Monday, April 04, 2011

April 3, Lent 4, Keys of the Kingdom: Opening Your Eyes

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9
I have good news and bad news. Well, actually it’s good news and good news. It’s all good news, it’s bad news only if you don’t take the good news as good. That’s how it is with the judgment of God. The judgment of God is always good. There is a single judgment. God does not have one judgment which is merciful and another judgment which condemns. The single judgment of God is good if you accept it, but if you refuse it, then you condemn yourself by it. When we confess that Jesus, in heaven, judges the world, it’s not that he is approving this and condemning that, rewarding this and sending down some punishment for that, like Zeus or Jupiter. The judgment of Jesus is right down here with us, it is public and open and laid out clearly for us in the gospel. The gospel is the public judgment of the world, and as we read it and hear it and respond to it, we judge ourselves by it. It’s not just for the end, it’s for everyday. It’s not a final doom, it is a daily gift. As it judges us, it opens up to us the kingdom of God. If you accept the judgment, the gate swings open, and you enter the kingdom, and you look around and you see that you were in it all the time. If you don’t accept it, it means you can not see the kingdom of God. You’ve built a wall around yourself, a shell, a dome of hardness like the hardness of your heart, a fortress, and you look out through your periscope. Your vision is sharp, but narrow, and without perspective. All you see is what you’re looking for, and you miss the signs you are not looking for. The kingdom is closed to you if you don’t want it. Why wouldn’t anybody want it? Fear of exposure? Fear of looking weak? Fear of needing help? Fear of other people disappointing you and failing you, of the community not being a community of saints? Fear of admitting how helpless you are? How hard you’ve worked to get to where you are; you protect your achievements and accomplishments, your convictions and commitments, you protect the control you think you have. So you say, “No thanks, I’m fine. I don’t need it. I’ve got it.” I hear myself say that all the time. The advantage of the beggar was that he knew he needed help. The beggar knew that he was powerless to help himself. So, as helpless as a baby, he is being born again. Like a newborn, he is learning to see the world without control of what he’s looking at. Like a newborn, things happen to him; he doesn’t do things, but he learns to see from what is done to him. We watch him gain insight and perspective, and how to read the signs. He can see his parents now. He’s always known how his parents sound and smell, but he can see them now and he learns the signs of fear upon their faces, their fear of being tossed out of the synagogue. He watches the Pharisees. Their confidence in knowing what God wants, their vision of how to get the kingdom of God to come back, the hardness of their faces, and their judgment against this sign from Jesus, a sign of healing which points away from their vision of the world. He sees the anger of the Judean elders. They fear the synagogue’s disruption. They fear the insurgency of Jesus, like the insurgency of David which Samuel ignited against King Saul. The elders have worked it between Moses and the Romans, they saw it as the best that they could get, they saw themselves as realists, and their vision of the world was pessimistic and defensive. In anger and fear they judge against the sign of a new world in their midst. The beggar is thrown out. He’s been judged and condemned. He’s gained his sight but lost his place. He’s in a crisis now. (To be born again is not all peaches and cream.) And where is Jesus in all this? Out of sight, off stage. That is how it is with Jesus, in our lives as well. Whatever he might have done for you, you cannot prove that it was him. You can argue it away, what he does for us. Especially if his doing is beyond the scope of your expectation, outside the perspective of what you’re looking for. Your periscope is focused very sharp, but you cannot see around you or behind you. The beggar is cast out, we find him out back in the alley, downcast, tempted to prefer the old familiar darkness. Jesus comes to find him. Of course he isn’t recognized, the beggar hasn’t ever seen him yet. Jesus speaks to him, but with an unexpected question. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Why that question, why that specific title for himself? From the prophecy of Daniel 7, the vision of “one like a Son of Man,” lifted up to heaven to share with God the judgment of the nations and the government of the world. What does that heavenly and global vision have to do with this poor beggar here in the alley? The beggar says, “Who is he?” Jesus says, “You’re looking at him.” The beggar says, “I believe you.” That must make sense of everything, because he worships him, and Jesus accepts it. Who does Jesus think he is? Rather an exalted view of his own identity. It looks for all the world like he’s just another Jewish rabbi in an alley in Jerusalem, but the vision we’re offered is that the Kingdom of God has come, on earth as it is in heaven, and that the beggar is in it, and he can start to see it, and he can see the world around him in terms of the Messiah, the Son of Man. The irony is that the Pharisees and the elders of the synagogue are in the Kingdom too, but they choose not to see it and they are in the dark. They have made their judgments and they will keep them. They judged who was wrong and who was right, who was the sinner and who was not, who was at fault and who can be assigned the blame. That’s the way we judge each other all the time, in order to justify our own decisions and desired actions, to justify our preferences and prejudice and how we see the world. Jesus does not judge like this. He is not interested in who sinned, the beggar or his parents. His interest is in what we do with what we see. You will say, “That depends on what I see.” And because of our inclination to see only what we’re looking for, and because we need to own up to our helplessness, we need the good news to help us see the good news. Does that sound circular? How about this: You can see the world correctly if you see it in terms of Jesus as the Son of Man. I mean that you can see the world accurately if you look at it in terms of Jesus judging it. I mean that you can regard the world with hope if you see it in terms of Jesus calling it to where he wants to take it. I mean that you cannot see the world accurately unless you look at it in terms of Jesus as the Son of Man. You have constantly to correct your vision. You have always to look for signs of Jesus in the world. One reason you come to church is to learn the signs of Jesus here in order to discern the signs of Jesus in the world. You learn to see the world as God sees it. You could see the world as dangerous and fearful; it shows itself as painful and alienating, and it touches your own pain and alienation inside you, encased within the iron chest of your anger and your fear. Your own insides tell you that your vision of the world is sharp and accurate. But if you worship Jesus as the Son of Man, like a beggar, needing help, in the wisdom of your helplessness for your own life, his judgment of the world is the judgment of you, which is the key that opens up that iron box. He reaches in, and holds your pain in his hand, and on your angry alienation he puts his spit and mud to humble you and soften you. You hold your breath, and then you give in. You couldn’t see him do it, because it was inside you, but you can feel the signs of Jesus in your life, and you can look for the signs of Jesus in the world. Even when the world is dark, you can see into it, because the light you need to see it with is shining out from your own face, not a light you need to generate yourself, but the light of Christ reflected off your face. In his light you see light. And you can find his signs in the world. You can go out into the world, as it says in Ephesians 5:10, and “find what is pleasing to the Lord.” It’s like learning to see, it’s like being born again into the world. “Wake up, sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Copyright © 2011, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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