The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Open my eyes that I may see

Lent 4A

Let us pray.

O Lord,
     Open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;
     Open my ears that I may hear their cries;
     Open my heart so that they need not be without succor;
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,
     Nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
     And use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
     That I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.

That prayer was written in the early twentieth century by the one-time prison warden, turned writer and anti-apartheid, South African activist, Alan Paton.  In his striving for justice, he saw the value – and even the necessity – of opening our eyes, particularly when we’re blind to the roles we play in harming others.

Earlier this week, I read a short blog post that a preacher wrote while preparing for this gospel lesson today where he declared this to be the most dangerous prayer.  Not this prayer, in particular, but the first few words of it: “Open my eyes…”

It is a pretty dangerous prayer.  When our eyes are opened, we can see all the pitfalls around us.  When our eyes are opened, we can see all of our shortcomings.  When our eyes are opened, we can see ourselves.

But yet, sight can be among the greatest gifts.  It can protect us.  It can guide us.  It can open us to the beauty of creation.

This morning we hear the story of Jesus giving sight to the blind man.  But in doing so, he helps to open the eyes of many others.  And when God intervenes to open our eyes, it can be a dangerous and profound thing.  We can see things we’d rather not see.  We can see things that the princes and powers of the world would rather us not see.

When Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man, he also opened the eyes of his heart.  And he opened the eyes of the hearts of his disciples.  He showed them glimpses of truth that they had all previously been blind to.

But not everyone had that reaction.  There were those among them who would, instead, cling to their blindness.  It felt safer.  They could only see what fit into their worldview, and anything else could not have possibly been from God.

We often talk about looking for evidence of God in the world.  We believe that we can see God in the natural order.  We believe that we can see Christ in the faces of the people we meet (and sometimes ignore) every day.  But we can only do that if we’re willing to pray that most dangerous of prayers: to invite God to open our eyes.

Throughout this season of penitence and reflection, this season of preparation for the coming reality of Christ rising beyond and conquering death – this prayer could guide us.  This prayer could be a path to seeing the coming reality as never before.

But only if we’re willing.  Only if we stop clinging to our blindness.

I’d like to share with you a hymn that was among my favorites when I was growing up.  It’s about inviting God to open our eyes.  Feel free to sing along, or at least just follow along.  But I hope you’ll hear this hymn as a prayer.  A prayer to see God more fully.  A prayer to be more fully present to the reality of God in our lives and all around us.

If we do that, we’ll be more ready for Easter than we ever have been before.

Let us pray.

Open our eyes, O Lord.
Open our eyes to our prejudice.
Open our eyes to our complicity with oppression.
Open our eyes when our short-sighted desires constrict our willingness to answer your calling.
Open our eyes to see Christ in every face around us.
Open our eyes to see Christ in ourselves.
Open our eyes so that we can see our sin.
Open our eyes so that we can see your grace.
Open our eyes.  Amen.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

An Immersive Lent

Ash Wednesday

In the name of Christ. Amen.

Most of you probably know about my love of theatre.  Though I have performed some (many years ago) my real love is more about experiencing theatre than it ever was about performing in it.

One of the roles that theatre can play in people’s lives is providing an outlet for escape.  When life is stressful – when the world seems more filled with uncertainty than security – when we’re mourning or angry – it can feel good to slip away for a while into happy, brassy music punctuated by rhythmically tapping feet holding up beautiful, smiling faces.  Or maybe some farcical comedy – laughing at the antics and missteps of some aggrandized version of humanity can pull us out of doldrums, at least for a while.  It’s a world where everything works out in the end.

There’s a place for that in our lives.  It can be therapeutic, and maybe sometimes even necessary to be forced into a smile when a smile seems most foreign.  As it’s said in Steel Magnolias – one of my favorite plays turned into a film – “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

But where theatre really moves me – where it will get into my bones and stir me – is when it doesn’t provide escape, but deeper and more profound insight into my life; when it helps me to confront reality in a new way; when I’m not so much transported, as I am imported.  For me, deeper satisfaction comes not from being disconnected from my reality, but from being reconnected with my humanity.

That’s what we’re about during Lent – reconnecting.  We so often think of it as a time of denial, or of disconnecting from the world, but I’ve come to think of Lent as being like the very best kind of theatre.  It’s about reconnecting with humanity and with God in the deepest, most visceral ways that we can.

It’s summed up best in the words of Paul in today’s Epistle: “We entreat you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

In recent years, my very favorite kind of theatre has been what we call “immersive theatre”.  As the name implies – it’s about immersing the audience into the world of the story.  We’re not passive observers beyond that invisible fourth wall, but we become a part of the story.

Last week, Michael and I had an experience in just this kind of theatre.  We saw Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.  The classic old Broadway theatre that houses the production had been transformed.  We were seated with hundreds of others on the stage, with the orchestra and actors all around us, and the play-space had been extended throughout the house.  The production happened all around everyone.  The actors stared us in the face, pulling us in and making us a part of 19th century Russian aristocracy.  It made the story as much about now as then.

That’s just what we’re trying to do in these next few weeks.  We want to pull ourselves into the story.  We want to remember that the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is as much about now as then.  This isn’t just a history lesson, or even a self-help seminar.  It’s both of those things, and more.  It’s about the joining together of what was, what is, and what will be.  It’s about finding that common thread that connects these great lives of ancient days to our own great lives now, and to the great lives that are still emerging.  We look to the person of Jesus as our guide, but it’s not just about him, long ago.  It’s also about us, right now.

Peter Gomes, the Baptist theologian and preacher, and long-time chaplain to Harvard University once said, “The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’ The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.”

I entreat you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  Don’t disconnect, but come together.  Don’t deny yourself, embrace yourself.  Don’t berate yourself for the many ways you are separated from God, but highlight and focus on the grace that makes you God’s own gift to our current time and place.

The whole of the Christian message is about finding that reconciliation that Paul told us about.  Lent is the same.  It’s about coming together, and knowing God more intimately.  It’s about recognizing that we are staring in the faces of the actors and being pulled into the story.  It is our story.  It’s not about escaping, but embracing.

You are dust, and to dust you shall return.  We were a part of this story before we were ever imagined on this earth, and we will continue in it through the ages that await.  Come inside.  Be reconciled to God.  It’s our story.  Amen.