This is the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth, carried down to us in a document known as 2 Corinthians 5:16-20. Paul writes:
From 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.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
If you joined us for our Ash Wednesday worship, you heard part of this passage then. That was three and a half weeks ago. Hard to believe this is the fourth Sunday of Lent. Our world and our lives have changed so fast.
Change is what this passage from Paul is all about. Change is also what the fourth chapter of Tom Berlin’s book is all about – and, of course, what Lent is all about.
The book is titled Reckless Love. That title seemed outlandish enough a few weeks ago. In these days when we’re all practicing “an abundance of caution” to stop the spread of a deadly virus, it seems foolhardy, even dangerous, to speak of loving recklessly.
Yet that’s what Tom Berlin says we must do if we are to love the way God loves us and wants us to love as well. To love God’s way, Berlin says, we need to learn “openhearted” love, love that is open to encounters with others, knowing that those encounters could change us in profound ways.
I think that’s exactly what Paul means when he says that “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” Rather we now, regard everyone from God’s point of view.
From a human point of view, we are divided into warring camps. It’s liberal versus conservative, Republican versus Democrat, pro-Trump versus anti-Trump, straight versus gay, black versus white, male versus female, young versus old – on and on, ad nauseum.
Seems like some people just gotta have somebody to hate. Hey, if you don’t hate the right people, we’ll tell you who should hate, and then you’ll be just like us and not like them – and isn’t this what life is all about? No! That attitude sums up the human point of view that Paul says we’re supposed to put behind us.
There’s a string of “therefores” in this part of Paul’s letter, and each “therefore” points back to Christ. Knowing Christ is supposed to change us. We’re supposed to love God’s way now. That’s agape love, love without reason, love without hope of reward, love inspired by God’s love for us.
God’s love makes us different people. At least, it’s supposed to. Tom Berlin says most of us were perfectly happy with the way we were until we met Jesus, and sometimes we’re not so sure about the outcome of that encounter, because meeting Jesus sure did change us.
In fact, there ought to be a huge difference between the way we were Pre-Jesus and the way we are Post-Jesus. If there isn’t, maybe we really haven’t been following Jesus. Maybe we’ve been following an imposter.
You have to wonder, considering how much hate there is in some churches these days, who some folks are following. Seems like some are still following Jesus from what Paul calls “a human point of view.”
We don’t want to know Jesus that way. We see him as our Savior, our Deliverer, our Lord and our God – and, oh yes, the one who commands us to love one another.
Tom Berlin notes that Jesus does not suggest that we love our neighbors. He commands it. He’s not even polite about it. He just says “do it.” And if we do it, if we are truly “in Christ,” as Paul puts it, we will love openheartedly because we are a new creation.
Everything has become new. Most of all, we have become new. We just aren’t the same people we once were. God’s openhearted love has liberated us to love openheartedly.
So how do we live with an open heart in a time of social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine and great suspicion, if not fear, of the other? First, of course, you have to open yourself to the other. You have to open your heart and your mind.
A common division in our society is that of race.
If you were a young black male, it would be commonplace for you to be walking down the street and see a white woman walking toward you, but before she gets near, she walks across the street to avoid passing close to you.
That action, and others like it, may stem from conscious racism.
Or it might be a bodily response that has become so ingrained in her that she isn’t even aware of it. It’s unconscious. She does it without thinking. Call her on her behavior, and she might not recall that she did anything out of the ordinary. In fact, she did not do anything out of the ordinary. But it being ordinary doesn’t make it right.
Such attitudes are very difficult to change because it’s hard to find their source. Bigotry is a twisted form of self love. It is buried deep within the heart, and it can be rooted out only by an experience that turns the heart from fearful to accepting.
Jesus offers us such an experience – probably many of them, in fact.
When we follow Jesus, we seem to be always finding ourselves in human interactions that stretch us, that agitate us, that shake us all up. Jesus once suggested that following him requires us to live like new wineskins that will expand as the new life within us ferments. By contrast, if we behave like old wineskins, the fermenting new wine will cause us to explode.
But we are new wineskins – new creations, as Paul says. With hearts and minds renewed through the love of Christ and through more open contact with others, our actions can be transformed.
We can choose love as a way of life. We can make love a habit of the heart that expresses itself in everything we do. Only then can we join God’s ministry of reconciliation and be ambassadors for Christ, entreating others to be reconciled to God, as we ourselves have been.
It’s hard to feel like a good ambassador when we’re supposed to gather in groups no larger than 10 and stay 6 feet apart.
But maybe we can use this time of imposed isolation to prepare ourselves for those days ahead when we can interact freely with others. Maybe Lent is the perfect time for each of us to be forced to stay away from others while we get our acts together spiritually and relationally.
Maybe Lent should last as long as it takes for us to decide to set our prejudices aside and step forward to new life with an open heart. Maybe then, when we hear the bells proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus, each of us can proclaim, “I am risen with him!”
May it be so with each and every one of us!
This message was delivered March 22, 2020, the fourth Sunday of Lent, via FaceBook Live.