Sermon June 16, 2024

The First Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And 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.
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!

The Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The Sermon

What would it take to change some of our points of view, especially those which we have held for the longest time? Probably a lot. It might even be impossible. Once we are convinced of something and have it backed up with facts, a believe system, experience – or whatever it is that fosters our convictions – it is hard to move in a different direction.

But this is exactly what the Apostle Paul tried to do in the letter to the Corinthians. They were a Christian congregation; its members came from a Gentile or Jewish background meaning they had already changed some of their beliefs. Yet, there was still a good part of their thinking that was stuck in the past. And that was what Paul was addressing in his letter.

In the Corinthians’ thinking, outward appearances, beauty, wealth, and success were important. They were signs whether someone had favor with God or not. Unfortunately, Paul himself didn’t meet that profile. He was not a wealthy, or according to the standards of the time, a successful guy. He was regularly beaten up, thrown into jail and run out of towns. And he had enough opponents who claimed that he wasn’t a legitimate apostle in the first place since he didn’t do ministry with Jesus while Jesus was still on earth. – Quite the opposite, he was the persecutor of Christians before he turned from Saul to being Paul.

Despite all this baggage, he tried to convince this congregation that they should shift their perspectives away from what he called a human point of view. The problem with that is that our human view is what we rely on for the most part. Even if we don’t claim as blatantly as the Corinthians that wealth, beauty, and success are the telling signs of God’s favor, I think we are not completely free of the impact of outward appearances either.

The way someone looks, talks, or dresses does give an impression. We may be totally wrong and revise our thinking later but initially the human point of view is powerful.
In contrast to the human point of view is the divine point of view which ignores outward appearances but sees the whole human being with all its facets including the ones that are not visible: a person’s hopes, joys, fears, talents, abilities, struggles, and most importantly, their status as God’s children and siblings of Christ.

This difference between the human and the divine point of view also played a role in Jesus’ lifetime. Some saw him as a human being only, and deemed him an annoying one as such since he

disturbed business as usual. Others saw him as the Messiah and the son of God which meant he brought hope into their lives.
We see Jesus as both human and divine. We can look at his words and actions and learn from them about God’s will. The gospels give us very tangible, hands-on examples how and with whom the human Jesus did ministry. And we believe that the divine Jesus brings us salvation and eternal life.

Paul made a parallel between looking at Jesus in a complete way, meaning human and divine, and looking at every human being in the same complete way. Of course, only Jesus was truly human and truly divine, but Paul pointed out that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and since we are in Christ, we are more than just human – we are the bearers of God’s saving grace with the Holy Spirit living inside us. There is more to every single human being than meets the eye.

So when we look at another person and judge only by their outward appearance, which includes the way they look but also their behavior, we can ask ourselves, What is it that I don’t see right now? And whether we like it or not, there is more to every human being than meets the eye. This kind of approach makes it harder to just dismiss those with whom we have serious problems.
Paul knew from personal experience how wrong human judgement can be. He had to admit that he was once dead wrong and eventually he realized that through Jesus God was at work to reconcile the world to himself and to make all things new. By grace alone and because of Jesus, God has reconciled us to himself.

The result of this cosmic reconciliation is that we can look at everything differently. We can look at everything and everyone through the lens of reconciliation; that includes difficult relationships, it includes a divisive political discourse, it includes perceptions and prejudices we may have. If we look at all these difficult situations from a perspective of reconciliation, we may not always come up with solutions that clarify right away everything, but it may shift our perspective away from a purely human perspective to a more divine perspective.
To regard in a human way is to see all the limitations and boundaries of human existence. To see from the perspective of new creation, though, is to see neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free – but to see one’s identity in Christ as it says in Galatians.

In Christ we are a new creation. We are reconciled to God and entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation as agents of God’s love for the world and as such we can move the needle a little bit towards the divine perspective. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.