Re-visioning Christianity Part Two
Text: 2Corinthians 5:16
16 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.
I think what the Apostle Paul is talking about here is really important for us to take a minute and understand what he is saying in this text. Of course, there can always be multiple interpretations of a text, but from my perspective what Paul is saying is that the perspective of how he views Jesus has changed. What is important for us to recognize is that Jesus did not really change, but based on circumstances surrounding Paul, the perspective of Jesus has changed.
Now I want to be really clear about this. Looking at the text, Paul says from now on; that implies a dividing line of sorts, we view no one from a human point of view. So, something has happened that creates this imaginary dividing line for Paul. There is the past when he viewed Jesus and other people from a human point of view, but now he says we know him no longer in that way.
Of course, for Paul, I think what we are talking about here is the appearance of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus. I think that experience was a dividing line that changed the perspective of Paul and he now saw Jesus in a new way. An important question to ask, however, is did Jesus actually change, or was it just the perspective of Paul that changed? If we can begin to understand this question, then we can begin to understand what has happened to Christianity in the past four or five decades.
Last week I mentioned I was reading this book in which Marcus Borg has written a chapter about re-visioning Christianity. It is packed full of information and we cannot begin to unpack everything that Borg says in a sermon or two. But one of the things which is brought to light in this chapter is that things have changed for us significantly over the last 100 years or so. We are now asking questions that we would not have thought to ask a 100 years ago. We are facing moral and ethical dilemmas which did not exist a 100 years ago and as all of these changes have taken place around us, Christianity for the most part has remained unchanged.
For those of us that grew up with this Christianity, we have managed to work some of these questions out in our own minds. We have perhaps gained a slightly different perspective over the years, without even being aware that our perspective has changed. We don’t necessarily believe everything that orthodox Christianity teaches, but we haven’t called for a complete overhaul of the system either. I think many of us just sort of give Christianity “a pass” when it comes to the tougher questions.
But here is the problem. Those that did not grow up in the church, when confronted with some of these tougher questions are much less likely to just give Christianity “a pass”; they are far more likely to reject the entire package and look elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment.
There are many different manifestations of what I am talking about and we simply do not have time to talk about them all. So I’m going to pick just one. The inherent doctrine of exclusivity for Christianity has become problematic for the sustainability of our faith tradition. Let me explain.
I don’t think most of us actually believe that Christianity is the only true religion. I don’t think most of us believe in a God that is willing to sentence 2/3 of the world’s population to eternal torment, and I don’t think most of us believe that all other world faith traditions worship false Gods and are evil. I believe that most of us embrace a certain level of inclusiveness, we want to honor other faith traditions and I think we generally feel that if everyone can get along and come together on points where we can agree, everyone will be better off.
Like I said, I believe that most of us believe this to be true. One of the reasons we believe it to be true is that our world has changed. We have become much more aware of other faith traditions, our neighborhoods and workplaces have become multi-cultural and in many cases multi-faith tradition. As we work beside and live next to and learn more about other faith traditions, it becomes harder and harder to believe that a relationship with God is only available through faith in Jesus Christ. It becomes even more difficult to believe that the only path to God’s grace is through Jesus as well. For centuries it seemed that Christians were able to rationalize the hypocrisy in the idea that faith in Jesus alone somehow switches the grace of God into the “on” position. If that is true, then we’re not really talking about grace, but that is another topic.
Because we love the church and we grew up in the church and our attitudes have evolved over a significant period of time, we don’t react negatively to traditional hymns and creeds which reinforce the exclusivity of Christianity. “It’s just the way it has always been” we tell ourselves, or we look past the shortcomings and offer the explanation that “it’s our tradition, no one really believes it.”
While we may have changed over the decades, Christianity has not. The basic core concepts have remained unchanged for at least 1500 years. Perhaps we need a new perspective, a new way of seeing Christianity.
I want to take just a minute and give you another way of thinking about this. I’m going to show you a video of a 3-dimensional sculpture. I’ll tell you in advance what you are going to see. The sculpture is rather simple, it is just wire arranged in a specific pattern. The video begins from one perspective and then the camera moves around the sculpture to view it from a different perspective. Watch carefully to what happens.
If I were to ask you if what you just saw was a sculpture of an elephant how many of you would say yes? How many would say no? How many of you wouldn’t know how to answer? What if I were to ask you if it was a sculpture of a giraffe? Same problem, right?
How you answer the question depends entirely upon your perspective. We can view Christianity from more than one perspective and not necessarily change it. We can allow the many perspectives to expand Christianity into multiple meanings for multiple cultures. But if we are going to do that, we have to let people know that is what we are doing. Right now, no one talks about this.
I want to call your attention to the photo on the cover of your bulletin. Many of you know that a few weeks ago, Heidi and I were on vacation and we were on a cruise. One of the ports where we stopped was in Guatemala. I have always wanted to see Guatemala, ever since I was a kid. That is because my oldest sister, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, graduated from college and entered the Peace Corps, where she served for two years in Guatemala. There is more to that story, but I’ll leave it at that for now.
If you know about cruises, you know there are shore excursions you can sign up for. Our shore excursion for Guatemala was to travel by boat into the jungle and visit a school that has been established there to help educate the indigenous Mayan people of Guatemala. It was a fabulous shore excursion and I would love to tell you all about the school-perhaps another day.
As part of our tour, we passed a table where the students were displaying some of the things they used in ancient ceremonies and rituals they were learning about in the Mayan culture and history. Many of these artifacts represent customs and traditions that pre-date Christianity by thousands of years. If you look carefully at the objects, you will see masks, and incense burners, different figures of birds and other animals and you will also see a cross.
I asked our guide about how they use the cross in these ancient ceremonies. He said the cross represented an attitude of honoring the many Catholics that are now part of the culture. They know who Jesus was and the cross represents compassion and personal suffering in some of the ceremonies. The students at this Mayan school didn’t see any conflict of faith traditions with the incorporation of the cross as one of many artifacts that are used. For them, Christianity offered another perspective of what they honored as the Divine in their ceremonies.
The school is not as advanced as what we would find here in the United States. We didn’t see any computers or TV monitors. We didn’t see any cell phones or any reference to anything on-line. We didn’t see any video games, we didn’t see any automobiles, we didn’t see much of anything that was modern or techno-savvy. We might say the school was well behind the schools here in the states.
We could say that, but we must also acknowledge that the students in his primitive Mayan school may possess a much greater understanding of inclusiveness and the wonder of multiple world faith traditions than most of the Christians I know. And for me, that makes them very advanced indeed.
Food for thought. Amen.