Change in Perspective

When writing to the Hebrews, Paul was trying to help these believers during a time of discouragement.  Their faith has cost them a great deal; they have been publicly persecuted and suffered much abuse.  Now, some of them are in danger of giving up, or drifting away, as their experience of loss drags on and God’s promises remain unfulfilled.   This letter seeks to remind them of what Jesus taught and to encourage them by changing their perspective.

Perspective really is about how we look at things.  The believers in our text this morning are challenged to view their situation through the eyes of their Savior so they might see what God sees.  We too are challenged to change our perspective sometimes so that we might see what God sees in our lives.  The writer of Hebrews sets several issues before us with two ways of viewing each issue.  Our perspective will determine how we behave within the context of our walk with Jesus.

Our task as Christians is to see the world, as best we can, as God sees it and work to change our perspective so that we might be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  Too often, we see things through our own eyes and miss opportunities to do mission and ministry in Jesus’ name.  This morning let’s work on recognizing our perspective and deciding to change it so we might see more of what God wants us to see and less of what is easy for us to want to see instead.

“Change in Perspective”
Sunday, August 28, 2016
15th Sunday after Pentecost

Hebrews 13:1-8, NRSV

Change Perspective“A lawyer once asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. ‘Eternal Life’ then did not mean life that went on and on.  It meant life that really mattered and so endured.” (Bosch, Frederich, Feasting on the Word, Y-C, V-4, P-15)  Many of us are familiar with this conversation as we realize it is what leads Jesus to tell the parable of The Good Samaritan in Luke 10.  Jesus used that story to change the lawyer’s perspective; to help him see what it means to love God and neighbor.  In today’s reading, the author points out several things as he tries to focus the people on living a good life that pleases God.  This involves some simple reminders about God’s perspective.  There is much for us to consider here as well.

Let us prayLord, today you ask us to change our perspective so that we might better see things as you see them.  Help us to notice what breaks your heart in the world and how we might be able to follow you into those places where you are needed most.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

For me, the idea that this text might be about changing perspective comes in the 2nd verse:  “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  There is an obvious connection between this challenge and a story those First Century believers would know very well: The story of Abraham and Sarah.  Three men were traveling near their camp and Abraham invited them to stop and rest.  He went out of his way to provide shade, food, and water for the travelers.  In the end, the men were messengers from God (angels) who announced that, even in their old age, Abraham and Sarah would finally have the son they so desired.  The concept of radical hospitality was part of their way of life.  In those days most people lived a somewhat nomadic lifestyle.  They travelled with their herds and flocks, following the seasons and the food supply.  They often depended on the hospitality of strangers for their survival.  The writer of Hebrews challenges the church to use their shared understanding of hospitality to expand their perspective and imagine what else God may have in mind.

Though we have heard the many biblical references to showing hospitality to strangers; we’ve heard Jesus teach on love of neighbor and Good Samaritans and such; yet, most of us are hesitant to really live-out the idea of welcome for strangers.  We teach our children not to talk to strangers; sadly, this is necessary in the real world of child predators.  But, as adults we continue to be wary and even suspicious of strangers.  We have our neighborhood watch groups and our home surveillance cameras.  We are quick to “profile” others based on our particular biases about what danger looks like.  We have become paranoid and isolationist in many ways.  Through all of this we must lean in to God’s perspective and temper our caution with hospitality.  Beyond the Good Samaritan story, we must also recall that Jesus told us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” to lunch or dinner (Luke 14:12-14).  In fact, the Bible is filled with reminders to care for the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers in our midst.  This is not always easy when we mostly want to entertain our relatives or a few likable neighbors.  Perhaps our new perspective here has to do with radical hospitality toward migrant peoples and refugees fleeing oppressive regimes.

Surely, as Americans, we realize that most of us have our origins someplace else.  Our ancestors migrated here from somewhere else in search of freedom and opportunity.  Surely we remember the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  Hospitality made this country possible.  Maybe that is a change in perspective for us as we confront complex immigration policies while balancing sensible security concerns.  “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them.”  By some estimates, more than 2.4 million people are incarcerated in the U.S.

  • Nearly half a million of these are awaiting trial, not yet convicted of any crime.
  • Oklahoma ranks in the top three states in terms of incarceration rates.

Studies indicate that the high rate of U.S. incarceration is directly related to such initiative as: “The War on Drugs”, “Zero Tolerance”, and “Tough on Crime” – Initiatives intended to lower crime rates.  In hind-sight, these initiatives had little impact on crime in America.  The Oklahoma County Jail was built in 1991 to house 1200 inmates; today it houses 2500.  Now, imagine yourself inside the Oklahoma County Jail or the Tulsa County Jail, or Avalon, or any other part of the U.C. prison system.  I have visited some of these places and your imagination can’t actually be enough.  Maybe you deserve to be there, maybe you don’t.  Either way, imagine living in over-crowded conditions with strangers, bad food, no privacy, and plenty of hostility.  Imagine knowing you are innocent, as in the case of the man just released after 25 years served for a crime he did not commit.  Imagine knowing you are guilty, but remorseful – wanting to repent and learn to do better.  Imagine what you might need from someone on the outside who claims to follow Jesus.  What might it look like for us to really listen and take action when we hear: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them?”

After that difficult exercise we are challenged to remember: “those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves are being tortured.”  WOW!  No matter your personal feelings about this issue, clearly the Bible wants us to think of it from God’s perspective.  Does any end justify the extraordinary means that tortures another human being?  Can God abide the act of one created being intentionally inflicting pain on another created being to secure cooperation or information?  If we take this Scripture passage seriously we should all be joining organizations that would help us identify in an empathic way with victims of torture, whether they are in Guantanamo Bay or Beijing; in North Korea or Nigeria.  This seems to say that torture is never OK, no matter whose side you are on.

I believe that these issues and the others raised in this reading are examples of how we are intended to live in community; to live a life that matters and so endures.  We learn to love and serve in community with one another and with the rest of the world.  We seek to be disciples who “do good and share what you have” so we can say with confidence:
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Vs 6; cf Ps 118:6)  The best model for mutual love and service is Jesus Chris who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

“The sanctifying grace of God shaped the souls of early Methodists as they learned in community.  One cannot learn patience, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, grace, and love by oneself.  As the Spirit deepens our interior lives, we learn to see the world through God’s eyes.  We discover that God also invites us to see the world through the eyes of those who suffer and who are in need – “as though you yourself were being tortured”.  (The Wesley Study Bible, page 1496: Life Application Topic – Service)

Our task as Christians is to see the world, as best we can, as God sees it and work to change our perspective so that we might be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  Too often, we see things through our own eyes and miss opportunities to do mission and ministry in Jesus’ name.   This morning let’s work on expanding our perspective and deciding to change it so we might see more of what God wants us to see and less of what is easy for us to want to see instead.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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