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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29:1-11, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

There’s a Zen saying: The Meaning of Life is the See.  Jesus seemed to place more emphasis upon hearing, frequently saying, especially at the end of his parables, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Luke 8:8 is but one instance)  On occasion, though, he too linked it with seeing: “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (Mark 8:18)

Seeing, here, refers to looking beneath surface appearances—to understanding the meanings behind outward appearances—to see God’s presence in the things around us—what some call “noticing.”  In the movie, The Sixth Sense, there is a young child who sees “dead” people invisible to others.  Maybe we need a sixth sense which allows us to say, “I see live things!”

Isaiah seemed to have that sense—what comes across, among other things, as a sense of awe.  It is his memory of a vision in which he experienced the presence of God calling him to be a prophet. He was in the temple—the church sanctuary, one might say.  He’d probably been there hundreds of times before, maybe without ever noticing anything unusual, without feeling a sense of awe, without noticing the presence of God in this place.  He was perhaps not unlike thousands of church goers on any given Sunday.

For Isaiah, it begins with awe as he looks at the carved wooden images at the front of the temple.  He is in the presence of holiness. (Isaiah 6:2-3)  It humbles him.  He feels so inadequate, but he also finds healing. (vss. 5-7)  Does the use of a hot coal in the healing suggest that pain may be part of the healing of our psychic struggles?

The whole sequence of the vision has been taken by some to be a model for the flow of worship—awe, confession, forgiveness, moving on to proclamation (the hearing of a word from God) and response. (See vs. 8 in which Isaiah hears “the voice of the Lord” and responds, “Here am I; send me.”)

Psalm 29 also points to a sense of awe: “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.” (vss. 1-2)

What do we see?  When and where do we feel a sense of awe?  When and where do we notice the presence of the Lord?  If I consider the entirety of our scriptures—and my own experience, I conclude that it can happen anywhere, anytime.  God’s presence is everywhere, all around us—and within.  Do we notice?

As a photographer, I know that the winning photograph often offers a different perspective on a familiar scene.  It isn’t necessarily just a different angle that brings it to life; it is something that gets beneath the surface appearance and reveals something that one has not noticed before.  It may even cause a gasp and the comment, “I’ve never seen it that way before.”

The Gospel lesson is about that kind of “seeing.”  It’s called “being born from above.” (John 3:3)  It is the passage from which we get the much misused and misunderstood phrase, “born again.”  That’s the way it’s translated in the King James Bible.  It’s really about being born into a new way of looking at things, a new way of looking at and experiencing life.  God offers a new perspective on old scenes—a “spiritual” perspective.  Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, has come to Jesus in the dark of night. (vs. 1-2)  Nicodemus dare not be seen; his reputation would suffer.  When Nicodemus has trouble understanding this business about being born from above, Jesus says, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (vs. 6)

Look again, Nicodemus.  Maybe you’re missing something about this God business.  Open your eyes and notice.  Everything around is pulsing with life and love and you are stuck on the fine points of the Law.  Is Jesus speaking also to us, at least on occasion, when we miss the meaning of things, when we get stuck in going about our daily routines and fail to see the light and love of God in our relationships and politics and worship?  It’s important to notice that one of the best known verses in the Bible is part of this exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus, perhaps the most important part of the exchange.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (vs. 16)

We could get bogged down trying to understand the full meaning of “eternal life.”  Let me just suggest that, among other things, it is a perspective on life, in the here and now—a way to experience life and live it every day.

I have a photograph I took in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.  It was one of those infrequent days of “high water,” when the floating city was inundated from below.  Catwalks were quickly assembled so that people could still “navigate” the city and stay dry, but my wife, Margie, was in a wheel chair.  The crowded catwalk was almost impossible as an option.  Many had purchased colorful boots to wade in the water, ranging from about six inches to a foot in depth.  Plastic bags had been issued to our tour group—to be placed over our shoes.  We discovered that soon you were just walking around with bags full of water over your shoes.

I was pushing Margie around, her bagged feet hanging in the water, when a semi-professional photographer began to snap picture.  I took a picture, in the middle of water-soaked St. Mark’s Square with yellow chairs rising out of the water, of him taking a picture of her.  It didn’t win any prizes, but it is a record of a different perspective on that historic landmark.

An unusual thing happened that day.  People all over the square, in the midst of porters pushing luggage through the water, began to dance in their colorful boots—or soaked shoes like the one’s I was wearing—families, male, female, young and old, in small groups, individually.  The square was alive in a way it might not have been on another day.  Seeing the square in a new way seemed to elicit celebration.  Maybe it was a bit like being born from above, feeling like dancing even when surrounded by the relics of history—our own past moments of joy and sorrow, the traditions that have entrapped and injured and sometimes enabled us.

I picture Nicodemus as a somewhat sober man.  Is it too much to suggest that Jesus may have been saying, “Lighten up.  Notice what is going on around you and take it as an invitation to dance and celebrate.  God is giving a party, and it’s called life.”  John 3:16 is sometimes used as a club to “convert” people.  It is meant instead as an invitation to open one’s eyes and realize that all this is a gift.  The next verse is a reminder that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (vs. 17)

The reading from Romans also talks about the Spirit and the flesh.  Here it is explicit that the Spirit is something we are to live by. (Romans 8:12-13)  We are to do more than just see and notice; we are to live by what we see—dancing in the water-soaked streets, in a world where so much dirty water often intrudes and tries to choke out life.  There’s much more in those few verses from Romans 8, not to mention what’s in the rest of the chapter.  It is full of hope.  Perhaps, for now, it’s enough to be reminded that “seeing” is about hope—looking at the floods of this world, literal and figurative, and still seeing hope and possibility.

In all these scriptures there is danger of an interpretation that sees holiness as something completely separate from this world.  Some have taken the instruction of II Corinthians 6:17 to “come out and be separate” so literally that they are unable to join Jesus at work in the dirty struggles of real life.  The biblical word for “holy” does point to a kind of separateness, but it is the separateness of a different perspective brought to bear in the middle of those life struggles.  As I read these texts this week, I am hearing in them a call to see holiness in all of life.  I am hearing a call to be part of that holiness as a humble servant, saying, “Here I am; send me!”

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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