded place where I could think and pray. One day I noticed that just outside the gates of the cemetery was the stump of an old tree. It was at least two or three feet in diameter and represented a majestic old tree that had stood at the entrance of that cemetery for decades. But now all that remained was this old stump. Dry. Dead. Decaying. The vibrancy and fruitfulness that had once characterized that tree was long gone. Time and again I would revisit the cemetery and take notice of the old stump. And then one day after several years had gone, I was back on the seminary campus for a continuing education event, and I decided to take a walk following the same path that I had during my years as a student. Much to my surprise, when I came upon the old stump, there was a green shoot emerging from the middle. Life had sprung forth from death. Hope had been born from despair. The new had emerged from the old. And after just a few more years, when I returned, the new shoot had grown to the point that it had overtaken most of the old stump. Out of the old emerges the new. It’s not about a transaction. It’s about transformation. 

The major difference between the transactional model and the transformational model is that the transformational model is entirely dependent on grace. The old stump did nothing to produce new life. The old stump had no power within itself. New life emerged out what had been dead. New life emerged out what was dry and lifeless. And it was all because of grace. It was all pure gift, unearned and undeserved.

My friends, in the life of faith, we will experience tension between the old and the new. We will experience the joy and the hope of the abundant life that Jesus offers us, while at the same time feeling the weight of sin and the pain of unhealed hurts and unresolved issues. And in the midst of the tension, we will be tempted to pursue the transactional model. Out with the old; in the with the new. But God desires to do something more wonderful, more beautiful, more amazing, more mysterious. And that is for something new to emerge out of the old. Those places of hurt and loss in your life. The places of disappointment. The places of addiction. The places of grief. Those are the very places where God is going to do a new thing. Those are the very places where God’s mercy and grace and healing presence are going to show up. Out of the old emerges the new. Because if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation!

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look  favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

5 thoughts on “Tension: Old and New

  1. I don’t have answers or knowledge but here goes. I would say that old-new tension is like a rubber band. A new rubber band is elastic and strong and holds things together. An old rubber band is weak from use or environment and has lost elasticity and ability to hold things together. The old band will break with a snap to waken everybody up. Things fall apart! There are choices to alleviate the problem. Either get a NEW band or somehow alleviate the opposing tensions by lessening the powers and strengths of the conflicting tensions. as they say, “something’s gotta give” or perhaps that from the old will come new ways to hold things together. The old band is broken and the new will come out of new ways to fix problems. The old way no longer works but was a lesson in physics: When neither tension changes, there will be no progress so things will fall apart. Well, I gave it a try, Thank you for letting me try! mary jane

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  2. With a diagnosis in February of a third recurrence of the same cancer I was relieved when the PET scan revealed no distant spread. I had surgery to remove the cancer. But that is not the end. I am on 2 medications for at least 4 years with side effects. I have been feeling overwhelmed and sad. The visual of the new life emerging from the decaying trump gives me hope. I don’t have to DO anything to emerge. I just need to BE in the presence of God. Let Grace transform me. Thank you.

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