The beginning of the school year is upon us. There’s excitement that comes with it and of course concerns and fears with the Delta variant. For some there’ll be new schools; for everyone new schedules and classes, and hopefully even new friends. A new year with new experiences gives us new perspectives. Perspective matters.
What we look for, think about, look and listen for, and set our heart on are our perspective. Let the Lord teach you where to look. Colossians 3:1-2 says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Good things come to those who set their hearts on God’s things.
You may have heard of the Rorschach test, the psychological instrument where the client looks at a series of ink blots and tells what he or she sees. The responses provide information to the psychologist about the client. Psychologists disagree on its usefulness but there’s no question that two people can look at the same thing and see very different things.
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, another would see the tree or the sky. We focus on different things, and we see different things. But it’s not just that we notice different things and interpret what we see a bit differently. There’s more here than that.
What we’re able to see is limited by what we believe is possible to see. Nobody could have believed someone could make as many three pointers or from as far of a distance as the NBA great Steph Curry does time and again. He changed the whole game because of how good he is. How about when you’re somewhere and you shocked to see someone you didn’t expect at all. Didn’t see that coming.
Last time we were in Sweden four years ago, my family was walking in the old town part of Stockholm and right in front of us was a family that went to Boca Ballet Theater with the kids and played soccer at Team Boca with Elise. Right there on the same street at the same time. We ended going to dinner together and having a really nice time.
This doesn’t just happen in such small ways. It also is true of our larger outlook on life. There’s a somewhat famous book by Thomas Kuhn’s called
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that says science is dependent upon a new vision to make progress. Great discoveries are first great visions. A scientist doesn’t just walk into a lab, do research, and make a surprising discovery without walking in the dark first but at least walking in a certain direction in the dark. What’s possible has to be entertained. A new perspective gives birth to a new world. If anyone knew about this it was Albert Einstein, who 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.
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 change. What changes is the way we view the world. But, you know what, because we change perhaps then, taking back what I just said, perhaps the world does change. For the better, to be sure.
Change that makes things worse, the world worse, ourselves worse, isn’t change the Bible ascribes to. Growth is regeneration not degeneration. In Christ, we grow better not lesser. In Christ, we grow less afraid of others, not more. In Christ, we change so others can become more. In Christ, we see not how things must stay the same, so we’re comfortable, but how things might change, so others belong more.
The Bible is often taken to require the world staying the same. The Letter to the Hebrews text that proclaims “God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” is taken as a proof text to support an unchanging world, meaning those who have get to have and those who have not get only what they have or less. But God’s unchanging nature, God’s immutability, doesn’t transfer to human immutability, or a society’s unchanging condition. God’s nature doesn’t change because perfection, holiness, goodness, grace, and love
have no betters. They can’t be improved on. We, on the other hand, cannot say the same. There is a Muslim saying that fits all religions: No one is a true believer who does not desire for another what she or he has. Be a true believer, a full Christian. Seek God’s will for others, for all, for creation.
I remember in my seminary days when I took on a project to lead a small group of children living in a very, very tough neighborhood in an area called West Chicago. If you didn’t live there, you didn’t go there. On one of the streets, was a church, a Mennonite church to be exact. The pastor and head of the Sunday School had asked for a student to come out and provide some kind, any kind, of group get together for about 8 to 10 kids, from the age of about 8 to 11. I joined up
For some ten weeks, I would drive to West Chicago, get groceries, go to the church, and teach the children how to cook. They learned about food, chopping, boiling, cooking, cleaning, etc. One time, with the help of a parent, we went to the grocery store to shop for the night’s food. While the food cooked, we looked at the Bible and played Hangman.
One of the biggest impressions from that time and program happened one night, a fairly cold Chicago night. I stood at the front door looking out onto the tough streets and neighborhood the children lived in, wondering how many would show up that night. Some had already arrived, and it was getting time for me to go downstairs to start.
Down the street, I saw a child coming. He was on the sidewalk that ran alongside a dirty road. He was a small boy, a young one, probably the youngest 7 or so and he was on his own. Then I saw that his head was bopping up and down. I quickly realized he was skipping his way to church, skipping without a care, free as could be, almost dancing on the broken-up sidewalk that ran along the street that ran parallel and above the noisy, congested Dan Ryan Expressway. He was just skipping past litter in the grass and weeds, broken glass on the streets, potholes in the road, lampposts without bulbs casting no light. He kept skipping all the way to the church, then up the steps, and where he switched to a hop. With a grin and a “Hi” to me, he went running through the doors and into the church.
I know for a fact that he wasn’t seeing what I was seeing out there. His perspective was magnificent!
A perspective is a particular way of looking at things. Your perspective is influenced by your beliefs and experiences—everything you’ve been through, everything you’ve been taught, everything you’ve observed. If you
think about it, reality is only your reality. You are the only one who sees the world exactly as you do. That’s because you are the only one who has lived your life. We bring all that stuff into how we view the world around us.
But we have the power to change our perspective. Shifting how we view the world can be so very powerful. Shifting how we see ourselves is powerful. Seeing ourselves and the world as that skipping boy did would be liberation.
There’s a question we could ask ourselves more than we do. It’s “why.” Why did I just do that? Why do I think such and such a way or such thoughts? Why don’t I like someone or why do I like someone? Why am I so tired? Angry? Vengeful? Complacent? It’s not like we’re living a script written for us and out of our hands. God is the author of our lives. We get to write and edit it with the Lord’s help and grace. Flip your script. White out bad scenes. Direct yourself to better entrances and exits. Bring more character to your character. What’s written may have been written but find in it more jewels and gems than pain and problems. None of it, especially not what is still to be, is written in stone.
When our scripture started out saying, in Christ “we no longer regard anyone from a human point of view,” it may sound odd, but it tells us this human, all too human perspective on others is what can change into a fresh 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 may more and more guide our vision.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see,” said Henry David Thoreau. 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 one with less hair than I used to have. I see the same guy with sermons to write, bills to pay, and a long list of things that are still to get done. Of course, I see the great things in my life, too—my church and family.
Many might see too much and too often someone beaten down by life, someone of little worth, someone who can’t get it right, someone who’s not smart enough, not capable enough, not good enough. But that’s not who God sees. The Lord sees ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors who represent Christ to others. Ambassadors who see others as Christ sees them.
If anyone is in Christ, bam, there is a whole new world.
Can the church say Amen?