Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost

(Sermon 6/14/09, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17, Mark 4:26-34)

The Eye of God
Point of view. I think it’s somewhere during late elementary school where you first start learning about different points of view in writing. There’s first-person narrative, where the story is told by a narrator, using the “I” pronoun – “I want to tell you about what happened to me last summer.” There’s a much rarer second-person narrative, maybe used in something like a choose-your-own-adventure book. “You find yourself in a big room with three doors and you wonder which one you should take.” And there’s third-person narrative, using pronouns of he/she or they. “He had something really important happen to him last summer.” There are some other aspects to narrative modes, as the chart shows, but these are the main ones we encounter in literature, and it’s what we usually call “point of view” – whose eyes, whose mind, whose perspective are we viewing a series of events through?
Point of view is important, of course, because we know that point of view dramatically affects the story being told. If you read five different newspaper accounts of an event, you’ll get five different perspectives. When detectives try to piece together what happened in a crime, several witnesses are interviewed because each one has a different point of view, a different perspective, on what happened. Even in our own scriptures, we see points of view at work: We have four gospels that all describe the same three years of Jesus’ life. But they are dramatically different gospels, aren’t they? Even the same events are told in starkly different ways by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And while it is hard to reconcile all the details together into one account, most of the time, their accounts are just emphasizing different pieces of the same story. Mark is brief. Matthew wants to highlight Gentiles. Luke wants to be comprehensive. John wants to be philosophical. Points of view are important. What’s your point of view? What shapes the way you look at things?
We have three scripture lessons to study today, and all three focus on how we look at things. Our passage from 1 Samuel focuses on the process of choosing a new king for Israel. God first chose Saul to be King, but Saul has turned away from God, and corrupted the office of king. So God sends Samuel, a prophet and spiritual advisor to the king, to anoint the new chosen king from among the many sons of Jesse. Samuel assumes that the oldest, best looking, tallest son will be anointed king. But God says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” So Samuel continues looking through all of Jesse’s sons, until finally, the youngest, a youth who is out tending the sheep, has to be called in to be presented to Samuel. And God says, “Rise, and anoint him; for this is the one.” We read that spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon David from this day forward. And so it is that David, the most famous and beloved of the kings of Israel, is chosen by God for the throne.
In our lesson from 2 Corinthians, Paul is talking about being “at home in the body” and “away from God” – in other words, Paul is talking about this human life, where we are away from God, in a sense, and the hope we have to be “at home” with God, when we will be away from the body. But Paul says that wherever we are, our purpose is to please God, urged on by the love of Christ. Paul wraps up the passage saying, “From now on, 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. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Paul argues that once we become followers of Christ, we start to see things not from our own point of view, but from God’s point of view. And from God’s point of view, everything is a new creation.
Finally, we turn to our gospel lesson from Mark, where we find Jesus in the midst of teaching a series of parables. He’s got a crowd gathered around him as he’s teaching by the lake, and he’s talking mostly, as usual, about the kingdom of God and what it is like. And specifically, in this passage, Jesus is talking about seed, talking about how the kingdom of God grows and moves in ways no one knows. Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, he says, “is the tiniest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shades.” Here Jesus is exaggerating – the mustard seed in neither the tiniest seed nor does it grow into the greatest of all shrubs – Jesus is overstating, but he’s obviously trying to make a point – the kingdom of God can grow into something quite large, pervasive, even from the tiniest starting point. We might see a tiny mustard seed, of little use. But Jesus sees the potential of the kingdom of God.
I see these three texts as dealing with a similar theme – points of view – and more particularly, the difference between our point of view and God’s point of view. In our Old Testament lesson, through the account of the choosing of David as King, we’re reminded of our human tendency to focus on the surface things when we’re looking at someone. We only have to think of the recent rage about Susan Boyle, a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent, to believe that we still tend to judge books by their cover. Boyle didn’t “look” like a singing sensation. And so when she opened her mouth, everyone was astonished at her powerful voice. We tend to look at the surface levels of a person. But God looks at heart and soul.
Paul, in Corinthians points out that looking with a human point of view is for those who don’t know our loving God. God looks and sees all things as new – new creations in Jesus Christ – while we tend to look and see the same old thing, without seeing new possibilities. Just this week in the news I read a story about a young girl who diagnosed herself with Crohn’s Disease while looking at her own intestinal tissue in her Advanced Placement science class. Her doctors had tried and failed to diagnose her for some time. Pathologists had missed the diagnosis using the very same slides that the girl used to discover her disease. In the article, one expert noted that sometimes you really need fresh eyes to look and see something new in the same old thing. The young girl brought fresh eyes, and was able to make a diagnosis that will help her get the treatment she needs. We look over our own lives sometimes with tired eyes that see the same old, same old. But God looks at us, and asks us to look, and see that in God, in Christ, all things are made new. Can we look with fresh eyes?
In Mark, Jesus teaches and preaches about something familiar but does it in a way that makes us listen in, and “look” at the picture he’s painting again. As I said, when Jesus talks about the mustard seed, he’s exaggerating greatly. And the crowds would have known it – they would know, as we might not, without googling it, that a mustard seed does grow into a good sized plant or bush, but it is certainly not the tiniest seed or the greatest of all shrubs. So Jesus’ first hearers would quickly tune in to Jesus’ exaggeration and ask what he meant by his hyperbole. The kingdom of God can come in life-changing ways with even the smallest of starting points. One of my pastor friends recently shared with me a project in her church where people were given $10 as “talents” like the parable of the talents to use however they wanted for the church. An 8 year old in her congregation asked his parents to help him organize a talent show with his $10, during which he gave a sermon on overcoming fear with faith. The event not only raised money, and garnered great publicity for the church, but it also touched people in the community in special ways. Can we look and see how much God can do through us with the things we see as so insignificant that we tend to overlook them?
These three passages are about our point of view in this world. Can we see beyond the surfaces? Can we see new plans and dreams made possible by our new birth in Christ? Can we see the kingdom of God in the tiny seeds planted in our lives? Jesus wants to change how we see. He wants us to see with God’s eyes. How do you think God sees you? Sees your neighbors? See your enemies? How do you think God sees this congregation? I hope if you reflect on those questions, you come to the conclusion that God can see more hope, more goodness, more potential, more life in us, in those around us, and in this congregation than we can. And so our aim, our challenge, is to start rereading our lives and our experiences from a different point of view – from God’s point of view.
After all, Paul reminds us that as followers of Jesus, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” It’s a different point of view. What might happen if we could let ourselves see as God sees? When Samuel saw like God saw, he anointed David as King. Because Paul sought to see as Jesus saw, the church at Corinth became a thriving community of faith. What can happen here if we see, as Jesus sees, that the kingdom of God can come where there are tiny seeds of hope? What can you do, what can you be, how can you live with God’s eyes as your eyes? Who do you see that you didn’t? What do you see in yourself or in this congregation that you didn’t see before?
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” What’s your point of view?
Amen.
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