Seeing Others in a New Way
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “2020 Vision”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
January 19, 2020
John 1:29-42 NRSV
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
“The next day John SAW Jesus coming toward him,” our text says. What did John see? He declares he is “the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world.” What did he see? He says he SAW “the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and it remained on Jesus.” He says he SAW and testifies that Jesus is “the Son of God.” I believe John was calling us to see Jesus in a new way. I believe having a 2020 vision allows us to see Christ and others and ourselves in a new way.
When John tells two bystanders this they follow Jesus down the street until he turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” That’s a good question for all of us. What are we looking for? In our early years, we may be looking for a sense of identity, who am I? A few years go by and we are looking for a “good job.” Then maybe “a good spouse.” Then before long, “a good retirement.” And life is done. Is that all there is? I suspect those of you who come to church are looking for something more. I suspect we want to find meaning and purpose for life. Sure some come out of habit or simply to visit with friends. If that’s all we are looking for here that’s too bad. Some are only in church to comfort their fears, worries and anxieties, but then the church is nothing but a therapist. If we are looking for how to get rich – which some churches sell as their preaching and purpose – then why not find a stockbroker with some wise picks.
If Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World, if he has come because “God so loved the world,” which the Gospel of John also proclaims then we better have a wider vision than that. 2020 vision is more than perfect physical sight or corrected ability to read far or near. The kind of 2020 vision I am talking about is seeing the world as God sees it – both as it is now, and as God intends it. Having a 2020 vision is more than passing that weird letter test at the optometrist. I want to suggest that the real 2020 vision is having the spiritual vision we need to live our lives “faith – fully.” I say this word we usually hear as one word split into two words. I mean by that both full of faith and fully faithful to God’s vision for the world and for our lives. Too much spirituality is self-centered, a result of our American preference to make everything about ourselves as individuals without any reference to others, or to the world. Too much American Christianity has been “get saved so you can go to heaven” and nothing else matters. We need to see things in a new way, to be “faith-full.” We need to see others in a new way.
With what I am about to say, some of you will think I am being politically partisan, but from my point of view, I am being Biblically partisan. If we want to be faith FULL then we need to SEE and DO something about the fact that tens of thousands of children die every day of starvation, yet there is plenty of food in our world. Too many people don’t care about the children being locked up on our borders as “illegal aliens” suffering near- concentration camp conditions while those in charge are profiting at a per person luxury hotel rate. I don’t care if you think illegal immigration is the biggest problem in the world, that doesn’t justify a nation allowing children to suffer like the children in the Jewish Holocaust suffered short of the actual gas chambers. That is a nation that is criminal. Some argue saying these centers existed before now. Does that mean we shouldn’t stop holding children in this way now? I would assume cancer was around before we discovered that we could cure it. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to find a way to cure it? I could care less who was President when it started, let’s have the vision to solve it now. Let us have a greater vision to see those children in a new way, not as criminals but as our sons and daughters – our very own! It is time for us to see others differently, not as someone to fear or someone to hate but someone to love, and to serve and to bless.
Here in Jacksonville, we face incredible problems that we could solve if we would open our eyes and our hearts to it. We have schools that are crumbling and unsafe for our children. We have people who cannot find mental health care any other way than to be “Baker Acted,” arrested, and jailed only to be held for months for no reason except that they are ill! What kind of nation does that? The U.S. is last among so-called “developed” nations in mental health care spending and Florida is last in the nation.
I know we can’t solve this by ourselves, our little church. But we must remain committed to bringing a new vision for the world, elsewise, why does the church exist? You say it is about spirituality? Well, other Christian preachers are telling you how sinful you are for having naughty thoughts or for not tithing to their church or for not believing that Jesus is going to come back and kill everyone who doesn’t believe like they do, I am telling you about problems that – if we are willing to see them, we can solve them. But how many of us are willing to take a hard look at the way things are, at the status quo, and say I want to be part of changing that because I believe in a Savior who came to proclaim Good News to all the world, not just to Christians of a certain denomination or belief system? If, and when we are, then there is a chance we can have what I believe is truly 2020 vision.
Maybe you would rather stay blind and numb to these things. It sounds easier, doesn’t it? But the reality is if we do not side on the side of the oppressed we are siding with the oppressor. And as we celebrate Martin Luther King, jr. day, one of the most profound things he ever said, for me, was “The oppressor is just as oppressed as those they oppress, and our work is to free the oppressor just as much as it is to free the oppressed.” In other words, changing things doesn’t mean we become oppressed, we become the poor and powerless. Changing things calls for a vision of a world where God has provided plenty for everyone. It calls for us to see others in a new light, as John put it, to see them as friends we would lay down our lives for.
Most Christians take this passage and make it about Jesus dying to save us so we can “go to heaven.” The reality is when Jesus came talking about the Kingdom of God, he had something very different in mind. In a recent Time magazine article [ Time.com, 12/16/19 ] a researcher shared this insight:
“The followers of the Jesus-movement that grew up in that [time] saw “heaven” and “earth” …as the twin halves of God’s good creation. Rather than rescuing people from [earth] in order to reach [heaven], the creator God would finally bring heaven and earth together in a great act of new creation, completing the original creative purpose by healing the entire cosmos of its ancient ills. They believed that God would then raise his people from the dead, to share in — and, indeed, to share his stewardship over — this rescued and renewed creation. And they believed all this because of Jesus.
“They believed that with the resurrection of Jesus this new creation had already been launched. Jesus embodied in himself the perfect fusion of “heaven” and “earth.” In Jesus, therefore, the ancient Jewish hope had come true at last. The point was not for us to “go to heaven,” but for the life of heaven to arrive on earth. Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” From as early as the third century, some Christian teachers tried to blend this with types of the Platonic belief, generating the idea of “leaving earth and going to heaven,” which became mainstream by the Middle Ages. But Jesus’ first followers never went that route.
“Reading the New Testament in its own world … can have an impact on modern Christianity, too. Perhaps the most important is a new, or rather very old, way of seeing the Christian mission. If the only point is to save souls from the wreck of the world, so they can leave and go to heaven, why bother to make this world a better place? But if God is going to do for the whole creation what he did for Jesus in his resurrection — to bring them back, here on earth — then those who have been rescued by the gospel are called to play a part, right now, in the advance renewal of the world.
“What then was the personal hope for Jesus’ followers? Ultimately, resurrection — a new and immortal physical body in God’s new creation. But, after death and before that final reality, a period of blissful rest. “Today,” says Jesus to the brigand alongside him, “you will be with me in Paradise.” “My desire,” says St. Paul, facing possible execution, “is to depart and be with the Messiah, which is far better.” “In my father’s house,” Jesus assured his followers, “are many waiting-rooms.” These are not the final destination. They are the temporary resting-place, ahead of the ultimate new creation.
In our Scripture this morning John invites two bystanders – and us – to see Jesus in a new light. From that encounter, one of those two bystanders goes and brings his brother to see Jesus in a new light. And from that encounter, Jesus invites that brother – the one we know as Peter – to see himself in a new light as “Cephas,” meaning “the Rock.” Now Peter was anything but a rock of stability. He was impetuous, violent, unlearned, yet he became the rock on which Christ built a church. That church has failed Jesus for too long. It is time for a new vision that matches the original vision Christ had. Are you and I willing to be part of that ancient vision in a new way?
When Jesus asked those disciples what they were looking for, they asked where he was staying – and he said, “Come and see.” I believe now more than ever it is time we must see the church in a new way, see others in a new way that we may see the world transformed in a new way. AMEN.