[Sermon preached on Sunday, March 26, 2017 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, MN]

1 Samuel 16:1-13,
Ephesians 5:8-14,
John 9:1-41

May the words of my mouth,
and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.

Good morning.

I want to begin our time together by asking you to consider a question: when you look around, what is it that you see?

Seriously, take a moment to consider the question deeply. What do you see? Not just in this room or in this church, but in our neighborhood, our city, and our world. What do you see?

Among the invitations provided to us by the season of Lent is the invitation to see differently. Think about it. Oftentimes, Lent becomes a season where we give up things, we abstain from chocolate or coffee or bourbon or meat (all things which, by the way, you can bring to my house and I will be glad to take them off your hands). Lent can become more about fasting than an invitation to deep seeing. But at its heart, Lent is not about suffering for the sake of suffering. We say “no” in Lent not for the sake of the “no” alone, but so that we might say “yes” to God in new ways, so that God might open our eyes to see God’s divine hand at work in the world around us. Lent is about deep seeing.

In our reading from 1 Samuel, we hear the story of Samuel’s journey to Bethlehem to find a new king for Israel. The old king, Saul, had messed up so much that God had removed God’s spirit from him. Israel needed a new king and it was the job of the chief prophet to find one. Samuel goes to Jesse’s house and tells Jesse that God has chosen one of his sons to be the next on the throne of Israel, so Jesse did the next logical thing. He reviewed the job description of “king” in his head and began parading his most qualified sons in front of Samuel. Each time Jesse brought one of his sons in, Samuel would like him up and down and reject him. Eliab? No. Abinadab? Not him. Shammah? Nope. Samuel repeated this until Jesse had almost run out of sons. Finally, Jesse brought in David, his youngest son who was out back in the field tending the sheep. When Samuel saw David, he poured oil on his head. God had chosen him, not because of his physical stature, but because of the disposition of his heart. Over and over again we hear the Samuel repeating “the Lord does not see as mortals see.”[1] What do you see?

Paul reflects this call to new sight in his letter to the Romans, recalling the transition from darkness to light that is part of the identity – the spiritual DNA – as the baptized people of God. “Live as children of light,” he says, “for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”[2] What do you see?

Our Gospel reading brings it all home for us when we hear the story of Jesus giving sight to a man who was “blind from birth.”[3] Jesus gives this man the gift of sight as an example of the work his disciples are called to do “while it is day.”[4] Following Jesus is all about learning to see and helping other see more clearly, more compassionately, more justly, more lovingly, more Godly. All of these narratives are stories about seeing differently – more deeply – in the light of God.

At the beginning of this I asked you to consider: what do you see? As followers of Christ, we are invited to see everything and everyone through the lens of Christ. Jesus makes a difference because we “live, move, and have our being” in him he calls us to pursue the more excellent way of love. In a collection of lectures entitled The Weight of Glory, renowned Anglican theologian C.S. Lewis writes, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Everything else. Our walk with Christ ought to impact how we see every single person, place, thing, or idea.

Now, this does not mean that we go through life with a sort of sugary-sweet, naïve optimism. In fact, deep seeing isn’t really about seeing everything in full brightness. Sometimes the seeing God is asking of us involves leaning into the darkness to discover the God who lives among the things that go bump in the night, the God who is made visible in the spaces where we are most afraid.

At one point in my childhood my family and I lived in New Jersey. One of the highlights of the school year for elementary school children was a trip to Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. In the Science Center there was this activity room that had this maze that was pitch black. Once you entered there was absolutely no light at all. The first time I entered the maze, I remember the overwhelming sensation of fear. I had never seen anything so dark. It was the kind of darkness you can feel, darkness that had a certain mass and weight to it. I responded as any child who was afraid of the dark would – I cried.

The next year when we returned to the Liberty Science Center, I went committed to conquering the maze. I crawled into the maze and inched forward, groping about in the darkness until I ran into a wall. I squinted, hoping for some magic optical powers, but to no avail. I reached in front of me and felt a wall. The same was true when I reached to the right and the left. Finally, I reached up and felt nothing but space. I reached up and felt a ledge so I climbed up and continued, feeling my way through the darkness and running into walls until I saw light at the end of the tunnel.

French resistance fighter Jacques Lusseyran writes about his experience of deep seeing in deep darkness in his memoir And Then There Was Light. Lusseyran, who was born with the gift of physical sight, lost his sight during a schoolyard fight. In a time when people with disabilities were swept to the margins of society, Lusseyran’s mother kept him at home and taught him how to be and live in a seeing world. He learned braille, learned to use a braille typewriter, and his school principal even accommodated his disability by finding a desk large enough to accommodate the extra equipment he needed. Through the support of his family, Lusseyran discovered a new world – one that is only visible when his physical sight failed him. “I had completely lost the sight of my eyes,” he writes, “I could not see the light of the world anymore. Yet the light was still there… The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves.[5]

Beloved in Christ, wherever there is life, there is light, even if we cannot see it. In fact, it is precisely in those difficult moments when our physical sight is hindered that we might be invited to see more deeply, relying on different senses, using different muscles, stretching our spirits in new, and different, and unseen ways.

That may not be a message for anyone but me this morning. You see, I accepted the call to serve as your next rector, not because I had a litany of ideas of how to do ministry in this context, but because ministry for me is about deep listening – recognizing where the spirit of the living God is alive and fanning the flames of that love for the sake of the world around us. My first few days were not days of clear vision, but of open and deep listening, listening to newcomers and oldtimers talk about what they love about this place: the choir, the community, the history, the birds hidden around the nave, the deep family connections. In that short period of time I have heard hopes and fears and want to name out loud to each of you that I want to spend the next few weeks and months hearing from each of you. What do you hope for? What makes you afraid? What brings you back here each week? How might God be inviting you deeper into relationship with him and to this parish.

I hope that our time together can help us all to see more deeply and clearly how God is calling us to be church on the north bank of Lake of the Isles in the years to come, actively and intentionally engaging our neighbors and our neighborhood as mission partners in the building and unfolding Reign of God.

When you look around, what is it that you see?

The heart of the Gospel this morning is this: Jesus is inviting each of us to see more deeply. To see abundance where there is scarcity, to see friend where there are enemies, to see community where there is estrangement, to see light even in the face of the deepest darkness.

And do you know why? Because in order to make it so, we must believe it in our hearts, and believe that we are in relationship to a God who is able to, as the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians, “do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think according to the power that works in us”[6] – you and I.

Wherever there is life, there is light. You and I, dear friends, are ambassadors of eternal life in a kingdom of death and we are called to bear that life and that light out into the world to draw hearts into relationship to God. That’s our work. That’s why we’re here: to learn to see as God sees – world still being created and a light still shining in the darkness.

[1] 1 Samuel 15:7

[2] Romans 5:8

[3] John 9:1

[4] John 9:4

[5] Jacques Lusseyran, Against the Pollution of the I (Sandpoint, ID: Morning Light Press, 2006), 31.

[6] Ephesians 3:20