Saturday, September 29, 2018

“A Whole New World” - August 19, 2018

Texts: Psalm 46:1-5, 11; Corinthians 5:17-20

Classes begin tomorrow at Iowa State, as many of you well know.  Ames and Des Moines teachers have to go back tomorrow and classes start on Thursday.  The beginning of the school year is upon us.  And there is excitement that comes with it.  Maybe some dread, too, but there is excitement.  And a lot of changes.  New classes, new schools, new schedules, new stuff, new expenses, new friends, maybe a new place to live.  And for those not directly involved in the educational system, here may be new neighbors and there is certainly more traffic. 

You know what comes with all of these changes?  New perspective.  New experiences can help us see things in a new way.  And it’s not just students.  If your child has left for college and you now have an empty nest, that changes your perspective too.

This morning I would like for us to think about perspective – about the way that we see the world.  You may have heard of the Rorschach test.  It is a psychological instrument in which the client looks at a series of ink blots and tells what he or she sees.  The responses that are given provide information about the client. 

Psychologists disagree on the usefulness of this tool – you can ask our resident psychologists here what they think of it - but there is no question that two people can look at the same thing and see very different things.

Douglas Adams was waiting for a train in Cambridge, England.  He had some time before his train, so he bought a newspaper to do the crossword, and got a cup of coffee and a package of cookies.  He went and sat at a table.  There was a guy sitting across the table, wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase.  Everything seemed pretty normal, nothing unusual, when suddenly the man in the business suit leaned across, picked up the package of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.

Adams said that this is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with.  He wasn’t sure how to respond, but in he just ignored it.  He stared at his newspaper, took a sip of coffee, and tried to figure out what to do.

Finally, he reached out and took a cookie for himself.  “That will take care of it,” he thought.  But it didn’t.  A moment or two later the other guy did it again.  Since Adams hadn’t said anything the first time, it seemed even harder to say anything now.  So he took another cookie himself.

It went back and forth like this.  There were only 8 cookies in the package, but still, it seemed to take forever.  Finally, after all the cookies were gone, the other man stood up.  The two exchanged looks and the other man walked away.  Adams breathed a sigh of relief.

In another moment or two it was time to get ready for the train, so Adams stood up, picked up his newspaper, and there under the newspaper was his package of cookies.
Two people experienced the same event but saw it in very different ways. 

If I asked everyone to look out window and tell me what you see, there would be different responses – someone might see a red pickup truck, someone else might see that they mowed the lawn next door, someone else might see see that they had a big party last night, judging by all the beer bottles.

It is not just that we notice different things and interpret what we see a bit differently.  There are also instances where what we are able to see is limited by what we believe is possible.  A small example of this is when you see someone that you know – not a good friend but an acquaintance -- in a place where you don’t expect to see them.  You see your plumber at Hy-Vee, and you know you know this person but can’t quite put together how you know them.

This doesn’t just happen in such small ways.  It also is true of our larger outlook on life.  In Thomas Kuhn’s classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he argues that science is dependent upon some prior vision in order to make progress.  It isn’t just a matter of a scientist walking into a lab, doing research, and making a surprising discovery.  It is also a matter of having an expectation of what we might see, before we can see it. 

Albert Einstein said, “We see what our theories permit us to see.”  We have certain expectations of what we might see, what is possible, and these expectations enable us to see.  Our vision is limited by our imagination. 

We can feel sometimes as though our life is in a rut – but we can’t get out of the rut until we can begin to imagine new possibilities.  Our perspective - the way we view the world – really does matter.

In our scripture this morning, Paul argues that being in Christ changes the way we see the world.  It changes the way we see others and the way we see ourselves.  “If anyone is in Christ,” he says, “there is a new creation.”

Growing up in church, I heard that verse from a young age.  I had always heard this as when someone followed Jesus, someone committed their life to Christ, then they were a new creation – they were changed.  That understanding is OK as far as it goes, but it’s not exactly the sense of the text.

A literal translation would be, if anyone is in Christ – new creation!  Or even better, If anyone is in Christ – boom!  New creation.  It’s not just that that person is changed, but all of creation is new.  The New English Bible might translate this best: If anyone is united in Christ, there is a new world. 

The world, of course, doesn’t actually change.  What changes is the way we view the world.  As Paul puts it, “we no longer regard anyone from a human point of view.”  This sounds kind of odd – I mean, how could we do anything but regard others from a human point of view?

What he is talking about is the way that human sin clouds our vision.  We see from our own narrow perspective, we see with our prejudices and self-interest and bias.  God’s spirit helps us to see others, to see the world, in a new light.  It’s not that we are perfect or free from self-interest, by any means, but as we follow Jesus, the Spirit more and more guides our vision.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul also spoke about the way that we see things.  In I Corinthians 13, Paul said, “We see now through a glass dimly.”  Our vision is limited.  But part of being “in Christ” is having our vision, our imagination, expanded so that we may see more clearly – more like Christ.

How does this happen?  It happens in a lot of ways.  It can happen through experiences.  Some of us have been on mission trips to Appalachia, to a Native American children’s home, to an inner city mission.  Some of you have served meals at Food at First or you have got involved with YSS.  Right now we are beginning a sister church relationship with a church in Puerto Rico.  Understanding what life is like for other people expands our vision and helps us to gain perspective.

Getting to know folks from different places, from different parts of the country, from different parts of the world, getting to know people who are different than we, who believe differently than us helps us to gain perspective.  And when we can see all of these people as God’s children, it can change us. 

We gain new vision as we study the Bible, as we worship, as we spend time in prayer, as we are open to new leadings of God’s Spirit.  It can come through the difficult times of life, through those dark nights when as our scripture from Psalm 46 puts it, we experience God as our refuge and strength.  That can change us.
Several weeks ago our choir sang a brand-new anthem commissioned for our 150th anniversary.  It included new music to the old hymn, “How Can I keep From Singing?”  Do you remember how it begins?

My life flows on in endless song/ Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn/ That hails a new creation
Even in the midst of the struggle we can perceive God’s new creation – God helps us to see the world in a new way.

The process of education is all about gaining knowledge that allows us to see things from different points of view.  Of course, it is possible to have such a closed mind that you can get two or three degrees and never change your perspective much on anything, but at its best, and as followers of Jesus, learning can speak to our faith and help us grow – help us to see life in new ways, more of the way that Christ sees.

Fred Craddock told about a former theological student of his, Jim Strain, who writes screenplays.  Strain says that that background, especially a class with Craddock on the Parables of Jesus, impacts all of his work.  He wrote a screenplay for the old TV show MASH.

For those too young to remember, MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.  The show was about this hospital unit in the Korean War – it was a great show with all kinds of colorful characters.  There was a chaplain in that MASH unit who was a Catholic priest, Father Mulcahey, and Jim wrote an episode involving the priest.

Father Mulcahey at some point became very attracted to one of the nurses.  And the attraction seemed to be mutual.  They started spending a lot of time together.  He had taken the vows of his priesthood - vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  But he was attracted to that nurse.  And the whole story was about that struggle.  In the end, he finally tells her that he cannot pursue this relationship because of his vows, and he reaffirms his commitment to God and the priesthood.

Jim told Craddock that he had an awful time selling the script.  He was told that he should change the ending, to make it more realistic.  “What would make it more realistic?” he wondered. 

“He goes for the nurse!  He disavows his priesthood!  Don’t you understand what people want?”  And Jim said, “No.”  He didn’t understand “what people want” because he had a different vision.  He saw the world with new eyes.

Seeing the world with new eyes can be difficult.  It might even get us in trouble.

What if, instead of immigrants, we just saw people - with hopes and dreams and needs and gifts?

What if, instead of seeing rich and poor and old and young and liberal and conservative, we just saw friends and neighbors?  What if we looked at others and simply saw beloved children of God?

Pastor Christina Berry told about going to work every day, getting off the freeway, and there they would be, standing there with cardboard signs.  “Homeless.  Need help.  God bless.”  She wrote:

I knew that if I looked at them, they would come over to my car window, holding out their hands, begging.  And I knew that the best way to help was to give my money to shelters and agencies.  I knew that what I was thinking wasn’t very charitable – “Why don’t you go get some help and get yourself a job?”  I also knew that what I was feeling --- a little bit of fear, and some disdain—was not really Christian, and I didn’t like that about myself.

So I decided to try to see those men and women as God sees them.  I decided that every one of them had once been a sweet little baby, held by a mother, gazed at by an admiring father wrapped in a blanket, waving tiny hands, and I decided that I would look at those men and women in that way.  And it just about undid me.  Every day, I would see the same man standing there disheveled, looking a little bit drunk, and I would think about him as a baby, some mother’s child, and it nearly broke my heart.  I tried to see him as Christ might see him, and I had to stop it, because it was just too sad.
Seeing with new eyes, with new vision, seeing that whole new world out there, can be very freeing, but it can also cause heartache.  And it can change things.  But first, it changes us.  Because our new way of seeing begins when we look in the mirror.

What do you see when you look in the mirror in the morning?  Most days, I don’t necessarily see a new creation.  I see the same guy with a gray beard and thinning hair and bills to pay and a to-do list a mile long.

Too many people see someone beaten down by life, someone of little worth, someone who can’t get it right, someone who is not smart enough, not capable enough, not good enough.

But that’s not what God sees.  God sees us as God’s beautiful children of God.  And not only that, as ambassadors for Christ.  Ambassadors, who represent Christ to others.  Ambassadors, who see others as Christ sees us, and through that vision bring help to bring reconciliation.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… So we are ambassadors for Christ.”       

If anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new world.  Our new world starts with seeing ourselves as Christ sees us.  And we are ambassadors for Christ as we see others, as we see the world, through Christ’s eyes.  Amen.

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