Ambassadors of a New Creation
Scriptures: II Corinthians 5:16-21; Galatians 3:23-29
As a child I watched the old Superman television show almost every afternoon after school. The special effects were terrible, but I still loved it. So when the first movie version of Superman came out in 1978, with all new special effects, I was anxious to see it. But it was not the special effects that impressed me. It was the backstory of Superman, which you never got in the television show. In the movie, unlike the television show, we saw how Superman came to earth and was found by a farm couple named Jonathan and Martha Kent. We then watched as the young Clark Kent grew up, in many ways a typical adolescent: painfully self-conscious, trying to impress girls, wondering who he was. He knew he had extraordinary speed and strength, but his adoptive parents would not allow him to use them. So instead of being a star football player, he was the trainer on the football team handing out water bottles. In one scene he complains bitterly to his father, "I could score a touchdown every time, every time!" Jonathan Kent puts his arm around him and says, "You are here for a reason, I don't know whose reason, but it is not to score touchdowns."
Finally when Clark turns 18 he discovers a crystal containing a message from his birth father Jor-El. Jor-El says to him, "There are questions to be asked, and it is time you did so." The first question on Clark’s mind is "Who am I?" As if anticipating that question Jor-El says, "Your name is Kal-El. You have been sent to earth from the planet Krypton. You are different from others. You have extraordinary powers, only some of which you have discovered. It is now time for you to join your new world and serve its collective humanity. Live as one of them, Kal-El, but discover where your power is needed. They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be. They only lack a light to show them the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.”
I had no idea the movie would be so theological. Now I am not suggesting that Jesus was sent from the planet Krypton, or that following will him will make you a superhero. But I was struck by two things that happened to Superman, two keys to his growing up: 1) discovering his identity and 2) discerning his mission. Those are the two keys for all of us: discovering our identity and discerning our mission—understanding who we are and realizing why we are here?
Our scripture this morning can help us with that. Paul begins by talking about how we look at people. Verse 16: “From now on we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” In other words, Paul says, we no longer judge people by appearances. Often we judge people by looking at certain categories: their age, their appearance, their capabilities, and their affiliations. Paul admits he once looked at people that way. He judged them according to whether they were Jews or Gentiles, whether they were righteous or sinners, whether they were educated or ignorant. And he regarded Jesus as a dangerous heretic for welcoming sinners and claiming to speak for God.
But all that changed when he met Jesus risen from the dead. When Paul met Jesus risen from the dead, he realized he had been wrong about Jesus and by extension about everybody else. In verse 17 he says, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new."
When you are baptized, when you become a follower of Jesus, you become part of a new creation--a new planet, so to speak. You are given a new identity with a new purpose.
In many ways, of course, you are still the same person you were before. You are still a member of your family, you are still a student in your school, you are still a worker at your company and a citizen of your country. You don't cease to be Clark Kent. But when you are baptized and when you commit your life to Christ, you discover that you have a new identity. You are not just Clark Kent anymore. You are Kal-El.
I have mentioned before in sermons how when God calls people God sometimes give them a new name. After promising Abram many descendants who would bring blessing to the world, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of multitudes.” Suddenly, this old childless man had a new identity. He was the father of multitudes. God did the same for his wife Sarai. God gave her the new name Sarah, which in Hebrew means “princess.” The migrant woman who came to Canaan from a foreign land is now royalty. If you remember, Jesus did the same thing to one of his disciples named Simon. He changed Simon’s name to Peter, which means “rock.” It is like what happened to Clark Kent when he learned that his real name was Kal-El. Outwardly he was the same person, but in a deeper sense he was a new person. He had a new understanding of who he was and why he was here.
That's what happens when we are baptized and joined to Christ. In Galatians 3:27 Paul says, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." It's like the S-symbol on Superman’s chest, which I discover in the movie does not stand for Superman. The S was a symbol worn by people on the planet Krypton. When you are baptized you are clothed with a new identity. As Paul says in verse 28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." When you are baptized, you are no longer a Democrat or a Republican, you are no longer a Husky or a Cougar, you are no longer just white or black, Middle Eastern or American. You are one in Christ. When you are baptized, those old identities are transcended by a new one.
And with that new identity comes a new mission. Listen again to II Corinthians 5:18-20:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.
When Clark Kent discovered his true identity, he also discovered his true mission. The same thing is true for us. When you realize that through baptism you are an adopted child of God, you discover that your family has a mission: to invite the whole world back into the relationship with God and with each that we were meant to have when we were created.
While I was in Spokane I met a Presbyterian pastor from India named Philip Prasad. Philip was born to parents who were Dalits—Untouchables—the lowest class in India’s Hindu culture. He describes his childhood in these words:
By age of seven, I had mastered the art of behaving like an Untouchable! I was growing up in a bleak, filthy, foul smelling, depressing to this day, Untouchable colony of Kot Mohalla. … On many days when I had nothing else to do, I tagged along with my grandmother on her rounds of removing human waste from 22 latrines. [Which she die by hand!] I learned my basic lessons of behavior from my job of collecting the leftover chapati from the homes where my grandmother had cleaned the latrines. [A chapatti was a round flat break, like a tortilla.] When I reached a home which owed us a chapati for cleaning the latrine, I had to stand in the street and shout out aloud that their Bhangi was there. [Bhangi was a derogatory term for an Untouchable.] Even going up to the door was prohibited for fear of my feet polluting that part of the house. … Someone would come out of the house and throw the bread like a Frisbee towards my basket which I would have to catch. I became quite good at beating the dogs, though at times I had to fight for it. … Schools and education were not in the consciousness of the entire colony. …. There seemed no other life possible for the Untouchables, as we were born in filth, worked in filth, and died in filth.
But then something happened to change Philip’s identity. His parents became Christians as a result of a Presbyterian missionary who worked about a mile away. For the first time his father realized that he did not have to believe in or obey the Hindu caste system and its rules laid down for Untouchables. Instead he acquired some books, and with the help of a missionary he mastered both the Hindi and Urdu languages. He then went to a Presbyterian seminary in India and was ordained to serve a circuit of 60 villages, which he did for 42 years. He also taught his wife, who ran a school for Untouchable children in a rural village. Philip himself eventually went to a Christian high school, graduated from a Presbyterian college in India, attended a Presbyterian seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and returned to India to start scores of Christian schools and churches. With his new identity, Philip discovered a new mission for his life: to be an ambassador of the new creation made possible by Jesus.
That’s our mission. Like Clark Kent, we have an identity greater than our family name and a mission bigger than scoring touchdowns. We are ambassadors of a new creation—little demonstration projects of what God can do in us and in our world, if we give God the chance.