PAUL HENRY CARR
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, our sufficiency is from God, who has qualified us to be ministers of a new convenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit, for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)
Old Testament: Ezekial 33:7 - 11
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to be ministers," writes Paul. Who are "WE"?
"WE" includes the apostle himself, the Corinthians to whom he wrote, and Christians throughout the ages (who were "Ministers of the New Covenant.") Most of all, I hope the "We" includes Christians here in Bedford, who face the challenge of being Christians and bringing others to Christ in our secular society.
Kenneth Clark tells us the condition of our society:
"There is still no center. The moral and intellectual failure of Marxism has left us with no alternative to historic materialism."
Kenneth Clark’s subtle omission of Christianity is an indication of its declining importance among intellectuals. Contrast this with Fourth Century Christianity. Emperor Constantine changed from persecuting Christianity to embracing it. It had become important enough to be a force to unite the fragmenting Roman Empire.
Do you know what is presently standing in the Emperor’s seat in the Roman Coliseum, where so many Christians were burned at the stake or eaten by wild animals? A LARGE, BLACK METAL CROSS.
The Christian Theologian, Francis Schaeffer, is much more specific. His book How Then Should We Live, (or "How Can We Live?"), which is subtitled "The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture," asserts that the Christian consensus has broken down. This has provided the moral foundation of our free society. There are TWO alternatives:
1. A Christian Reformation or revival of these values, or
2. Increased authoritarianism to counter the anarchy of a society which is falling apart.
An example of the latter was destruction of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the increase in the number of FBI agents.
Another example of the declining influence of our church was the referendum to overturn the Sunday-Morning- Closing-Law, which goes back to the founding of our Commonwealth. Our UCC Annual Meeting voted to maintain the Sunday-Morning-Closing-Law, yet it lost in the 1994-Election Referendum.
It appears impossible for us to live without values. Schaeffer says: "As the Christian Consensus has weakened, the majority of people have adopted the impoverished values of:
1. Personal Peace and Pleasure
2. Affluence (or Heroic Materialism)"
I must say that when I first heard this, I really could identify with these values in my own life. So please regard my remarks as a sort of personal confession rather than a judgment. Personal Peace is very important to me, and so is affluence, in the sense of maintaining my present material life-style. But lets face it, it is getting harder and harder with the globalization of our economy.
Our per capita utilization of energy and other natural resources is the highest in the world. In the long run it has to go down.
Schaeffer’s concern is that we will give up our freedoms for more authoritarianism, as long as politicians offer some measure of peace and affluence. This is what happened in the declining days of Rome, when emperors gave people their "wine and circus" and "entertainment" in the coliseum.
The modern prophet Schaeffer has warned us, as did the prophets Ezekial in the days of old, that we have two alternatives:
(1) Christian Reformation, or (2)Increased Authoritarianism
"How then should we live?" or in Today’s English Version: "How can we continue to live a life that is worth living?"
Our task is to make the Christian revival or reformation happen. We must first start with ourselves and then be "Ministers of the New Convenant" to others.
Yet we still have to be realistic. "Ministers?"
Why Rev. Jamie Howard is our minister. She is ordained and well qualified. Where can we find the time away from our jobs, our present responsibilities? Besides, where do we find energy after a day’s work, the resources, the strength?
Let me repeat Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthian Christians:
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, our sufficiency is from God, who has qualified us to be ministers of a New Covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit, for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life."
The New Covenant is our new relationship to God that we have discovered through Jesus. Our new lifestyle that is not codified on tablets of stone, as was the Covenant with Moses, which Paul says "kills." The New Covenant is written upon our hearts, it is part of our everyday life, it is the Spirit which gives life. In the New Covenant, God has not kept an account of our sins, but has send a message of how all can be his friends. We have been accepted in spite of being unacceptable.
Paul continues in 2nd Corinthians 5:17:
"When anyone is joined in Christ, he is a new being, the old is gone, the new has come."
Or in the Revised Standard Version:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come."
Paul continues in verse 20:
"So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us."
The Resurrection or Reformation of our secular world can come through our appeal a Ministers of a New Covenant. Our sufficiency, our capacity to serve, our qualification is not from ourselves but from God. When we give His Spirit priority, the Spirit Itself empowers us with time, energy, resources, and strength. A power works through us which is not of us or from us. The more we give, the more we grow in the Spirit.
Gabriel Fackre gives good guidance on how to minister in his book: Do and Tell: Engagement Evangelism in the ‘70s. The "telling" of Evangelism is sharing the Good News, the Gospel, of the New Covenant. The "do" is finding our way, being involved with people in the issues of our time and being ready to give reasons for the hope that is in us.
The theologian Paul Tillich gives the following example of personal ministry:
"If we look beyond ourselves at that which is greater than we, then we can feel called to help others in just the moment when ourselves need help most urgently-and astonishingly, we can help. A power works through us which is not of us or from us. We may remember situations when words rose out the depth of our being, perhaps in the midst of our great anxiety , that struck another in the depth of his being and his anxiety so strongly, that they helped him to a new state of things. Perhaps we remember other situations when an action of a person, whose life we know was disrupted, had a priestly, awakening, and healing effect upon us. It did not come from him, but was in him. It came from God, it was His Spiritual Presence in our spirit."
As ministers of the New Covenant, let us be mindful that God answers the prayer of those who earnestly seek to do his will. He answers in HIS TIME and HIS WAY not our time and our way.
An illustration came in the summer of 1977 during my visit to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Having camped in a tent with my family across the windy plaines of the Midwest, I could identify with those Mormon pioneers, who crossed those plaines in covered wagons, searching for religious freedom a little over 100 years ago.
I heard the hymn: It is well, it is well with my soul, which the Latter-Day-Saints must have sung each night around their campfires to renew their tired spirits.
We saw the Sea Gull monument, which is a memorial to the power of prayer. In the springtime, after the Mormon arrival in the plain around the Great Salt Lake, the Mormons planted the seeds they had brought along. At first they grew well, but later they were almost destroyed by swarms of insects. The Mormons tried everything from fires, to stamping, to no avail. They became more and more desperate. Finally, they got down on their knees and prayed. Shortly thereafter, flocks of seagulls appeared which devoured the insects. In thankfulness and gratitude, the Mormons erected the Sea Gull Monument as a Memorial to their rescue through the power of prayer.
Dear God, we pray for our ministry in a world which is as much in need of your truth as the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus. Help us to "DO and TELL" the Good News of the New Covenant. Help us to make your appeal through us as your ambassadors. Strengthen us, empower us, as our qualification, our sufficiency can come through your Spirit in us. Help us to be sensitive to the deepest needs of others. May we be prepared to witness to the hope that is in us. Set our hearts on fire, for the "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
(Adapted from a Sermon preached in the First Church of Christ Congregational, 28 August 1977)