Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sermon Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41
Psalm 23

What does it mean for us to look with God’s eyes?  These three readings give us different perspectives on seeing.  In our Hebrew bible reading from the Prophet Samuel, we hear about the anointing of David, the last son of Jesse. Jesse presents his seven sons, but none of them are the chosen ones.  “[F]or the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  God shows Samuel that his chosen one is David.  When Samuel looks with God’s eyes, he sees that David was “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”  “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

We can hear God’s dialogue with Samuel and see that God is teaching Samuel not to look at the external beauty of people but to look at their hearts.  What do we see when we look at people?  Do we see their wealth?  Do we see their age?  Do we see their infirmities?  Do we see their race?  Who do we think of as “favored by God”?  I think we have a tendency to look at people who have easy lives and assume that they are the ones that have been blessed.  When we see people who are suffering because they are impoverished or suffering because they have illnesses or other misfortunes, maybe it’s harder to see that God is working in them.  How can we get below the surface appearances and look at the hearts of people? 

This week I worked on the East Coast.  I work for a non-profit that works on environmental and other sustainability initiatives.  We’re a big organization now, nearly 80 employees.  I’ve been working for this organization for nearly 10 years and we’ve quadrupled in size.  We have a bi-weekly staff meeting and we begin each staff meeting with “shout-outs”  this is a moment when people say,  “I have a shout out for Peter because he was quoted in the NY Times on  this issue.”  Or,  I have a shout out for Allie because she helped to pass this piece of legislation in Michigan.    But there’s an employee who has been with Ceres as long as I have who has never gotten a “shout out”.  Her name is Gabriela.  She works in the accounting department.  She prepares the budgets for each department and she reconciles the monthly bills to those budgets.  She creates systems for tracking all of the organization’s expenses and categorizing them to each program.  She looks at each grant that comes in and allocates the money to the different projects that we are working on.  Every month she produces reports for the managers and she maintains the books so that every year, we have a clean audit.  Gabriela works quietly in an office with a lock on the door (unlike most of the employees who work at open desks).  She doesn’t talk much to people at lunch, and isn’t one who is “favored” in the organization.  She speaks with a slight speech impediment.  English is not her first language.  She seems a little uncomfortable being engaged with colleagues.  But she does incredible work.  She has grown in the organization.  She does her work efficiently, never complaining.  When I have a budget question, she’ll spend an hour looking for answers or explaining the spread sheets to me.  Without Gabriela nothing would run.  But she is invisible to most people in the organization and completely invisible outside the organization.  I wonder what motivates her?  I wonder what makes her really happy?  I don’t know her very well.  For the first time, on this trip to Boston, I wrote her a thank you note, just telling her that I appreciate her work.  When I wrote the thank you note, I thought maybe this will open up a connection between us.  I would like to know her better.

It’s the same here at Nativity.  Some people are outspoken, the first to volunteer, a big presence in worship—they are noticeable,  I see them immediately when I look out at the congregation.  But there are other members of Nativity who are less visible.  They might come for worship and leave quickly before coffee hour, or might stay for coffee hour, but not jump into conversations.  Maybe they’ve been members of Nativity for years, or maybe they are church shopping, looking around for a place where they will be loved.  Do we notice them?  Do we welcome them?  Do we see their needs first, or their clothes first.  Do we see quickly that they know the worship patterns and nod,  “They are one of us”.  Or do we see them fumbling in the prayer book or not sure when to stand and sit and notice that they “don’t belong.”  What would it mean to be curious about their hearts.  What if we asked how God is working in them?  What would we learn, how would we recognize their anointing?

Can we be like Samuel, listening to God as we look at people.  Can we be like Samuel,  anointing people by noticing that they are God’s chosen ones?  Can we see in their eyes, God’s beauty shining forth even if their bodies are frail, or their clothes frayed? 

Thinking about the passage from the Gospel of John today, I hear an invitation to us to notice God’s healing work in the world. In our Gospel reading, we have the miracle of the man born blind.  The disciples ask about sin, whose sin was it, the parents on the man that led him to be born blind.  But Jesus heals the man and teaches the disciples that seeing is about looking with God’s eyes.  “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see.”  The blind man becomes a disciple as he comes to know God’s power working in him. 

Instead of focusing on what is broken and wrong about our society, our community, we are invited to notice where God is healing and making things better.  When we notice this work happening, our sight becomes God’s sight.  Jesus explains this to his disciples,  “I came into this world so that those who do not see may see.”  As we look for Jesus’ healing happening in the world, our eyes are opened.  What if we hear this invitation in our political context.  There are so many people, the media, the social networks who are complaining about what is wrong with the President’s policy proposals.  But what if instead of bashing those politicians or criticizing the failures, instead we saw the good intentions.  What are the problems that God is trying to heal?  How is God working to bring sight to those who cannot see?  I heard someone talking about the conflict in Syria the other day and they noticed that the women and children are starving because humanitarian aid can’t get to villages isolated by the war.  They said,  I just don’t understand it, everytime there is a fragile ceasefire agreement, they go back to fighting one another.  How can these people continue to kill one another?  But what if we look with God’s eyes?  Is there healing work happening as some refugees find homes in other countries?  Are we stirred to participate in God’s work by welcoming immigrants who will leave to find safety and a better life for their children.  The story of the man born blind invites us to notice the suffering—the blindness.  But instead of condemning the one who is suffering, naming them as the “sinner”, or looking around for another scapegoat, (it must have been the parents who sinned) we are invited to notice God’s healing and participate in God’s work as disciples.

Finally, in our Epistle, we are invited to walk in the light. “Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Children who walk in the light are children who know God as the beacon in their lives.  And the light that allows them to see, also shines forth from them, illuminating the way for others.   What is good and right and true?  It is both the presence of God in us and the fruit of God’s presence in us.  The first line of the fifth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians is this,  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[a] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”   Living in love is what it means to be a child of light. 

I presided at the wedding of Amanda and Brian last night.  It was a beautiful service, but I came away from the ceremony aware that all of us who were present were illumined by the light of Brian and Amanda’s love for one another.  In seeing them, loving one another and making promises to one another, we were reminded of what is good and right and true.  When we see someone offer a neighbor love, how do we respond?  Do we think,  “that person is extraordinary?”  She is so generous, or self giving—I could never do that?  Or do we notice the love that shines in that person and recognize it as a light that shines in us.
This day is called “Laetare Sunday” (also “Rose Sunday” ), and takes its name from the opening words of the Mass, the Introit’s “Laetare, Jerusalem”:
Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. (Psalm) Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus. Gloria Patri.
Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. (Psalm) I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory be to the Father.
When we see with the eyes of God, let us rejoice today.

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