Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sermon July 16, "I Exam"

Ephesians: 1: 3-14
Mark 8: 22-26

As you have probably noticed, I wear glasses. I have worn glasses since I was in the third grade. I had a stigmatism, and after consistently coming home from school with headaches, my parents took me to the optometrist in Fayetteville. My vision has never been terrible, but glasses do help!
I believe in a God that has a vision, or a dream of the future. This vision, or dream, is what we refer to as the “Kingdom of God.” God enlists our help in making this dream come to reality—and Jesus helps us know what we can do to contribute to the building of that kingdom. Jesus tells us we can love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus tells us we can love our enemies, and repay violence with kindness. Jesus tells us we can repent and forgive one another. The kingdom of God is not built with bricks, it is built with ideas—and these are some of the foundation ideas. Another foundational idea is about our identity—…………
One problem with our lives is that we are near-sighted. We are spiritually near-sighted. Our eyes fail to see the vision of God—we’re too distracted to listen to the dream of God. Too often we think the problem is that our desires are just too strong. The church seems to take on this dreadful task of stamping out desire. But as C. S. Lewis pointed out on the radio back in 1948, the problem isn't that our desires are too strong, rather, our desires are too weak. We are far too easily pleased. We settle for mere trifles like money, sex, glory, when God wants to give us true wealth, genuine intimacy.
The author of Ephesians refers to God’s gift of grace as a lavish inheritance. Something we didn’t earn, but which is gifted to us. How often we settle for less when God is dying to give us grace! How often we settle for the tired old habits of religion—legalism and dogmatism, instead of waiting in expectation for the lavish gift of forgiveness, the mystery of adoption by God! How do we correct our vision?
((((HOLD UP EYE CHART)))))) I imagaine a lot of you have been to an eye doctor before, and you’ve probably seen one of these. You probably know that when you look at one of these in an optometrist’s office, you look through this big contraption on an arm, you set your chin on a little chin rest, and then the optometrist starts fiddling with all sorts of lenses. He switches them in and out, and says, which is better, A, or B. Then he’ll line up a couple more and say, which is clearer, A, or B. Some lenses he flips, some he replaces, and at the end of the session, you have a clear view of the chart. You can see it more clearly than you had ever before!
When Jesus takes the blind man and spits in his eyes, the man rubs them and is healed….well, sort of…he is partially healed. He can see things, but not quite clearly. He says he sees people walking around like trees. What an odd statement! Some Christians read this and are uncomfortable because the passage seems to imply that Jesus was unsuccessful on his first attempt. I love this passage though. It makes a left turn where we expect a right turn. It gives us a human savior and healer where we expect to see a superman.
Jesus puts his spit in the man’s eyes, and that sort of does the trick, but Jesus has to try again. How beautiful! Jesus doesn’t just give up on us when his healing power doesn’t immediately soak right in! Jesus keeps at us, trying again and again and again to heal us. Sometimes we have moments of clarity, and sometimes things are a bit hazy.
Yes, Jesus’ healing touch sometimes takes continued effort. We may walk away from a religious experience and think that we’ve got everything figured out, and then we begin to understand that we don’t see things so clearly after all. We are still confused, perhaps we are mistaken. IF we expect Jesus to be able to zap us and free us from our afflictions, then we might be thinking of the wrong savior.
I don’t deny that Jesus heals in this manner, but I would certainly not expect an alcoholic to feel this kind of experience. I wouldn’t expect someone coping with the loss of a loved one to simply be freed of their heartache and depression at the snap of a finger. NO—sometimes Jesus heals us in a process, as is shown in our scripture passage.
Sometimes God brings us to an understanding of our adoption in a progression of grace. God’s love for us might unfold over the course of a marriage, or over the course of a recovery, or over the course of an illness. The revelation of our place in the Kingdom of God usually unfolds little by little, experience by experience. And the good news is that it keeps unfolding before us, leading us onward toward a fuller grace. This is why I get bristles under my skin when I hear the question “When were you saved?”
The person asking that question wants me to tell them about one point and time in history—but the answer is that “I am being saved—it’s an on-going project!” It is not that I haven’t had an experience that has confirmed my life in Christ, but to limit grace to one moment of our lives—the moment of justification—is to miss out on a whole lot of salvation!
((((Back to the eye chart))))) Much like that optometrist helping us correct our vision with that big contraption—Christ has different prescriptions for each of our eyes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a good left eye and a bad right eye. They are two different prescriptions. To further complicate things—each of us is different. If you were to put my glasses on, things might look all wrong to you. If I wore Donna’s glasses for a whole day, I might end up feeling nauseated!
For me, the prescription may be prayer and taking quiet walks in the mountains. For Scott they may be working with his hands and providing an enjoyable atmosphere for the youth. For others of us it may be tithing and leading Sunday school discussions. The point is that rarely does one thing give us clear vision, and usually we all have different prescriptions to be able to see the Kingdom of God in our midst.
What is it that Christ wishes us to see, what does his eye chart say? (((((Hold up home-made eye-chart that has wax paper over the letters, to simulate “blurred vision” ))))))) Well, let’s try and find out. I mentioned a myriad of different lenses that may fine tune our vision to THE Vision, to the Dream of God, but there are two base lenses that each of us need to wear to understand something fundamental. They are general—the first is the first words of Jesus’ ministry—repentance. Repentance means turning around, it means having the courage and the heart to admit our Sin! In the past, the experience of admitting my guilt has been a freeing experience.
Admitting means “letting in.” When we admit our sin. When we “let it in” and accept that it is our condition, we also admit God’s grace that had equalized this sin. This is not about living a life of perpetual guiltiness, it is about letting go of guilt. Admitting sin means admitting grace.
One way that we can collectively admit our sin is by praying a prayer of confession here in worship. Sometimes I may pray this prayer for all of us, and sometimes I may ask all of us to say the prayer together. Whatever the occasion, I believe it is important for us to recognize that we miss the mark because it gives us a humble heart.
A humble heart is one that recognizes that it has a hole in it. For us to see that hole, we need to admit that we sin. You can’t just take forgiveness without admitting that you need it! That’s trying to put forgiveness into a full heart—a heart that is full of itself. A humble heart, a contrite heart, recognizes that this hole has a certain shape to it—and that shape is the shape of God. So let’s collectively admit our sin. Some of the things that are written are things that will resonate with you. Some things you may find yourself thinking—“that’s not me?!” But as a collect, as a community, we recognize that we miss the mark together…………890
The second “general lens that we all need” is the sister of this first confession. If we make a humble confession of our sin and ask for forgiveness, we must also forgive those who have wronged us. This is why Jesus teaches us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” This is required for forgiveness. The custom that usually follows our prayer of confession is the “passing of the peace.” It is a holy time of fellowship. We pass the peace of Christ by saying to one another “the Peace of Christ,” we might shake hands or give a hug. (((((Cut if needed)))))) In the early church, the peace of Christ was communicated in the “kiss of peace.” It was not mamsy-pamsy kiss on each other’s cheek—you know that Mediteranians do that to one another when they are simply walking down the street. No—the kiss of peace was given full on the lips.
Over time, the church fathers had to figure out a way to reign in this custom because people were really taking advantage of the situation to start making out in church! (I’m serious!) So, the women were only asked to kiss the women, and the men were asked to kiss the men. Now, hundreds of years later, as the concept of “personal space” has grown a wider circle around us, shaking hands is probably the most “protestant” way to communicate this ancient practice.
But the symbolism is the same. We confess to God, and then we express our forgiveness and reconciliation among one another in the community. Usually, I might say something like “as forgiven and reconciled people, let us share with one another the peace we find in Christ.”
After we confess our sins, accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, after these two lenses are in place, we have a lot clearer vision of God’s message for us. (((((Take off last sheet of wax paper---Message spelled out like an eye chart is I AM A CHILD OF GOD))))) It is much like the blind man seeing the light for the first time. What does that message say for us today?
When I finally got those glasses in the third grade, I remember looking around at everything, thinking “Am I supposed to be able to see that?!?!” It was an excitement, the world was new and it held so much more detail than I had ever known. I could see actual leaves high in the tree, not just a green blur. I could see road-signs far down the road.
The lavishness of grace is sometimes hard to believe or comprehend. The author of Ephesians is certainly impressed with their new found security as a child of God. We are adopted by God into the family of forgiveness. This message isn’t just letters spelled out on an eye chart, it is a new way of life! It is like that clean, sparking look of the earth after the rain has fallen! It is like a breath of fresh air.
It is lavish, it’s like sinking your teeth into a ripe strawberry or having a cold glass of water after mowing the lawn. We live with this freshness in our hearts. We must continue to forgive and be forgiven, so that our eyes remain clear on this message, and so this message is communicated through our lives to others! Amen

1 comment:

  1. this has to be the very best sermon I've heard in my life!!!