Monday, January 06, 2014

insight v eyesight--a sermon for 5 January 2014

Rev. Teri Peterson
insight v. eyesight
John 1.19-51
5 January 2014, Epiphany/Christmas 2/NL4-17/18

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I 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.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When 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?” He 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He 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 Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you come to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Our eyes are amazing things. In just about 1-inch spheres, we have all the ingredients to see shape, color, light, dark, and movement. Our corneas bend light and focus it through our pupils, where it’s bent again by the lens, so the light hits the rods and cones and gets converted to electricity that can be carried by the optic nerve, so that our brains get the message that we see something over there.

Of course, sometimes this complicated process is hindered by degeneration, or by cataracts clouding over the cornea, or by tears or scratches or detachments or other impediments.

And sometimes our eyes, working or not, have nothing to do with whether we can see.

Really, our ability to see depends on one question: What are we looking for?

Maybe we’re looking for answers.
Maybe we’re looking for help.
Maybe we’re looking for inspiration.
Maybe we’re looking for community.
Maybe we’re looking for a job.
Maybe we’re looking for someone to blame.
Maybe we’re looking for a partner.
Maybe we’re looking for our next meal.
Maybe we’re looking for a way out.
Maybe we’re looking for a way in.
Maybe we’re looking for questions.
Maybe we’re looking for someone to save us.
Maybe we’re looking for the past to rise again.
Maybe we’re looking for a magic word.
Maybe we’re looking for something worth our energy, our time, our lives.

Jesus looks around at the two guys following a few steps behind him and says “what are you looking for?”

It’s a bit of a loaded question. Are they supposed to say “well, our teacher said you’re the Lamb of God, and the Lamb is all about liberation from oppression, so…I guess we’re looking for freedom.”? Or maybe they could look at each other and at the ground and kind of mumble something about not really being sure what they’re looking for, like most teenagers would? I can feel their uncertainty as they pause and go with “uh…where are you staying?” Which is definitely the most creepy stalkerish thing they could have answered. But Jesus responds to their uncertainty with an invitation: come and see.

I love this. I love that Jesus answers his own question—what are you looking for?—with “come and see.” I love that Jesus doesn’t say “well, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, go home until you do know.” I love that there are no threats, no fire and brimstone, no coercion. Just a simple invitation: come and see.

And I love that the invitation spreads—Andrew invites Simon, Philip invites Nathanael. People are actually bringing their +1s. And their seeing experience is mutual—Simon comes to see this man his brother has declared is the Messiah, and Jesus sees right into him and renames him on the spot. Nathanael, after revealing his own narrow vision through his casual yet cutting slur, comes to see and finds that he is the one who is finally really and truly seen, and he declares his change of heart, mind, and life. It seems that the invitation to Come and See is not just about us seeing Jesus, but also about seeing ourselves as Jesus sees us: as beloved people created and called by God.

When we accept this invitation to follow Jesus, the reality is that we have no idea what we’ll see. Because, as the disciples soon learn, Jesus is in the business of doing things we couldn’t imagine. Jesus is all about epiphany—insight, not simply eyesight. He is about revealing things we could not otherwise see, and inviting us to reveal that glory to others. Come and See…through new lenses, in a new way, so together we can create God’s new kingdom. Or, as Jesus said to Nathanael: “You will see greater things than these!”

And yet that pesky truth: it still matters what we are looking for. Because sometimes the things we’re looking for are like cataracts that cloud our vision of Jesus. Sometimes our desires degenerate into kingdom blindness. It takes practice to assess honestly what we are looking for, and to admit whether or not we are looking for the same things Jesus is. Just looking with our eyes is hard enough—so often we are wildly unobservant of our surroundings, let alone of things we do not want to see. How do we practice epiphany while we’re still practicing being mindful of the world around us?

Today I suggest two ways we can practice. Both are long-term endeavors, so perhaps consider adding them to your New Year’s resolutions!

First, how we look at the world. Because it’s not okay to simply look inward or heavenward and ignore the place God has set us down. God created the world and called it good, and put us here to be a part of the world’s journey to becoming the kingdom of God. Which means we do have to pay attention! Today you are going to be invited to pay attention to the world through a particular lens. You’ll be looking for how the Spirit moves, keeping both your eyesight and your insight open with the help of a focus word.

As we pass the baskets of eye-words through the pews, take one and keep it. Don’t overthink the choice, just take a word and pass the basket on, and trust that the Spirit is moving in whatever word you end up with. Let the word dwell with you and see what the Spirit will show you.
This word is yours for the whole year, to sit with, think about, pray, and look through. It might be a word you feel some resistance to, and that’s okay. Ponder what it is that makes you uneasy and pray that way. It might be a word you love, and that’s great—figure out how to make it part of your everyday life. It might be a word you don’t know the meaning of—excellent! Time for a dictionary and a Bible concordance. Whatever word you find yourself with, let it be a way for God to work in you over time. Let the word guide your prayer and your looking. Put it on your mirror or your fridge or your dashboard or computer screen, and when you see it, remember to look through different lenses. Talk about your word with friends and family and the person next to you in the pew. Look for signs of God’s grace coming through this word. Throughout the year I’ll be asking if anyone would like to share experiences of their eye-word, perhaps in worship or on the new church website. You can always post on the facebook page, or email me or Jess to post for you. Just as John testified—he told what he had seen, so that the Messiah might be revealed—we too can tell what we have seen so that the Messiah can be revealed among us and within us.

The second way we can practice epiphany is at the communion table…and every table. When we come to the table, we catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God—where just a taste of bread is like a feast for the senses, where people who are different in every way serve one another, where there is enough for everyone. In our ordinary world, these things rarely seem to be the case—we build walls rather than tables, there never seems to be enough of anything, and we race through meals and experiences trying to beat others to the next thing. But here at Christ’s table, glory peeks through our ordinary stuff, and though we cannot perceive it with our dull 1-inch eyeballs, we can still come and see. And once we’ve seen it here, we can see it other places too. Or, as Jesus said…you will see greater things than these! It’s one thing to experience grace at this table, and another to experience and offer it no matter what table you sit at. The communion table is not a performance stage, it’s a practice room. This is where we practice for every table, so that wherever we are, we can see and reveal God’s glory. We may only come to this particular table once a month, but the other 90 times we sit at table during a month are showtime. If we let epiphany insight take over, we may just find that the world is changing, one meal at a time. Kind of like Jesus did it.

Now here’s the thing: the way Jesus did it was both perfect and dangerous. It’s not popular to live by this kind of vision, nor to let this kind of light shine. But it is our calling. What are we looking for? Will we come and see?

May it be so.

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