As we read through the gospels we regularly are told that the good news of God’s kingdom is for those, “who have ears to hear, and eyes to see.” And what a great challenge and opportunity that is: to see the world from a fresh perspective and hear it make music in our souls.
In today’s scripture, Paul doesn’t say that we ought to see people the way God sees them (as though this special way of seeing were somehow optional to the Christian faith); he simply makes the assumption that seeing people from God’s perspective is foundational to who we say we are.
=Christians are a people who see beyond outward appearances, and look for the potential that lives in the heart of every woman, man, and child.
=Christians are a people who are focused more on what may be than on what has been.
=We are a supernaturally progressive people.
=Where others see obstacles, we see opportunities.
=Where others see failure, we see the garnering of experience and the development of wisdom.
=As a people we Christians are captivated by the concept of a whole new world with new ways of thinking and being and seeing and doing.
=We are not confined by the categories of history and experience: nationality and ethnicity, sexuality and marital status, wealth and age and politics and every other issue that might serve to separate us from one another’s regard have no hold on us.
=Christians look beyond the mirage of both saint and sinner.
=As followers of the Lord Jesus, we are bound only by a grace that enables us to see that we belong to one another and to God and to the new world that, by grace through faith, is being created.
When we fail to see others through the lens of sacrificial love and hope and faith, then we fail to be Christian. Judgment and division and condemnation are the tools of the Enemy of our faith, and for God’s sake (and ours), we need to let them drop out of our hands; they belong to the old way of doing things. We belong to the perpetual dawn of the new day.
Faith and hope and love. Faith and hope and love. Faith and hope and love. Over and again these three great virtues of our common faith circle back to encourage us to leave the past in the past and to embrace the possibility(s) of what tomorrow holds.
=By faith, we trust that God is at work in all things for the good of all.
=By hope, we believe that all of humanity may become better than we have been.
=By love, we treat others with all of the dignity, respect, graciousness, and care that is due to a child of God.
This does not mean that we are blind to injustice and unrighteousness. It simply means that we refuse to allow temporal events to ultimately define a human heart: ours or anyone else’s. We have confidence that even the darkest hearts may change for the better in the light of grace. We have confidence that there is often more going on in any particular circumstance than what may appear to the casual observer.
When we embrace the vision of God for others, we embrace the mystery of time and circumstance. We allow others the dignity of mystery. Have you ever thought of it that way? Whenever we decide that we have another person “figured out,” we deny them the essence of their humanity. To define one another (demystify one another) is, in ways both small and great, to debase one another. Classification is oppression: subtle or otherwise. And so we must constantly be on guard against racism, classism, sexism, nationalism, ethno-centrism, ageism, provincialism, and any other -ism that threatens to deny us the God-given complexity in the mystery of our souls. The Christian faith demands that we always hold on to the possibility that any given person is more than what we may be able to discern.
Our Lord was seen to be a helpless infant born in a barn, raised in a backwater, abused by his people, and cut down in shame before his time, but we see in him so much more.
=Many saw weakness, but we see strength.
=Most saw a carpenter, but we see a king.
=Some witnessed human disgrace, but we witness divine compassion
=Many saw his death, be we see in him eternal life
=Most saw a child of Mary, but we see the Son of God.
v. 16. Once Christ was seen from a worldly perspective, but we know better.
We know better about Jesus the Christ and so we should know and believe and hope better for Sam the butcher, and Joe the baker, and Bob who works down at the candlestick factory…We know better about Jesus the Christ and so we should know and believe and hope better for Susie the homemaker, and Mary the doctor, and Tina the accountant…Because we know better about the Jesus the Christ, we should know and believe and hope better for all those who are currently defined by station, circumstance, addiction, disease, and/or disability.
Because we know better about Jesus, we should know better. We should know better.
=We should know that the purpose of God in Christ was to bring us back to the hope of peace: with one another, within our own minds, and ultimately with God (v. 18-19)
=We should know that the promise of the new creation comes with the hope that we will recognize our need for one another.
=We should know that we need one another.
=We should know that there is no one who is expendable…that there is no one without value or who is undeserving of dignity.
We should know that our knowledge of God in Christ has real world implications, especially, for how we treat those on the margins of society: whether by birth, by accident, or by choice.
That’s right. Those who are in Christ should know that our treatment of others should not be contingent on their behavior but on our commitment to God. The ministry of reconciliation that God calls us to in Christ begins by “not counting people’s sins against them.” (v.19)
This is, in fact, something new. Furthermore, it is for many, one step too far. To love the stranger, believe in the foreigner, and hold out hope for the infirm is, by comparison, a piece of cake. After all, by definition, I do not know the history of the stranger or the foreigner, and it is relatively easy to overlook what is unknown. And the infirm inspires compassion by the nature of his or her condition. But the sinner…the one whom we know to be a sinner…the one who may have sinned against us or those we hold dear…to be reconciled to the sinner goes against the very core of our old nature.
=The old nature demands repentance, but the nature of the new creation offers an invitation to change.
=The old nature seeks to restrain sin, but the new nature seeks to recruit the sinner.
=The old nature is pessimistic, and the new nature is optimistic.
=The old nature sees the weakness in mercy, while the new nature sees its power.
There can be no reconciliation without mercy. There can be no ministry without love. The ministry of reconciliation opens the door to the new creation. It calls us to hope and believe in others until they have the ability to hope and believe for themselves. It calls us to hope and believe in God because God hopes and believes in us.
Does that seem odd? …that God would hope and believe in us? It shouldn’t be. Why else we God choose to initiate the process of reconciliation? Why else would God have anything to do with us at all?
This is the power of the gospel: not that we may learn to believe in God, but that we may come to realize that God believes in us. This is what we celebrate on Sundays: not the power of our love for God, but the power of God’s love for us. We call others to join the family of God, not because they must, but because they can.
God in Christ is making a new world that is marked by compassion instead of competition, by abundance instead of scarcity, by unity instead of division, by love and concern instead of apathy and indifference. A new and better world is possible and we believe that we can already see it.
You don’t have to be a part of this new world. You can ignore it or mock it or even try and stop it. You don’t have to believe that a new world is even possible.
If you’re tired of being valued only for what you’re able to produce (emotionally or materially)…
If you think that we ought to be able to overcome our differences, and find a way to share our lives…
If you think that we might be able to do better than we have done so far…
We hope that you will join us.
We know that we have often made a mess of things. We know that there have been times when we have been more of an obstacle than a catalyst for change. There have been times when we have been blinded by prejudice and fear and the lure of power and control.
But, so far, we’ve always been brought back to the compelling vision of Christ…that we can do better…that we can be better…that love conquers all.
There is a better world that’s coming, and anyone can be a part, and all are welcome, and everyone is needed.
You don’t have to join us, but you are welcome.
Without condition, without exception, you are welcome and you are loved.