Not seeing what's right in front of us

Easter 3B

In the name of Christ: our light and life.  Amen.

Several years ago I was living in Jersey City, in the rectory of the parish I was serving at the time.  It was a lovely little parish, with a wooden church building that was 150 years old.  The rectory, on the same grounds, was actually even older than the church.  It had been built by a doctor about 25 years before the church’s founding, and he donated it and the land around it so that there could be a new Episcopal Church in the area.

As lovely as these structures were (and still are), there’s a certain challenge that comes with buildings that old.  Aside from the challenges of regular deferred maintenance - a common issue in most churches - when a property is that old, things just often go wrong.

Thankfully, one of the gifts of that community was that we had a deeply dedicated sexton.  She lived across the street from the church where she was the building superintendent of an apartment building as her main job.  But because she was so close, and because she cared so much, she never minded popping over to the church to help out with any urgent need that might arise.

One time, in particular, I was struggling with a drain in my tub that had stopped draining.  I bought a snake at Lowe’s and tried to use it, with no success.  I’d tried a couple of different chemical drain openers, and nothing seemed to work.

I called Vanessa, and with apologies for bothering her at her other job, I asked for her help.  Did she have any way of helping me with this clogged drain so that we could avoid the unnecessary expense of calling a plumber?

Within a few minutes, she’d come over.  She’d brought a pipe snake attached to a drill so she could work through it better than I could manually.  She’d brought a bottle of heavy duty drain cleaner - the kind of stuff you can’t just buy at your local store.  I took her upstairs to the bathroom, and to the now-putrid soup of chemicals that had gathered.  After turning on the hot water for a moment to try to clear things out, she reached down, flicked the drain stopper, and all the water instantly went rushing out.

It seems that in cleaning the tub, I’d accidentally adjusted the stopper lever without realizing it.  But when I was faced with the problem, I couldn’t see my mistake.  I could only see the problem.  The water wouldn’t drain, so I must need to find a way to open the drain.  The simplest solution - the one right in front of me - never occurred to me.

That same kind of myopia - that shortsighted inability to see what was right in front of them - held the apostles in those earliest days of resurrection reality.  They had heard the good news proclaimed to them by the women who’d first discovered the empty tomb.  They’d even had the good news shown to them in person, when Christ came into the locked room with a rush of wind, speaking peace to all but Thomas; and then, later to Thomas, too.

But when they met Christ in the world, they didn’t recognize him.  In fact, he scared them.  They thought he was a ghost.  And even after they recognized him, their doubts lingered and persisted.  They didn’t really open themselves to the reality of Christ’s presence until they ate; until they were at table, and broke bread together.  That Eucharistic moment - even before the Holy Eucharist, as we understand it, had really taken root - even so it was a Eucharistic moment that helped them to see, and to understand, and to trust the Christ in their midst.

It’s a common problem - this not seeing what’s right in front of us.  We’ve all done it in silly ways, like forgetting to look for the easiest solution, like flicking the drain-stop lever.  But it can also be easy to miss what’s right in front of us in bigger ways - in spiritual ways.  Like those disciples who went before us, we, too, can miss Christ in our encounters out in the world.  We can miss recognizing Christ in our friends and neighbors, but even more easily, we can miss Christ in the strangers we pass on the street.  We almost always miss Christ in the people who scare us, the ones around whom we feel threatened.

That’s one of the things that’s most important about our Outreach ministries as a parish.  We cook and serve food for men at a homeless shelter in Paterson, not just because it’s a nice thing to do, and not even just because they need it.  But we do it because we need it, too.  We need to remember that those people, whose divergent life experiences help to draw the lines between “us and them”; those people, who might intimidate us, or even scare us - those people have the very faces and hearts of Christ.  We need the ministry to help remind ourselves of that.

It’s the same with the items we collect to support North Porch - our ministry to needy mothers and young children.  It’s the same with the food vouchers that you purchase after church each Sunday - where we pool our money to support several food pantries around the towns of our parish.  We do all of these things - and all of the many other ministries we engage in - because there is great need among those people we’re helping.  But we also do it, because we, ourselves have great need.  We need to practice seeing Christ in the world.  And even if we never see the faces of the people we help, the very act of helping them helps us to remember that they’re there.

The Gospel says that once the disciples recognized Christ, he opened their minds so that they could understand the scriptures.  That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?  To truly understand the scriptures?

Well, here’s the secret: when we do see Christ in the faces of the people around us, in the faces of the people we’d usually ignore or avoid - when we learn to truly see Christ, the message of the scriptures really does start to come through.  Our minds are opened and we begin to see the truth.

I’m so proud of all of the ministries we do here at St. David’s.  The feeding and the giving and the collecting.  And also the praying and even the playing - those are ministries that help us to see Christ, too.  And they all come together to help us open our eyes to the faces of Christ we might otherwise miss.

Remember that the next time you’re asked to give.  Remember that the next time someone asks you to spend time supporting one of these many ministries we offer.  You’re giving, not just to the church, and not just to the needy, and not even just to God.  But you’re giving in all of those ways, and even to yourself.  You’re giving yourself an opportunity to grow in faith and understanding.  You’re giving yourself an opportunity to see Christ in a new way - in a way that might have been right in front of you, but that you’d missed.  When the church is at its best, that’s the way our ministry works.  Giving gives giving.  Blessings abound.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.