Sunday, March 6, 2016

A New Perspective

A New Perspective
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
March 6, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

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. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As I’ve said before I am making my way through Year C of the Lectionary,, but because it seems I always end up doing Year C, and somehow only do Year C for whatever reason, having done it twice before, I decided to relegate myself this time through to preach from the epistle reading, rather than Gospels as I had always done before. I’ve found it to be challenging because I think I am more comfortable preaching from a story, an event, a happening. Maybe it is my academic training in English and History, that I just have more experience pulling out the finer points of  a story, than I do a letter like Paul’s. I think that is why I was drawn to the Desert theme. I could take the events, the teachings, and place them somewhere tangible, where we become characters of a story that Paul is describing. I found it difficult this week to continue that theme exactly, and I didn’t want to force it to continue just because I started it. It started organically, and I didn’t want to continue it artificially just because.
But in many ways, the more I thought about it, today actually picks up right where I left off last week. I had been talking about Mirages, and how much they are like idolatry, making God out of something that we can create, control, manipulate and use. Idols look like God, function like God, give the sense of God, offer the promises God offers, and best of all are visible, seem tangible and knowable, but do not actually deliver anything. They are false in their representations, but I ended that sermon talking about grace, saying that after you choose the mirage and go after the mirage, you are actually no worse off than you were before, you are still out in the desert of course, but the only change in your actual state is your perspective, the fact that you had given your entire hope for something, that turned out to be false.
That is hard. Really hard because so much of our issues in the world, so much of sin has to do with where our minds are. Think about it, all the way back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, they both eat of the fruit, in as such they both sin, but God still shows up. He still shows up in the cool of the day, and it is Adam and Eve, who hide from him. . . it is Adam and Eve who begin the blame game. . . it is Adam and Eve who believe enough of the serpent’s lie, to have their perspective changed at once. They chose the idol, the mirage, the lie, but once they do, they are still there in the garden, they are still there, God is still there, but they hide themselves. . . these are interesting details of that story. And point to God’s steadfastness, his love, and grace, which is exactly what this morning’s readings are about.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth, talking about a new creation, a new world, a new situation, and a new point of view, a new perspective, a new way of looking at the world. . . one that includes forgiveness, mercy, and grace. But look at the first thing he directs us to look at with this new perspective. He writes: “We regard no one from that human point of view.” In other words the first thing that he has us take a look at with this new perspective is each other. And think about it, we’ve already talked some about The Garden of Eden, and the Fall, the first thing that Adam and Eve do is turn on is each other. Blaming, naming, throwing each other under the bus when the first opportunity presents itself. And there is a long history of it, from Cain. . . he and his brother Abel placing their offerings up for God. One is accepted and one isn’t. . . Cain wonders why, he looks at his brother and he doesn’t see grace, he doesn’t love, he looks at his brother and sees what he could have, what he should have, what he could be, what he should be, wondering why isn’t he that. . . it’s Abel’s fault, and Abel has to go. . . it happens again with Jacob and his brother Esau, Jacob wants what Esau has, and so he tricks him to get it. It happens again with Joseph and all of his brothers, he gets a special coat, he can interpret dreams, he kinda flaunts it in their faces, and they don’t like it, they get so angry they cannot even speak peace to him, and then they set up a plan to rid themselves of him forever. Favoritism, competition, envy, one upsmanship, keeping up with the Joneses. All of these things are a matter of perspective. I had mentioned a few weeks ago, that in the Middle Ages they were big on lists, things like the 7 deadly sins, the 7 heavenly virtues. . .and then there were the 7 contrary virtues, the ones that take the opposite of the sin and make it a virtue, and I had said that the contrary virtue to envy is kindness. . . which is interesting when you think about it. Envy is looking at your neighbor and thinking about yourself, what you should have, what you can take from them. . . but kindness is looking at your neighbor and thinking about them, what you can give, do, and offer to them. This is all about what the new perspective is supposed to be, it allows us to look at our neighbor, and think of them before ourselves.
But I don’t know, how do we feel about that, this idea of grace? It is good for us of course, but do we really want it for other people. Do we really want it for our brothers? our neighbors? Do we really want to live in a system of grace in mercy, or do we prefer hard justice and fairness? Depends right? The gospel story for today is the Prodigal Son parable, which makes sense. This is one of those times where the lectionary passages fit together well. I love that story, I love how God works in it, like a father overwhelmed with love, busting at the seams, unconditional, pushed to the limits, accepts the son who had been lost without question, without pretense, without condition, without even a moment’s hesitation, like he had been there the whole time, waiting. . . but then there is that older brother who doesn’t want it, can’t accept it, will not take into account his father’s mercy, instead prolonging the cycle of Cain,Jacob and Esaus, and Joseph and all of his brothers. I wrote four different poems about this idea of mercy because I think it is an interesting topic, and one that challenges us. . .
Fairness does not survive in a world of grace,
For it would be fair and just to punish us,
For we fall far short of the standard.

It makes us question the divine wisdom of one,
Who creates a world that makes no sense
To us for we cannot fathom mercy.

Mercy takes away the limits that comfort us,
Finding peace in control, in order, in symmetry,
Blind to invisible order outside of our plans.

We need limits because we are created finite.
At some point, though we push, there is the end.
It takes mercy and love and faith and

God out of our plausible categories. To truly
Understand God, our must be put aside,
Leaving only the eternal mercy of the infinite.

Do you hear that call for a change in perspective. . . changing our plausible categories for who God is and how God works, no longer human perspective. . .we have change, but we don’t want to. . . I wrote this other one from the Elder Brother’s perspective in the prodigal son story:
The Elder Brother

A slave?
Is that what we think of the Christian life?
Are we merely slaves to a list?
I hope that is not the way we see it,
Like the older brother,
Who stayed with the father,
While others,
So many others,
Lived sinful lives,
Enjoying life,
Are we blind to our own enjoyment,
Our joy?
Were we not free,
Free to leave at any time?
We had no actual chains,
Not shackled.
What made us stay?
Was it some future reward,
Greater than each day,
That we should begrudge those others,
Our unthankful brothers,
Who being blown by the wind,
Have been found?

Do you hear it? Is that the human perspective coming through? It would seem to, but where does that come from? Hear this one?
Can We Ever Understand Grace?
If you don’t eat your broccoli,
You won’t get dessert,
But believe in the graceful

Power of salvation.
If your report card is perfect,
We’ll buy you a car.

You have done nothing to merit
The unconditional love of God.
Work hard all your life,

And earn for your retirement.
To the criminal he said,
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”

What will it take to change our human perspective? Isn’t that such difficult thing? Now we are about to go to the table together, the Lord’s table, who do we stand next to, here, across the street, across the world? Can we see them with new eyes, with the new perspective? Here is my last poem, that brings out this sacramental idea, but again rearing its head is that human perspective. . .
The Water and the Wine

Our sacraments defined
By water and wine,
Holy rites adorned
In these sacred forms:
Water the source of life,
But also can bring strife,
As floods scourge the plains,
Inflicting great pains,
Especially on the meek,
Of whom we hear Jesus speak,
Saying, “They shall inherit the Earth,”
But when is this rebirth?
What about the wine,
Representing blood divine,
Which poured from heav’nly flesh,
Broken, beaten, hanged stretched?
Does such a sacrifice
Allow us to question the price?
For now, we find it slave pay,
Saving us from that grave day,
When our number is called,
Troubled by the inclusion of all,
For it does not seem just
For them to be with us,
Who have been so stable,
And attentive at the table,
Partaking of the sacred blood,
Doing what you said we should,
While they were tasting
Forbidden fruits,
Your creation wasting.
It just isn’t fair, God!
Do You even care, God?

“I care,” God said, “only too much.
Many lives my love must touch.
All, one day I hope to reach.
Love it is that I must teach:
The love that does not begrudge,
Those lesser that you judge,
But in my eye all fell,
And should deserve death in hell,
Far from my sight,
In perpetual night,
But with water you baptized my son’s head,
And with his blood his death bed,
But now you can all take part,
One by one, each day its start,
Changing the world to My reign,
The end of all grief and pain.
This is My gift to you and all,
For you, my child, and all who fall.”

Now we go to that table. . . can we begin to see the world, see our neighbor, and see that other neighbor, the neighbor in the mirror, not according to the old human perspective, but instead by the new creation, again made new, made good, everything, every part. Amen.