A couple of weeks ago, our church received a call from a person doing grad school research on how people of different opinions interact or fail to interact with one another. Her research focused on the information bubbles that we can all too easily get trapped in. We watch news that caters to our opinions. And if we use the internet or social media for information, then over time, computer algorithms figure out what we want to hear and then feed us with that information. If we are not careful, we can easily get trapped in our own, personalized, information bubble and begin to see that as reality.
Now, why did this researcher call us? She called because, at a conference in New York City, she got into a conversation with someone who grew up in our church and who had suggested to her that, at least in his experience, FUMC in Conway, Arkansas was a place where he could break through these bubbles and connect with others in a spirit of respect and love. It was a place where his perspective grew through interactions with others. He shared this story and she was intrigued. She was in search of places where connections were being made in the midst of a world that pushes us all into our own individual information bubbles. Now, she was considering at least some churches as places where this might happen.
As we encounter him during worship this Advent season, John the Baptist calls us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” In the Greek, the word is metanoia – meta meaning “beyond” and noia meaning “to know.” Repentance is to know or perceive from a perspective above our current perspective. It means to allow our minds to be changed or transformed by a higher perspective. It is the key to being able to see and experience the kingdom of heaven that is right before us, if only we are willing to look up.
Building on the story above, we might say that repentance happens when we engage others in a spirit of respect and love and through these encounters begin to see life from a higher perspective – bigger than ourselves and our own opinions. As a possible exercise, think of an issue where you have a strong opinion but you know faithful Christians who have a different opinion. Then spend time understanding this other perspective, perhaps even making a case of it in your own mind. If this doesn’t alter your opinion, the hope is that it will alter your appreciation for the other. As we seek to understand, rather than just defend our positions and demonize others, that’s when we begin to see Jesus in our midst and God’s kingdom at work. That’s when we get a glimpse of true love – love that is patient and kind, never insisting on its own way, always seeking what is good for the other and how we might honor them. We can’t do that if are stuck in our own bubble.
These thoughts will be part of my sermon this Sunday, which is a Communion Sunday. It struck me how this holy act invites us to literally change our perspective. We get up, come to the Altar, with hands held open, ready to receive Christ into our being. As we bow down and receive we are also lifted into a higher vision. Even as we pray, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon us. We become One with Christ, One with each other, and One in ministry to all the world. And then, with the strength given, we go out into the world to live this mystery of faith.
During this season, we are invited to move into this higher vision, even with our posture and posturing. We are invited to move from arms crossed to open hands. We are invited to move from looking down at our screens to looking up into the eyes of others. As we do this, may we truly enter the kingdom of heaven which is right before us, in our very midst.