Signs of New Life
The resurrection of Jesus shows that God has the power to bring new life into the world and into our lives. Sometimes we doubt, resist, or are fearful of the possibilities for new life, but God keeps nudging us and keeps pursing us like “the hound of heaven”.
This is a joyful day in the life of the Church! Jesus Christ has risen—he has risen indeed!
Jesus’ resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith as Christians. It is the source of our joy and the source of our hope.
The resurrection is the sign that death does not have the final word, it is the sign that God’s love demonstrated through Jesus sacrificial love is the most powerful force in the world,
The resurrection is the sign that Jesus is alive and at work in the world through the power of his Holy Spirit even today, a power that can set us free from the things that hold us back from being fully alive and becoming the person who God created us to be.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, as we sang earlier, there is power that can save, and there’s power that can break off every chain.
Yet just like it was for Jesus’ followers, sometimes it takes time for the reality of the resurrection to sink in.
Even though Mary Magdalene wasn’t one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, she was one of his closest followers, we could even say one of his best friends. Jesus had come into her life when she needed to be freed from some chains that were tormenting her,
And Jesus came along and delivered her from seven demons. Jesus gave her new hope, a new lease on life, and she stuck by his side until the very end.
And now, according to John’s gospel, Mary was the first person to visit Jesus’ tomb, the first to see that the stone blocking the tomb had been rolled away.
She quickly runs and tells Peter and John, Jesus’ two closest disciples, and they come running to the tomb. They go inside to check things out, but Mary stays outside the tomb.
She is convinced that someone took Jesus’ dead body, and she’s confused and distraught over that. But I think even more, she is overcome with grief at the death of her beloved friend and master.
Mary is weeping at the tomb, and she encounters two angels, and then she turns around and there’s Jesus, but she thinks he’s the gardener. But then when he calls her name, she recognizes that it is Jesus, and that he has risen from the grave.
Even though Jesus’ disciples—and I believe Mary Magdalene as well--had heard from Jesus that he would be crucified but rise again to new life after three days, it was hard to really understand it and believe it.
It took a while for them for it to sink in and for it to make a difference in how they lived their life from that point forward.
Even though we’re had about 2000 years to commemorate and celebrate the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, if you’re like me, you sometimes have trouble allowing it to truly make a difference in your life.
If you’re like me, you sometimes resist the possibilities for living a new life, a life where we can live free from the things that hold us back, free from the sin that entangles us, and free to love as Jesus loved, a new life where broken things will be healed and restored.
The apostle Paul talks about this kind of power in his letter to the church in Rome. In Romans 6, he speaks of being buried with Jesus through baptism, in order that, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (6:4)
In another letter to the Philippians, Paul passionately proclaims, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection”. That was Paul’s goal, he said, his prize that he was pressing on toward attaining.
And from what we know of his life, he got a pretty good taste of the power of the resurrection, the transformation, the newness of life that he was longing for.
Maybe it’s not fair to compare ourselves to the Apostle Paul. I mean, that’s a pretty high bar that he set. But at the same time, he was human just like we are, so maybe we can learn to walk in the newness of life.
But if you’re like me, you sometimes want to resist it or fight it.
It’s kind of like our situation with the foxes in our backyard. Several weeks ago, we noticed a fox wandering around our cul de sac. Then we started to see it in our backyard.
And then we noticed that there was a hole that was dug on the side of our storage shed. We put two and two together and realized that the fox was probably trying to build a den underneath the shed to bring forth some new life by having some baby foxes, so pups as they’re called.
And we talked among our family, and we thought, we’re not very keen about a family of foxes inhabiting our backyard and making their home underneath of shed, which is only 10 yards from the entrance to Karen and my apartment.
That seems a little too close for comfort. And we have small dogs and a 2 yr. old grandson and imagined a scenario where the foxes would attack them in order to protect their pups.
So we resisted the foxes efforts to burrow under our shed, and we plugged up the hole they had dug with bricks, and then put some bricks at a couple of different places around the shed where it looked like they could dig under.
And then for a couple of weeks, we didn’t seem the fox very much, and we were relieved because we thought that it must have gone somewhere else to build a den to have its babies.
And then this past Tuesday morning when I opened the curtain to the sliding glass door that looks out onto the backyard, I saw a couple of little furry animals by the shed.
And I said “Look, Karen, there are some baby kittens in our backyard! I wonder where they came from?”
And then I looked again and an adult fox appeared around the back corner of the shed, and then I shouted out, “These animals aren’t kittens, they’re baby foxes!”
As the phrase goes, the foxes had outfoxed us, outsmarted us. There were two adults, and they had been persistent and dug some holes to get under the shed in places that we didn’t think were possible.
And so now we’re learning to get along with our new neighbors, and over the past 5 days we’ve become more at home with the idea of making space for the family of foxes in our backyard. We’re actually enjoying it quite a bit.
So what does all this talk about foxes have to do with the power of the resurrection and walking in newness of life?
Well, just like we resisted the idea of the fox making a den and bringing forth new life in our backyard, sometimes we take that same attitude toward the new life that God wants to bring forth in our lives.
Maybe we have a fear of change, a fear of the unknown, like we had with the foxes. We are creatures of habit, who get used to what is familiar, what’s comfortable, even if it’s not always the greatest thing, but at least we know what it’s like and that’s worth something.
And maybe it’s a little scary and hard to imagine what this new thing, what this new life, will be like. Yes, it can be exciting, but especially if we have a little of the control freak gene in us, we aren’t sure we want to go into unchartered territory.
And to take it a step further, we know that taking on something new means letting go of something familiar, in order to make space for that new life to take root and grow.
In our situation with the foxes, we’ve had to give up some things and make some changes. We have to have our dogs on leashes and keep a closer eye on our grandson when he’s running around the backyard. We’ve had to give the fox family the space they need to grow and thrive.
In the same way, in order for new life to grow in our lives, in order for new habits and attitudes and behaviors to take root and flourish and thrive, we might need to give some things up, we might need to die to some things that are familiar and dear to us in order to make space for God’s Spirit to take hold of us and transform us from the inside out into people who are more like Jesus.
One thing we have in our favor is that God doesn’t give up on us; no, God is persistent and keeps pursuing us. God is the “hound of heaven” as described by the poet Frances Thompson.
Like those foxes that kept going around our roadblocks in order to find a place to dig a hole under our shed,
God keeps seeking us out, God keeps digging to get beneath the surface, the outer façade we put on,
God keeps looking for a way to get through to us, to reach our minds and our hearts in its deepest places and plant some seeds of new life that will produce some beautiful fruit in our lives,
the fruit of the Spirit that the book of Galatians says are things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These are the fruits, the signs of someone who is walking in newness of life, someone who has tasted the power of the resurrection,
These are the signs of a mature Christian life, a life that is conformed to the character of Jesus Christ.
We will never fully arrive at replicating the true character of Jesus, but we all can make progress, we all can become more loving, and experience more freedom and victory in Jesus as the song says.
What signs of new life will spring forth in your life in the coming year? Maybe some seeds were already planted by God during the dark and depressing past year when we’ve been under the shadow of the pandemic?
God’s Spirit can do its work even in the harshest conditions, when we least expect it, and maybe God was nudging you, doing a little digging, trying to get your attention, and preparing you for something new to rise up out of the ashes of the pandemic?
Maybe you’re already experienced some new hope, some small resurrections. If you have some thoughts about that, share them with someone, hear each other’s stories.
One new thing that God has done in my life even in the midst of this pandemic is open the doors for Karen and I to start a new life here in Northern Virginia,
To set up a new home with our son and his family, and provide us with a church home here at Daniels Run Peace Church
And another thing that’s happened is that I’ve gotten to know Pastor Mike from Table Covenant, and discovered that we read a lot of the same authors. And out of that came the idea for the discipleship group that we’re doing between the two congregations on Wednesday nights.
Those meetings have been a blessing as we’ve heard each other’s stories about our faith journeys, and as we have wrestled with questions about what it means to develop a deeply rooted faith and incorporate practices that help us grow into mature disciples of Christ.
One thing I’ve appreciated about the book’s approach is that Christian growth is not about just trying to do more and more, and be busier and busier, and trying harder and harder.
Rather, the emphasis is on slowing down to be with God instead of this drive to do more for God. If you know the story of Mary and Martha, it’s being more like Mary than Martha.
And like an iceberg, it’s about digging beneath the surface of our life to get more in touch with what’s going on down here, in our emotions, our deeply held values and attitudes.
And it’s about opening ourselves up so God can touch us with His grace, inviting us to claim our belovedness as His precious child,
And then allowing God’s spirit to do its work inside us to heal us, set us free from whatever bind us, so that we can better love ourselves and more fully love others as well.
Love is the ultimate sign of the power of the resurrection at work in our lives.
I want to close with a promise from the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome:
11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus[d] from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)