Sunday, April 3, 2016

Discover Life, Again: Seeing, John 20:19ff

Commerce Presbyterian Church, GA
Title: Discover Life, Again: Seeing; Rev. C. Craig Topple
Original (3715 × 2766)

John 20:19-31
“It is only with the heart
that one can see rightly;
What is essential is
Invisible to the eye.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In the movie Shawshank Redemption, two prisoners, Andy and Red, both with life sentences, are envisioning what life could be like if they were to be free.  Andy, has big dreams. Beaches, Fishing. But his closest friend, Red, is not able to dream.
Red says he’s been institutionalized. He’s afraid of the outside.
He feels he can no longer dream--especially in the face of the seeming impossibility being set free.  

Andy responds to him, “yeah, it seems impossible, but it comes down to a choice, Get busy living or get busy dying.”

This spirit, “Get busy living or get busy dying” captures our series, Discover Life, Again.  

Our passage from today speaks to the importance of seeing. After his crucifixion, we discover once courageous and devoted disciples of Jesus behind locked doors;
they huddle in hidden spaces out of fear.
Their fate may be similar to that of Jesus.
“If they came after him, what’s to keep them from coming after us?”

They are blind to see any future possibilities.

What finally frees them from their captivity?
The risen Jesus appears in their midst.
They get to see Jesus! And they are set free.

Slide: Freeing people from captivity was a top priority for Jesus.
Look at his mission statement:
bring good news to the poor.
proclaim release to the captives
recovery of sight to the blind,
let the oppressed go free.
And, by appearing to the disciples they are free to continue this mission themselves.
They’re all ready to get busy living again, except every time they would try to make grand plans to do so, Thomas would cut in, “Uh, guys. I don’t care how many times you tell me the story. I have to see for myself! And until I do, I’m not going out there.”
Poor Thomas. He had been out running an errand. He missed Jesus coming by.
I envision his insistence on seeing Jesus for himself sounding similar to one of Ruby favorite phrases these days: “That’s not fair!”
The abridged version is: No Fair!
“No Fair,” says Thomas.

A week later, Thomas gets his way.
Slide: Thomas
Hendrick ter Brugghen, c. 1622
He sees Jesus, he places his hands in his wounds.
He exclaims in dramatic fashion, “My Lord and My God!”  
He is transformed. And he, too is set free to get busy living.
Seeing Jesus. For the disciples in Jesus’ time, seeing a resurrected Jesus, set them free.
Disciples in this day and age, if we’re honest, we have our fair share of entrapments.
We are huddled behind any number of locked doors. We fear many things.
We struggle for any number of reasons to carry on the co-mission of Jesus.
Would it help us to get busy living if we were to see Jesus? After all, as they say, and as Thomas shows, seeing is believing,  Unless I see, I won’t believe.
Seeing is believing. Seeing Jesus is key to unlocking the door. Seeing Jesus can liberate us!

So, a special surprise this morning, Close your eyes. We want to see Jesus, To reach out and touch him. One the count of three, let’s open them. One, two three!

What? Jesus told me he would be here. No fair. Thomas got his request.
But, it seems disciples for generations after Thomas, have not necessarily gotten ours. Instead, in this scene, in a truly compassionate yet challenging twist, the entire community of believers for generations after Thomas is encouraged by Jesus to think of seeing and believing in a new way.
The sequence can be reversed.
Yes, “Seeing is believing.”  
But there also exists the possibility, “Believing is seeing.”
And, at an even deeper level: “Openness to seeing, is really seeing.”

We see what we want to see.  We see what we expect to see. Quite often, this leads us to seeing what supports our particular world view, our image of ourself, what we think we know to be true.
And we miss really seeing. Look at Mary in the garden who could not see that it was Jesus standing there with her. Look at the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who could not see it was Jesus walking with them.

“Unless we question the unconscious filters that influence the nature of our perception, we may not really see much at all.”  (David Ulrich, referenced below)

Seeing, real seeing, is much more than taking in with our eyes. In fact, eyes are not even necessary to really see.  “every cell, every part of our body is a sensitive receiving apparatus.”
“Seeing comes from within ourselves, not from the vague ‘out there’ of the outer world.” (David Ulrich)
Real seeing is not just about what we see, but how we see what we see.
my teacher, Philip Newell, asks: How do we re-discover our inner sight in order to see ‘the light of life that enlightens every person, every creature, every thing…; as John the evangelist says:” a light deeper than darkness, light that has not been overcome by darkness...”
A holiness at the heart of each living creature…?. (Newell, 3, One Foot in Eden)

Slide:  I want to show you a photograph from a photographer: David Ulrich.

At the age of thirty-three, David Ulrich suffered an impact injury while chopping wood. A small branch, ¾ of an inch, over three feet long with a fractured tip, flew up and struck him directly under his eye. It could have killed him. After 7 hours of surgery--removing the fragments and trying to repair his crushed eyeball and torn retina--he still lost vision in that one eye.

He recalls: “This was my darkest moment of doubt about everything:
How could I have avoided this? Was it just an accident? Was this fate?

When sight wasn’t to return to his eye, he decided to have his eye removed;
but, he made this decision wondering: Will I be able to continue my work?  
More threatening: Would I feel like a complete human being again?

The day of surgery, as he sat in the waiting room, his anxiety rising, not knowing where to turn, he walked to the hospital chapel. After sitting for a time, in depression, fear, despondency like he had never known,  Ulrich says there came a moment of realization, a burst of insight that changed his attitude toward the event and gave him an unshakable sense of courage.
It came from a question which arose within: “If I cannot let go of something as relatively insignificant as one eye, one small part of my body, what will happen when I have to completely let go of my entire body when I die?”

His entire eye was removed. But, his anxiety was transformed into a creative quest;
he saw the injury as the necessary catalyst to propel him to the threshold of a new way of seeing and being in the world.

As he learned to see again, really see, David Ulrich saw life in a new way:
He suggests, learning to really see requires three things;
  1. Being present in the moment, and not distracted. Yes, driving and texting is not a good idea.
  2. Seeing things as they are, not as we think they should be. Which means,  
  3. trying to see things without judgment or labeling, seeing beyond our subjective attitudes and cherished opinions.
(David Ulrich, “Awakening Sight,” Parabola Magazine, Fall 2011).

By seeing in this way, Ulrich says he has learned to see not just the outside of what he is looking at, but also, more profoundly the inside.
Slide: Empathetic Looking
He calls this empathetic looking;
empathy, meaning the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
What happens when we see one another in this way of seeing?  
I see you, meaning, I’m not distracted, but present with you;
I see you, meaning, I’m not projecting my ideals on you, but accepting you for you on your terms, not mine.
I see you, meaning, I’m not judging or labeling you.
I see you, I see the light that enlightens you;
I see you, and I love you.
What happens in our relationships if we see in this way?
Do we discover the presence of Jesus in our midst?

Slide: Sanctuary
sanctuary interior view to
A young woman shared with her congregation about a time she discovered Jesus in her midst.
She had grown up and been baptized in the church where she was sharing;
she pointed at the baptismal font, “There, I was baptized there.”
“I don’t remember it; I was a baby, but my father loved to tell me about the day I was baptized, what I was wearing, how I reacted to the water, the people there that day, friends and relatives;
and he would always end the story by exclaiming, “Oh honey, the presence of Jesus was in the church that day!”
“I remember as a child, being restless in worship,” she continued. “I would wonder, ‘Where is the presence of Jesus in this church?’” She pointed to different places in the sanctuary,
“Is Jesus present in the rafters? In the organ pipes? In the stained glass windows?”
Her voice softened, “As many of you know, I lost both my parents in the same week last winter. In the midst of that terrible week, I was driving home from the hospital, having visited my parents, knowing that I might never see them alive again, and I stopped by the church, just to think and to pray.
“I didn’t know Sarah was in the church kitchen, getting ready for a supper.  But, she saw me sitting all by myself in one of the back pews. She knew what was happening in my life, knew about my parents, and she took off her apron and came and sat beside me, holding my hand and praying with me. It was then that I knew where the Presence of Jesus was in this church.”

“Thomas, because you have seen, you believe. Blessed are those who believe but have not seen.”
Or said differently, blessed are those who have not seen, but who can really see, and by really seeing, become a liberating blessing to others in this world.

Yesterday, Ruby was flipping around the house like she always does, and she flipped and landed on top of a wooden doll bed that scraped her back.
She cried of course while Observing her wound; her skin turns really red.  
She was cautioned to be more careful, by her ever so consoling and empathetic father....
After the tears had subsided some, she was examining her injury, again.  
She said, “look Daddy. It looks like a heart.”

“It is only with the heart
that one can see rightly;
What is essential is
Invisible to the eye.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Blessed are those who have not seen, but who can really see, and in doing so discover life, again.

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