“A New Point of View”
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
14For 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.
16From 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. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NRSV)
In Christ, says Paul, God is reconciling the world to God’s Self. And in so doing, God charges and empowers us to become agents of reconciliation. And heaven knows there’s a lot of reconciling to do, isn’t there?
We live in a perpetually broken world, but the Incarnation reveals God’s initiative to restore humankind to the grateful and generous living that makes us truly human. Paul defines truly human as having “the mind of Christ,” that is, living in full awareness of the presence of the divine within us and around us. When we reconnect with our true humanity, with our true selves, the Spirit restores our sight. And, as Paul says, we no longer regard anyone from a falsely or selfishly “human point of view.” So, as new creations, we become expressions of God’s reconciling grace.
As cozy as that sounds, transformation is difficult business. Holiness and reconciling grace flash and rumble in our lives when the warm front of God’s unrelenting love meets the cold air of our brokenness. And in this perfect storm, the imperfect world tends to nail to crosses anyone who chooses reconciliation over pride, compassion over power, and love over fear.
Reconciliation, even between two individuals, attempts to restore balance to all of creation. Over the centuries, however, the Church has usually tried to restore balance by imposing absolutes. Just make everyone look alike and think alike, and we’ll all just get along. And in Jesus’ name, the Church has committed and endorsed unspeakableinhumanity against human beings and the environment in order to make persons, nations, and even geographies fit into the dogmas of those who hold dominance.
Brian McLaren says that one of Christianity’s greatest failures has been to reduce faith to systematic theologies. What began as a holy path, a way to live God’s new point of view,has been locked inside the gated communities of rigid human tradition. And why is that? Why do we respond so much more readily to wall-building fear than to bridge-building grace?
It seems to me that virtually every human being harbors both obvious and hidden wounds. When those wounds are not acknowledged honestly and dealt with graciously, they manifest as bitter judgment directed at other people, at scapegoats. Grounded in the old points of view of suspicion and competition, these defensive reactions tell us to Look out for Number One, because it’s everyone for themselves! And God helps those who help themselves. How can reconciliation happen under that point of view?
Paradoxically, only when we face our own sinfulness and woundedness can we begin to find the strength and the will to follow paths of holiness and reconciliation. So, to make peace with others begins by making peace with ourselves, and peacemaking requires the hard and often painful spiritual work of self-examination. In serious reflection, we rummage around in those deep, dark corners where we hide all the experiences that frighten and embarrass us. We face them, name them, confess them and offer them to God. Such work paves the way for self-forgiveness. And to forgive ourselves is to receive God’s grace.
We “accept being accepted—for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever!” says Richard Rohr. “This is the key that unlocks everything in me, for others, and toward God. So much so that we call it ‘salvation’!”1 This transformation becomes the starting point of discipleship. And the deeper we go within ourselves, the more we encounter God’s grace calling us out of ourselves and into the world. This is what Jesus means when he calls us to take up the cross and follow him.
Archetypal stories illustrating this kind of transformation are common throughout human experience. They lie at the heart of almost every collection of myths and spiritual narratives. The Old Testament is full of such stories. One example is that of the conniving and self-obsessed Jacob who finally confronts his dark truth as he wrestles all night with a stranger on a riverbank. When the sun rises, Jacob has a brand new name—Israel, a brand new limp, and a brand new point of view, a point of view which makes his reunion with his estranged brother, Esau, one of grateful, tearful, and liberating reconciliation.
Over the last few years in America and other places, there’s been a well-documented rise in hate groups. New assemblies, new members, and new visibility and all for very old and very malignant points of view. In the midst of those rising numbers, however, new stories are leaking out around the edges, stories of people who are leaving those groups, their violent ways, and the purity codes of the misguided Christianity and the zealous nationalism of the far right. There’s a consistent feature in the accounts of the people leaving communities which are committed to white supremacy. Even as those people thrived on their hate, they encountered other people—usually the very people at whom they aimed their fear and their fists—people who, rising above their own fear and above their desire for vengeance, chose, intentionally, to show compassion to someone whose life was consumed by hatred and ignorance.
That is grace. And it embodies the new point of view. Gracious love is fierce enough to see through the scars of broken homes and abuse, to see through the bald heads, swastika tattoos, and Confederate battle flags. For many who leave the hate groups, there would be no healing without such grace because grace was exactly what was missing in their lives from the start.
Yes, God’s grace attends to both those who suffer and to those who cause suffering. And for those who call themselves Christian, and who know that evil isn’t overcome by exempting it as personal choice, but by direct engagement, our work of reconciliation means claiming our prophetic voice and boldly calling out the evils behind the suffering. And thatbegins with confessing our own racism, sexism, partisan pettiness, and nationalistic prejudice. Only when we see brokenness clearly in ourselves can we call it out compassionately in others. And if we’re the Church, we must follow Jesus in doing both, lest we—like Pharaoh, Jezebel, and Caesar—become ones so obsessed with ourselves that we become ones who do and tolerate evil.
We are stewards of Christ’s new point of view, a point of view of invitation, vulnerability, trust, and reconciliation. No, we’re not always faithful to that point of view, and because of that, we confess our individual and systemic sinfulness each Sunday morning. Nonetheless, if we are the body of Christ, we are the “new creation” of which Paul speaks. The old is passing away because the new has begun. And “the love of Christ urges us on” our journey.
The table before us is set with Christ’s reconciling feast. As you participate in this meal, look within yourself at the new person and the new point of view God is creating. And look at those around you with the new eyes of that new creation. Taste and see that God is good, and present in all people, races, and lands.
And may this bread and this cup nourish the living Christ within all of us, so that we may “become the righteousness of God.”
1Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. The Crossroad Publishing Company, NY, 2009. p. 141.