Open Our Eyes of Faith
Sometimes, we fail to see what's right in front of our eyes, until someone shows us it's there. Two men, traveling companions, are walking down the road. A third man comes along and walks with them. The two traveling companions have just witnessed the arrest and execution of their friend and teacher. They know he died. I wonder, what are the odds that the third man isn't just some strange traveler, but actually their teacher and friend risen from the dead?
Right. None. There's no probability because that kind of thing has never happened. The two travelers have no reason to think or even expect that this third man, the one who has just joined them on the journey, is their friend and teacher now resurrected. Yet, once Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of the bread, and his disciples see him, alive, risen from the dead, then it wouldn't be strange to expect him to meet them once again. As his friends, they would probably even keep their eyes and ears open for him, hoping to meet him again.
Once they see Jesus and reflect on their experience with the crucified and risen Jesus along the road, they recall how their hearts burned within them as Jesus opened the scriptures to explain how the Bible speaks of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Christ. Suddenly, what was hidden becomes visible. It starts to makes sense.
This kind of thing happens to us in little ways everyday. Someday, someone gives us a a plant, say an hydrangea, for the first time. Before that day, we may have had a sense of beautiful flowering plant we like in people's yard, but we never really knew what it was. Now that we have our own, however, we start to see them everywhere. Our eyes are opened. That's part of learning and discovering the truth about the world around us. Suddenly, we see and know about things that were hidden to us before.
This past fall, a man named Brian found shelter in our recycling bin. He went unnoticed for a couple of weeks. When Brian told us his story a month later, he told us some of the places where he lived and sheltered himself. In the weeks that followed, I started to notice little shelters in woods and back lots all around. I could see and imagine a world invisible to me. I wonder how many other people and situations might be invisible to us?
St. Peter tells us that now that God has chosen us and redeemed through Jesus' death and resurrection, we are to "prepare our minds for God's work by setting all our hope on the grace Jesus Christ will bring us when he is revealed." In the resurrection of Jesus, we see the end of God's plan not only for us but for all -- forgiveness, life, salvation, a place in God's kingdom, a place at God's table. We hear God's final word: I love you.
In the resurrection, we see the end. Like any good mystery, any good story, knowing the end changes how we see the past and present. Knowing God’s end, we see our shared past and present differently, too. What once seemed permanent and precious, things like silver and gold and all wealth promises, are revealed to be of little value compared to God, His life-giving, life-sustaining grace and love. What once seemed out place and peculiar, random and meaningless, starts to fit into the story of God and our salvation. Jesus' body and blood reveal God in a way that makes Him just as visible and accessible as things like gold and silver, but this truth is hidden in plain sight of the world. Someone one has to open our eyes, make it known, reveal it to us before we see and believe.
Jesus has gathered us into the body of Christ, into the church, to point to Jesus, to make Christ known, to reveal Jesus crucified and risen, so that we might see and hear and believe. How might we do that? How do we make Christ visible?
St. Peter exhorts God's people to hope. Hope as an active passionate way of living by setting Christ before our eyes, as our truth and goal. Those things that proclaim Christ, that witness to God's love and mercy, that teach and do the ways of Christ and put into practice what God desires for us and the world become our end and treasure. While the world works and slaves for things that perish, we've been set free to strive for God's kingdom, God's righteousness, by being remade in the likeness of Jesus.
It takes some learning and growing, some training and practice, some encouragement and support to live as God's children in this world, to live as people who strive and work and hope for that which God desires for us and for this world, instead of vainly chasing after our own desires. God's Holy Spirit fixes Jesus before our eyes, forms Christ within us not through some magic metamorphosis, but through worship and prayer, scripture and study, generous giving and selfless sharing, loving service and mutual support.
All the ministries of this congregation are means through which the Holy Spirit is working in us, reshaping and reforming our hearts and minds in light of the good news of Jesus Christ. When we invite to worship or study or fellowship or serve or give or share or volunteer, we are not asking you to busy yourselves with one more thing to do for the church, we are inviting you to hope, to believe, that God is saving the world through the power of the cross. By God's grace, we learn to see, love and value what God sees, loves and values, and in love we witness to Jesus' death and resurrection and it's power to set this world free from its curse of futile lives in meaningless servitude.
This past week, the New Jersey Synod pastors gathered for worship and a workshop. The goal if the workshop was to prepare our minds for action, like Peter says. On our table was a sheet of paper with three boxes drawn on it. One box was to draw how the community saw us; the other box was to draw how we saw ourselves as a congregation; the third box was for us to draw God's preferred future for us.
In the first box, I drew pictures of the many ways this community knows us, primarily through what happens in this building: Ken Shirk Childcare Center, AA and NA groups, food pantry, emergency assistance, an open place for worship.
In the second box, I drew a picture of us as a strange and diverse family, gathered around Jesus, holding hands, yet open to the comings and goings of a diverse set of people. It dawned on me that while we see Jesus in and among us and we know the good news for us, those people in the community see just our building, our generosity, our gifts, signs of our presence.
So when we start to think of God's preferred future, it would be the joining of these two things, that the community sees not simply us or our building, but the crucified and living Jesus, and through him they come to believe and trust and love the God who raised him from the dead. You are that witness, out there, in your life, among the people of this community. Here you meet Jesus, learn from him, grow in wisdom and knowledge and the fear of The Lord, but from here Jesus goes with you, to shine through, to speak through, to witness to God's coming kingdom and the eternal power of God's love.
We have been born again to an enduring and eternal life through your baptism into the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection. We have seen Christ revealed in the breaking of the bread. We have bet our past, present and future, all we have and hold on the promise of Jesus' resurrection because it is the only hope of a world that is trapped in darkness, death, slavery, meaninglessness, separation and bankruptcy. Share the hope you have been given. Learn its depths and heights, so you can invite others into the last, the best and only hope for the world, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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