Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pentecost 4 2016: Reconciling "seeing"

Lectionary1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, supply priest at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family, Mills River, NC

(Note: if the above audio format doesn't work for your device, please try THIS LINK.

En el nombre de Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

We begin our worship every Sunday with the Collect for Purity. It’s a Collect because we are asking God to collect us from our various life situations and perspectives into a single state of mind that in our worship we may be one body, one spirit in Christ. Let’s listen to it again: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP, 355)

We talked last week about the “inspiration” of the Holy Spirit – God breathing God’s self into our bodies, into our lives. This Collect reminds us that it is by divine “inspiration” that we are able love God completely and magnify the name of God. To magnify is to reveal the nature of God by what we think, do, and say; and the name of God is God’s identity.

My experience anymore is that God is too often magnified by God’s people as a gun-toting, foreigner-hating, American flag-waving judge who is waiting to smite anyone who makes a mistake or violates a law. Either that, or God is far away in some heavenly realm, removed from the vicissitudes of life on earth, instead deputizing certain members of the people of God to judge, punish, and even kill those who are determined to be sinners in our midst.

Yet our readings show us something very different. They reveal a God who knows us intimately and loves us all - and I mean ALL- deeply; a God who sees beyond our behavior, our reputation, and our titles to the truth about us. They show us the merciful nature of God who, seeing our sins – which is anything that divides us from one another or from God - forgives us and opens space for us to change, that we might do the same for one another.

First, however, we must trust God enough to open our eyes and our hearts to know our own sin, especially our invisible sin – which is the sin we can’t or won’t see. Most of us resist this, I know I do, but it’s very clear in these Scripture stories that God isn’t leading us to an awareness of our sin in order to shame us or punish us but to encourage us to live differently, to live as people who magnify the true name of God.

Jesus demonstrates this by telling the story of the two debtors. One debtor owed much, the other half as much. Their creditor cancels both of their debts, and Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee: who will love the creditor more? Simon answers correctly: The one who had greater debt.

Then Jesus turns to the woman and asks Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’ Simon was caught up short because he hadn’t really seen her. He’d only seen what he believed about her – that she was a sinner. He’d seen what she was doing – intimately touching Jesus with her hair loosed (a very suggestive detail in the gospel) which confirmed his conclusion that she was a sinner. Feeling justified, Simon had condemned the woman in his thoughts, but he hadn’t actually seen her.

When Jesus looked at the woman he saw, and publicly described, the joy of a life restored, the light of her love and gratitude pouring forth as tears that washed his feet. When he looked at Simon, he saw the sin of spiritual pride, the interior darkness of Simon’s judgement against both the woman and himself. You see, Simon’s lack of hospitality toward Jesus was a proverbial slap in the face to Jesus and Jesus called him on it saying, ‘You gave me no kiss, no water for my dusty feet, no oil to anoint my head…’

The gospel story demonstrates for us all how God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known and no secrets are hid, sees the truth about each of us and reveals it to us so that we can be set free from what divides us and begin to live together in reconciliation. Jesus’ public proclamation of forgiveness set the woman free from the habit of her former life, a life which held her bound in the chains of poverty, shame, and contempt. It also set Simon free from the invisible bonds of his privilege, bonds that strangled the love right out of him and blinded him to the truth about himself, others, and even God.

Seeing and being seen in this way transforms us. When I am attacked by a Simon who has misjudged me, or when I’m drowning in my own insecurities, I can look into my husband’s eyes or my children’s eyes, or even my dog’s eyes, and see myself as they see me, and I am healed.

When I look into the eyes of the beggar as I hand him my dollar, he sees my love and respect for him, and there’s that moment of surprise, a hiccup in time where both of us know we are truly “seeing” each other. It’s a vulnerable place to be. What if the beggar sees my sin? We are, after all, both sinners saved by grace. Perhaps this is the true reason we often look away…

In every church, every community, everywhere you look, there are people who won’t get along; people who judge another based on what they think about them or their behavior – without really “seeing” them. Yet every Sunday when we gather for Holy Eucharist, we have the opportunity to practice during the Exchange of Peace what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel: to “see” our neighbors; to connect with them, forgive them or ask their forgiveness if that’s what’s needed; to notice and let go of whatever divides us. Only when we are reconciled to one another are we to approach the table for Holy Communion.

I have to admit: I love a chaotic exchange of peace. I love the love that descends upon us like a cloud covering us and permeating us. I also love the transformation that can happen when we use this weekly opportunity to really “see” one another; to forgive and be forgiven, and to live together differently afterwards as a result. It is by practicing this in here that we are made ready to worthily magnify the name of God out there.

So today, I have a 3-part challenge for us:

1) I challenge us to choose to really “see” our neighbors today as we offer one another the sign of peace.

2) I challenge each of us to find one person we need to forgive and go forgive them; or one person whose forgiveness we need, and ask for it. This might be forgiveness like the woman in the gospel received for something we did, or the forgiveness like Simon received for something we thought.

3) Finally, having practiced this kind of reconciling “seeing” here in church, I challenge us to make one opportunity to practice it out there in the world and come back next Sunday, our last Sunday together with me as your presider, and share our stories about how it went.

Let’s close with prayer. “Christ our true and only Light: receive our morning prayers, and illumine the secrets of our hearts with your healing goodness, that… we [may be] made new in the light of your heavenly grace. Amen.” (Source: Gelassian Sacramentary)

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