So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
These words from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians were one of the theme texts for MennoCon23. Each worship session focused on a different aspect of transformation.
We misread Paul’s letters if we think they are only a road map for individual salvation. I grew up looking to Paul’s writings as a guide for personal piety and God’s plan of salvation. But they are more than that.
Paul’s message that anyone who is in Christ has become a new creation was meant for the Corinthians as a group — and for us as the body of Christ today. This is not a “me, myself and I” text.
One reason I have made peace with Paul is the community aspect of his writing. As much as he admonishes, he also uplifts and encourages his readers to make peace with one another. There is a reason my Mennonite Church USA conference, Indiana-Michigan, has chosen epistles as our theme texts for the past two years. There is a word from Paul for everyone.
From the pulpit, we often hear about transformation. We hear that we need to transform ourselves with the help of Christ. We hear stories about how others’ lives have been transformed. We are told to seek, even long for, transformation.
Posting about MennoCon’s theme on social media, a former seminary professor of mine asked a profound question that looks at transformation in a different way: “What if God loves us as we are?”
This prompted discussion with a group of my friends. What would it look like to speak about transformation beyond the personal? What if we are not the only ones needing to be transformed? What if I have been transformed? What if I’m working on it?
I know transformation is not a one-time event. I know that if we stop seeking transformation, we risk stagnation and will fail to grow.
However, as I often say in sermons, this message — in this case, the message that you need to be transformed — may not be the right one for you right now. Not every scripture passage, sermon or article in Anabaptist World may speak to you in this moment. And that is OK.
What I’m taking away from this scripture, and from MennoCon in general, is that we are called to collective transformation. We are prophets in calling for that collective transformation. And it’s OK to be where we are.
The invitation in this passage may be for us to facilitate in the transformation of others or the transformation of our community.
Paul says here that everything has become new. He says transformation has already happened! Yes, it’s a process. Yes, we need to be open to the ongoing work of the Spirit.
But what if, instead of preaching revival for ourselves, we looked at how far we’ve come from the person and the people we used to be? What if we looked to also transform the world around us?
If I go to church and only ever hear that I, personally, need to be transformed, how can I be assured of a God who loves me as a work in progress?
It is easy to become discouraged about not being good enough. It is easy to become discouraged at the thought that others are judging us.
I know that I’m guilty of judging. We don’t always shop local. We get jealous. We speak out of anger. We do things that put boxes around God’s love for all. We bring KFC to the church potluck.
But what if we are beloved, whether transformed or working on it? Just maybe, the message is for others, too — to be transformed with a grace so deep that they cannot help but extend that grace to us as individuals and as a group.
That is the heart of Paul’s message. We are transformed. We are made new. We receive grace. We internalize what is meant for us and leave what is not ours to take away. We are change agents in the world, and we are agents of our inner work. God loves us as we are — transformed, transforming, collectively transformed and under construction.