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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Not a Popularity Contest – a New Creation!

Updated: Sep 7, 2021


This morning the possibility of good news encompasses the entirety of infinity, the vastness of a new creation – and – the singular specificity of a small – solitary – seed. What’s up with that?

This time of year, decades ago, I was 15 going on 16 and something new and exciting was on my horizon. It was one of those times all of us have when we spend our days and nights day-dreaming and fantasizing about what we believe our future can hold.

At the beginning of that summer, my family had moved and in September, I’d be going to a new school. I’d loved the one I left - Cold Spring Harbor Jr. High & High School. There I discovered my talents for theater and singing. It was on that stage in 8th grade where as Ms. Hannigan in Annie I’d gotten a standing ovation, surely the deciding factor in my first career aspirations.

My friend crowd at that school was the theater kids, the glee kids, the kids focused on grades and always – college, college, college – so always, grades, grades, grades.

But I dreamed of that other crowd – you know the one – the popular crowd. And that summer, with a new school on the horizon that crowd felt possible.

Maybe I didn’t have Snapchat or Tik Tok or YouTube – like teenagers do now - telling and showing me how I could make myself over – but the messages are always the same. Just change everything on the outside so you fit in. New hair – new clothes – new style – just do it.

Just do what it takes to look the part. I tried – guess what happened?

First, I was the new kid – then I wasn’t. I was still almost 6 feet tall with coke-bottle glasses. I still did theater and musical theater – I was in orchestra – I got good grades – and I was basically in the exact same crowd at Locust Valley High School – as I was in Cold Spring. Being popular forever eluded me.

Which turned out to be just fine. That’s one of the things we learn as we get older and wiser, right? Popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Popularity is fleeting. Popularity is more about fitting in – then belonging. Popularity, by necessity, is not interested in building everyone up in love – only a few. It’s selective for all the wrong reasons.

At the height of his popularity Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds for some good reasons. He was wary of them. Turns out that wariness was spot on. With the small group, Jesus got specific. With his disciples he shared the specificity of his teachings, the seeds, like where two or three are gathered – God is there.

And this morning he teaches the kingdom of God can be found in the smallest of seeds – and somehow – without our doing – without even our knowledge sometimes – that small seed can sprout into something that gives life. If we just pay attention. Tending to the seeds is how things take root and grow and give shelter and shade – renewal and refreshment – to a diversity of God’s creation.

At this particular point in salvation history – I think its important for those of us in this household of God – specifically the Episcopal/Anglican branch of the Jesus movement as Presiding Bishop Curry would say – to pay attention, to wonder if we’re overly concerned about our popularity. Or lack thereof.

Reading an interview recently with Danny Meyer, successful and well-known restauranteur in New York City – talking about the pivoting and adapting that world has known and continues to. And he said something applicable us. “I wish they’d stop saying that restaurants are re-opening. That is not what is happening. We are all opening new restaurants.”

Amen and amen. We are not re-opening church. Church was never closed – our buildings were. We have gathered and regathered – and are continuing to do so just as we have through plague and pandemics and times of prosperity and popularity.

At the moment we are mustard seed size – and maybe that is something for us to pay attention and tend to – as Paul points to this morning –

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

When Paul writes about what is made new in Christ – which he does often – I hear his energetic eagerness for us to take on a mindset of possibility! Surely he did as a leader encouraging small households of followers who were anything but popular.

It’s not whether or not your popular. It’s not whether or not you are Jew or Greek – male or female – you are in Christ – having been found by Christ you have opened yourself to something entirely new. Stop judging, quantifying and categorizing by those worldly and popular metrics.

Paul loves this theme. In Romans he talks about how we walk in new life with Christ, new life in the Spirit (6:4). In Galatians he says – a new creation is everything (6:15). In Ephesians he says we are part of a new humanity (2:15) – to be clothed with a whole new self (4:24). Not a makeover of our appearance, a whole new self!

Seeing and trusting we are being made new is something Paul encourages in Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians – but no more so than in the second letter to the Corinthians! Which is what we hear from today.

We are ministers of a new covenant – with a new understanding of who we are and what we are called to -today – because we are in Christ – and in Christ there is a new creation – everything OLD has passed away – see – everything has become new!

Old in this context is not the opposite of young – it is the opposite of what was. I cannot think of one time in the gospels where Jesus or Paul tells us to look backward. We put our hand to the plow and look forward – ready to run the race – not with speed – but with endurance.

A seed if it sprouts – and takes root – and flourishes – whatever it offers the world endures.

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.

Those are the intentions we asked God to plant, to help us nourish this morning – steadfast faith and love – the courage to proclaim truth with boldness and minister with justice and compassion. Those ways of being are not always popular – and they are often proclaimed by one powerful and prophetic voice to inspire us to work towards ways of being that are everlasting. So where do you see those seeds in our household right now? What new seed of steadfast faith – love – justice and compassionate truth – needs your tending to today and tomorrow?

You and I are followers of Jesus – we are not in a popularity contest. We run the race with endurance – we walk by faith – and not by sight – we seek to build people up in love – one seed at a time. One plants – another waters – but God gives the growth.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

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