Back in the Day – A Matter of Perspective
“”My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas”
Do you remember what this phrase is for? It’s a mnemonic device.
If you guessed that it is a sentence for remembering the order and names of the planets, then you are correct! Well, at least it was until Pluto got dropped from the planetary list! It used to be a great mnemonic device because back in the day, we had 9 planets!
Poor Pluto! It’s as if one day it was one of the nine and the next day it wasn’t important enough. But think with me: Did Pluto actually change? Or did our perspective of Pluto change?
In the 2000s. scientists found hundreds of other Pluto sized objects beyond Neptune. And they had a choice:
- Add several hundreds more objects that are a lot like Pluto to our solar system’s planetary list OR
- Changed the definition of a planet to exclude all those Pluto like rocks in outer space
Well, they chose the later…and Pluto was out! Pluto didn’t change, but the way we saw Pluto did change.
And this reminds me how important perspective is.
Perspective is something I tend to lose quite often. Especially watching my favorite teams play football or basketball. I lose perspective when one of my teams (the WVU Mountaineers, the Carolina Panthers, or the Duke Blue Devils) plays a really bad game…especially after doing quite well in their previous games. This happened twice last weekend. The Panthers and the Mountaineers were doing pretty well this season. But both flopped on the same weekend…and I lost it!
I was frustrated, began calling out referees through the TV screen, raising my voice at terrible plays, and finally gave up deciding the teams were not worth watching. Now, frankly I am being nice in my descriptions of myself! I like to interact with the games I watch on TV. And I can every so often have a kind of crazy love-hate relationship with the game itself. Now you probably don’t do that. But I am a passionate fan. And passionate fans often lose their persepctive when their teams play really poorly.
However, it’s not as if those two teams last weekend suddenly got a lot worse. They practiced, improved, honed their skills and craft. But because of antother, better team or because of a poor performance, my perspective of the team changed.
Most likely they will both play better in their next game. And I will regain some perspective. But regaining perspective in life can be hard. How do you regain perspective? Lots of different things people will tell you…just google it.
But I want to look at gaining perspective in the Bible. Turn with me to John 5 (I preached on this passage about a year ago.)
In Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate in the north city wall is a pool with the Aramaic name Bethsaida. It had five covered porches, and a crowd of people who were sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed sat there.
Folks believed that when the waters stirred it meant the presence of an angel who could heal them. So they all tried to get to the water first to be healed.
A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Jesus is asking a question, but not just any question….this is a perspective question. This man has been sitting here for a long time, so Jesus asks to find out what he is really there for.
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”
Now you see the man’s perspective. He is focused on the can’t, what isn’t happening, what’s not working. He is stuck in the negative and stuck in the past. Now look what Jesus does…
Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked.
Jesus does two things that we see over and over again in scripture. He changes the man’s perspective by challenging his context and inviting him to discover something new. Get up and walk. Don’t get stuck in what isn’t working. That is the past. Look at what is right here right now. I’m Jesus and I say get up and walk! The man does and he is healed!
You need a new perspective? Then do two things
- Pay attention to the true context
- Discover what is right in front of you
Three weeks ago we read the story of how the Israelites got the manna. They complained about having it better in Egypt where they were enslaved than in the desert where they were free. God gave them manna as a kind of 40 year object lesson to change their perspective, to teach them to focus not on the past but on the present provision of God. As I said a few weeks ago, God wanted Israel to balance their daily greed with their daily need.
Two years into their 40 year school of manna, the Israelites are at it again…complaining. They looked back with nostalgia. And they failed to realize they had everything they needed in the desert with God guiding them. Read in Numbers 11:
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
Oh those cucumbers, those melons, those leeks (really, leeks! …) Today we got nothing. Nothing at all except this manna. Bleh…
Really, Israelites? God has given you the miracle of manna from heaven and you are complaining about garlic and leeks?
But we do this too… Oh, remember the good old days when RC colas and moonpies were 5 cents each! Remember those beautiful old mustangs, how the streets were less crowded, doctors visited your home, most stores were owned by local people who treated you right not these chains stores. We had homemade food not fast food. Oh, life wasn’t so expensive, things seemed easier and simpler…less busy, less fragmented. Today’s problems hadn’t even been invented yet!
Someday we are gonna get to heaven and look at God and say, “Wow, God. I was worried about onions and garlic and you were giving me this?” And God’s gonna say, “Well, yeah, that’s pretty much it. And listen I got some garlic and onions for you. But look around you? I have been trying to give you a taste of heaven and all the grace, peace, love forgiveness that goes with it!
You see, we wants leeks and garlic and God is giving us eternal life!
We look back with nostalgia. We remember the good of what was and we wanna go backwards. But here’s the truth: we remember the good and forget the not so good.
Oh, how we want those cucumbers and melons and garlic and leeks! But we need some CONTEXT. You see, in the good old days, there were world wars, Great Depressions, more bullying, more disease, higher mortality rates, hundreds and hundreds fewer medical treatments, less ability to achieve a higher education, people died from things that today are cured with a pill, people of color couldn’t vote, women couldn’t vote and had few if any career options, discrimination was legal. I could go on and on, right?!
A question you should always start with when you start thinking of “the good old days” is this: For whom were the good old days good? Because the good old days were not good for everyone. Good for me. Good for you, maybe. But not good for people who look and live differently than you and me. Like the Israelites, we were enslaved to lots of things back in the day.
So here’s another truth: What makes the good old days good is how you remember them. What makes them good to you is that you remember them with fondness, nostalgia. Because from a different perspective, back in the day might be just the same as today. It might have been worse than today.
The phrase “back in the Good old days” is actually very pessimistic! It fails to acknowledge the good of today. It says the good days are over. It suggests that good has been lost. And that is a lie!
There are some great things about the days of old. And there’s some not so great things. And the same is true for today.
Today is a good day. This is a phrase I heard folks on the west side of Charlotte say all the time. It functioned as a kind of reminder to find the good in today, to look around and DISCOVER what is right here in front of you, what is new, what is amazing!
From the day I got to Hood and noticed there were no children I was concerned. And so were y’all. I heard stories about the presence of children back in the day. “Ah, those were the good old days,” people would say.
Let me give you some perspective:
Two weeks ago, 1/3 of our congregation was children 10 years or younger!
Do you hear that? That’s right! 1/3 of our congregation was elementary aged children!
So let me say this:
Today is a good day! Today is a great day! Today, God is raining Manna on Hood Memorial Christian Church!
Folks there is manna in front of us today! God is giving it right now! Can you see it? Can you DISCOVER it Can you appreciate it and be grateful?
It is not that the old days were bad and today is good. It’s not that the old days were wonderful and today everything has gone to pot. Neither the old days or our current days are perfect. Both had good and bad. Each days, as Jesus has said, has problems of its own!
The questions are these:
- Can you be Grateful both for the good of the past and the good of the present?
- And can you learn from the problems of the olden days and the problems of this day?
If you cannot find the miraculous good of right now, then you have become like Israel. Wandering and complaining through the desert. Crying out of onions and garlic. Longing for a time that on the surface looks better. But that time was really a time of enslavement to things you cannot even remember being enslaved to!
What if we stopped being blind to how we were enslaved back in the day? What if we opened our eyes and truly remembered the facts for all people – not just you and your family, but for everyone! What if we recalled the struggle, the loss of life and the tragedies of back in the day?
Keep some nostalgia for those days of old in the places where they can teach us. And start having some nostalgia for today! What if…what if we looked at today with nostalgia. After all, today is the last today you will have.
How about two minutes ago, singing to God be the glory, wasn’t that great! Two weeks ago when 1/3 of our congregation was under 10 years old! Wasn’t that amazing! Wasn’t that God’s work! Let’s celebrate! God is raining manna on us…on you!
Folks, if we cannot find the manna today, then God needs to put us through a 40 year wilderness journey we’re we are forced to rely on manna. If we can only look back and think, those we the good old days and fail to see how today is a good new day, then we need to get into a 40 year school of manna. If we cannot claim our context and discover the amazing grace and helping God is offering right now, then we are truly enslaved right now and we need an exodus!
I want to leave you with two verses to take home and pray about this week:
Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
Great wisdom in the 7th chapter of the Ecclesiastes.
- You want some advice when you wonder why bad things happen to good people. Read Ecc 7.
- Want to know what to do during an election when there are two sides with very different opinions? Read Ecc 7 – especially verse 18!
- When you hear that bad joke and you want to know if you should laugh or cry? Read Ecc 7!
- Want to know if you should read the comments section of Facebook posts? Read Ecc 7!
- Want to know if the way you smell will affect your reputation? Read Ecc7!
Check this chapter out this week, but focus on verse 10!
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Today, Hood MCC is a new thing! It is not that we have abandoned the good old days. It is that we have learned from them. It is that we treasure them. It is that we are using the experience of those days to inform how God is raining manna on us this day!
I say to the days of old this: To god be the glory And I say to this day: To God be the Glory!
Let us be grateful for the Manna God rained down back in the day. And let us find the Manna God is raining down right now…and grab hold of it, fill our physical and spiritual bellies, and become the kingdom that God wants us to be.