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07-24 Got Faith?

          Last week, Becky and I had an opportunity to spend some time way to refresh and relax.  During our time away, we attended a theatrical production of the Biblical story of David at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  The theater holds 2,000 people and it is sold out for two shows per day throughout most of the year.  The people who attended when we were there came in all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, and I am sure all different Christian denominations. All the people came for one reason. They wanted to see the story of David played out before them.  They wanted to see the pages of their Bibles made of delicate and thin paper turned into robust three dimensions with people making the Biblical story alive.  We were not disappointed.  The presentation was engaging, at times humorous, at other times sad, but always thought provoking.

          David, as we learn from the Bible, was referred to as a “man after God’s own heart.” David desired God and David would repeatedly show his love of God throughout his life.  But.  There is always a but!  But David also did some proudly ungodly things.  David committed adultery with a married woman, Bathsheba.  Bathsheba became pregnant through her relationship with David. David, then king of Israel, attempted to use deceit to coverup Bathsheba’s pregnancy but failed to do so.  Having failed in deceit, David concluded there was only one way to hide the truth about his relationship with Bathsheba and that was to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed in battle.  David carried through on his plan and had Uriah killed in battle.  David thus moved from adulterer and liar to murderer.  And despite these ungodly acts, David was still considered a man after God’s own heart.

          The story of David, like the stories of Jesus’ disciples, like our own stories, teach us that we are an odd mixture of saint and sinner.  One moment we can be saintly expressing our love for God and one another and then another moment we can be sinners doing exactly what we ought not do.  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).  What is it that drives us to do what we want to do?  What is missing then when we do what we do not want to do?  I would like to explore the answer to our two opposing behaviors from the perspective of faith.   

          Let’s look at faith through two Biblical accounts. This first comes from our Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel, Chapter 17.  This is a familiar story to many.  As the scene opens, we see that the battlelines were drawn between the Philistines and the Israelites.  The Philistines placed at the head of their army a giant named Goliath to intimidate the Israelites.  Goliath was a very tall and imposing figure.  There is some variation in how scholars calculate the measurements for Goliath.  Estimates place Goliath’s height as no less than 6’ 9” tall to as much as 9’ 9” tall. Goliath taunted the Israelites for forty days calling upon them to send a warrior to fight him in a winner take all match.  The Israelites acted powerless.  The Israelites could see no earthly way to defeat such a physically strong opponent.

          Then, one day, a young man, David, about 17 years old, arrived at this scene. David, perhaps all of 5 feet tall, might also have seen there was no earthly way to defeat Goliath.  David saw that the giant, Goliath, on one side of the valley and the paralyzed Israelites on the other side.  In surveying the scene, David, unlike Israelite army, knew God was present and that it was God’s will that the Philistines be defeated.  David knew that while an earthly battle was needed, the outcome of that battle would be decided supernaturally by God.   

With such an understanding, with such faith that God was involved in this battle, David entered the battlefield against Goliath.  The scene presents two contrasting emotions.  The first emotion we see in the Philistines.  The giant and his fellow soldiers were supremely self-confident this battle would end with the David’s brutal death.  Goliath was a champion warrior of massive proportions.  He was a self-sufficient fighting force, and army of one.  The second emotion we see in the Israelites.  There is great tension and apprehension.  David was brand new to battle, completely untested against a human warrior.  David was small and armed with only a sling and five smooth stones.  David possessed nothing that should allow him to defeat this mighty foe.  Just as the battle was to begin, David told Goliath the outcome.  He said the Lord God of Israel would use David to strike Goliath dead.  At that, “49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.”  The battle was over.  The giant of Philistines was dead.  The invisible God made himself known through by empowering the faithful hands of David. 

David put his faith in God into action.  David did what God wanted him to do because David placed his faith in God.  David did not focus on the intimidation and taunts of Goliath.  David’s focus was on God.  Faith then can be said most simply as “a life lived focused upon God.”

Our second account of faith comes from the New Testament, the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.  The passage is a familiar story and we enter this scene with Jesus’ disciples in a boat in the middle of the sea working against the winds and waves.

“25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them [the disciples], [by] walking on the lake [Sea of Galilee]. 26 When the disciples saw him [Jesus] walking on the lake [sea], they [the disciples] were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they [the disciples] said, and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:25-26).  As we look at this scene, we can see that the disciples were working against the waves but did not seem concerned by the weather. The boat must have been secure, and Jesus had told them to cross to the other side of the sea.  Jesus’ disciples were focused on accomplishing the mission. The disciples had faith that they would be successful.  But then, something the disciples had not experienced before came upon them.  A ghost, or they thought a ghost, appeared. The collective focus of the twelve disciples had shifted from the mission to a ghostly figure walking on the water and all the disciples cried out in fear.  The disciples shifted their focus from Jesus’ mission for them to get to the other side of the sea to the ghost.  The disciples shifted from faith to fear.  Faith and fear are like opposite sides of a coin.  If faith is visible, fear is hidden.  If fear is visible, faith is hidden.

Jesus knew what was going on and Jesus wanted his disciples to shift back, flip that coin over if you will, from fear back to faith.  “27 Jesus immediately said to them [the disciples]: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’”  Jesus was calling his disciples to shift they focus back to faith and away from fear.  “Take courage! – Have faith!  It is I.” Got faith?

Peter broke the tension and Peter shouted out to Jesus, “28 ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.’  29 ‘Come,’ he [Jesus] said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:28-29).  What a marvelous picture of faith in action.  Peter was totally focused on Jesus and following Jesus.  So focused was Peter that Peter believed by faith that he could do something impossible, namely, walk on water.  In response to Jesus and keeping his eyes on Jesus, Peter fearlessly got out of the boat and began walking on the water to Jesus. Peter understood the power of the sea and no doubt knew of others who had drown on the sea.  Peter was like young David who understood the power of Goliath to kill people in battle.  And yet both David and Peter knew that in faith God would conquer their giants. What a breathtaking moment this must have been in Peter’s life, to walk on water by faith.

          Then came the next twist in the story. Matthew wrote, “30 But when he [Peter] saw the wind, he [Peter] was afraid and, beginning to sink” (Matthew 14:30a).  Peter had flipped the faith-fear coin over from faith to fear.  With focus on Jesus, in faith, Peter walked on water.  With focus on the winds, in fear, Peter began to sink beneath the waves.  We are beginning to see how faith and fear oppose each other.  We feel bad for Peter and disappointed for him and maybe disappointed in him.

          And just when we have this disappointment, we might miss the fact that Peter flipped the coin again from fear to faith.  As Peter is sinking beneath the waves, Matthew wrote that Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”  (Matthew 14:30b).  Peter’s words, “Lord, save me!” were an expression of faith that even as Peter was about to perish, Peter knew, he had faith, that Jesus could save him.  Faith, fear, faith, and fear.  We are a marvelous mixture of believer and doubter, faithful saint and fearful sinner.

          Here is the good news.  Matthew wrote that in response to Peter’s cry, “31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him [Peter] (Matthew 14:31b). Jesus saved Peter in response to Peter’s faith in Jesus.  Paul would later write, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

          Jesus acknowledged Peter’s faith.  Jesus said, “You [Peter] of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31b). Some commentators see Jesus words as a chastisement by Jesus of Peter.  I don’t see it that way.  I do not think Jesus chastises us for faith.  Instead, he encourages those who express faith by showing them how much they accomplished with just a little faith.  With just a little faith, Peter had walked on water.  Jesus words then are for a friend, “Oh, Peter did you not see how much you accomplished with a little faith?  Had you not doubted, you could have accomplished so much more.”

          Matthew wrote that after Jesus and Peter had this conversation, they climbed into the boat and the winds died down.  “33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33).  And in case we missed it, the faith-fear coin had been flipped again from fear to faith.  Jesus disciples had yet another reason to place their faith in Jesus believing correctly that Jesus was the living God.

What do we learn from these encounters about faith?  From the example with David, we learn that faith is a trust in God; not in our self-confidence or self-sufficiency.  When we do things without the need for God; that is not faith, it is self-sufficiency. Faith is an acknowledgement that God is doing battle but doing it through humanity for His own glory. Faith is about revealing the character and purpose of God and not about demonstrating human knowledge, skills, and abilities. Faith is about a supernatural empowerment of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things for God.  It is defeating the giants who stand against us.  Faith is edgy and exciting.  Faith resides deep within a person but displayed publicly.  When we fear, then all thoughts of faith disappear because fear means we are measuring the tasks against our own strengths.

From the experience with the disciples upon the boat in the storm, we learn from that story the key ending point, Jesus is God incarnate.  Jesus is God in human form in whom we can have faith and trust.  We learn again that faith seeks to experience the character of God.  Faith is standing fast in your beliefs even when circumstances are difficult.  Faith is about laying aside fear and moving forward with Jesus. 

From both examples, we see that faith is demanding.  It requires the faithful to be public about their desires and trust so that God can act and show forth his character and purpose to others.

This leaves us with a simple question, “Got faith?”  Do we genuinely trust in Jesus Christ?  Are we active in that faith asking Jesus to fulfil what we need most?  Are we more inclined to act in faith or retreat in fear?

Like David and Peter, the words of God, become more alive than ever if we live out God’s word in dramatic three dimensions.  But to make God’s word real, we must experience it.  Until we accept God through Jesus Christ, no description of the wonderful nature of God’s word can be understood.  If I described the beauty and the power of the ocean, you might appreciate it, but it is not real until you see it for yourself. 

“God did not design us simply to stand by and watch life pass as we wonder why we aren’t more fulfilled. God created us to take risks in faith and to conquer the giants that paralyze us with fear.”[1] This week, I am asking each of us to examine our lives and lives of this church and ask in the most positive ways, “How am I expressing faith in Jesus Christ in an active and public way?  How are we as a church expressing faith in Jesus as the head of this church? How are we following Jesus’ lead in expressing that faith to our community?”  Got faith?  Let’s pray.


[1][1] Kerry & Chris Shook, One Month to Live; Thirty Days to a Np-Regrets Life, p. 14.

07-03 - Remember Me

          We might not realize it, but God, through the gift of memory, has blessed our lives in a mighty way. Now humans share the capacity for memory with other creatures of this earth.  But human memory is very different from the memory given to other earthly creatures because our God-given capacity for memory allows us to assign meaning, emotion, and significance to what we remember.  In our remembering, we take all of that meaning, emotion, and significance and represent it by a symbol.

          A symbol allows us the ability to recall more than what the symbol appears to be.  A symbol is always physical, but it conveys a depth of meaning that cannot be expressed simply by how it appears.  I know at this point I am sounding like the old joke about pastors. “Pastors are invisible six days a week and incomprehensible on the seventh.”  I don’t mean to be hard to understand.  It is important that we get the point about memory and symbols.  When we see a physical symbol, we can recall an expansive meaning that that symbol represents.

          Let me give you an example. Not that many years ago, on a beautiful Tuesday morning, our nation was attacked by terrorists using highjacked aircraft.  Sometime during the rescue and recovery operations, New York City firefighters displayed an American flag rising about the rubble.  The desire to display American flags, a physical symbol, across the country became virtually insatiable.  Flag makers could not meet the demand.  Why?  Because people wanted, needed, to remember.  We had been shaken to our core and we needed to remember.  We needed to remember the safety, security, liberty, freedom, power, strength, courage, compassion, and promise that the flag represented.  The flag itself does not directly offer any of those cherished and desired emotions.  The flag was a symbol of something so much larger than its physical self.  This is what symbols do for us.  When we see a physical symbol, we can recall an expansive meaning that that symbol represents.  This is a trait of memory uniquely given to us by God.

          Why was it important for God to give us the capacity to see what is physical and recall the meaning that those physical things represent?  I think the answer lays in the truth that we, in our human capacity, cannot fully and completely comprehend an infinite God.   The Old Testament Book of Job contains a conversation between God and Job in which for several chapters, God quizzed Job about Job’s understanding of God and God’s ways.  God asks: 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.  5 Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!  Who stretched a measuring line across it?  6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?  8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?”(Job 38:4-11)   Job had no answers. 

Job endured a few chapters of God’s questions and then finally replied, “2 I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:1-3).  The totality of God cannot be fully and completely understood and, therefore, God refers Job to certain physical things as a symbol of God’s power.  But…There is always a but isn’t there?  But the risk with physical symbols is that we will love the symbol more than we love what that symbol represents.  God knows we have that tendency and so God forbid that we would make any idols and worship them.  So, we are to see physical things as symbols but not worship them.  The symbol must not rise higher or equal to what it represents, otherwise that it has become an idol.

With that bit of background on memory, making meaning from memory, symbols, and idols, I think we are ready to explore our New Testament reading today from the Gospel of Matthew.  We are looking today at Matthew, Chapter 26, verses 17 through 28. 

We begin with verses 17 through 19.  “17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’  18 He replied, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’’ 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19).  As we begin looking at this passage, we immediately encounter a religious symbol, the Passover.

          The Passover to Jesus and the Jews of that time was a physical thing that served as a vehicle to the greater spiritual truth. The Passover contained many symbols of an emotional quality for the Jewish people.  The Passover meal included a roasted lamb shank bone as a reminder of the Hebrews who placed lambs’ blood on the doors of their homes so that God would pass over their homes when death came to the first born in Egypt.  The unleavened bread used in the meal was a symbol of the haste with which the Hebrews had to leave Egypt upon God’s command. The bitter herbs of the meal eaten in the Passover meal reminded the Jewish people of the embittered lives they lived as slaves under the Egyptians.  All these symbols taken together reminded the Jews that they had been chosen by God to be his people and to become a light unto the rest of the world.  And so, we begin this scene with the Passover, a comforting moment of gathering the Jewish people together to remember the provision of God and the safety, security, liberty, freedom, power, strength, courage, compassion, and promise offered by God to them.

          But the comforting mood of that gathering was about to change drastically.  Matthew wrote, “20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’  22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?’  23 Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’ 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?’  Jesus answered, ‘You have said so’” (Matthew 26:20-25).

          “Betrayal” is an emotionally powerful word conveying the awful, ugly, and uncomfortable breach of trust of someone close. Betrayal is singular and complete. Betrayal whether in one thing or many things is betrayal through and through.  Jesus’ words stung.

          The disciples were alarmed and alert because they understood what that word “betray” symbolized.  Jesus had told them on three separate occasions that betrayal would mean he would “will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” (Matthew 20:18b-19).

          One by one the disciples said to Jesus, “Surely it is not I?”  The disciples were frightened that they might fail Jesus and cause him harm.  The disciples’ question reveals that within faithful people Godly impulses and foolish impulses exists within us.  Side-by-side within us rests the capacity for faithfulness and betrayal.

          It must have seemed to the disciples that the emotive qualities of the Passover with its safety, security, liberty, freedom, power, strength, courage, compassion, and promise were completely gone. The meal that was supposed to bring comfort had become exceptionally bitter.  We know this to be true from our own life experiences.  If you have ever suffered betrayal, you can attest that betrayal is a bitter and gut-wrenching experience.  For the disciples, the concept and symbolism of the Passover meal had ended.

          Jesus knew that his announcement of betrayal ended the symbolism of the Passover meal.  Jesus said what it said at the time he said it because Jesus wanted to create a new symbolic meal to replace the old one.  Matthew recorded for us, “26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  27 Then he [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them [the disciples], saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).

          Jesus took two elements; bread that resembles the firmness of his body and wine that resembles the flowiness of blood.  The bread was a symbol of his body and the wine a symbol of his blood.  The bread Jesus said was given that his disciples should eat of it.  His blood was given to his disciples that they should drink of it.  The essence of Jesus life, his body and blood were to be consumed.  Why did Jesus want his disciples to see the bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood to be consumed?  Jesus wanted his disciples to remember.

          What is it that they and now we were to remember? There are three things I think we should take see from these symbols of bread and wine.

          First, is that Jesus is the savior of the world. Jesus’ teachings and his miracles were inspirational and captivating and give the wisdom and encouragement needed to move in the direction of God.  But Jesus’ teachings and miracles are not enough because his disciples remain an odd mixture of Godly impulses and foolish impulses.  Jesus disciples sin and in the economy of God, sin is death. This is why Jesus needed to go to the cross.  Jesus paid the price for sin and because Jesus who was sinless went to the cross, he can extend to forgiveness to his disciples for their, our, foolish impulses. We can remember that all our foolish impulses of sin are covered by Jesus.

          Second, Jesus offers forgiveness to all but does not forgive everyone.  Jesus work on the cross was sufficient to cover all the sins of the world but Jesus said his blood was given for the forgiveness of many but not all.  The forgiveness of Jesus, the pardon offered by Jesus, is given freely only to those who receive him.  Judas for example stood condemned because he would not receive Christ.  Judas’ sins were not forgiven.  We can remember that if we believe and accept Jesus as our savior, then we are forgiven, completely.

          Third, Jesus is the center of his disciples’ life. Jesus gave this meal amid the discussion of his betrayal and his death.  Shortly after this meal, the disciples would desert him, and Peter would deny him.  Chaos, confusion, and conflict consumed the disciples.  Yet, amid the darkness of the moment, the meal, the bread and the wine, stood as a bright light reminder of the safety, security, liberty, freedom, power, strength, courage, compassion, and promise Jesus continued to offer.  Our lives can become confusing and chaotic.  Life can be noisy, and we can become disheartened.  The voices of some can drown out the still small and reassuring voice of God.  Yet, amid our darkness, we can come back to the meal, the bread and the cup, and experience it as the fullness of Christ.  We can take part of the meal in this complex world and remember the simplicity that Jesus offers us.

          In just a few moments, we will come to the Lord’s Table and remember.  We will remember that Jesus is not just the Savior of the world, Jesus is your savior and my savior, because we have accepted him.  We will remember that in Jesus our lives are made simpler because he leads us to act in right ways and to love and do what is good and pleasing to God.  We will remember through the powerful symbols of the bread and the cup.  Amen and Amen.

06-26 - Smell

          It has been a fast five-week journey of exploring our understanding of God and our place with Him through our five physical senses. 

We came to see that through our sense of vision that God sent Jesus to be the spiritual light of the world to illuminate our lives within and to see God as God really is.

We then saw that through our sense of taste that we will remember Jesus as the sweetness of choice wedding wine of hope and love, the saltiness of the gospel message to change all who hear it, the bitterness that can invade our lives if we do not follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness , and the sourness of vinegar used to enliven Jesus’ mouth to proclaim to our benefit, “It is finished” and they are freed from sin.

We move from vision and taste to hearing and came to learn that God sent Jesus Christ that we could hear the words that through faith we are not condemned but we are saved, and that Holy Spirit has given us a full vocabulary to use that we can speak plainly about God.

Last week we affirmed that in accepting Jesus, we are touched spiritually and given the mission to make God real to other through the touch of love.  When we reach out in the name of Christ, we can touch the lives of others and make character of God real through us.

This week we will look through the lens of our sense of smell.  Scientists and medical experts tell us that our sense of smell can distinguish from among tens of thousands of different odors. And as we know, our perception of those odors is influenced by personal preferences.  Just go to a farm someday and note how some folks will say the farm smells lovely and earthy and others will say about the same odors that, “It stinks!”

But one of the most significant elements of our sense of smell is how smell relates to our memory.  The scientists and medical experts tell us that our sense of smell is linked to our memory more so than any of the other senses.  For many people, recall of a specific moment in time or a specific event can be triggered by a smell that was present at that moment.  The smell of freshly baked bread may flood us with memories of a childhood experience of coming home to bread baking in the oven.  Those memories may not have been with us for years but suddenly they are as fresh as yesterday. 

In working with people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, there is often a desire to preserve articles of clothing of the loved one for the scent contained in the clothing.  That scent can bring back or refresh memories of that person.

Our sense of smell can also be used to create an experience in the present.  In some Christian church traditions, incense is burned to create an experience of solemnity and mystery to the worship service.  The visual imagery of smoke and smell creates the idea that worship service connects heaven with earth.  So, in some cases, church has used our sense of smell to create a spiritual or religious experience.

But what might the Bible say of the sense of smell?  How might the Bible reveal to us how our sense of smell is used to understand God and God’s will for our life?  Let’s take a quick look at what the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, reveal to us.

The first revelation of the sense of smell and its relationship to God came about in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 8.  Noah and his family had been on the ark, the floods were over, and now it was time to come out of the ship and begin rebuilding.  “18 So Noah came out [of the ark], together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.  20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.  22 As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’” (Genesis 8:18-22).

Noah’s first act upon leaving the ark was to worship God.  Noah did so in the form of a burnt offering of selected animals and birds. The Bible said that “Lord smelled the pleasing aroma.”  There are two senses of smell playing here.  The first view of smell is Noah’s.  In human terms, Noah created an offering that Noah found pleasing to smell. We tend to believe that if we find the experience satisfying then so will God.  But God experiences things differently.  So, the second view of the aroma comes fro God.  The aroma that pleased God was not the physical aroma that please Noah.  For God, the pleasing aroma was found by the entirety of the experience of worship of gratitude expressed by Noah.  The behavior of Noah, that in Noah’s heart, Noah’s first act upon landing on dry land was to give thanks to God without being instructed so.  That Noah would seek to worship God was sweet, aromatic, and pleasing to God.  Worship and prayers offered with a proper heart that expresses gratitude and love of God are acts that create, in a spiritual manner, an experience expressed as a fragrance, an aroma, that is pleasing to God.

After Noah, the Israelites developed and participated in detailed steps for burnt offerings.  In those burnt offerings, the Israelites desired to create a pleasing aroma, a pleasing experience, for God.  At times, when the people offered worship with a proper heart, God received these burnt offerings as a pleasing aroma, but God did not always receive those experiences.  In the Book of Amos, we would read that the Israelites practiced their religious traditions, including burnt offerings, out of obligation not in gratitude.  Aside from the moments of worship, the people had turned from God’s righteousness and lived lives of injustice and bitterness. The people, in a selfish manner, offered the same burnt offerings to God that once gave the same pleasant aroma to those making the offering believing God would be equally pleased.  What was God’s response to such religious gatherings and offerings offered out of obligation and tradition?  God said:  21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” 

The burnt offerings had not changed but the people had changed.  The people were no longer behaving as God’s people and so God experienced their gatherings and burnt offerings as a stench instead of a pleasing aroma.  A stench, a strong and very unpleasant smell, like rotting fish, is something that turns our stomachs.  To God, the people had become an experience of stench, a stomach-turning odor, because the people refused to pursue righteousness and to act justly.  The burnt offerings had not changed but the people had changed.

God’s words are hard.  I do not think any of us want to be known as a stench.  And while God’s words are hard, they are hard to shake people up to change, to repent, and return to righteousness.

Repentance and righteousness are at the center of God’s call upon our lives and the focus of Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus began teaching with a simple message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17).  In repenting, Jesus then said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

How then does Jesus make use of our sense of smell physically and spiritually to help to inform us about God and God’s will?  Well, let’s look at one example from the Gospel of John.  John wrote, “1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him” (John 12:1-2).  In our opening scene, Jesus had returned to the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. This is shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, resuscitating him to life in the flesh and blood once again. The family of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were hosting a dinner in Jesus’ honor.

While Jesus and others reclined at the table, “3 Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3-4).  Mary took a pint of nard, some 16 ounces of perfume, and pour it all out upon Jesus’ feet. A bottle that size was worth about one year’s wages.  Then Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, sending the fragrance throughout the entire house.  Everyone was drawn into the experience.  Everywhere that fragrance could be smelled people were reminded of the presence of Christ and extravagance of Mary’s heart toward Jesus.

But virtually all stories involving Jesus have a twist and this story is no exception.  After Mary worshipped Jesus with creating a fragrant experience revealing Mary’s heart, that pleasing fragrance also revealed the heart of Judas.  John wrote, “4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him objected [to Mary’s behavior], 5 ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ 6 [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he [Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he [Judas] used to help himself to what [the money that] was put into it” (John 12:4-6).

The pleasing fragrance of Mary’s extravagance worship of Jesus was a stench to Judas because the fragrance filling the house meant the perfume could no longer be converted to cash.  Judas wanted that money that perfume could have brought because Judas was a thief and was using the group’s money for Judas’ own enrichment.  Judas behavior was unrighteous and unjust.  In this story, the same fragrance was used to reveal the pleasing aroma of righteousness of Mary who followed Jesus with her heart and the stench of unrighteousness of Judas who followed Jesus for his own enrichment.

John ended this account this way, Jesus said, “7 ‘Leave her alone.  It was intended that she [Mary] should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me’” (John 12:7-8).  Jesus saw his death coming and the desire for his friend to anoint his body in death.  But Jesus could also see that his death was necessary for his friends to have life and to be able to fill whatever house they entered with the aroma of Christ.

The aroma of Christ was seen as both reflective of life and death.  We understand this latter point from the writings of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth.  Paul wrote, “14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14).  Paul brought out that Christians are to spread an aroma among the people of the world by spreading the knowledge of Jesus, of his love and righteousness wherever we go.  Paul said that the same aroma of Christians, the thoughts, words, and deeds of Christians expressing their heart-felt love of Christ, would be received three different ways.

First, Paul said, “15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15a).  Like Noah’s original burnt offering given in gratitude and righteousness that gave a pleasing aroma to God, Christians who live and work in righteousness and gratitude through Jesus are a pleasing aroma to God.  Our life matters to God, and we can be pleasing to God.

Second, Paul said, “Among those who are being saved…[we] are an aroma that brings life” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17 selected).  To people who accept the word of God, who are encouraged by what they witness in our life, they are saved.  To them we are an aroma of life, an abundant life now and forever with God.  Our sharing of the gospel through our words and actions is a sweet fragrance of life.  Perhaps we could think of it as the wonderful smell of a clean newborn baby. There is no greater gift we can give than life itself.

Thirdly, Paul said, “And those who are perishing, …we are an aroma that brings death” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17 selected).  To those who reject the message of the gospel our testimony reminds them that absent the savior a certain and everlasting death awaits them.

Christians who follow Jesus in a heartfelt manner of gratitude and righteousness are the same aroma experienced three different ways.  To God we are the pleasing aroma of Christ.  To one another, Christians are the pleasing aroma of life.  To the nonbeliever, Christians are the aroma of death.

What then are we to do?  Our call is simple.  Jesus said, “Repent,” meaning turn from pursuing our own understanding and move toward God.  Second, Jesus said, “Seek God’s righteousness.”  Think, speak, and act as God would desire us to do.  How do we do that?  We imitate Jesus.  In our lifelong transformation of discipleship of Jesus, our life becomes more and more pleasing to God.  If you will, we smell more like the fragrance of Christ.  In being more like the fragrance of Christ, we reveal the difference in the aroma between spiritual life and spiritual death.  That is our task and the opportunity God has given us. Let us then be a sweet, sweet spirit revealing the fragrance of Christ.  Amen and Amen.

06-19 - Touch

          We are continuing to develop our understanding of God through our physical senses.  In the past few weeks, we have spoken about the sense of sight, taste, and hearing.  Today, we will develop our understanding of God through our sense of touch.

          We are always touching things.  We see an article of clothing in a store.  In seeing it, we have some interest in it because of its shape, color, or that it is on the clearance rack.  Our next step of discover is always to touch the garment.  In touching, we want to gauge the thickness and texture of the material.  We touch it to imagine if we would want to try it on.  If the garment fails the touch tests, we will not consider it further even though the garment might have a nice the shape or color.

          Our need for touch extends well beyond garments.  Our sense of touch has been important for our wellbeing since infancy.  Our understand of the world and our place in it has been shaped by our sense of touch.  We want to immediately begin knowing the world will be kind to us through our sense of touch.  When a baby is first born, one of the things that now happens right away is for the baby to bond to mom and dad by being held bare chested to both.  Touch then is seen as highly desirable for rapid development.

When a child has been separated from their parents, whether it has been for a few hours with a babysitter or months because the parent was deployed overseas, the response is the same.  The child gets excited at the sight of their parent but is not satisfied until they have physically touched that parent, usually with a hug.

          Medical study after medical study has shown that we need physical touch from others to feel secure and safe.  Christian counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the book, The Five Love Languages, identified physical touch as one of the primary ways humans send and receive love.

          We need and use physical touch to bring comfort to ourselves in this sometimes hard and demanding world.  In the last two years, government policies developed in response to the COVID virus have deprived us of physical touch.  Those policies and practices have been detrimental to human development.  Social distancing requirements may have been necessary at first to minimize the spread of the virus, remember we were going to flatten the curve in two weeks, but social distancing for more than two years has been by all other metrics an inhumane policy.  One study put it this way, “To society, social distancing presents the dangers of increasing social rejection, growing impersonality and individualism, and the loss of a sense of community. It negatively affects learning and growth, and it prevents people from effectively socializing, which is a fundamental human need.” 

A couple of weeks ago, we dropped off a meal to feed the homeless and poor of the community in South Troy.  Before COVID, that meal was a vibrant interactive community of people drawn together to eat together and get to know one another.  After COVID, people attending the meal were prohibited from dining together.  Instead, they were given takeout containers with the food.  A few weeks ago, the facility was unsuccessful in reestablishing a dining together format.  Why were they unsuccessful?  After two years of being kept apart, the people are now afraid to be together. The community has been lost.

          Touch is essential to our well-being and our ability to understand this physical world.  Touch is also an essential way for us to develop our understanding of God.

          We see the sense of touch playout in several ways in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry.  We would see in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus touched all people, including those considered untouchable. Matthew wrote, “1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’  3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he [the leper] was cleansed of his leprosy” (Matthew 8:1-3).  People with leprosy were untouchable.  Lepers were socially distanced from the remainder of the human community.  As of 2015, there remained a group of people who had been exiled due to leprosy.  They live on a tiny Hawaiian island.  They are the last of the people banished from society for leprosy in 1960’s.

          Jesus first recorded miracle in the Gospel of Matthew, the healing of the man with leprosy, comes immediately after Jesus concluded his sermon on the mount.  Matthew wrote at the end of the sermon, “28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).  Jesus then immediately touched the untouchable leper and healed the unhealable.  In touching and healing the leper, Jesus showed his authority over illness giving then authority of the words of his sermon.  Think about how it would be if at the end of this sermon, I was able to cure someone of an incurable disease.  Do you think the impact of my sermon would be substantial?  I think so.

People who heard Jesus’ sermon now not only saw the transformation of this leper but they could also touch the man’s clean and restored skin.  In touching, the people would understand that Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount were not just well taught, but they would understand Jesus’ words themselves held the power of God.

          Jesus’ power to heal captivated people’s attention and occurred as a means of authenticating his words.  The Gospel of Mark shares with us that after word spread that Jesus could heal with a touch, “8b Many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he [Jesus] told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 10 For he [Jesus] had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him [Jesus]” (Mark 3:8b-10).  People wanted to touch Jesus.  The people wanted the power of God to be given to them and free them from their illness or disability.  So great were the crowds seeking to touch Jesus, that Jesus had to get into a boat and teach from the waters of the Sea of Galilee to the people seated and standing along its shores.  Touching Jesus mattered greatly to the people.

          As the momentum of Jesus’ ministry accelerated, we read in Mark that, “A large crowd followed and pressed around him [Jesus].”  Jesus and the crowd were on their way to the home of a wealthy leader of the synagogue named Jairus.  Jairus had begged Jesus to come at once to heal Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter who was on the verge of death.

Mark recorded that as Jesus and the crowd quickly made their way to Jairus’ home, “25 A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She [The woman] had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she [the woman] grew worse” (Mark 5:26-27).  Mark gave us a contrasting character to the wealthy man named Jairus. Mark introduced a woman.  We are not given her name, like we had with Jairus. We know that she has been made poor by her illness, a bleeding disorder.  A woman with a bleeding disorder was a social outcast.  She could not participate in the synagogue, as Jairus could, and she could not socialize with others in the community because she was not permitted to touch other people.  This woman suffered in this way for as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive giving Jairus joy.  Whatever the woman’s illness, it was essentially uncurable.

“27 When she [the woman] heard about Jesus, she came up behind him [Jesus] in the crowd” (Mark 5:27a).  The woman was probably known in the community as the woman who has been bleeding forever. She approached Jesus from behind, perhaps coming from the rear of the group in hope that she would go unnoticed and not be shooed away.  She saw no chance the group would allow her to get close to Jesus to make her appeal directly to him.

 Mark wrote, “27 The woman came up behind him [Jesus] in the crowd and touched his [Jesus’] cloak, 28 because she [the woman] thought [to herself], ‘If I just touch his [Jesus’] clothes, I will be healed.’ 29 Immediately her [the woman’s] bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5:24b-29).  This woman had amazing faith believing all she needed to be healed was to touch Jesus outer garment!

          Jesus had attracted a large crowd of people who walked close to him, moving as a unit, jostling one another, noisily making their way to Jairus’ house.  Unseen by anyone in the group was a woman who for twelve years was afflicted with a bleeding condition.  The woman touched some part of Jesus’ outermost garment and immediately she felt changed within.  By faith, the woman’s suffering was over, the bleeding stopped.  With her mission of faith accomplished, the woman began a slow retreat from the crowd hoping again she would go unnoticed.

          But the story had a twist.  Mark wrote that as soon as the woman had touched Jesus’ garment, “30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He [Jesus] turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 ‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”  Jesus disciples are almost mocking Jesus.  Everyone had been pushing and brushing up against one another including against Jesus and now Jesus wanted to know who touched his garment?  The disciples must have thought that so many people touched Jesus’ garment, what could Jesus possible mean by that question? They offered Jesus no answer to his question.

          Mark wrote, “32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it” (Mark 5:32).  Valuable time needed to reach Jairus’ dying daughter was ticking by as Jesus kept insisting on looking for the person who touched his garment.  The tension and urgency were rising.  Finally, “33 The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his [Jesus’] feet and, trembling with fear, told him [Jesus] the whole truth. 34 He [Jesus] said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’” (Mark 5:33-34).

          It is important to note here that Jesus wanted a conversation with the person who touched his garment.  Jesus and the woman each knew a healing had occurred but no one else heard the woman’s story or the healing.  No one other than the woman and Jesus knew of the woman’s faith.  When Jesus heard the woman’s story, he called her “Daughter,” just as Jairus had spoken of his own children.  Though the woman is likely older than Jesus, Jesus was making the point to her and everyone else that to be touched by God is to become his child.  Secondly, Jesus said to the woman she was healed.  This is not news to the woman.  She knew she was healed.  But the Greek word Jesus used here, sōzō, sode'-zo, means both a physical healing and the spiritual healing of salvation.  Jesus was making the point to the woman and to those present that in touching God, her body was healed but more important, her faith in God healed her spiritually as well.

          What do we conclude about this scene and about touch for our lives?  As always, when dealing with our senses, there are two things to consider.  There is the physical and the spiritual.

          First, as we deal with the physical sense of touch we realize that the story of Jesus Christ being sent by God from heaven is the story of God revealing himself to humanity in a way that we humans could most readily and easily receive him.  God’s revelation was not through glimpses of heaven or some mystical experience. God’s revelation came in human form, flesh and blood, in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was called Immanuel, God with Us, the incarnation of God, God in the flesh.  Jesus was someone people could hear as he spoke in their native language.  Jesus was someone people could see as they walked, talked, ate, and worshipped together.  And most importantly, Jesus was someone people could touch and know that Jesus was real.  Jesus was not a ghost as some would later claim.  Jesus was real because people touched him, and he touched them.

          Secondly, as we deal with the spiritual sense of touch we realize that the power of touch made God real amid suffering and it made God’s promises easier to accept.  The spiritual power of God became real when people would later touch Jesus not to be healed by him but to inflict wounds to Jesus’ hands, feet, and side that brought about the death of Jesus in flesh and blood.  And while this people intended deadly harm to Jesus and an end to the Jesus’ story, their wounding of Jesus only served to make real the extent of God’s love.  Peter would later write, “24 ‘He [Jesus] himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

          What then are we to do in response?  Let’s think of it this way.  As Jesus laid down his life for us, we are called to lay down our lives for each other by becoming the living body of Christ.  Christians are called to by Christ to the world by making his love incarnate, visibly, tangible, and touchable.  When we love and care for others and touch them, it is God’s character that becomes known to them through us.  If people can feel God’s love and experience God’s love though us, someone they can touch as well as see and hear, then people are assured that God is real.  In you, they are touched by God.

          We have been blessed with the sense of touch so that we can inform our minds with the vastness of God’s creation.  And we have been blessed with God’s personal and remarkable touch through the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus used the power of touch to reach out not just to those closest to him but also to those socially distanced from him.  Jesus touched others so that barriers could be broken down. Jesus touched because God knows we need to feel the realness of God.  In accepting Jesus, we are touched spiritually and given the mission to make God real to other through the touch of love.  Let us be courageous and touch those close and those distanced from us that they too can know the realness of God and see God’s character through us.  Amen and Amen.

06-12 - Hearing

          Our senses, our vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, allow us to acquire and experience the world around us.  Our senses allow our minds to develop and understand such things as small as sensations of freshly cut grass or as large as the felling of a tree. 

Sensing our physical world shapes and informs our minds and creates within us a desire to know what cannot be experienced through our senses. We want to know is all life created and lived by chance or is there a higher power, a greater being, a creator. We want to move from what we know in the hope of understanding what we do not know.

We have spoken of such things the last two weeks as we explored how our physical sense of sight and our sense of taste have helped us move from what we know to discover more fully that life is not by chance but flows from a creator, God.  We cannot see God.  We cannot taste God.  We cannot touch God.  We cannot smell God.  But we can hear God.

Our capacity to hear, the ears given to each of us, allows people to hear God.  The ancients believed that of all our sense, the capacity to hear was the superior sense in developing intelligence.  Aristotle wrote, “For rational discourse is a cause of instruction in virtue of its being audible, which it is, not directly, but indirectly; since it is composed of words, and each word is a thought-symbol.” 

Words spoken are thoughts-symbols.  Thoughts lead to understanding.  The ancient thoughts on hearing and understanding make the words of John’s Gospel even more powerful, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…17bgrace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:1-2, 14, 17b).  The Word of God, the voice of God, became flesh and lived among the people. In hearing that thoughts of Jesus Christ, our understanding of God leaped greatly.

John would later write, “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1-4).  In both passages, John spoke about God sending Jesus so that God could be heard most clearly. 

Over the years, many people have commented to me that there seems to be two God’s of the Bible. There is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.  There is one God who seems vengeful and one God who seems loving. There is only one God.  But God looks different, sounds different, when He vibrates through a living person.  God was heard through Jesus most clearly and called for us to come to faith in Him less for what faith in God might make us think of God but more so that faith in God might make of us. 

John understood that God spoke through Jesus as Himself, and that Jesus disciples heard the words of life coming from Jesus.  That is the reason John and others wrote the Gospels.  The disciples heard and knew that they must share the words of Jesus so that others could come to life and could live.  Therefore, our capacity to hear the Word of God or the words of God is a gift that moves us and shapes us in tangible ways now and forever.

To hear is a powerful instrument.  When I was undergoing training to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children, we were encouraged to hear the children with three sets of ears.  One set of ears we were to use to hear the words the children said.  A second set of ears were to be used to hear the words the children would not or could not say.  And a third set of ears was to be used to hear the feelings being expressed by the spoken and unspoken words of the children.  The mindset offered by that training in listening to the voices of children is something we would do well to follow when listening to the voice of God. We should be fully engaged when listening to God.

What then is the message God wants us to hear?  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “13b Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’  16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:13b-17).   Paul was emphatic.  Salvation comes from hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and responding to Jesus’ words of life.  That hearing comes about through preaching, let’s call it speaking, that comes from moms, dads, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, strangers, and yes, even pastors.  Each one of us is called to share the good news message of Jesus who came and shared by living the words and voice of God.

So, let’s consider for a moment the first part of our conversation today, hearing. There is one specific example of a person healed of deafness found in the gospels.  I found it interesting that there was only one example.  We might think to ourselves, “If hearing was so important why aren’t there dozens of examples in the Gospels?”  That is a good question.  But perhaps just one example is better to emphasize its importance because that example stands out and things that stand out usually draws our attention.  We are more oft apt to see the uniqueness of a particular tree when it stands alone instead of standing among a forest of trees.  Today, we have that one tree of Jesus healing a man who was deaf.  That story is found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 7.

“31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis” (Mark 11:31).  Jesus and his disciples moved from the city of Tyre, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea to the Decapolis.  The word Decapolis, means “Ten Cities.”  Jesus was in the region primarily east of the River Jordan comprised of ten cities founded by the Greeks, under Alexander the Great and his successors.  These cities were under Roman rule and outside the kingdom of Israel.  Jesus was in a non-Jewish territory.

Mark continued, “32 There (in the region of the Decapolis) some people brought to him (Jesus) a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him (the deaf man)” (Mark 7:32). There are a couple of things to note here.  First, there was a man who could not hear, he was deaf.  He could communicate slightly with a few sounds to express his most urgent needs.  Second, Jesus’ reputation as a healer had spread throughout the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.  Third, some people brought a deaf man to Jesus.  Hearing matters.  The “some people” heard about Jesus.  The man who could hear no words had no way of knowing about Jesus.  The “some people” who had heard about Jesus understood it was their responsibility to bring this man, a family member, friend, or stranger who was deaf to Jesus, that this man might hear.  The “some people” who brought this man to Jesus begged Jesus to place his hands on the deaf man.  The people had faith in Jesus.  The people believed that Jesus had the ability and the compassion to change this deaf man’s life forever.  These people believed Jesus could save this man.

Mark continued, “33 After he [Jesus] took him [the deaf man] aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He [Jesus] looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” [eff-a’-tha] (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he [formerly deaf and mute man] began to speak plainly” (Mark 7:33-35). 

What do we make of this scene?  First, we see that Jesus removed the man from the crowd.  The first sensation of sound and the first words to be spoken clearly by this deaf man were to be between the man and God.  The first feelings of a transformed life were to be between the man and God.  The man’s first response of faith by this man would be expressed to God.  What a wonderful blessing Jesus had set up for this man in simply removing him from the crowd. 

Second, we see that Jesus allowed the man to participate in his own healing.  Jesus always asked people who were blind or crippled to express their willingness to be healed.  But here this man is deaf and unable to speak.  Jesus knew that and the man knew that.  So, Jesus placed his fingers into the man’s ears as a way of showing the man that Jesus’ understood the source of the man’s difficulty.  There is no indication the man recoiled from Jesus. Instead, the man did the only thing he could do to communicate his acceptance of Jesus, he stood still and allowed Jesus to place his hands in the man’s ears.

Third, Jesus spit.  Why? We cannot be sure except that it seems likely it was the only way the man could understand that Jesus was going to also deal with the man’s ability to speak.  Mark tells us that after spitting, the man then allowed Jesus to put his fingers on the man’s tongue.

Fourth, Jesus looked to heaven.  Jesus did not need to do that for this healing to occur, but the deaf man needed to see that Jesus was doing the work of God.   As Jesus cast his gaze to heaven, Jesus sighed, not in frustration or anger, but perhaps to have Jesus’ breath fall upon the man and feel the breath of God, the touch of the Holy Spirit, float across the deaf man’s skin.

Fifth, Jesus said, “‘34b Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’)” (Mark 7:34b).  I believe it is most likely that as Jesus sighed the man’s hearing was restored and the first word the man then heard was “Ephphatha!” For immediately the man’s ears were open to hear Jesus and the man miraculously was given not only the ability to speak words plainly but also a vocabulary of words.  We do not know what the man said but it would be hard to imagine that he did not praise God and express gratitude to Jesus and then to his friends.

Mark said the people were overwhelmed with amazement at what they had witnessed.  Even though in faith they brough this man to Jesus to be healed, the healing of his deafness, the ability to speak, and to speak not just sounds but words plainly was more than they could have imagined.  Despite Jesus’ request that they not share this news, the people were unable to contain themselves.  They had to tell others what had happened.

What then does our sense of hearing help us understand God and live our lives?  There are two things we should consider. 

First, we understand the physical experience of the senses of deafness and hearing.  In Mark’s account, people knew the man could not hear them and they asked Jesus to help. Jesus met the needs of the people and this man and transformed the man from deaf to hearing.  People could know that.  The physical scene gives us the experience to comprehend the spiritual scene that was also playing out.  Jesus came to end the spiritual deafness of the people and gave them the ability to hear God directly.  Jesus put it this way:  47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:47-50).  Jesus’ words are God’s words.  Jesus came to speak to us in a way that we could hear God.

Secondly, with our spiritual deafness over and the Spirit of God within us, two things should happen.  One is that we should be unable to keep quiet about what we have discovered about God through Jesus.  The news is too good for us to be quiet.  By that, I don’t me we should see every Christian on the street corner yelling and shouting about salvation in Jesus.  But we should hear ourselves moving God into conversations at the dinner table, while walks in the park, and rides in the car.  Wherever we are we should have the opportunity to let others know in appropriate ways that we are no longer deaf to God’s voice.  The second thing that will happen with the end of spiritual deafness is that we will be given vocabulary.  Even in the most trying circumstances, Jesus promised us, “Don’t worry how you’ll respond, and don’t worry what you should say. 12 The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them” (Luke 12:11b-12).

Today, let us be grateful that we can hear God through Jesus Christ and that through those words we learn that we are not condemned but we are saved. What a joyful sound those words alone make!  Let us be thankful that Holy Spirit has given us a full vocabulary to use that we can speak plainly about God.  We are equipped to speak so that others who may need encouragement will be encouraged and those who have not heard the words of God will hear them first through us. What an amazing privilege to pass along the words of life to another person.  May God bless us in our hearing and in our speaking.  Amen and Amen.

06-05 - Taste

          Last week we began exploring the idea of coming to know God through our physical senses.  We spoke last week about using our gift of physical sight to see the magnificence of God in the creation whether that was gazing upon a mountaintop or simply seeing beauty of light reflected in a puddle of water. We also spoke about using our gift of spiritual sight to see Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God and to see through Jesus that God is loving, compassionate, and slow to anger. This week I would like us to explore our understanding of God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit through our sense of taste.

          There are many studies on how many different tastes humans can experience.  While there are different conclusions from these studies, all studies seem to agree that humans can taste four basic elements.  We can taste sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Each of these basic elements of taste can help us come to better understand God and his call upon our lives. Let’s begin most generally with our overall sense of taste as we explore our Scripture reading from the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.

          Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee.  As we will see, Jesus’ mother was present at the wedding, and it seems that Jesus’ mother had some role or standing with the couple being married.  Weddings at that time were lengthy affairs, sometimes lasting up to a week.  Our Gospel writer, John, shared with us that Jesus performed his first miracle at this wedding.

          John wrote, “1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him [Jesus], ‘They have no more wine.’ 4 ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ 5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’  6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  7 Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they [the servants] filled them [stone jars] to the brim [with water]” (John 2:1-7).

          The account here begins with a wedding scene.  What do we know about weddings?  We know from our own experiences that weddings are a time of celebrating love, hope, promise, and joy.  A wedding celebration, should we assign a taste to it, would be sweet, bringing about pleasant feelings. 

          But there is a twist in the story.  There was no more wine for the wedding celebration.  An important element to celebration which had been present was now gone.  Jesus’ mother, Mary, knew the celebration was about to become unpleasant.  Mary asked Jesus to intervene.  Mary’s request left Jesus with a choice.  Do nothing and let the situation play itself out or do something that brings meaning to his followers about His nature and His mission. As we know, Jesus chose to act.

          Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars each holding 20 to 30 gallons, to be filled with water.  If I have my math correct that is somewhere between 100 and 150 gallons of water! And as we consider this scene, we want to remember that water, per se, is tasteless.  In its pure form, water is neither sweet, salty, sour, nor bitter. It is without taste.

          John continued the story.  “8 Then he [Jesus] told them [the servants], ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They [The servants] did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he [master of the banquet] called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best [wine] till now’” (John 2:8-10).

          What had Jesus done? I think there are three things to consider.  First, the most obvious.  Jesus solved the immediate problem.  The wedding was without wine.  Now the wedding had between 100 and 150 gallons of wine or about 4,000 glasses of wine. This was something physical all people could understand.  Second, Jesus took that which was tasteless, water, and transformed it into that which was choice in taste.  Jesus was revealing that to be his disciple would be a transforming experience as much as taking tasteless water and turning it into choicest tasting wine.  Third, Jesus transformed the use of stone jars reserved for ceremonial washings to vessels containing new choice wine for the bridegroom and his friends.  Jesus was revealing that something, someone, greater than religious tradition of the past was now present and that from those traditions would come a new sense of love, hope, promise, and joy in God.

          John wrote in verse 11, “11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee (at the wedding) was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his [Jesus’] disciples believed in him [Jesus]” (John 2:11).  Jesus had chosen to use the absence of wine, the presence of tasteless water, and His authority over nature to create an overabundance of choice tasting wine.  In doing so, Jesus brought meaning to his followers about His nature and mission, which would be very much like the sweetness of a wedding with love, hope, promise, and joy in God.

          As we discussed earlier, in addition to sweetness, we can discern other senses of taste such as saltiness, sourness, and bitterness. Let’s consider saltiness.

          According to the gospel writer Matthew, one of Jesus’ first teachings to his disciples dealt with the taste of saltiness.  Matthew wrote in Chapter 5 of his gospel that Jesus spoke to his disciples and said, “13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).  What might Jesus have meant by these words?

          First, Jesus spoke using the plural form of the word, “You.”   Jesus was speaking a personal message to the 12 disciples.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  Second, Jesus said you, disciples, “are” the salt of the earth.  In the present, at this moment, you are the salt of the earth. Jesus did not say, “Well, someday, perhaps, maybe, you might possibly stand a chance of becoming…”  Jesus said “You are…”  Third, Jesus called them “salt.”  Salt was valuable in Jesus’ day.  Salt preserved food.  Salt seasoned food.  Salt was used as currency.  Whatever salt touches is changed by the salt.  If you add salt to something, you cannot remove salt from it.  Salt was used in the worship of God in the formation of incense.  To the 12 disciples there was a sacredness to salt. It was common and valuable by holy when used by God.

          “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) meant these disciples had faith in Jesus and in a faith that emphasized simplicity and humility not grandeur.  Christian faith shown by this band of blessed people was expressed in worshipping together with expectancy and wonder. They did not establish a headquarters or form an army.  Instead, they became uncompromising people inspired and rejoicing in the blessings given to them by God and they built their life into an intensive fellowship of affection, worship, and work.  These people created fellowships that became infectious changing the cultural order. That is what salt does – it changes whatever it touches. 

But Jesus had a warning.  Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message translation of the Bible put Jesus words this way:  13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” (Matthew 5:13a).  Jesus taught that we taste saltiness, we are reminded of our relationship to him, and the commissioning we have from him to be in the world bringing out the God-flavors of this earth.  Saltiness reminds us that things have changed.  We have changed.  But if we do not remain in Jesus, then our saltiness will be removed from us. 

Saltiness reminds us of our mission, just as sweetness reminds us of the hope, love, and joy in that mission. And having considered saltiness and sweetness, we have two elements of taste remaining, bitterness and sourness. Let’s consider bitterness.

Bitter is that taste sensation often described as sharp, disagreeable, and unpleasant.  Bitter can, at times, be ascribed to the personality of some people because they are sharp, disagreeable, and unpleasant. Bitter can also be ascribed to an experience that is painful.  Jesus’ disciple, Peter, had such a bitter experience.

Peter had pledged to defend Jesus with his very life.  But when Jesus was arrested and taken for trial, Peter ran into the safety of the dark night as did the other disciples.  From the shadows, Peter followed the men leading Jesus to trial.  At the place where the trial was held, a girl questioned Peter saying, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”  “Woman, I do not know him,” Peter answered (Luke 22:57).  “58 A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’  ‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.  59 About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’  60 Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he [Peter] was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:58-62).

Peter’s desertion of Jesus and his denial were a bitter experience indeed.  When Peter could have shown encouragement, Peter instead separated himself from Jesus.  When Peter could have shown he was a faithful friend, Peter instead said he never knew Jesus.  When Peter could have shown love, Peter instead was indifferent to Jesus.  Peter realizing what he had done wept bitterly. We can relate to Peter’s self-condemnation.

But there was another side of this bitter experience.  That side rests with Jesus.  Many of us understand part of Jesus’ experience with Peter.  We likely have experienced, that in our moment of greatest need, close friends or family members separated themselves from us, they acted as though they never knew us, and they showed indifference toward our difficulties.  Jesus understands your pain, the bitterness of that experience.  But Jesus taught us that though we experience bitterness, we must not choose to become bitter ourselves.  Though Peter deserted and denied Jesus, Jesus never became bitter toward Peter.  Instead, Jesus awaited the opportunity to restore Peter and replace the bitter experience with a sweet experience.  This is what Jesus taught us about bitterness.

Having explored bitterness, saltiness, and sweetness there remains only one of the basic taste sensations to explore.  That is sourness.  Sourness is a taste that is acidic, sharp, tart, and tangy.  Sourness is a taste that we can find in the cross of Christ. Jesus was crucified, nailed to a cross, and hung in the sun to die.  All four gospel writers describe Jesus’ death from different vantagepoints and through the eyes of different people who were present.  But one detail is found in all four gospel accounts.  Roman soldiers gave Jesus his last drink before death. The last bit of moisture offered to his lips, was wine vinegar, an acidic, tart, and tangy liquid.  Vinegar, in a word, is sour.  We do not know why the soldiers gave Jesus anything to drink, except perhaps to see what else Jesus may say.  The soldiers’ experience in this crucifixion was different from all others.  Those crucified cursed those around them.  Instead, Jesus forgave those who crucified him and encouraged those who followed him.  Perhaps giving Jesus a sour drink was intended to enliven Jesus’ mind so the soldiers could continue to mock Jesus.  Or perhaps God used the sour liquid to enliven Jesus’ mouth so that those present could hear these words from Jesus, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

I think God can use all circumstances, even the sour moments, to bring good from them. “It is finished,” was Jesus words from the cross assuring his followers that the work of the Messiah had been completed and that his body and blood given upon the cross sealed the agreement between God and those who believed in Jesus Christ.  “It is finished,” meant that the forgiveness of our sins promised by Jesus at the Last Supper, had been sealed upon the cross, even with sourness in his mouth.

Sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and sweetness can be found in the story of Jesus and used by us to remember the love and sacrifice of Jesus.  In a moment, we will taste the elements of the Lord’s Supper, a bit of bread and a sip from the cup.  In tasting those elements, we will remember Jesus; the sweetness of choice wedding wine of hope and love, the saltiness of the gospel message to change all who hear it, the bitterness that can invade our lives if we do not follow Jesus’ example, and the sourness of vinegar used to enliven Jesus’ mouth to proclaim to our benefit, “It is finished.”  Come, let us taste and see the Lord.  Amen and Amen.

05-29 - Vision

          When someone says to us, “You need to come to your senses!” they do not actually mean what they are saying. That person is not asking us to start using our five senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. Instead, they are asking us to engage our mind and stop behaving in an unreasonable way or stop thinking in an unreasonable manner.  The person speaking to us is saying to us in the present that our past ways must change for us to have a future.  “You need to come to your senses!” is intended to be words of wisdom said in the present to encourage us to change our past thinking, our words, and our actions so that we have a future.

          Now the expression, “You need to come to your senses!” is a solid Biblical concept as well.  We would find the intent of that expression found in a single Biblical word, “Repent!”  In the Bible, a call to “Repent’” is said in the present to encourage a change in past thinking, words, and actions so that there can be a future.  Too often in contemporary sermons, preachers have used the word repent as a word of condemnation rather than a word of encouragement.  Jesus’ first sermon was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”  To repent, in Biblical concepts, is to come to our senses about God and to see God and his call on our life differently than we had in the past.  In that coming to our senses, we would then be changed and no longer rely upon our own understanding.  The encouragement of repenting is beautifully and concisely expressed in the Old Testament this way: “5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).  To me, these words describe a repentant life.  We are trusting in God and his wisdom and following God’s ways.  The result is peace and straightening out of our life now and a straight path to God forever.  I think it would be safe to say that we all know that to live repentantly is a lifelong, day by day experience.  This is true because every day and, in many ways, we are subjected to serious temptations, stresses, tragedies, and people that challenge us to shift our focus from God, to question God’s goodness, and to cause us to lose heart. 

Because we are continually challenged, God knows we need to be able to relate to a life lived repentantly.  God sent himself in human form in the person of Jesus to live that perfect life for us to imitate.  The Apostle Paul encouraged us that life lived repentantly was one that imitated Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1) and would be marked by thinking, speaking, and acting in truth, in a noble manner, done rightly, done with pure motive, having the quality of being admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  We can come to our senses then about God and what God wants for our life, we can live life repentantly, by following Jesus.

While the modern expression of coming to our senses does not deal with our five senses of vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, I believe our five physical senses can be helpful for us to understand God’s plan for our life.  And so, for the next few weeks, I would like us to explore the good news of Jesus and living life repentantly through our five senses beginning with our sense of sight.  We just sang the hymn, “Open My Eyes That I May See,” in which we prayed in song that God would open our eyes and reveal glimpses of truth that He has for us.

  Let’s begin our journey through our senses. The senses were first given serious thought by Aristotle, a Greek philosopher.  Aristotle believed that our ability to see gives us the primary capacity for the wants of life.  We see it, we want it.  The ancients understood that concept.  Aristotle believed that our ability to see was the superior of the five senses but that our ability to see was a dependent sense.  Aristotle correctly observed that our ability to see was dependent upon there being light.  Without light, we have no ability to see.

Aristotle, without knowing it, was pointing to the work of God to give us vision.  On page 1 of every Bible, we would read the words from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, these words, “3 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4).  God gave physical light that is necessary for us to see with our physical sense.  This was the first time God sent light that we could see.

Later, in the person of Jesus, God would use the imagery of light and send light into the world a second time. In the Gospel of John, we would read, “1 In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word [Jesus] was with God, and the Word [Jesus] was God. 2 He [Jesus] was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).  In this case, John was revealing to us that Jesus was the light able to overcome spiritual darkness.  Later in John’s Gospel, we would read Jesus accentuated this point when Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

On the two occasions that God sent light into the world to give us the capacity to see first physically and then spiritually.  As we will see in a moment, the capacity to see physically and to see spiritually are interwoven into the message and the person of Jesus Christ.

Let’s start with physical sight and physical light.  We have always been visual beings.  To be able to see visually has been necessary for our very survival and appreciation of creation.  In Genesis, Chapter 3, the man and woman were living in the Garden of Eden. The woman had been coaxed by the serpent to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The Bible said, “6 [When] The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6).  The woman saw two things physically about the fruit.  The fruit was edible, and the fruit was visually appealing.  So physical light and the capacity to see were recognized from the beginning was essential to survival.  This we know and this understand.

We know and understand that in ancient times particularly, those people who were without sight struggled to survive.  In the Bible, blind people were led to spots along the road where they could beg for food or money to stay alive.  There were no social safety nets for those with physical challenges.  There also developed a belief that the blind person or their parents had sinned against God and that the blindness was God’s punishment for that sin.  So in addition to the physical struggles, blind people struggled with spiritual condemnation.

Then Jesus entered the scene as the light of the world. Jesus began to preach a message to “Repent,” a coming to one’s senses about God.  Jesus was saying in the present to change the ways of the past to have a future.  To show the authority to proclaim his message of repentance, Jesus began to heal people of various illnesses and disabilities.  One of the conditions Jesus healed was blindness, the inability to see.  Jesus changed the physical condition of blind people and restored their sight.  All four gospels have specific accounts of Jesus giving sight to the blind.  Some of the stories are very detailed.  In one story, Jesus spit on the ground to make a sort of muddy paste and put that on the blind man’s eyes to give him sight. In another story, the man’s name, Bartimaeus, is cited.  And in yet another account, the religious leaders seeking to deny the authority of Jesus claimed the blind man healed by Jesus as well as that man’s parents were frauds.  Why was it so important for Jesus to restore sight and so important that the gospel writers ensure those stories were recorded?

I think there were three reasons for the importance placed on the matter of blindness and vision.  First, as mentioned, blindness was considered a matter between God and the individual.  God, in conversation with Moses said, “11 Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11).  To give sight to the blind then would be an expression of God. Therefore, it was important that Jesus heal the blind.

Second, God said, he would send his Messiah to redeem the people from their sins.  God shared the mission of the Messiah and how the people would know who the true Messiah from any false claimants.  God said: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.  2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”  [That is the mission of the Messiah.]  5 This is what God the Lord says - the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:1-7).  Through the Lord’s Messiah, “5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy (Isaiah 34:5-6).  The giving of sight to the blind was necessary to show the authority of Jesus and his message about God.

          Finally, the restoration of sight was necessary to move people from what they knew to what they did not know.  The people understood physical sight and physical light.  Jesus needed to move people to understand spiritual sight and spiritual light.  Jesus interwove the physical with the spiritual so that his listeners who now include you and me could learn the magnificence of God.

In weaving together physical sight and spiritual sight, Jesus taught that “22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23). Here our old friend Aristotle can help us.  As we recall, Aristotle concluded our ability to see gives us the primary capacity for the wants of life. What we look toward and at shows what we desire.  Jesus telling his listeners that if your eyes are healthy, if you have spiritual sight and you keep your eyes are focused on God, then your whole body, your whole way of life, will be full of light.  If we keep our spiritual eyes on Jesus, then we will imitate him in how we think. Thinking like Jesus changes the way we talk.  Talking like Jesus will change the way we act.  If our eyes are focused on Jesus, then we will be able to come to our senses about God and live repentantly.  We will let go of our past and have a future.

Jesus warned, however, if our eyes are unhealthy, if we are spiritually blind and squinting in God’s direction and yet are wide-eyed to the world, then darkness, instead of light, will fill our thinking, be present in our words, and evident in our actions.  We will not have come to our senses, and we will not be living life repentantly.  Our life now and forever will be dark.

Jesus was using the imagery of our physical sense of vision to bring us to an understanding of the spiritual vision we must possess.  As our physical eyes need light to see, our spiritual eyes need the light and we find that spiritual light in Jesus, the light of the world.

From this concept of seeing with spiritual eyes, Jesus taught his followers in parables or short stories working from the known physical world to teach what listeners did not know spiritually. Often when concluding those parables, Jesus would say, “Let those with eyes see,” meaning if you are attentive to God, understand this teaching and be blessed by following it.

Jesus also interwove physical sight and blindness with spiritual sight and blindness to challenge those who refused to open their hearts and minds to the message of peace Jesus was offering. In the Gospel of Matthew, we would read that Jesus saying to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who ought to know better, “25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).  Jesus was challenging the Pharisees to stop being so concerned with physical appearances.  Instead, they needed to dig down deep within them and clean out the gunk that made them greedy and selfish.  The eyes of the Pharisees were fixed on the things of their desire, namely wealth and prestige, instead of the things of God.

What then are we to do with our sense of vision?  I think there are two things.

First, we should treasure the gift of physical sight as a blessing from God.  We should use our gift of sight to see God’s creative expression in the majesty of the mountains, in the simple reflection of sunlight upon a puddle of water, or the delicate movement of the wings of a baby hummingbird.  God did it all and it is all there for us, the great and the small. We should draw it in and know what we can know of God this way.  There is peace to be had for us in using our physical sense of sight made possible by God giving us physical light.

Second, we should treasure the gift of spiritual sight as a blessing from God.  God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to live in the flesh so that we could experience life with him and he with us.  God sent Jesus as our spiritual light to illuminate us within and to see God as God really is.   God as lived out by Jesus is slow to anger, steadfast in love, rich in compassion, and forgiving.  Jesus gives us the spiritual light to see that and thus come to our senses about God. 

Our response to such seeing God this way does not need to be complicated with religious process or procedure.  All we need to do, it use our spiritually healthy eyes to take in the light of the world from Jesus and follow him.  In doing that, we let go of the past and can be assured of our future.  Let us pray.