A New Perspective
Text: Roman 12:1-2
What an amazing text to work from today. We find our scripture in Romans nestled in the girth of what Paul was trying to accomplish when writing to the Romans. As Paul is laying down his ethical implications of the gospel, we find our passage cushioned right in the middle of heated discourse from Paul. Paul seems to stop briefly and proclaim a very humble message amidst the rather intense conversation though. And after Chapter 12:2, he continues right back into his powerful writing. Although this seems a pit-stop for Paul to cool down, he nevertheless says something just as powerful as the rest of his heated dialogue before and after. Paul urges his reader to not be conformed to this world or the age in which you live in. But be Transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may know what is God’s will, what is acceptable, and perfect.
Paul Challenges us to renew our way of thinking. Paul begs us to be transformed. Paul simply asks us to gain a new perspective. I think we can all agree that the world needs a new perspective. I look at our world and the political machines that drive our nation and I cringe at the misled perspectives of some people. Just yesterday I was reading on Facebook where someone had looked at the tragedy in Japan and had taken the perspective that it was just another sign of the rapture being near. In response, I posted on my status that to look at the tragedy in Japan as just another sign for the second coming is selfish. Period. Then, as always, the Facebook religious war started and we all drew our swords to defend our perspective. As the argument escalated, a lady actually said to me “woe to you unbeliever, what will it take for you to believe?” Likewise, I had friends being silly saying things like “let’s build an ark for the end of the world”and“that in 2012 gamma rays will destroy all the earths’ computer chips and we will all be doomed.” Amidst this crazy talk and intense conversation, I could only think to myself that if Jesus was physically here today, he would not ask us if we got the hint about the second coming while pointing at the devastation in Japan. I am convinced that Jesus would be asking us if we have fed the people of Japan because they are hungry, have we clothed them because they have nothing left, and have we gave them drink became they are so thirsty. With conversations like this that get under my skin, it’s almost temping to build an ark and float away from this crazy world.
But getting back to the purpose of this sermon. Paul tells us that we need to have a new perspective on life, love, and the world in which we live in. I believe that this transformation of the mind, this new perspective that Paul is talking about is the perspective of Christ. We talk often in the religion department here at MOC about the lenses that we all wear. These lenses are a product of our upbringing. It is through these lenses that we see the world and interpret it. But what does it mean to put on the lens of Christ and see the world through Jesus’ eyes? The purpose of this message is to help us better understand how to gain this new perspective, and what it looks like to live it out loud.
The first way I believe you can gain this new perspective that Paul talks about is through experience. Most of the time experience plays a big part in our Christian journey. John Wesley came up with 4 basic principles to which we should base our theology on: Tradition, reason, scripture, and Experience. If I went around this room and asked how you people came to the faith, you can probably name an experience or an event in your life where you heard God call or felt a tug at your heart. You can recall how much of a life changing experience it was and how your perspective on life changed dramatically. Emil Brunner calls this type of experience the divine-human encounter, an encounter that is not an objective revelation from God with a subjective interpretation by us. For Brunner it is rather a wrestling match between the two. Revelation is the meeting of the two in human experience. Obliviously, experience plays a huge role in our transformation as Christians.
Just open your bible and look at the divine-human encounters within and how people’s perspectives were drastically changed because of their experience with God. Think about Abraham and his experience on the Mount while almost sacrificing Isaac. What a change of perspective that must have been. Or look at the Jews and their experience in the exile. Among all the hate and slavery and torture, The Israelites found God in their captivity. How about Paul himself who met Jesus on the Damascus road. These are life changing experiences that one can never forget and that will informer who you are and how you see things for the rest of your life.
We do have to be careful though in putting life changing experiences as always changing your perspective for the better. One can easily become bitter or resentful to God because of dramatic events. A parent or child could pass away, you could lose your home, or a tsunami can sweep away everything you have. In times like that and in intense experiences as such, it is easy to gain the perspective of hate and resentment. But nonetheless, God meets us in our experiences and we have the choice to respond in whatever manner we may choose. Sometimes free will is a bittersweet gift.
Just the other day I had an experience that I will never forget. I won’t say that it was life changing, but it definitely changed my perspective on life in some way. I went to visit my grandmother in the local retirement home in Newton Grove. My grandmother practically raised me. She took care of me after school every day until high school before my mama got off work. She fed me, clothed me, and loved me dearly. Now she is almost 90 and her health is deteriorating quickly. I am ashamed to say it but I do not go see her as often as I should. I can say a million reasons why, but there is no good reason not to visit the people who gave your life. But I went to see my grandmother one night last week, and as I was sitting there our conversation was a divine experience in itself. We sat there quiet for a minute and then my granny looked at me and recalled a time this past Christmas when she was sick in the hospital. She said that she felt so bad at that point in her life she didn’t care if she lived or died, as long as the pain would go away. This was odd for me. My grandmother never talked about death. She then looked me in the eye and said “the bible says our days are numbered on this earth, and I know my time is coming soon.” She also told me that she wanted me to preach her funeral when she died. Here I am sitting with the woman who changed my diaper and gave me life, and now she is talking about dying. As I sat there fighting back tears as she sat quietly in her recliner beside the bed, I turned my head and looked at a piece of paper above her bed. If you have been in a nursing home or a retirement home you know what paper I am talking about. On the bright yellow paper was written in big black letters “Do Not Resuscitate.” I am not sure what it was about my grandmother’s words, or that brightly colored piece of paper with the dark words, but I had an experience that night that I can’t explain. It was conviction, revelation, comfort, and despair all at the same time.
I am not here to tell you that I have the ABCs of this experience figured out. But I can tell you that it is a very real experience where everything in your life changes. You see things in a new light—from a new perspective. Suddenly, as I said earlier, it’s like you see the world through Jesus’s eyes. And life is never the same.
The second way I believe that we can strive for this new perspective is through education, something we should all be able to relate to. A good education is something to be cherished and defended. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that knowledge is what saves us. I would not slip into being a gnostic. But I am saying that education can transform our minds and if it is a Christ centered education, then we are able to better adjust our lenses to the Jesus setting. That is the foundation of this college. Transforming lives is our slogan. I can say that this College has changed me in way that I could have never imagined. But I am most grateful that this college has taught me how to think for myself. There is fine line between indoctrination and enlightenment. I am so thankful that this college attempts to enlighten us rather than to brainwash. Although the latter is much easier to do, I appreciate the blood sweat and tears that this college has shed to give their students a better education. I was talking to man the other day and he told me that almost 30 years ago when he was a senior in high school, Dr. Burkette Raper came to his school and The man said that “Dr. Raper told us that if we went to Mount Olive College that the world could be ours.” I have witnessed this mission still going on today.
I have been reflecting an awful lot lately about the way my perspective has changed over the three years that I have been here at Mount Olive College. Education does something very interesting. It makes life a little bit harder. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes you rethink your entire life. It makes situations a little grayer- the black and white, right and wrong seems a little ambiguous. For example, before I opened my mind with the help of this college, politics and moral problems were an easy answer for me. I could debate my side as good as anyone and refute any arguments with passion. But I after being educated, I realized that there are always two sides to the story.
You know it is easy to have strong opinions on abortion and health care when you know no one who has been through a tough pregnancy or that is sick and unemployed. I remember about a year ago one of our representatives for Sampson County, Bob Ethridge, voted for the health care bill in congress and scrutinized for it. There was actually a lady in my hometown who posted a billboard which said “Bob Ethridge Thanks for selling us out, and for what?” Obviously this person’s perspective was against the health care bill, but I can’t help but wonder what her definition of us is. The last time I checked, the kingdom of God includes everyone, even the lowly and the meek. I am sure that there were a few people like a single mother or an unemployed father who actually would benefit from public healthcare. As I said, there are always two sides. In the same way we could talk about immigration. This is a subject close to many of our hearts here in a rural setting. I have friends that have been deported and I sure you know someone who is affected by immigration. But I heard a man speak one time who gave me a different perspective on illegal immigration. He said that in Mexico, the infant death rate is enormous. In America, you have almost twice the likelihood of a successful birth and that child living through infancy. So the question is not whether you have a green card or you pay taxes. The question is “would you swim a canal or jump a fence to give your child a 50% better chance of life. Like I said, with a Christ like perspective, everything isn’t so black and white.
It seem that many people think that enlightenment is a liberating and wonderful feeling—like a release from a binding into a bright a beautiful world of new thought. But most of the time it is the complete opposite. Often, this release is only met by more questions and harder ones than before. I am reminded of story that corresponds to this release quite well. I remember when my mother and I went to pick my father up from prison after he spent seven years incarcerated. You can imagine how binding those seven years must have felt for him. I remember on the ride home, my father just looked out the window of the car at the world that had changed so much since the last time he saw it. I am sure that even though he thought it was going to be a joyful release, the world that he came home to wasn’t as beautiful as he thought. Nevertheless though, it was freedom.
Enlightenment through education is the same way as my father’s freedom; although slightly different than that of prison I’m sure, because it is a release from an old world into the new. That does not mean that new world of thinking is easy, but nonetheless, it is freedom. This is an idea that I am definitely struggling with at this point in my life. The good thing is that no matter how scary this new knowledge of life and such is, I know that I’m free. Are you enlightened? What is your perspective on current issues and why do you think the way you do? I just hope the world you see out the window is the one you are hoping for.
In closing, Dr. Burkette Raper once said that he hopes that a Mount Olive Education leaves us a strong and determined as the mighty oaks that outline this campus. I am sure that for some of us, we have gained our Christ like perspective here at MOC. Our old world has died and our new way of seeing things is resurrected just as Jesus was. But we also hold strong to an enlightening education that opens our minds and more importantly our hearts. So as we stare out the window and behold the new world, as we swim rivers for survival, and call into question everything that makes us who we are, May we all gain a new perspective in life. And may that perspective be that of our Lord, Jesus Christ.