A Saturday night homily for St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Elyria, OH. Come see us some time!
How would you describe Jesus to someone who had no idea who this man was or what he meant to the world? Where would you begin?
How would you explain the growth of a plant from seed to a child? What steps would you cover, and what would be shrouded in mystery? How would you help them to make the imaginative leap from a tiny seed, or a field of seeds, to a bush, a tree, a crop of wheat?
The notion of how we see things and how God sees them differently is inescapable in today’s readings. Samuel is fearful of Saul’s anger. The people are fearful of Samuel, trembling at the approach of the itinerant judge. Jesse and his sons are is bewildered and cautious;
(one of my colleagues asked this week whether Samuel spoke aloud when choosing between the boys – not this one, not that one – muttering under his breath but audible, the mad judge that no one dared challenge)
maybe that’s why Jesse kept David, his youngest, away from the Samuel until ordered to bring him out.
But God knew that David was the one who would be found. God was in no doubt that the youngest, the smallest, the protected one was in fact the bold leader that God’s people needed.
From the point of view of the first-century farmer, the seed grows mysteriously. He is dependent upon chance: the progression of the seasons, the weather and winds, blight and pestilence; but God knows just how the grain grows, and the spirit of God plays in the wind that moves the stalks and nods their heads.
Paul is even clearer. “From now on,” he says, “we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” Paul claims to have been invited into God’s confidence, into God’s point of view, no longer worried like Samuel or oblivious like Mark’s farmer, but enlightened and empowered to see clearly the new thing that God is doing in the world.
Do you remember that show –X-Factor or Someone’s Got Talent or some such – when Susan Boyle, the Scottish woman who sang the song from Les Miserables, blew the judges away, shattered their expectations and left their first impressions in tatters on the studio floor?
God knew she could do that.
A man admitted to the hospital with chest pains after playing tennis insisted that there was nothing wrong with him except a pulled muscle, but the hospital wanted to make sure, because that’s not what 87-year-old men are supposed to be doing on 87-degree days in August, that’s not how things go, that’s not what hospitals usually see It turned out, he was right; and he was so angry because we placed his age as a filter between our understanding and his being, and our vision was affected by it.
God saw him differently.
Paul used to see a vagabond rabble-rouser, a clever one with the gift of the gab and the following to suit it, but a trouble-maker, a mark-my-words-this’ll-end-in-no-good-un, who was rightly executed for his wayward words and ways.
God saw Jesus differently, and on the road to Damascus, Jesus re-introduced himself to Paul and blotted out his sight; Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to replace Paul’s human view of this condemned criminal with a truer vision of Christ, the point of view that announced from the heavens, “This is my Son, my beloved.”
Actually, perhaps that’s not a bad place to start with our description of Jesus to the one who has never heard of him: God’s Son, the one who is Beloved. The one who opens our eyes to the love of God, for him, for each of us, for one another. The one who invited us to see one another from God’s point of view: the young, the old, the protected, the hardened, the joyful, despairing, soulful mess that is each of us.
This seeing one another from God’s point of view. We promise in our baptismal covenant to uphold the dignity of every human being, and we try, sometimes, although it’s hard, sometimes. We work and we set up committees to help guide us toward getting rid of the unhelpful indicators – the “isms” that cloud our vision and prejudice our views of one another, and we need to work so much harder if we are ever to get beyond them.
But this new vision that Paul describes – it’s more than a lack of prejudice. It goes further than even that good work envisions. For Paul, it’s more than allowing that a condemned criminal might have had something to say, might have been innocent, might have been a child of God. It’s about knowing Jesus to be the Son of God, the Beloved.
Seeing one another as a new creation; seeing one another and ourselves as God sees us means not only removing the negative filters, but adding that God-lens which frames each new creation with the word that falls from heaven: Beloved. We talk a lot about loving our neighbour and how we can do that: would it help to see him or her through God’s eyes, no longer from a human point of view, but as a new creation, already Beloved?
Which reframes the whole question: How would God describe you to someone who had never met you, who didn’t know your name?