One of my favorite places to visit when I lived in New York was the top of the World Trade Center.
After travelling through the noisy and busy city by way of car, train or even ferry, we’d take an elevator to the 108th or 109th story with a trip on the escalator covering the last floor or two. There was something oddly peaceful about walking out onto the roof of the building – even if it was full of tourists. The different perspective from street level (or below) to 110 stories up transformed the city. Every other building in Manhattan, which had towered over our heads when we walked past them on the street, suddenly became so tiny they were almost insignificant. The hustle and bustle of the traffic below disappeared and even the other landmarks and tourist attractions in the city were diminished to less than toy-sized.
You can see the Empire State Building way in the background of the picture above.
Here’s the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges;
and here’s the Statue of Liberty.
I wonder if this is what the world looked like to Jesus as he was tempted with visions of power and glory. From this perspective, from so far away, it seems like it would be easy to just disregard the millions of other people on the streets and in the buildings.
From this perspective, so far above everything else, it’s easy to be tempted to think only of ourselves.
Standing on the roof of the World Trade Center, looking out at the Statue of Liberty, I didn’t give any thought to what was happening on Liberty Island. I didn’t think about the people who were out there or their perspective at all. About a year later, went out to see the Statue and I took this picture. The Statue looks very different from this perspective, huh? From here, that tiny, almost non-descript dot in the middle of New York Harbor becomes a sculpture so large that thousands of tourists could – at the time – walk up the 354 steps inside to see the view from the top. Standing at her feet gave me a much different perspective than looking down at her from across the harbor.
And when I turned around and took this picture I wasn’t at all thinking about who might be standing on the roof of the World Trade Center.
It is tempting to only think about our own perspective. As we enter the season of Lent, we have a great opportunity to see what it would be like to change our view. In the story that Luke tells, Jesus is tempted with a view of a world with him at its center. He’s tempted to take care of his own needs first, giving up on his fast and turning stone to bread. He’s tempted with endless power, taking control of all of the kingdoms in the world and turning his back on God. And he’s tempted to test God’s loyalty by placing himself in harm’s way.
Instead of giving into these temptations, Jesus is able to change his perspective. To see things through the eyes of God and through the eyes of his fellow human beings. He sees that it’s not just about his own hunger, it’s about creating a ministry that declares sharing by all so there is scarcity for none. He sees that God calls him not to rule as an Emperor but to lead as an equal, demonstrating to the world that when we put God at the center of our hearts, we can’t help but to serve God’s children with our hands. And Jesus sees that there is no reason to test God when we know that we can trust God – the God who has given us life and love and relationship and asks for nothing in return.
By changing his view in the desert, Jesus found his perspective for his ministry.
And so, this Lent, we will find some ways to change our perspectives. And what better place to try out some new things than in our worship services? Church on Sunday is the place we are supposed to come to practice our faith, so we’ll change some parts of our lives here to practice changing our perspective outside of these walls.
We’ve changed the order of worship – just a bit – to help us break out of some familiar routines. Our hope is that this change in perspective will help us to discover new ways of worshipping while also reigniting our passion in many of our well-loved traditions.
For instance, we’ve already experienced a new beginning, as we started the service with music for meditation.
During our prayer time, we’ll continue, as we have over the past few weeks, collecting the joys and concerns and then repeating back the petitions to allow for a moment for each of us to intentionally lift up our community to God. To help us enter a more meditative state, we’ll sing a short piece from the Taizé community. As you become more familiar with words and the music of “O Lord, Here my Prayer,” let the Spirit carry you away as you are lifted with your prayers.
If you are someone who loves the tradition of passing the peace, you may feel a bit like Jesus out in the desert to realize that we’ll be abstaining from it during Lent. However, there is always time for fellowship. As we conclude of service with the familiar refrain of “God Be With you Till We Meet Again,” you are invited to find someone who you don’t know very well and greet them.
Some of these changes will mean more to us than others. Some of us may miss the pieces that we’ve removed while others may secretly rejoice in their absence. We all come to worship with our own perspective. Each of us has hymns that we love or hate, routines and rituals that rub us the wrong way, processes and prayers that we’d rather avoid. Each of us has our own reasons for coming to church. Even when we have the perspective of joyful worship with the Spirit moving among us, we need to realize that we may be sharing the pew with someone who is hoping for reflective silence. Even when our hearts are full of joyful prayer, others are full of concern. For some a sacred space is created through formal dress while others feel a greater connection to God by coming to worship simply as they are. While we may find a sense of holiness in polite silence, there are children among us who celebrate God’s love with laughter and play.
We all come to worship with our own perspectives. And yet we promise each week to “walk together in all God’s ways.” The joy of being a church gathered in Christ’s name is the joy of being a community – a group of individuals, with all of our individual quirks and gifts and eccentricities and blessings. One of my joys is to hear from another with whom I worshiped who was touched by a moment in worship that may not have felt spiritual to me. It’s a joy to hear each lay leader bring their own perspective on God and worship. It’s a joy to experience hymns that we’ve never heard alongside our well-worn favorites and to hear them sung by a choir filled with passion. It is a joy for me to plan out worship with Cathy and the deacons and to discover all of the different ways in which they and you and I are fed differently by the Holy Spirit.
When we change our perspective, we open up our hearts to allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us in amazing new ways.
When I stood on the roof of the World Trade Center or at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, I never considered the perspective of anyone at the other site. Having this opportunity, so many years later to look at those pictures has helped me to remember that there are so many different perspectives besides my own. Whether we are in the busy city, the barren desert or the blessed peace of worship, when we take that moment during Lent and throughout the year to consider all of the different ways that our fellow children of God see the world, we may even begin to change our own perspective to better understand God’s.
Dear God, as we walk with Jesus through the desert of temptation this Lent, shift our perspectives to open our eyes and ears and hearts to those around us. Through our worship of You help us to hear your message that we are not alone, that You are with us and that we are with each other. Allow your Holy Spirit to be with us, encouraging, empowering and enlightening ever step we take on our journey. This we humbly ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our brother and teacher. Amen.