Monday, March 31, 2014

Seeing With God's Eyes


A word on how I construct my sermons: I look for a common thread that runs through each passage, and then develop the sermon around that idea. So we look this morning at the three texts, and then work with the common thread.

1 Samuel 16
The anointing of David to replace Saul draws our attention to the contrast between Israel’s first king, Saul, and Israel’s greatest king, David. Saul represents for us kingship in its human and failed form, and David represents kingship for us as “the man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). When the Israelites first asked for a King (1 Samuel 8), God told Samuel that their request was not rejecting him (Samuel, the prophet of God), but they were rejecting God himself. One can read this statement as saying that kingship itself was wrong, but the book of Judges suggests that the kingship had the potential to be good: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (21: 25).

One basic point that emerges from the kingship narratives is that human institutions can be good and they can be bad. Almost any form of government can be good or bad. As Canadians we are convinced that democracy is the best form of government, but democracy also can be misused by sinful people.

One notes also that David was the youngest. This has happened before—God chose Jacob over Esau; God chose Joseph, the eleventh of the twelve brothers. Although David is a good-looking young man, his age and status were against him. This leads to our second basic point—found in God’s response to Samuel’s desire to anoint David’s older brothers: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” There is the human perspective on life that we all share, and there is God’s perspective, which God wants us to have.

John 9
So we turn to the gospel reading. Chapter 9 follows the controversies Jesus appears to stir up deliberately in the previous chapter, ending with his most controversial claim: “Before Abraham was, I am.” The story is full of intrigue and currents flowing beneath the surface. The Pharisees are worried about this new teaching under the travelling rabbi, Jesus. They follow his preaching and his miracles with concern.

Jesus and his disciples meet a man who was blind from birth. The disciples begin with trying to understand his situation. Jesus begins with acting to heal his blindness. In the aftermath, the Pharisees also try to understand what has happened. They grill the man who was blind. They grill his parents. They more concerned with Jesus’ orthodoxy than his actions, seen here in their annoyance that he had healed the blind man on the Sabbath (verse 14).

We can see the undercurrents of factions struggling for influence in the way that the man and his parents reply. They do their best to avoid being pulled into those currents while noting the reality of what they have experienced. Finally Jesus draws the parallel—intended for the Pharisees, as they quickly see—between the man’s physical blindness and spiritual blindness. The point is clear and straightforward: God wants us to see with Jesus’ eyes. God wants us to see Jesus, and to see all of life with Jesus.

This theme of light and seeing what is in the light is one of John’s favourites. In the opening chapter of his gospel he calls Jesus the light of the world (1:4,5 and 9-11). People avoid the light because they are afraid that their secrets will be revealed to others around them. This theme then moves us into Paul’s letter.

Ephesians 5
In the passage from Ephesians Paul observes that the way that we see life determines the way that we live life. If we see life in the light of God’s presence, we then walk in that light living the way that Jesus lived. If we see life without the light of God in us, we then walk in darkness. Of us John said, “People love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” Of us Paul says, “Live as children of the light.”

Integrating the Passages
This has been a brief look at the passages. There is much more in them than this overview, but a basic theme emerges. There are always more ways than one of looking at any situation, and our perspective determines how we act in these situations. There is God’s way to see life, which leads to actions that fit with God (“Live as children of the light”). There are human ways to see life, which leads to actions that do not fit with God. We can be like David, or we can be like Saul. We can be like the man born blind (who believed, when Jesus called him), or we can be like the Pharisees.

This doesn’t mean that there is one right way to see every situation—God’s way. There may be a variety of perspectives that fit with God’s heart and mind. But it does mean that God wants us to see with the eyes of Jesus and to act with the heart of Jesus, to walk in the light. This also does not mean that we will be perfect. David was far from perfect. If anything, his recorded sins were (to our eyes at least) worse than Saul’s! But David’s repentance was real, and Saul’s was not. God wants people who really do want to grow into him, to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus.

You know of course that perspective is important. A friend from South Africa sent me the following comparison of Russian and American attitudes, written as advice to Russians visiting the United States.
·         Showing up at a business associate’s home uninvited in the United States is not acceptable. You may be invited to a picnic—if you’ve known each other for several years and are social outside the office. As a rule, the invitation will be only on a weekend, and you don’t have to prepare for something extravagant. Everything is the same as ours, only with far less booze. Bring something sporty—ball, badminton, Americans are certainly fervent fans of these things.
·         Americans generally do not like long intros and prefer to go directly to the subject matter, especially if it’s a phone conversation. In Russia we talk about general topics before moving on to the reason for the call. Conversely, Americans are often surprised by the Russian habit of quickly breaking off a conversation and hanging up. Phone etiquette in America usually involves the gradual end of the conversation, confirmation agreements and standard closing remarks. By the way, “see you later” should not be taken literally. That is a courtesy, and no more.
·         Russian conversational patterns often sound harsh to Americans. Statements such as, “You’re wrong,” can be offensive. This can be interpreted as “You are telling lies!” Therefore it is better to say, “I do not think I can agree with this.”
·         When Americans are talking, they might put their foot on a nearby chair, or even a table. They might cross their legs so that one foot rests on the opposite knee. In American culture, it is considered an acceptable norm, but often causes irritation in other countries.

Perspective is important! Another example from the website my friend sent me compared the way that Russian men greet women with the way that American men greet women. As the website put it: “It’s weird how one nation’s flirting is another nation’s motivation to use pepper spray.”

A more serious example contrasts the way that we see the situation in the Middle East. If we see with Palestinian eyes, we tell one story; if we see with Israeli eyes, we tell another. Even more important than cultural differences and political differences is the decisive difference between seeing with human eyes and seeing with God’s eyes. God wants us to learn to see the world with his eyes and to act on that seeing.

The Upside-Down Kingdom
The way that Jesus embodied that difference has been called “the upside-down kingdom” (Don Kraybill). Just as God directed Samuel to the one who seemed least likely to be the future king, God routinely directs us to act on behalf of the less fortunate following God’s way of the kingdom

In the political world I have wondered what our world would look like with American and Canadian leaders seeing with God’s eyes. What would have happened if George Bush had prayed aloud the Lord’s Prayer—“Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of those who sin against us—before deciding to invade Afghanistan? We could have sought justice through the International Court in The Hague, while putting our wealth and our influence to work to benefit the oppressed of Afghanistan. Instead we invaded.

What would it look like if Barack Obama would see his political opponents with God’s eyes as one Catholic Hospital after another is forced to provide abortions in order to remain open? Or if Steven Harper would look at the future of Circles of Accountability with God’s eyes before cutting funding to keep them operating?

Often we think that these questions belong especially in political circles, but they are part of every area of life. I think of life in the church. Many years ago—in the late 1800s—people in my church (the Brethren in Christ) met in homes and in barns to worship. One group, followers of a man named Martin Brinser in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, built a simple meeting house on the edge of Brinser’s farm, since their homes were too small for the growing group.

The larger group of Brethren in Christ warned the Brinser group to return to meeting in their homes, but the group refused. So we expelled them, and they became a church known today as “The United Zion”. What if we had seen them with the eyes of God—brothers and sisters who had come to a different conclusion than we had concerning the shape simplicity should take in our lives? We could have dialogued and worked more intentionally. Instead we kicked them out, and within 10 years we too were meeting in simple church buildings.

Even a group such as the Amish, known for the way that they practice love and reconciliation, are not immune to acting on the basis of their own human convictions. You may recall a story from three years ago about a group of Amish in Ohio, who forcibly cut the hair and beards of ex-members who had come to disagree on the precise outer appearance the men had to have. If they could have stopped and looked at what they were doing, if they could have seen themselves with the eyes of God, what difference might that have made?

Of course, all of these examples come in the end back to each believer. We live and think and act in community, but especially in our culture we each make the choice of how we will see life around us. The passages we read suggest that we seek God’s presence—alone and in community—and test our perspectives with each other and with God, and then act on the basis of God’s love and desire for reconciliation in the world.

Some Basic Principles
Some basic principles to guide us in seeing the way God sees:
·         Don’t trust the “outward appearance” too much. Learn to hear and see what’s going on inside of the people around us. This suggests that we should be slow to judge others. As the NLT puts Eph 5:10, “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” Take the time to listen and understand and finally hear God’s voice within the situations of our lives.
·         Internalize the way that Jesus saw the world. As Paul tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of his being.” If you wonder how God sees the world, look at Jesus. This is I believe a particular strength of Mennonite theology—that we centre our ethic and teaching on the person of Jesus Christ. Not that we live up to that theology, but we know where to look!
·         Spend your time in prayer and in reading the Bible. The reason that Samuel could look at Eliab and Shammah and realize they were not the chosen ones, was that he spent his time before God constantly. He knew what God wanted, because he listened for God’s voice always in every moment. From his experience as a small boy in the tabernacle, hearing God all him and thinking it was Eli calling, Samuel listened for God’s voice. His very name might mean “He heard God.” (Actually: either God's name, or God heard—but I wonder ....) Spend your time listening for God, and follow whenever you hear him speak.

There is the saying that perspective is everything. “What you see depends on where you stand.” I remember a story that Ron Sider used to tell of his Uncle (perhaps Jacob—I don’t remember his Uncle’s name). His Aunt was institutionalized most of her life (many years ago, when we did not know as much as we do now about the mental and emotional processes of the human body), and his Uncle visited her faithfully throughout her life. Once when Ron asked him why he kept visiting over the years, he replied, “When you see _____, you see an old woman who doesn’t know what is going on around her, but when I look at her I see the young woman I courted and married.” What you see depends on where you stand, and God wants you to stand with him and see with God’s eyes. Then you can walk in God light following Jesus until he returns.

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