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What’s New? The One New Person in Place of the Two

 

Ephesians 2:15

Ecclesiastes 1:9    Revelation 21:5    Psalm 33:3

 

“There is nothing new under the sun”, said the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Nothing new?” said the writer of the book of Revelation; “Everything is new, for hasn’t God said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’?”

Then which is it: nothing new or everything new?

I: — Let’s begin with a brief word study. There are two Greek words for “new”: neos and kainos.
Neos means ‘new’ in the sense of chronologically recent.  If I have six identical wineglasses and I break one, I replace it with a new wineglass of the same kind.  The new one is the same as the odl ones.  It’s new only in the sense that I’ve owned it for ten minutes instead of ten years. It’s new in the sense of chronologically recent, even though it’s identical in all respects with the ‘old’ glasses.

Kainos, on the other hand, means “qualitatively different.”  For years the Volkswagen Company produced only the “Beetle.”   A new VW Beetle wasn’t a new development; it was simply a chronologically recent version of the same old car.  Then one day the VW Company brought out the Jetta and the Golf.  These were new developments.         The new VW car was now kainos-new rather than merely neos-new.

In scripture, wherever human newness is concerned kainos is used. We humans need ever so much that’s qualitatively new, ever so much that we can’t produce ourselves. The newness we need God alone can produce. For this reason scripture uses kainos, qualitatively new, only in connection with what God can produce.  God alone can fashion a new (kainos) human reality.

God alone can; God just as surely does.  The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God giving people a new heart; God removes the heart of stone (calcified, cold, inert) and gives us a heart of flesh (warm, throbbing, life-sustaining.)         Ezekiel tells us that God puts a new spirit within his people.  The apostle Paul, a spiritual descendant of Ezekiel, exclaims, “If any person is ‘in Christ’ – that person lives in a whole new world where everything’s new.”

God alone can fashion the humanly new.  He does. The newness he presses upon us is gift; sheer gift.

At the same time it’s a gift we must exercise.  Not only does Ezekiel tell us that God gives a new heart and new spirit; he also tells his people “Get yourselves a new heart and spirit.”  The newness that is God’s gift is also a newness we must exercise.

Too many people, upon hearing scripture’s characteristic speech about new heart, new spirit, new creation become dreamy-eyed mystics.  They passively wait for something they-know-not-what, some sort of intra-psychic vividness. They’ve heard someone else describe experience of some sort in living colour, and now they’re waiting for the phosphorescent flash.

We shouldn’t do this. Instead we should affirm, in faith, that the gift which God alone can bestow upon us he has bestowed; and then we should set about exercising this gift, doing the truth. We take God at his word, and then we act on the truth of that word.

 

II: — God tells us that he makes all things new.  Lacking time to probe everything he makes new we shall concentrate on one issue only: the two opposed persons whom he makes into the one new person. Listen to Paul: “For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Eph. 2:14-16. ESV)

When the apostle says that Jesus Christ has broken down the wall of hostility and has made one new person in place of the two, he’s speaking of Jew and Gentile. In the first century world there was no higher wall than the wall dividing Jew and Gentile. The Jew regarded the Gentile as godless and lawless.  The Gentile regarded the Jew as religiously obsessed, and obsessed with the pointless as well as the grotesque; after all, the food restrictions were pointless, said Gentiles, while circumcision was barbaric. Over the centuries mutual suspicion had hardened into mutual hostility.  The wall between them had had brick after brick added to it until it was insurmountably high. Not only could no one bring it down; no one seemed to want to.  And then – this takes the apostle’s breath away – and then in Jesus Christ, specifically in his cross, the wall had been crumbled.  This one Jew, the Son of God who was also the Son of man; this one Jew both mediated God to all humankind and mediated all humankind to God; this one fellow absorbed in himself the lethal hostility that boils and boils over whenever people who are different in any respect face each other. In absorbing in himself such lethal hostility he undercut the standoff; he collapsed the wall of hostility, thereby making one person in place of two.

Who knows this? Who knows that the wall is down? Who knows that Christ alone brought it down?  We do. Christ’s people do. To be sure, the two have been fused into one only “in Christ.”  By faith we live “in Christ.”         Therefore by faith we participate in “the one new person.”  Non-Christians don’t live “in Christ.”  Therefore they haven’t discerned that there’s only “the one new person.” Nevertheless, since the arms of the crucified embrace the whole world, the whole world has been appointed to this truth, even if there are some who haven’t yet perceived it, some who haven’t yet acknowledged it, and some, quite frankly, who simply don’t believe it and never will.  Still, no one’s disregard of truth undoes the nature of truth. For this reason Jesus Christ has conscripted his people on behalf of that truth which he has already established and which can never be undone.

 

III: — We can’t deny that the wall of hostility appears to be standing yet.  Think of racial hostility. For years I’ve heard Canadians say that because the history of Canada isn’t as racially torn as the history of the USA , therefore Canadians don’t have in their bloodstream the lethal racism that Americans seem to have.  The premise is correct; the conclusion is false.  Racism is a mark of the Fall, and everyone, everywhere, lives in the wake of the Fall.

William Stringfellow, the New York City lawyer and Anglican theologian I’ve spoken of many times here; Stringfellow maintained that racism in Canada was much more subtle, much more covert, much more polite than that in the USA, and for that reason harder to identify – yet no less virulent. Toronto , Stringfellow said, was much more racist than New York City .

It’s customary for sports teams to accommodate players two to a hotel room when the team is on the road.         For decades the Ottawa Roughrider football team always roomed black player with black and white player with white.         What happened when a black player and a white player were left over? The leftover players, white and black, were each given a separate hotel room at the team’s expense lest they have to share a room.  Black Ottawa football players who dated white women were taken aside and told they shouldn’t be doing such a thing.

Few Canadians appear to be aware that there were slaves in New France (now Canada ) during the seventeenth century. Slavery didn’t end here because of humanitarian enlightenment.  It ended because the climate here didn’t support a plantation economy. Slavery ended inasmuch as it didn’t pay white people to enslave black people.

During World War II Canadian citizens (citizens, be it noted) of Japanese origin were herded into concentration camps euphemistically called “internment camps.”  (Yes, I’m aware that a few years ago the Canadian government compensated these people, even as everyone knew that the distress into which they had been plunged couldn’t be assigned a dollar value at all, never mind the matter of payment rendered decades later.)  The treatment of Canadian citizens of Japanese origin was deemed necessary for reasons of national security.  Why, then, were German-Canadians not treated in the same manner?  Because German-Canadians were Caucasian.  The prime minister of Canada wrote in his diary, which document came to light years later, that Canada had to be protected from “the yellow peril.”  But the highest-ranking RCMP officers declared repeatedly that there was no peril.

Rabbi Lawrence Englander remains one of my dearest friends in Mississauga . Larry’s mother used to tell me of her teenage years in Brampton , when signs were posted reminding Jewish people that they were forbidden to enter public parks. More recently two people from Larry’s synagogue in Mississauga have come to me with heartbreaking stories about public vilification of Jewish people at the hands of Christian clergy in Mississauga, one event being a church funeral, another event being a pastor’s conversation with a thirteen year-old Jewish girl who had been sent to interview him on a grade eight school project. Solel Synagogue and Streestville United Church collaborated in masterminding two affordable housing projects, Jews and Christians alike thinking it important that financially disadvantaged people have adequate accommodation. (One project, by the way, was worth $19 million, the other $15 million.)         At the conclusion of the projects a celebratory party was held on a Saturday night in the synagogue. While we were all dancing up a storm in one part of the building, hoodlums sneaked into another part where the food we were to eat later was waiting for us. They trashed the tables laden with food. In the years I’ve lived in Mississauga , Solel Synagogue has been vandalized five times.

Ever since “9/11”, September 11th 2001 , when the World Trade Towers were attacked in New York City , I have feared an outbreak of Islamophobia.  I have feared that every last Islamic person in North America would be looked upon as treacherous.  Some people tell me that there are dark, dark currents in Islam.  Some of the people who tell me this have lived in Islamic countries for many years. I have not. Plainly their identification of dark currents is something I can’t contradict.  Neither do I want to. I don’t doubt that there are horrifically dark currents in Islam.         But tell me: is Northern Ireland Islamic territory? Of course there are dark currents in Islam.  Are there no dark currents in church history?  Ask your Jewish neighbour. You won’t have to ask her twice. The truth is, until 1948, the founding of the state of Israel , Jewish people received far, far better treatment at the hands of Muslims than they received at the hands of Christians.  We should ponder all of this carefully.  After all, right now, both in the city of Toronto and in Canada as whole, there are more Muslims than there are Presbyterians.

When I was a pastor in New Brunswick there were enormous tensions between English-speaking and French-speaking people. High school students went to two different schools, depending on the language of instruction. For part of the bus trip to school, however, both Anglophone and Francophone students had to ride on the same bus.         The French-speaking students were threatened, with the result that guardians had to be on the bus in order to get the Francophone students to school intact. On one occasion I was speaking with an older woman in the congregation who wanted to sever and sell part of her ample lot. She had advertised the piece of land. On this particular evening a young woman, accompanied by her fiancé, approached her. They talked about the land, the purchase price, the date of transferring the deed, and so on. Somewhat suspicious now, the older woman said to the younger, “By the way, what’s your name?” “Poirier.”  “Poirier? The land isn’t for sale.”

 

III: — I want you to imagine someone standing in the middle of the street going through the motions of sawing, hammering, and mixing concrete.  As soon as you see him you tap him on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, but there’s nothing here.”  Imagine him replying, “Oh, but there is; there’s a wall here, and I deem it my responsibility to keep it in good repair.”  Whereupon he returns to the motions of sawing and hammering and mixing. What would you conclude about the fellow? You wouldn’t say, “I think he’s mistaken.”  You would say, “He’s psychotic; he’s no longer in touch with reality.”

Humanists who act from a humanitarian concern tell us that we ought to bring down the walls that divide hostile groups.  Humanists insist that not to bring down these walls is to perpetuate bigotry. Christians, however, don’t speak like this. We don’t talk about “bringing down” any wall.  We know that the wall is down now.  To live as if it weren’t down isn’t to display bigotry; it’s to display insanity.

For twenty or thirty years after the Allied defeat of the Japanese in World War II a Japanese man would stumble out of a cave on a Pacific Island where he’d been hiding for the last several decades.  He had been a Japanese soldier stationed on the island when American forces overran it. Having fled inland in order to spare himself, he had remained hidden on the assumption that American forces were still occupying the island.  On the day he was unearthed he learned that he had spent half of his life orienting himself to something that had long since disappeared.

People throughout the world do as much all the time.  They spend their entire lives orienting themselves to something that has long since disappeared. The wall is down. Christ has crumbled it.  Not to acknowledge this isn’t bigotry or blindness or ignorance; it’s psychosis, madness.  One new person has been fashioned in place of the two.         The wall is down.

 

IV: — One important matter yet to be discussed is the mood in which we announce and embody the truth about the crumbled wall.  In this regard scripture says much about the “new song.”  Neos-new would mean a recent repetition of the same old song; kainos-new means that God has given us a brand new song to sing, a song we could never invent for ourselves. Because we’ve been given a new song, the prophet Isaiah isn’t silly in urging his people, “Sing unto the Lord a new song.”  For the same reason the psalmist cries, “Sing unto the Lord a new song….Tell of his salvation, his shalom, what he has done, from day to day.” Four hundred years later another Hebrew prophet announces, “Behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart….For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.”

The point is regardless of what is happening in the world; regardless of what turbulence or distress there might be, the people of God have grounds for singing a new song and therefore must be found singing it.

It’s crucial that we be found singing the new song, for otherwise we’re going to be forever mumbling the old dirge.   If we aren’t found singing the new song, then when we come upon the person commonly described as “bigoted” or “intolerant” or “prejudiced”, our own spirit will acidify and our own heart will shrink and we shall become as bitter and as negative as the people we are currently faulting.  Only as we are found singing the new song can we continue to announce and attest the crumbled wall and not become petulant or cynical or sour when we are opposed by so many people who delight in telling us that the wall is still standing and standing for good reason.

 

“There is nothing new under the sun”.

“Behold I make all things new.”

“For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

“Sing to the Lord a new song.”          

 

Everything is new for those who are kingdom-sighted.

 

                                                                                         Victor Shepherd

February 2007