Saturday, April 30, 2011

2 Easter Yr A

We have told the ancient stories of our faith, we have lit the new fire of Easter, we have baptized, we have proclaimed the Alleluias! and we, the remnant, the faithful ones come here today in confidence that the Christian life is more than the high of resurrection. We come here today in expectation that there is more to the story, that God’s glory is not just at the mountaintop, but God's glory is encountered along the way as well. Now is the reality of the Christian journey, now is the time we live in fear and in hope. To borrow another journey metaphor, now is when the rubber meets the road. If indeed we are people of story, which I do believe we are, how are we resurrected and how are we agents of resurrection? How then is the Easter story being written into our lives? We are now invited to live a whole new life, what is that story about?

Jesus takes all of the guilt, the shame, blame, anxiety, all of the pain and suffering, all of the isolation and alienation onto himself. Our new life begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our missing the mark, in spite of our failures, rebellion, and hard hearts, in spite of what's been done to us or what we've done, God has made peace with us. As Jesus said, "It is finished."

This is the work that Jesus does on the cross, and in the resurrection, new life begins. So Thomas, the twin, reflects all our humanity, all of that doubt, all of that need for clarity and certainty. Thomas needs to see, to feel, to touch, Thomas just can't take his friends' word for it. Thomas' story is our story too, at least Thomas' story is much like my story. Jesus comes and stands among them. Jesus says, see me, feel me, touch me, this is real. All of these wounds are your wounds, they are the wounds of humanity, they are the wounds perpetrated by all the lying, the apathy, the greed, the mistrust. We heard that story during our amazing worship of Holy Week and Easter, beginning with the disturbing music of the Service of Darkness, as we passed by the unusual passion story of Good Friday, and as we traced the ancient stories of our faith during the Easter Vigil. The reality is that Jesus takes all of that out with him, and leaves us with new life, hope, grace, peace.

Imagine Jesus' friends huddled in that locked room that day, they were afraid. Fear prevents people from seeing. Fear moves us to grasp for the secure rather than reach for the real. And what is real in this story? Jesus' presence is real. Jesus' wounds are real. Jesus' peace is real. And Jesus leaves us with the real presence of the Spirit. Do not be afraid, we heard at the incarnation and at the resurrection, be filled with the spirit. The spirit that teaches us about forgiveness.

How is this Easter story being written into your life? This story that teaches us about what is real. This story that shows us that what looks like loss and failure to the world is counted as victory in the kingdom. This story that we do not need to live in fear, this story in which love wins.

You see, this Easter story, being written into each of our lives is the real story. Through Thomas each of us gets to see, to feel, to touch what is real, and what is real is the amazing love that God has for each and every one of us, and for all of us together. Sometimes we succumb to the lie that this life is about getting as much as we want, or doing as we please, without any thought on the effect that has on those around us, or even on the living, moving, breathing earth upon which we live. No, reality is that we are all connected, we are all related. Reality is that what I do, what you do, affects the web that surrounds us. That is where the rubber meets the road. That is where we are agents of resurrection. That is where the Easter story continues to be written.

What God does in the resurrection matters. And it matters because of Thomas, we do indeed encounter Jesus at every turn. You show forth the reality that Love wins. You show forth the reality that death does not have the final word. What you do matters to the world and to the kingdom. What you do, what we do has an effect on the world about us, what we do has an effect on the people around us. Like Thomas, we see, feel, touch the pain and suffering of Jesus in our midst. We see our brothers and sisters suffering as the result of natural disasters, tornados and tsunamis. We witness the pain and suffering in our community as the result of poverty. We accompany our friends as they sit with family in hospital and in homes and await death and await healing. We are accompanied by friends who sit in vigil with us. We may be afraid, but instead of being immobilized by that fear, we proclaim by word and example that Jesus is in our midst and that Love wins, that new life is possible now. That's the story we write. That's the story that's true.

Love wins. God brings wholeness and healing to all of creation, including Thomas, and you, and me. God re-members us. God puts us back together. God reconciles us. God restores us. Even when it looks like and feels like everything is falling apart, even when it looks like and feels like failure. Peace be with you is what Jesus says to those gathered in that room. Peace be with you, you are now reconciled, you have new life.

The story we write is the story that says yes to God. Because, when we say yes to God, when we open ourselves to Jesus' living, giving action the cross, we enter into a way of life. God is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance that the story of death and rebirth, new life, is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires. Loose your life to find it.

Let your life, let your Easter story show the world that Love wins. Each time you put your finger into the wound of another, be the agent of resurrection, be the bringing of hope, of new life. Each time you see the pain in the world, be the the one who responds with mercy, compassion, and love. Each time you hear words of derision, words that bully and hurt, speak instead words of mercy, of compassion and of love. Each time you encounter fear, fear of death, fear of change, fear of the other, fear of not having enough, remember that Love wins over fear every time.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Vigil/Easter

This is the night, when you brought our forebears, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land. This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave, we heard Christie sing. We rehearsed the stories of our faith, the stories of God’s activity in the life of God’s people, the story of reconciliation, restoration, resurrection, in the midst of wandering, whining, and wailing. Bones that join together and wind and spirit to give them new life. Water that cleanses, water that hydrates, water that is poured over us.

On this night, death does not have the final word. We have kept vigil, we have listened to litanies and prayers, we have sat in the silence and wept, we have been to the cross with Jesus, we have recognized our complicity in the whole mess, we have held one another’s hand, we have wondered whether we are worth all this pain and trouble, we have told the stories of who we are and whose we are, and we, like the women who go to the tomb to see Jesus, are afraid.

At the two pivotal times of the church year, Incarnation and Resurrection, the angel says, “Do not be afraid.” "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised!” Indeed this is good news, received with fear and great joy. What are we to do with this Good News, that death does not have the final word? The women go and tell the others. Come and see, go and tell. This is not a secret to keep, it is Good News to tell, God has raised Jesus to new life, and God will raise you to new life too. It is transforming news.

On this night, we are surprised by joy, we are surprised by hope, Love wins. God acts decisively on behalf of all creation, on behalf of the Peters, and the Judas’, the Roman soldiers and the apathetic bystanders, the Mary’s and the Martha’s, you and me. And we must go and tell. Every story we tell points us to God who loves creation so very much, that God is willing to take extreme measures to show us that Love wins, that death does not triumph.

Come and see, go and tell. We see Jesus. Jesus who was born into this world, our world, born in a barn, to parents of questionable status. Jesus, who taught in the temple when he was twelve. Jesus who ate with tax collectors and sinners, hung around with women and children. Jesus who fed the hungry, five thousand at a time. Jesus, who spoke with the woman at the well, who healed the blind man, who raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus, who restored the marginalized people to status, who literally gave new life where there was no life at all. Come and see.

Incarnation shows us that God comes into our time and walks this road with us. Jesus’ life, and love, pain and sorrow, death and resurrection, show us that it is not God’s purpose to remove sadness, loneliness, pain and sorrow from the world, but to show us a new way to live. Resurrection shows us that God actively works in human history because God never gives up on the creation God loves so very much.

This Easter story, this story that Love wins, that death does not triumph, changes the world and must therefore change us. Do not be afraid the angel says. I think the angel tells us not to be afraid, because we are so afraid of change, and this will change you. God is doing something new through Jesus, and God wants us to be a part of it. God adds a twist to the old stories with Easter. With Jesus, God says there is no more business as usual. God’s kingdom, that begins with Easter, which begins with resurrection, is not like the world. Love wins, hate, greed, envy, oppression, lies and apathy, have no place in this new kingdom. The first will be last, the last will be first.

Jesus calls disciples, the ones who followed him while he walked this journey on earth, and you and me, Jesus’ disciples today, to teach us who we are, to teach us about being citizens of the new kingdom. We are to be growing in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling, and responsibility, this is a change from the ways of the world, do not be afraid.

And on this most holy night, we renew our promise to grow into the full stature of Christ, as we stand with Rex and Amy, and Cadence’s godparents, as they make these promises as well. Our baptismal promises that help us to grow in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling, and responsibility. We enter the waters of baptism; we die with Jesus and are brought out of death to new life with Jesus.

Love wins. All of creation is joined to God. Go and tell. Do not be afraid.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

What is good about Good Friday? I’ve heard people ask this question, I’ve asked it myself, but I’ve never really seriously thought about it. What is good about Good Friday? I think what is good about Good Friday is that it shows us something about holy dying.

In our fast paced, gotta have it now, there’s an app for that, high tech lives, the worst possible thing to happen is death, or sickness. Our language reflects that. We fight and battle with cancer, we overcome disability, we rarely speak of death as a part of life, we rarely speak of sickness as the opportunity for life in a new way. Good Friday shows us that death is dying to that which is killing us, resurrection only and always happens after death.
Good Friday shows us that something must die before the green and growing thing can take root and bear new life. Good Friday shows us that forgiveness is about pruning that which is dead anyway, so that God can effect in us the new life that God promises.

Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is Lord, not my will but yours be done. Giving up our will is not a bad thing. In our culture that is all about you, all about what you want and when you want it, obedience is a bad word. But it is being who God wants us to be that is a good thing, and that requires that we die to whatever it is that is killing us.

Good Friday shows us holy dying, it is not easy, but it is a part of life. You see, the truth is that being human means being born to die. Again, none of us gets out of here alive. Jesus’ life, and suffering and death on a Roman cross not only show us how to do it, but Jesus, on the Roman cross, takes our place.

On this night we remember all this. We enter into the story of the passion. We hear the story in the voices of those who were with Jesus that terrible night. We do so not to be macabre, not to glorify Jesus’ death or any other death, we do it so that we may be healed, we may be reconciled, that we may have the absolutely new and abundant life that God offers in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The people who populate this story, and the events of this passion, the betrayal, the lies, the apathy, the bad luck, allow each of us to enter the story. You and I are these people, we are people who have betrayed and been betrayed, we are people who have lied and who have been lied to, we are people who have shown apathy, and we are people who experience just darn bad luck. We are people who have experienced sadness and pain, we are people who feel isolated and alienated at times. We are human beings who live in the muck and mess of this life. What we do together this evening, and the foot washing and holy communion of last evening, even the joyous resurrection we will celebrate together tomorrow evening, doesn’t take away the reality of the muck and mess in which we live. We carry these burdens, they are part of who we are.

So what does happen when we walk the way of the cross with Jesus, when we enter into the events of this holy week and this holy day? Why do we all show up all these evenings to walk the way of the cross with Jesus? We grow toward Holy Dying and transformation happens. I surely hope we are changed by our encounter with the people on the way, the people in the stories, and by the amazing love that God has for us that we know because God is willing to be one of us. Because only a God who is willing to be one of us, a God who has such faith in us, is a God in which I can place my love, my loyalty, my attention.

You see, what Jesus does at this moment is to let evil wreak its fury upon him; he negates its power and takes it out of the world with him. Jesus takes on all of our betrayal, all of our lies, our apathy, all of our pain, sadness, loneliness and isolation, and Jesus defeats it, not by resisting it with the sort of violence that was visited upon him, but by absorbing it and removing it through the power of love. On the cross, Jesus ultimately collects all of the violence of this world, takes it and holds it so that the stream of hate and hurt will flow no farther. Jesus takes in all of our pain and our suffering, all of our betrayal and lies; all of our isolation and sadness, and Jesus contains it. Jesus’ life and death says to our world, it all stops here. It all stops with me. It is indeed, Good Friday.

And Jesus’ dying on the cross looks to the world like failure. Jesus suffered, Jesus died. But Jesus did not fail. Jesus redefined death and life. Death does not have the final word; death does not have the victory. The Word of God has the final word.

What Jesus did on the cross was to make it possible for us to have new life, a life that our words cannot begin to describe, a life that our minds cannot begin to imagine. What Jesus did and does is to make it possible for us to be transformed.

Winning and losing have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; love and forgiveness are gifts. Success and failure have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; sharing and walking together are gifts. Isolation and alienation have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; relationship and connection are gifts.

Jesus does not take away pain and sorrow and isolation. The reality that you and I know, is that to be human is to feel, to feel pain, to feel joy, to feel isolation, to feel intimacy. And, being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality and that of those we love.

Death is real and grief hurts and sometimes we just have to sit in the silence and cry and wait. That is what this Good Friday is about. We have some experience in this. It is very like when we sit with our loved ones in hospital, as the result of illness or accident, waiting, quite unsure of what to do or what to think, silence and sadness and tears, are our only activity. Holy Dying.

Too many Christians want to go straight from the garden of Gethsemane to the garden of the empty tomb without going by way of the hill of crucifixion and the stone-cold body. It seems too painful to sit in silence, waiting and grieving. And yet nothing of the reality of Christ’s victory over evil on the cross, or our faith in the resurrection to come soon, must be allowed to shield us from the awful brute fact that Jesus died.

And yet, as we sit in the silence to cry and to wait, we sit with this company. The disciples sat together in the silence to cry and to wait. Our only comfort right now resides with one another, with these relationships to each other and to God. Hold one another, grieve with one another, and remember, give one another the gift of hope. The cross does become the place where transformation and holy dying is possible.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Communion and Foot Washing

On this night we remember and we are re-membered. We remember that God is in relationship with all of creation, and with us, God’s creatures. We remember our faith story, the one we share with all of humanity, as well as the one that is ours alone. Our faith story tells us what we know to be true, that there is a God that cares about us, acts in our lives, engages us and empowers us with purpose and feeds us with the only food that will not only sustain us but give us life, without which, we die.

The Exodus conveys those ideas on the grandest scale, reminding us that God is more than just an impersonal Creator of the Universe, the One who set the world in motion but has no interest in Creation. We believe in a God that cares about creation and creatures and offers us a destiny and a purpose. Religious stories are used in the same way we use words, to communicate ideas. We pass on ideas from generation to generation and in doing so, connect ourselves to the values of those who came before us and those who will follow us.

On this evening, most clearly of all the church year, we remember that we are part of a story. It is the story of Jesus' life, and in particular his Passion, his crucifixion and glorious resurrection, re-enacted in our lives during the events of the week. But we also remember that we as Christians exist in fellowship with Christ and with one another. In holy imagination, we sit around a single table and receive nourishment from Jesus himself. We look into one another's faces and see joy and pain, worry and anticipation. And together we tell the story that unites us, beyond all our differences of faith and practice: we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

On this Holy night, we remember who we are and where we came from. On this Holy night, we are re-membered, as well. We are a broken people, and in this re-membering we are put back together, we are remade, we become the body of Christ. “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Something real happens, something that is more real than anything that our culture may offer us in the way of happiness. We are fed and we are put back together. We come to this table and no matter what, no matter where we come from, no matter what we’ve done, no matter how lonely we may be, no matter what we have or don’t have, we are fed. We are fed with this bread and this wine which is in a very real way the body and blood of Jesus. Jesus’ body is broken so that we may be made whole and so that we may feed others.

Some of you yet remember the time when Morning Prayer was the primary activity of church on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t until 1972, just a mere 29 years ago that we began having communion together every Sunday, and sometimes even more often than that. Communion provides us with a life-sustaining ritual, a regular meeting around the word and person of Christ that can become the daily bread of our lives and our communities. A community sustains itself not primarily through novelty, titillation, and high emotion but through rhythm and routine, through simple, predictable, ritual processes. A wise family will all eat together at least once each day even if it is a very hard thing to do. They will all be together even if it isn’t exciting, even if real feelings aren’t shared, even if some can’t use their mobile devices, and even if some are protesting that it isn’t worthwhile. We will do this because, if we don’t, we will soon fall apart as a family. To stay together we need regular, straight-forward, predictable, daily rituals. We need the manna of daily presence to each other. Otherwise we’ll die.

It is this rhythm and routine that creates in us as individuals and as a community the notion that we are fed so that we may feed others. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This is what the body of Christ does. The foot washing we do tonight recalls the first communion as well. We just read from the gospel of John that during supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe, tied a towel around himself, and washed his friends feet.

You see, washing one another’s feet is really what Holy Communion is about. Jesus’ foot washing is a radical activity. Foot washing was a common practice when guests arrived for a meal, it was an action usually performed by slaves or low-status servants. It was an onerous and demeaning task because it meant washing off human and animal waste.
No matter how well a person bathed, sandals and feet inevitably became smelly and dirty in the process of walking to a meal at another’s house. And then, particularly here in John, to wash another’s feet is to wash away their actions, foot washing is a parting gesture performed by Jesus and urged upon the disciples, they and we must forgive one another as Jesus first forgives, they and we must love one another as Jesus first loves, they and we must feed one another as Jesus feeds us.

The gospel from John tonight concludes with the words, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus speaks of discipleship in this distinctive way in John, having love for one another. We have heard the stories of the Old Testament all through Lent, the great stories of promise and covenant and restoration. What is radically different about this new covenant, this new commandment in the gospel of John, is this aspect of discipleship, love one another.

Jesus, teacher, rabbi, friend, knows that the end is near. In this part of John’s gospel we have event after event of Jesus trying to impart all of his teaching to the disciples, story after story that shows Jesus’ friends what discipleship looks like. Discipleship looks like love and forgiveness, and in the context of 1st century Mediterranean culture, love and forgiveness are radical. It is honor and power that has been valued, Jesus shows something else entirely.

It is a good and right thing to do for us to wash one another’s feet, but it cannot be just symbolic action. It needs to be sacramental, it needs to be an outward sign of an inward reality, it needs to be the way we live our lives in the church and in the world. The hard part about love and forgiveness, the hard thing about discipleship, is that the world we live in does not necessarily reward love and forgiveness. Just look at what happened to Jesus.

On this night, we are fed, we are nourished, we are re-membered as the body of Christ, because Jesus body is broken, so that we may be made whole. The activity of this night, the journey of this week not only helps us to remember, but makes real what we do all year long. On this night, we are fed, we feed each other, we wash each other’s feet, we remember who we are.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

5 Lent Yr A 2011

I think of Mary and Martha as good friends of mine. Mary and Martha are women who cook and clean and maybe even listen to good stories, and they are women who are committed to Jesus. I think the reason they seem like good friends of mine is that we do the same things, it seems like we share the same interests and concerns. Martha is concerned about the perfume that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet, she wonders if that wasn’t a bit extravagant. Martha also is concerned that Mary tends to act more like a disciple of Jesus, than the single girl that she is. Martha seems practical that way, Mary a bit more excessive, a bit overgenerous. Sometimes I wish I were a bit more like my friend Mary, and a bit less like my friend Martha.

So the sadness that Martha and Mary have experienced at the death of their brother Lazarus, seems passionate and powerful. Especially since they called on their friend Jesus to come and heal their brother, and Jesus didn’t come. He didn’t come when their brother lay dying, and he didn’t come to his funeral, Jesus broke my number one rule, always go to the funeral. Finally, four days after Lazarus has been laid in the tomb, Jesus comes.

Martha runs out to him in the depths of her grief and anger, screaming and hollering, maybe even pounding Jesus’ chest, “why weren’t you here earlier? You could have done something about this, now Lazarus lies rotting in that tomb. Why, did he have to die? Why didn’t you come? Why…”

These may be questions we all ask at the death of a friend, at the death of a loved one. The sorrow and grief of our friends becomes our sorrow and grief too. This story of Mary and Martha shows us that being faithful to Jesus is in no way a guarantee against pain and tragedy. There is no one on earth whose righteousness, wisdom, hard work, or good planning will preserve her from seeing the depths that Martha sees. Good people become widows and orphans. It’s a fact, and no less of a fact for Jesus’ coming.

But there is something else. We can cry to God from the depths, as we hear in the psalm. There is no depth, no loss, no tragedy, no disease or death, nothing on heaven or on earth or under the earth that can place the world or anyone in it beyond God’s redemption. Good people become widows and orphans, good people are killed in accidents, good people die from disease, and good people die at a young age. But God defends the widow and the orphan, and will not leave those God loves bereft.

God will not leave us filled with a sense of loss, God will not leave us. You see, that’s what was, is, and will be accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God loves us, God loves all creation. And God, master of the universe, creator of all that is seen and unseen, gave up all power and came into this world as one of us, just like you and me. Jesus. God in our midst. And Jesus stood with our friends Mary and Martha, and wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus didn’t take the pain away from our friends, but Jesus stood side by side, right in the very midst of them, and felt the pain and the sorrow along with them. This is a God in whom I can place my faith, my trust, just like my friends Martha and Mary did.

And this is the place we find ourselves today, the last Sunday before Jesus’ journey takes him to Jerusalem, the city in which he will be put to death for his radical ideas of love and inclusion. We find ourselves in this place of sadness, loss, pain and sorrow. A place of isolation, and of alienation. It is a place where we will spend much of our time until the day of resurrection.

When we are in a place of sadness, of loneliness, or a place of alienation it seems as if it will never come to a conclusion, the isolation, the sadness, the loneliness, will never end. But that is what our heart desires, conclusion, and reconciliation. Being once again brought back into the web of relationship in which the yearning of our heart is fulfilled; a place of solace and of strength, a place of pardon and renewal.

You may be in that place of loneliness and alienation right now. Some of you may be isolated in your relationships, some of you may be experiencing broken relationships. Some of you may feel alienated from the people around you, people at school or at work.

Good and true relationships are so very hard in this world where perceived perfection can be accomplished through surgery, implants, and pills. Good and true relationships are so very hard in this world when recreational sex is splayed all over our TV sets and pop culture magazines.

Our cries to God do not go unheard. It is into this mess that Jesus comes. This is the very place where Jesus comes to show us that we were created in God’s image and are wonderfully made. It is into this place of loneliness and alienation that Jesus comes and says you are not alone, you are never alone, I am with you, and I am here in those who surround you to show you the way.

This story of reconciliation, of restoration and new life is an ancient story that reaches as far back as the prophet Ezekiel, and it reaches as far forward as God can imagine. From Ezekiel we hear from the Lord, “I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people: and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. “

And this story doesn’t end there. This story goes on. Jesus calls Lazarus out of his tomb, against the better judgment of our friends Mary and Martha, who know full well that after four days in the tomb this will not be pleasant.

John the gospel writer always points us to God, and this story is no different. It is for the glory of God that Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. It is to show Mary and Martha, you and I, all who were gathered there that day, and all who hear this story over the millennia, that it is through God that creation has new life, that creation is brought back into right relationship with its creator. It is through God that we no longer live in isolation, we no longer are alienated from God and from one another, death does not separate us from God or from one another.

And yet, after we have become convinced that all is lost, when we are ready to concede to death, Jesus demonstrates that there is no loss, no death, no tragedy, no depth, no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can place a person, a situation, or a world beyond God’s redemption, and beyond the reach of infinite love and abundant life.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

4 Lent Yr A

“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; all else be nought to me, save that thou art – thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.” I have been wondering mightily what it means to really see, what true vision really is. And as I wonder, I recall the words from the movie Avatar. You may remember them. As our characters, Jake Sully and Neytiri, journey together on the planet Pandora, Neytiri says to Jake Sully, “I see you.” Neytiri teaches Jake Sully the ways of her culture, her language, her natural world, she shows him the mystery of life on Pandora, he walks beside her learning the ways of the people there, and somewhere, sometime on that journey, Jake Sully says to Neytiri, “I see you.” I see you, what does it mean to see? For these characters it means so much more than what is absorbed through the open eyes. It means that the heart and the soul, the body and the mind are engaged in knowing, listening, being, and suffering. It is a journey of seeing, a journey of knowing. In this story, the scales do not fall from the eyes in one instant, as they did for Paul on the Damascus Road. In this story, it is the relationship that affects the seeing.

What does it mean to really see? “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; all else be nought to me, save that thou art – thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.” “I see you,” the people of Pandora say to their beloved, this hymn sings of a similar seeing. Seeing, vision, takes all of our senses and our sensibilities, seeing engages our entire being, and seeing presumes relationship, it presumes walking together.

As I have pondered this question, I also think of Kathy Davis, who is blind. When Kathy wants to see something, she takes it in her hands, she touches it, and turns it, she puts her fingers in the holes, she feels the sharp edges, she asks about its color. What does it really mean to see?

In the story of seeing we have before us today, having one’s eyes open does not presume seeing. In this story there are many characters, there is the man whose eyes Jesus opens. Jesus made mud and opened his eyes. When some of the Pharisees questioned him, his response is that Jesus is a prophet. And yet the Samaritan woman at the well has already named Jesus the Messiah, many Samaritans from that city believed in him because they saw the woman’s passion and joy at her discovery that the man at the well is the Messiah. Jesus has healed the official’s son, the man by the Sheep Gate who could not enter the pool took his mat up and walked, Jesus feeds five thousand people, he walks across the water, and yet this man whose eyes were opened calls Jesus a prophet. It is only later, after being questioned, after the dawning of who Jesus must be, does the man really begin to see who Jesus really is.

The man’s parents and the neighbors could not see that it was Jesus in their midst. And the Pharisees could see nothing at all, except the sin of the parents, and the sin of healing on the Sabbath. What does it really mean to see?

There is a clue in the reading from Samuel. The story we hear today is the middle of a longer story about the Lord choosing a king for Israel, the Lord does not really want a king for Israel, but the Israelites insist. So the Lord looks over each of these candidates for kingship, and each of them is rejected. Eventually, the one chosen is David, and we all know David does not turn out perfectly. But in the middle of the story today, we hear “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. “

Is that what it means to really see? Surely that would be the meaning of the words “I see you,” as Jake Sully says them to Neytiri. Surely that would be the prayer in the words of our hymn today, be what I see Lord, be my best thought day and night, in my waking and my sleeping. What if we look upon one another with open eyes from the heart, would that change us? What if we look upon one another with eyes that forgive, would that transform our lives? What if we look upon one another with eyes of compassion, would we live more kindly, more gently? And, what if we truly believe that God looks upon us with love, forgiveness, and compassion, would we be transformed?

It is indeed the journey with Jesus and with one another that creates in us the gift of seeing. The blind man’s eyes indeed were opened, but it took some time before he was able to really see, before he was able to see who it was who gave him sight, before he was able to say “I was blind, now I see.” You see, this is fundamentally a story about grace. These stories before us today, all of them, the ancient stories from the Old Testament, the stories from the time of Jesus, and the very new stories that are told today, these are stories about grace. These are stories that reveal the truth of God in our midst. They are stories that reveal the truth of pain and suffering, of death and resurrection. They are stories that reveal the truth of disappointment and loss, and the new life that always results. They are stories that reveal the truth of communion and of community.

Together we walk the road, we make this journey together. We can’t do it alone. We can’t bear the pain and suffering alone, and we don’t want to bear the joy by ourselves. To see one another with eyes of the heart, to look upon one another with forgiveness and compassion, is to acknowledge our shared humanity; it is to recognize Jesus in our midst.

This season of Lent is a gift of opportunity. Lent gives us another chance to see, to see God in our midst, to see the gift of forgiveness and grace, to see one another as we journey together on this road of faith, to see one another on this road of compassion and mercy. Lent helps us to have clearer vision; it gives us a longer view.

And as we see more clearly, we realize that forgiveness and compassion are made manifest in who we are and what we do. What does it mean to really see? It means that our hearts are open to each other, especially those with whom we disagree. It means that we respond to God’s amazing grace by really seeing those who we are so unlike. It means that we approach God’s creation with our eyes, our hearts, our souls, wide open. And when we do that, we are able to see the need that is in our church and our community. The needs that you and I are able to address. We can feed people, we can clothe people, we can have hope and be the hope for others.

And as we do that, we reach out to each other, we hold hands, because most definitely we will step in the mess and the muck. We will step in the holes; we will trip over the obstacles. This Christian journey is a journey we take together, because together, we see more clearly.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.