Make the Neighborhood Better

Sermon 1750 2 Corinthians 5.14-21 June 27, 2021

Neighborhoods are important. That’s why realtors tell you to drive through a neighborhood at different times to see what it is like. Neighborhoods can change. I’ve seen the difference in my own neighborhood after Pioneers died off and Replacements came in. Sometimes there are great improvements. Sometimes the place gets junked up. We’ve got a used car lot of sorts at the other end of the street, complete with tires piled up outside the front door and garages bulging with racks of tools. When it comes to trying to figure out what to do with this old house, a lot of people decide the neighborhood is not worth the bother any more. Time to move on up to a different neighborhood. Other people prefer to

Make the Neighborhood Better!

1. Want it (14-16).

2. Own it (17-19).

3. Share it (20-21).

You can categorize people in an infinite number of ways, but when it comes to neighborhoods let’s limit ourselves to people who care. They can care for themselves or they can care for others. Those who care for themselves, oh, we consider them good neighbors, but they are primarily concerned with what they can get out of the neighborhood. They want property values to go up. They don’t want to be disturbed by unruly neighbors or noisy pets. They want to know their neighbors, but not too much. These are the types of people who, when they are getting ready to move, tell all the neighbors they are trying to sell to a good family, even if they don’t get as much as they could, because they loved the neighborhood so much, and then, once they are gone, you discover they sold at a ridiculous price to someone who turned it into a second home and VRBO. Now people move in weekly who make the Kardashians look modest by comparison. I see the “care for themselves” types of people on my way to church every school day. They are very careful and concerned about traffic safety driving their kids to school, but as soon they’ve dropped their children off at the Junior High, they make illegal U-turns, weave in and out of traffic, make hurried right turns and break the speed limit. Me and mine, that’s what’s important to the “care for themselves” bunch.

What’s the other type of person like?

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer (14-16).”

Before we go too far, let’s acknowledge we were once part of the “Me and Mine” bunch. That’s what Paul says. “We once regarded Christ (and everybody else) from a worldly point of view.” By nature we even looked at Jesus as a get out of jail free card, a “what can we get from him” sort of thing. Sad to say, that selfish attitude still clings to us because as long as we live on earth, we have the sinful human nature. That’s why, even in church, the family of God, there are more than a few instances of selfish thinking. We need to repent daily of that.

But here’s what makes the “care for others” type tick. The love which comes from Jesus is in them. They believe they are forgiven. Jesus died for their sins. As far as God is concerned, when Jesus died on the cross, they died on the cross. The penalty for their sin, death, was satisfied. Out of love for Jesus they want to live as Christians. They want to improve, both their lives and the way they treat those around them. After all, isn’t that what the Ten Commandments command? Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself?

Now this is exactly what the world condemns as condescending. The world sneers at a group of people, the saved, looking down their noses at the unwashed masses who so desperately need their help. Paternalism. Patronizing. Insufferable. And they would be right if the people offering the help weren’t Christians! Because if they weren’t Christians, they would be helping to get something out of it—pride, self-satisfaction, a celebration of their own accomplishments and worth! Like a neighbor who keeps his property top-notch to be the envy of everybody else! All of us at some point in our lives could tell you how humiliating it feels to be treated like that.

But this is not why Christians want to make the neighborhood better. This does not explain what moves you and me to act the way we do. Here’s what explains us. Jesus died for all. He didn’t just die for us. He died for all. We all are in the same boat. We all are equally loved by Jesus. If Jesus, the one we love so much, loved our neighbor so much, how can we not love them and work our fingers to the bone for them? We want to make things better for them. We want to make the neighborhood better.

Make the neighborhood better. Own it.

”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (17-19).”

We are a new creation. We are reconciled to God. Christianity is not just admitting our errors, confessing our sins, concentrating on contrition. One of the world’s leaders (an ally of our country) was accused of living according to a pre-Christian religion with conflicting gods and no moral standards. He has six children from three different women, the last he secretly married a year or so after the birth of his last child, a child whose birthday he can’t remember. “Oh, no,” he replied. “Christianity is the best religion. I’m just not very good at it.” That’s as far as contrition can get you. “I’m just not very good at it.” Focus on the other part, a faith that rises to new life from that forgiveness. A new creation made to be like Christ in true righteousness and holiness. A wisdom from God. A reunion, a reconciliation, with God. Own that and we own what we are. Own that, and we own what God destined us to be. And it is not only you and I who have been reconciled. The world has been reconciled.

Now, this is a point of contention with the sinful human nature which wants to limit God’s grace and somehow present itself as irresistibly lovable. Paul writes, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” He doesn’t qualify the world. He doesn’t say “the believing world,” “the First World,” “The New World,” “the Old World,” “the white world,” “the black world,” the Third World,” “the male world,” “the female world.” He doesn’t use any adjective to describe the world, so we can’t throw in any adjective that limits the word “world.” If you insisted on adding an adjective, the only ones that would keep the sense of the sentence would be, “God was reconciling the whole world,” or “God was reconciling all the world.” That would be the only way you could preserve the meaning of the sentence. “God was reconciling the world to himself.”

We should own making the neighborhood better because everyone in our neighborhood is reconciled to God. Everyone in our neighborhood is as loved by God as we are. Everyone in our neighborhood is as worthy an object of our love and efforts as we ourselves are. It is our neighborhood, not my neighborhood. Why wouldn’t I want to make the neighborhood better?

Make the neighborhood better. Share it.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (20-21).”

There are lots of things that go on in a healthy neighborhood. People gather at the mailbox and chat. Some join bowling or softball leagues together. A street is closed for a block party. People know each other and, especially in time of need, provide help, be it a hot meal or a ride to the doctor’s. There is a lot of sharing. Every neighbor feels his neighborhood is great. People talk up the neighborhood to others. Uncles or co-workers may move into the house two blocks down the street because they heard such glowing reports of the neighborhood from us. The more we talk it up, the more we genuinely appreciate it and are happy to belong in it.

God wants us to share the good news of this old house with others. That’s the best way to make the neighborhood better. God has made us his ambassadors. Every realtor knows it is dynamite when, in showing a house, a neighbor comes up and gives unsolicited praise to the prospective buyer. God wants us to share the good news, not of a great floor plan or good schools. God wants us to share the good news of the Gospel. Paul gives us the message once again. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

God sent his perfect and holy Son, Jesus Christ, into our world. In all his days on earth, from his circumcision and presentation in the Temple to every Sabbath he appeared in the synagogue for worship, Jesus kept all the laws God had decreed for his Old Testament people, the Jews. Jesus kept them faultlessly. In all the moral code God had laid out for mankind, whether it was engraved in stone as we know the Ten Commandments, or written on the hearts of people, the general knowledge of good and evil, Jesus was sinless. He always did the good he could. He healed the sick and the lame. He raised the dead. He fed the hungry. He preached the Gospel. Jesus always avoided the evil. He never struck others down dead as punishment, although at times Jesus’ disciples wanted him to do just that. He never threatened others when they were calling down curses upon him, not during his unfair trials before the religious leaders and the Roman governor, not while he hung on the cross. He had no sin, none.

Yet God the Father “made him to be sin,” Paul says. God the Father treated Jesus as the only sinner that ever was. The thousands of years of hostility, hatred, fighting, envy, lust, violence, the generation after generation of people trying to be their own gods, the lies, the manipulation, God the Father condemned Jesus as not only the ringleader, but the henchman who carried out all those diabolical plans. He made him who had no sin to be sin.

For us, that we might become the righteousness of God. A great exchange took place. All of our sins were taken away and put on the shoulders of Jesus. All of his sinless deeds and holy actions were put upon us. We were given a right standing before God, righteousness. We were right with God because of Jesus. We were not only forgiven, declared not guilty of sin, we were declared righteous, having all the good deeds, merit and holiness of Jesus on us.

That’s the good news God has sent us to spread. Ambassadors, each of us, we share the message we have been given.

Along with that unsolicited plug from the neighbor to the prospective buyer of the empty home comes an unspoken appeal—you should buy this house--you will like it here.

Here’s the appeal from God. “Be reconciled.”

“Be reconciled.” What does that mean? I know what it means to reconcile with someone. I go to them and say I am sorry and try to soothe the hard feelings, get over the hurt and reestablish the relationship, be it a family bond or a friendship. Reconciliation is hard. It takes a lot of work. A lot of people can’t go through with it.

But this is different. The appeal is “be reconciled.” It is passive. It is something that is done to me, not something I must do. It is clear from Paul’s words, what has been done has been done by God. He took care of our sin. He punished our sin. The penalty for our sin was paid. God did all this through the death of Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord. And he did it so we would no longer have that chip on our shoulder, that hostility in our hearts, that suspicious mind always thinking God was going to play a dirty trick on us. Be reconciled means nothing more and nothing less than believe. Believe everything God has done to get you to heaven. Believe everything God has done to shower his love and grace on you in this life.

“Be reconciled” shows there is nothing we have to do. It has all been done for us. The deal has been dropped into our laps.

Keeping up the house and property certainly helps make a neighborhood better. But there have been million dollar neighborhoods I would not want to live in, the neighors are so off the wall. There are shiny new blocks of houses that might as well be prison cells for the emptiness of their streets and the silence in the evening air. What makes a neighborhood better is the spirit, the soul of that neighborhood. I believe a Christian living next to me or across the street makes my neighborhood better. I believe a fellow brother or sister in Christ that I can see and talk to makes me a better Christian.

Make the Neighborhood Better!

1. Want it (14-16).

2. Own it (17-19).

3. Share it (20-21).

This old house can look like new. This old house can be better than before. This old house can drive the neighborhood values up. This old house can be perfect for us after all these years. This old house may be the only one we will ever need.

Who wouldn’t want to live in a place showered with such grace and poise, confidence and hope?

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