Sunday, March 2, 2008

Eyes Wide Shut: A Sermon

There was an article in the Times today about Global Warming -- there's a lot of snow this year, so skeptics argue that means there's no global warming.  And yet, the Arctic ice still floating, Greenland still sliding into sea, and the Antarctic still thinning.  As one scientist put it, you can't look at one winter and draw a pattern from it.  It's like the cartoon of the man who stands in front of a small clump of trees and tells his wife, "I told you all that talk about deforestation was a hoax."  Behind those few trees is a barren wasteland.

This isn't about the merits of global warming or deforestation, though we could talk about them in the context of caring for God's creation.  Rather, I bring this up because one of the problems we seem to face in our lives today is exactly the same as it was in the days of scripture.  We refuse to see what is before our very eyes.  

The obvious example is today's gospel.  Here we have a blind man -- blind from birth, mind you, not merely someone who used to be able to see and regained his sight.  The disciples ask Jesus one thing -- who sinned to make a man blind from birth.  It was a vexing problem for Jews who thought that sickness was caused by sin, but made no sense in this man's case.  Jesus heals the man in response -- by putting a plaster of mud on his eyes and asking him to wash.

The strangest thing about this story is that the Pharisees who find out about this healing are not interested in the fact that the man was healed -- When the formerly blind man says he believes Jesus is a prophet,  the Pharisees refuse to believe that the man was was ever blind.   But once they have been shown irrefutable proof that this man was born blind, they jump all over the fact that Jesus made mud on the Sabbath.  Not that he performed a miracle but that he violated the Sabbath.

The irony of this story is that these religious experts can't see God at work -- they're blind.  But the formerly blind man -- he sees.  When questioned he first says, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  When pressed and threatened, he proclaims very clearly, "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

But it's when he gets thrown out of the synagogue for this answer that he sees most clearly of all -- he finally comes to speak with Jesus and sees him for who he is:  He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

It's not that different from the prophet Samuel who was told to annoint the new king of Israel - and when he saw Jesse's oldest son he thought, "Wow, here's a kingly guy."  But instead, God gives him a boy who can't yet carry a sword and who's not even old enough to be considered.  As Samuel learns, God sees differently from us.  God sees past the surface of things to their real nature.

And isn't that the entire Good News?  That God sees past the surface?  God sees past the imperfections of our lives and into our core -- the heart of who we are.  On the surface, a person may look like a loser or a scoundrel -- but in the heart, God may see someone who has great love.  Or -- on the surface, we may see someone who looks clean and attractive, who is successful and may even go to church -- but God may see someone who acts primarily out of self-interest or maybe even hatred.

The Good News for us is that God sees things differently than "The World."  It's hard for us to get past the surface, to get below the tip of the iceberg (if we want to get back to our global warming metaphor).  But God invites us to try.  As Paul writes to the Ephesians:  "Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light."

I know, it's not easy.  So much of what Jesus did and calls us to do looks strange to the world.  A friend of mine used to work in prison ministry, and somebody said to him once, "Those people are animals.  Why do you waste your time on them?"  He did not see animals but God's children.  

More interesting for us perhaps, is that over the years, I've had numerous people in my office telling me how unworthy they themselves were.  How they had done bad things or hadn't fulfilled their potential or had not done all the good they knew they should have done.  And sometimes -- go figure -- those are the very people I see Christ acting in most obviously.  

There is nothing that Jesus could have done to appease the Pharisees.  They could not see the Son of God at work in him because they did not want to.  He did not fit into their plan, so he could not be real.  Even when they saw him heal, they refused to see.  The very people who should have opened their arms to Christ at the beginning could not do so because they refused to see.

As we progress through this Lenten season and you continue looking into your own life, look past the surface.  Look past the perfect skin or the age lines.  Look past the perfect body or the lumpy one.  Look past the perfect hair or the the shiny scalp.  Look past the clothes, the money, the good works, the associations and achievements.  Look down into the heart -- your heart -- and see what Jesus sees.