"From a human point of view"-Lent 4, II Corinthians 5:16-21
Paul begins today’s New Testament lesson from his second letter to the Corinthians by saying, “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view.” The pronoun “we” with which Paul begins…I believe simply means us…it means all of us…all of us who call Jesus “Lord” …all who seek to follow the way of Jesus…all of us…who through Jesus’ death and resurrection have been made a new creation. As Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” And I for one find these words nothing less than entirely disrupting…for it means that my own point of view has been and must be utterly redirected…totally altered…from something merely human to something…lets say…more divine…more like Christ…more Christ-like. Therefore, I can no longer be satisfied with a human point of view, as I think about, care about, live…with you…with my family…with each and every friend or stranger whose path crosses my own.
So what might be a human point of view when applying it specifically to how we look at other human beings? Well…that’s a big question to answer…but I think it means, at least in part, that I can not view others as a means to my own ends…like a thing rather than like a person, like a living, breathing resource or tool, to use or consume as I seek to achieve my own life goals…my own agenda. As a priest leading a church, this might look something like seeing parishioners as pledging units…or mere statistics padding our average Sunday attendance…sort of like the goal is really a financially sustainable, growing institution…that others speak well of and maybe even envy. Surely that growing and well healed institution would be a feather in my cap…a launching pad to bigger and better things…a larger salary and the praise of those in authority over me. And even if it looks slightly different, this can easily be applied to any sort of career…any other social context. I will leave it to your imagination to apply it to your own. The human desire for power, fame and material comfort are at the heart of the very temptations that Jesus faced himself in his encounter with the devil in the wilderness that we consider each year, as we did a few weeks ago, on the first Sunday of Lent. And people, from a human point of view, are the means to achieving these tempting ends…people to either silence and marginalize…or worse, if they aren’t helpful to us…or manipulate, if willing to get on board with our own plans and goals, situating ourselves in the very place we want to be…a place with just enough power and fame and material comfort to feel entirely self-assured and completely secure…tempting indeed.
Now this human point of view, that regards others as a means to an end feels like nothing new. It is the very antithesis of the new creation of which Paul speaks. In fact, I would argue that regarding others as a means to an end…our own end…is as old as life on this planet. Perhaps you remember the persuasive argument made to the first two humans, Adam and Eve, by the serpent in the garden…if you want to be like God…in other words if you want to be gods…eat the fruit…knowledge is power…and the fruit is produced by the tree of knowledge…eat and you will know it all…good and evil…eat and you will have it all. That’s compelling…heck yeah…point me to the tree…my belly is growling. We have a hunger and only one thing is going to satisfy it…let’s eat…god-like power…I’m in. We live in a “game of thrones” sort of world and there is nothing new about this…and this is why, in part, movies and television shows and books like “Game of Thrones” are so compelling. They speak to some sort of primordial, survival of the fittest instinct living just below the surface of our consciousness that relishes in the idea of sitting on the Iron Throne, with our feet firmly planted on the smoldering bodies of our enemies…all those who would keep us from our rightful place…nothing new here…one could argue this is simply the story human history tells…sorry for being so dark…I guess it is Lent.
So let’s get back to the beginning, “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view.” The light of God’s love tears into the darkness of human self-interest and breaks it wide open. Jesus demonstrates for us a different and new way of being…he says no to a merely human point of view that regards others as a means to our own ends. He rejects the devil’s tempting offers…instead he goes to the cross and suffers…indeed there is pain and blood shed…but from it flows new life…not death…the cross is more birth narrative than just another story of the defeat of innocence and goodness at the hands of the powerful. We are back to that stable in Bethlehem where love is first birthed into our world…through blood, sweat and tears…promising a new way of being…promising light that darkness cannot overcome…promising that life and love are indeed stronger even than death…and nothing can be the same. You see Jesus’ birth into our world and then the life and love that are birthed through his own suffering on the cross…foreshadow our own path…we are after all followers of Jesus…baptized into Jesus’ own death and resurrection…we follow his path…we are indeed born for giving birth ourselves…and this is true whether we ever have offspring or not…for I am of course speaking metaphorically here. You see by virtue of our own birth and baptism…we have been given the great gift of carrying in the wombs of our own hearts God’s own Spirit…the Holy Spirit. And bringing this life, God’s life, into this world is our sacred trust. It is hard work. It requires sacrifice. We must care for ourselves like we are caring for another at the very same time. We must nurture what lives within us. We must bring it full term…no easy task…just ask any mother in the room. And then most gloriously of all…we must give it birth…and the result is a new creation…the result is we are born to a whole new life…every thing old has passed away…behold…everything has become new…and finally we can really and truly…from this birth on regard no one from a human point of view.
So moving from the metaphorical to the actual…what might this birth process actually look like? Well I think we might already know…and admittedly it is difficult and burdensome…like child birth…but unlike the birth of child…it must happen over and over again. At least it has and will for me. This process of giving birth to becoming a new creation begins in a commitment to prayer and worship. It looks like nurturing our gifts and talents and really evaluating and working on our faults in character and judgment. It looks like caring for our bodies and creating healthy personal boundaries. It looks like telling the truth and saying we are sorry. It looks like forgiving and not bearing grudges. It looks like honestly knowing what we need verses what we want. It looks like reorganizing our calendars and bank statements such that they represent what we value. It looks like creating balance between work, play and service. It looks like all of this and so much more…and it probably feels a bit like giving birth…in other words its hard…sometimes requiring blood, sweat, and tears…but it always results in us being born to a new sort of life…becoming…always becoming…a new creation. And the wonder of it all, as many mothers will tell you, that though childbirth is indeed hard and painful work…it is also full of hope and wonder and joy and excitement…for that which is being created…what is about to be born.
And, again, it is then, only when we emerge as something altogether new, that we can begin to see one another from something other than a human point of view…a more divine point of view…something more like how Jesus views each and everyone of us. And when we do so, we no longer see our encounters with one another as a means to an end…but as an end unto itself. The reconciliation of which Paul goes on to speak becomes really possible, in which we find in our relationships a true mutuality that leads to both of our lives flourishing. The other becomes someone to learn from, be challenged by, be encouraged by, and most of all to just enjoy. We become one another’s labor coaches, birthing partners…helping one another breath and rest…helping one another push ourselves forward when we need to push…and encourage one another when our strength is failing…supporting one another in the act of creating…always helping one another to give birth…birth to the new thing that God is doing in our lives…the new creation he is calling us to be.
In the kingdom of God, rather than the kingdoms of this world, we, the pronoun with which we began, we always encounter the other…including those with whom we share this room now, those with who we disagree, those we even find difficult, and those we love…we encounter all of them as creation partners. This is no human point of view, this is a Godly view that both emerges from and makes us ever more, all together, God’s new creation. Amen.