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A Heavenly View

Sermon - 3/18/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

2 Corinthians 5:16-20

The text for this morning comes from the second letter of Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 16 through 20.  Even though we call this the "2nd" letter, scholars generally think that this is a combination of at least two different letters that likely represents a 3rd, 4th or 5th letter.  They're not sure, but at any rate, the text for this morning is:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

 

I want to share with you an image this morning, a painting that hangs in my office, that I consider kind of a heavenly view:

It's a place that just invites you to come and sit by the stream and dip your toe in the cool of water and feel the warmth of the Spring sun.  And even thought it's really not that great of a painting -- it's a watercolor -- it's not anything like Mel Vincent's painting in the back of the church, if you haven't seen it yet, you need to stop by and see that painting that we just received from Mel.  Just gorgeous -- that one is really an amazing watercolor.

This, you know, it's average, it's OK.  I've actually seen some better from this particular artist.  But it is one of the most valued things that I posses.  What makes it so?  The signature:

 

Betty Joy.  It was a painting done by my mother a few years before her death.  And you see, that perspective changes everything.

It hangs across from my desk in my office, so a day does not go by when I am here that I don't see that and remember.  Tuesday will be Mom's 75th birthday.  So I will look upon that painting and I will remember the peace and the serenity, the joy and the beauty, the sense of awe and wonder that I gained from my mother, as I celebrate that birthday.

We all have experiences in life that change our perspective, how we view things.  Some of them are wonderful and amazing, thrilling, exciting, exhilarating.  Like some of the Duck basketball games -- men and women right now [participating in the respective NCAA tournaments].

Some of those experiences are tragic, discouraging, disheartening, depressing.  Like some of the Duck basketball games J.  But that will not be the case this afternoon, right?  Immediately after today's service, I'm engaging in 2 hours of prayer, so I hope you join me in that J.

But those experiences change us.  They change our perspective on life.  It was just over a year ago that I received my diagnosis of prostate cancer.  Believe me, that changed everything -- and still is, in many ways.  Those who have been through similar kinds of serious illnesses, I think, know of which I speak.  You view your body and your health differently.  You take less for granted.  You appreciate relationships more, a whole lot more.  It's all about perspective.

In our spiritual formation group on Thursday's, as we were reading this particular passage from 2 Corinthians and contemplating on the ways in which our perspectives have changed, Michael Kennedy noted that Copernicus and Galileo literally changed the way we viewed the world.

When we see the earth not as the center of all things, as had been the case up until then, but rather as one planet among many rotating around the sun, as one star among many -- billions -- that changes our perspective on how we view the earth.

It was in 1963 that three men took a long journey in a little tiny vehicle that changed our perspective once again.  They took a picture on that journey that no one before had ever seen in the history of humanity, at least not from that perspective.  And of course it's a very familiar picture to us now, that we see often and have gotten kind of used to it.  But I want you to imagine, take yourself back to 1963, imagine when you saw that image for the first time.

 

Astronaut Rusty Schweickart was not on that flight when the first picture was taken, but on a subsequent flight, March of 1969, and he talks about that experience, the impact that it had on him.  It was a profoundly life-changing, spiritual experience.  So as you look at that picture, or maybe you want to close your eyes, I want you to listen deeply to what Rusty Schweickart says about that experience and how it impacted him:

Up there you go around every hour and a half, time after time after time. You…wake up over the Mid-East, over North Africa. As you eat breakfast you look out the window as you're going past and there's the Mediterranean area, and Greece, and Rome, and North Africa, and the Sinai, the whole area.  And you realize that in one glance that what you're seeing is what was the whole history of man for years - the cradle of civilization.  And you think of all that history that you can imagine, looking at that scene.

And you go around down across North Africa and out over the Indian Ocean, and look up at that great subcontinent of India pointed down toward you as you go past it.  And Ceylon off to the side, Burma, Southeast Asia, out over the Philippines, and up across that monstrous Pacific Ocean, vast body of water - you've never realized how big that is before.

And you finally come up across the coast of California and look for those friendly things:  Los Angeles, and Phoenix, and on across El Paso and there's Houston, there's home, and you look and sure enough there's the Astrodome.  And you identify with that, you know - it's an attachment.

And down across New Orleans and then looking down to the south and there's the whole peninsula of Florida laid out. …And you go out across the Atlantic Ocean and back across Africa.

And you do it again and again and again.

And that identity - that you identify with Houston, and then you identify with Los Angeles, and Phoenix and New Orleans and everything.  And the next thing you recognize in yourself, is you're identifying with North Africa.  You look forward to that, you anticipate it. And there it is.  That whole process begins to shift of what it is you identify with.  When you go around it in an hour and a half you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing.  And that makes a change.

You look down there and you can't imagine how many borders and boundaries you crossed again and again and again.  And you don't even see 'em.  At that wake-up scene - the MID-EAST - you know there are hundreds of people killing each other over some imaginary line that you can't see.  From where you see it, the thing is a whole, and it's so beautiful.  And you wish you could take one from each side in hand and say, "Look at it from this perspective.  Look at that.  What's important?"

And so a little later on, … another astronaut, … goes out to the Moon.  And now he looks back and he sees the Earth not as something big, where he can see the beautiful details, but he sees the Earth as a small thing out there.  And now that contrast between that bright blue and white Christmas tree ornament and that black sky, that infinite universe, really comes through. The size of it, the significance of it - it becomes both things, it becomes so small and so fragile, and such a precious little spot in that universe, that you can block it out with your thumb, and you realize that on that small spot, that little blue and white thing is everything that means anything to you.  All of history and music and poetry and art and war and death and birth and love, tears, joy, games, all of it is on that little spot out there that you can cover with your thumb.

And you realize that that perspective . . . that you've changed, that there's something new there.

 

Apostle Paul says:  In Christ, we have such a new perspective.  Once we saw Christ from the human point of view, and now no longer.  Once we saw ourselves from a human point of view, but no longer.  Once we saw each other from a human point of view, but no longer.  Once we saw the world from a human point of view, but no longer.  

In Christ, all of that has changed.  Christ gives us a totally new perspective on all that is.  

Now Paul, of course, is speaking from his own personal experience.  Of his dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.  I know not all of us will identify with that, will have that kind of experience.  But Paul is also speaking from his experience with the church in Corinth.  And that was not always a good experience.  In chapter 2 he speaks of the painful visit he made, and a tearful letter he wrote.  Scholars think the last four chapters of 2 Corinthians is perhaps that 'tearful' letter.  You read those chapters and you get a sense for a way in which Paul's leadership has been challenged, his integrity as an Apostle has been questioned.

And so for Paul, after such an experience, now, to say that this congregation, the one that caused him so much grief, that it is a new celebration, is rather striking.  And I think it suggests that Paul sees this not as something that is accomplished once and for all when we become Christian, but rather it is a work-in-progress.

Paul as a new creation is Paul's appeal to us.  To say that God is not through with us yet, and there's more to come, our best years are still ahead of us.  And if Paul is correct, that in Christ we are a new creation, that must mean that we are then invited to see one another and to see our world through the eyes of Jesus.  

So think about what that means, to have such a perspective.  Think about how Jesus saw that despised tax collector, when he said to him 'Zacchaeus, come on down, I want to have dinner with you, in your home'.  Think about how Jesus saw that women caught in adultery, and says to the crowd 'Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone'.  And then to her when the crowd leaves:  'Woman, has no one condemned you?  Neither do I'.  Think about how Jesus saw his crucifiers:  'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do'.  

Think about, then, how Jesus sees you.  And those around you.  Your neighbors.  People you work with.  That person on the street.  The person in the news.  Paul says that is how we are to look at one another.  With that kind of perspective.

So if God does the reconciling, and it's not us, and all our reconciled to God, some just don't know it yet.  We are ambassadors of that reconciliation.  We are the ones who are called to help others to discover that they too can be reconciled to God.  And that's going to be hard to do unless we discover it for ourselves.  That we too are a new creation.  That Christ has made all things new in us, has given us a fresh new perspective from above, or maybe from within.

The world values money, status, and power.  Paul says we are a new creation.  We have a different perspective.  The world sees us for the titles before our name or for the initials after it, or the things we have accomplished or the things we have acquired, but we are a new creation.  We see every person created in the image of God.  The world is deeply divided by race, religion, class and wealth, but we are a new creation.  Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, Paul says.  The world focuses on shame and guilt, finding someone else to blame, but we are a new creation.  Paul says that we have even become the righteousness of God.

So we have a choice.  We can see the world, we can see others, we can see ourselves, we can see even Christ from a human point of view.  Or, we can see all of that from the perspective that God gives to us.

You see, that perspective changes everything.

 


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