2 Corinthians 5:15-21
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
How often do we look at people, but not see who they are?
Even Jesus was often misperceived. Many who had an up-close view of Him did not see the Son of God before their eyes. Some saw an agent of Satan. Some saw an immoral, out-of-control man who was a drunk and a glutton. Jesus’ family viewed Him as insane.
In today’s scripture the Apostle Paul admits that he’d regarded Jesus “from a human point of view” and thereby misperceived Him.
Then something happened to Paul. God gave sight to his blind eyes, and he caught a vision of who Jesus actually was: the world’s only hope and the lover of us all, eager to strike up a friendship with each of us.
Once Paul saw who Jesus was, he wanted to know Him better and better; and, as he got to know Him better, he wanted to see others through His eyes more and more. That’s why he says here, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.”
Do you remember those two disciples who the first Easter day walked miles down the road to Emmaus with Jesus, but did not see Him for who He was until the end of the day when Jesus served them supper? When Jesus did what he did at the first Lord’s Supper – when “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” – the biblical text says, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” But, once they did, the most unexpected thing happened! Immediately Jesus, the biblical text tells us, “vanished from their sight”!
I long wondered why Jesus did not allow them to linger a while in gazing upon Him and taking in the wonder of His being there. My old seminary professor James Loder helped me greatly when he said, “Jesus vanished from their sight at that instant, because in their just having received Him through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, there was no longer any distance between them and Him, with Him in them, and they in Him; and thus they were no longer in a position to look at Him. Rather they were in a position to look out from Him, to look through His eyes, and see what He was looking at: a world of people needing to know He was alive, loving them and seeking to establish a relationship with them.” When those disciples who had been going to Emmaus suddenly saw what Jesus was looking at, there’s no surprise that “that same hour” they reversed direction and rushed back to Jerusalem to tell folks about the risen Jesus and their encounter with Him.
I think something like that happened for the Apostle Paul. When he at last really saw Jesus, his heart and Christ’s became one; and, as a result, Paul saw what Jesus was looking at: all those people who needed to see what Paul had seen: the best friend a person could ever have, a Savior who would give them a spectacular new life.
When Paul saw who Jesus was, Paul started to see everyone as someone for whom Jesus was willing to die, with whom Jesus was yearning to live, and for the love of whom Jesus was wanting to make them “a new creation” with everything old “passed away”. Seeing others as never before through Jesus’ eyes propelled Paul to take up “the ministry of reconciliation” and become an “ambassador for Christ” who sought to help others find their way into a relationship with Christ.
The kind of change that happened to Paul long ago is still happening today for those who get close enough to Jesus to get a new point of view on those around them.
Kary Oberbrunner is a twenty-something, white, middle-class pastor.
One day he was working out at the gym when he noticed an elderly black man in ratty sweats muttering angrily under his breath and fumbling with an MP3 player and headphones. In order to stay focused on his exercise routine, Kary tried to ignore him; but, because the poor guy was growing increasingly agitated, Kary felt the Lord tug on his heart, and he reluctantly went over to introduce himself and to ask if he could help. In a frustrated, even defeated tone, the man responded, “Well, thanks, I’m Bob. I love jazz, and I can’t get it on this dumb thing.” Kary then asked him if he had ITunes. Bob shot back, “I what?”
It then dawned on Kary that he was looking at someone whom God very much wanted him to meet, even though he was unlike anyone else in Kary’s life at that time. The two of them tried to unravel Bob’s MP3 troubles, but soon they realized it’d take more time than they had there in the gym. So, despite some initial reluctance, Bob agreed to let Kary come over to his apartment a few days later to show him how to take advantage of his new technology.
As Kary got to know Bob, he learned that Bob’s wife had died a couple of years before. Because she’d been the main breadwinner, Bob had been unable to make house payments, and the bank had repossessed their home. So Bob was now living in a small apartment with what few possessions he could cram into it.
Working in that cramped apartment, Kary showed Bob how to use his “dumb thing” and imported Bob’s jazz albums onto the MP3 player. As they figured it out together, they talked about Bob’s wife, life and God.
Bob and Kary were complete opposites. Bob was in his late sixties, and Kary in his late twenties. Bob was always short on money, and Kary had more than he needed. Bob was a victim of prejudice, and Kary a beneficiary of undeserved privilege. Bob was an ex-con, and Kary had never gotten a parking ticket. Bob was a widower, and Kary married. Yet, Kary began to see Bob as someone he was proud to call friend, as someone God had put in his life for a purpose, as someone whose welfare mattered a great deal to him.
Kary invited Bob to come to church, and Bob sat with Kary’s wife and kids. The kids immediately adopted Bob as their new uncle, and he kept joining them at church. A few months down the road, Bob invited Jesus to take over his life. In that moment, two opposites became brothers in God’s forever family. Now, when the two of them get off the phone, Bob almost always tells Kary, “Give the rest of my family my love.” They see each other as traveling companions walking together with Jesus.
Let us – like Paul, and like Kary – look at those around us through the eyes of Jesus and see them as never before: as people our Lord and our Savior cherishes, as people with whom He aches to strike up a friendship, as people He looks to us to reach out to, for Him. Let us pray.