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A New Point of View

Sermon - 6/14/09
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

2 Corinthians 5:14-20

The text for our reflection this morning comes from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 14 through 20:

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

16 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.

 

Albert Einstein, who was probably one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, famously said that:

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it"

He should know, given that his equation E=MC2 provided the theoretical basis for the development of nuclear weapons.  And think what a tremendous problem the world faces just on that issue.  Given the political unrest in Iran, and now Pakistan, the increasing belligerent actions of North Korea, all of these of course countries with developing nuclear capability, it's a troubling time that we face.

Then there is the economic meltdown in this country, with its global consequences as well as local.  Wednesday, I was in a United Way meeting, the Financial Stability Partnership, and we received a preliminary report of the annual Need Assessment Survey that United Way conducts.  They reported that 30% of families in Lane County report 'difficulty' finding work with adequate income to provide for basic needs -- housing, food, transportation, healthcare.  30% of families in Lane County.

And while our nation debates how to provide for better health insurance coverage, the National Institute of Medicine reports 18,000 people die every year simply because they do not have health insurance.

Some of you are aware I was in Washington D.C. this week, on Thursday & Friday, representing Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO), to press the White House and our Congressional representatives for a commission of inquiry into the use of torture by our government.  We were part of a delegation from the National Religious Committee Against Torture, a group of 250 religious groups and faith traditions, everything from the National Council of Churches to the Islamic Society of North America.  We were there because, as religious leaders of these many diverse faith traditions, we believe it is imperative for the well-being of our nation's soul, and for our standing in the world as the leaders of democratic values of liberty and justice, that we do more than promise to not use torture again (as President Obama has done), we must come clean on what we have done in our name and institute permanent safeguards to insure that it never happens again.

This is not a minor issue.  It is a major question of who we are as a nation and the values that are most important to us.

The keenest insight, I think, comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, reflecting on the experience of apartheid in South Africa and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission that he led.  Tutu said:  "We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose".

Torture is a moral issue of first importance.

Then there are all the issues of our treatment of the environment, and the enormous challenge of climate change.  Though the Oregon delegation to this event in Washington D.C. (400-500 people that were there), there were only two of us from Oregon - Congressman Peter DeFazio was kind enough to meet with us (Jan Elfers from EMO being the second person) to discuss this issue of the commission of inquiry.  And after posing for this picture (which was his idea):

He spent another 10 minutes just standing there in his office talking with us about his favorite issue, which is climate change and reducing the carbon emissions.  The proposed "cap & trade" legislation currently being discussed in Congress, he told us, would not result in a decrease in carbon emissions (which of course is the primary source of climate change) but an increase for another 15 years before it gets back down to the current level.  And so DeFazio believes a better system would be not cap & trade, but cap-regulate-and-reduce.  Whatever the method, the need to control carbon emissions and the other greenhouse gases is essential to limit the projected catastrophic changes that will occur across the globe over the next century.

So, climate change, torture, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the economy, healthcare, the ever-elusive peace in the Middle East, the list just goes on and on of these enormous, almost insurmountable problems.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness from which it was created.

This is the challenge before us.  Solving any one of these problems is such an enormous challenge, seemingly beyond any of us, none will likely be solved if we do not rise to that new level of consciousness as Einstein suggests.

So I would suggest to you that the principal problem, the lower level of consciousness behind all of these issues which we must overcome, is a narrow point of view.  It results in this "us vs them" mentality -- the rich vs the poor, the 1st world vs the 3rd world, Christian vs Jew, Jew vs Muslim, Muslim vs Christian, the economy vs the environment, Republicans vs Democrats, liberals vs conservatives, the forces of good vs the forces of evil.  Whatever the case may be.

If we are to have any hope of overcoming the deepest problems that plague our world down to our local community, we must find new ways to overcome these divisions, and a new common ground on which we can build lasting solutions for the sake of future generations.

Much was made of the first photos that were taken of the earth from space when the Apollo spacecraft made that first journey to the moon in 1968.  Sir Frederick Hoyle predicted 20 years earlier that once a photograph of the earth as taken from space was available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will let loose. 

And that idea was captured by a Saudi Arabian astronaut aboard the shuttle Discovery orbiting around the earth a number of years ago, who said:  "Looking at it from here, the troubles all over the world look very strange as you see the boundaries and border lines disappearing".

Forty years have gone by since the photo of the earth first became available to us.  And perhaps has created a new global consciousness that says that the differences which divide us are minor in comparison to that which unites us.

But we still have a long way to go to create that new level of consciousness that is going to overcome these problems.  And so I want to share with you a video that I see as a very hopeful sign of that level of consciousness.  And I must confess to you that it might seem like a silly video, but it is one with a very powerful message.  I suspect a few of you have seen it before if you're connected to the Internet, but if so, you'll enjoy seeing it again:

Dancing Video

Isn't that fun?

I think it has a powerful message.  Remember that song we used to sing in the 70s, a camp song, 'Lord of the Dance'?  Well, here's the connection to the Apostle Paul and this text in 2 Corinthians.  Matt Harding, who made that video over 3 years, traveled to 42 different countries, I think does more than just make us feel good, he gives us a new perspective.  Not unlike that one that Paul talks about, that new point of view, connecting us with a sense of joy for life that is common to all people of the world.  Breaking down all kinds of barriers of class and language and politics and religion and culture, to give that new point of view of reconciliation of all people.

2,000 years ago, when the world was just as deeply divided as it is now and even more so, something happened to the leaders of a isolated, small Jewish community that gave them a whole new perspective on the world.  From the point of view of the risen Christ as if he were looking down on the globe from afar.  And this is the way that the Apostle Paul sums that up:

 

As Christians, we are called to view the world differently.  Not from a human point of view that divides the world into good and bad, us vs them, friends against enemies, but as God views the world:  from a heavenly perspective where all boundaries disappear and the entire world is reconciled to God.

We are called to make this unity visible in the church, the body of Christ.  To show how, though as diverse as the populations of the world, we can be united in one community.  And this is, I believe, the new perspective, the new level of consciousness that is our hope, and God's vision for overcoming the problems of the world.

David Korten spoke about it when he was here a couple years ago on his book tour for "The Great Turning -- From Empire to Earth Community".  David grew up with some of the siblings in the Isle family in Washington.  What I loved about his book is not only does it provide a very positive and hopeful view in addressing the essential challenges we face for the future of the world, but the spiritual themes which run throughout the book even though it's not presented as a religious book at all.  They're very powerful.  In the concluding chapters, he speaks of his vision for the story of the cosmos that sounds very familiar.  He writes:

"The cosmos and all within it is an integral, interconnected whole that flows forth from a universal spiritual intelligence, the ground of all being.  Everything that exists is both a product of a sacred quest and the instrument of its continued unfolding.  We live in an ever-present relationship to God.  Indeed, there is no other possibility because there is no existence apart from the spirit.

The well-being of the individual and the community are inseparable.  The health of the whole depends on the health and integrity of the individual, and the health of the individual depends on the health and integrity of the whole.  Neither can survive and prosper without the other. 

Because we live in complex and inter-dependent relationships with one another on a planetary spaceship with a fragile and now over-stressed live-support system, we humans ultimately share a common destiny.  It is ours to choose whether that common destiny will be one of peace, justice, and abundance, or violence, tyranny, and deprivation.

The next step in our journey is to create societies that support the development of the fullness of our positive human potential as we advance our understanding of how we might best develop that potential and apply it to the service of the whole.

Progressive Christians refer to it as creating God's kingdom on earth.  A world of deeply democratic societies in which all people have the opportunity to carry forward the work of creation through productive and fulfilling lives, and dynamic, creative, and balanced relationships with one another and the living earth".

 

Such is the new level of consciousness.  The new point of view, which, as Korten suggests, really isn't new at all.  It is rooted in the very notion of the kingdom of God here on earth, of which Paul, Jesus, and the prophets before them spoke.  It is nothing less that God-consciousness.  To see the world as God sees it, holy, good, a place of beauty and joy.

Dance, then, wherever you may be.  I am the Lord of the dance said he, and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I'll lead you all in the dance, said He.

 


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