Sermons That Work

It Seems Fitting to Begin…, Lent 4 (A) – 1999

March 14, 1999

It seems fitting to begin this meditation with a free translation from the Scots poet, Robert Burns:

“Oh, that some power the gift could give us, to see ourselves as others see us.
It would from many a blunder free us and foolish notion.”

Certainly, if we could see ourselves through our neighbors’ eyes, most of us would modify the way we live. More than likely, such insight would give us the freedom to put aside needless embellishments and reduce the number of self-inflicted complications with which we plague ourselves.

If we could derive such advantage from seeing ourselves through our neighbors’ eyes, how much greater would we benefit, if we could see ourselves through God’s eyes? How much more, and in what ways would we be blessed, if we could see ourselves and our lives as God sees them? Surely, we would be delivered from a great deal of folly.

If we saw ourselves through God’s eyes, surely we’d drive ourselves with less fury and more mercy. In the end, we’d find ourselves expending less energy and being happier with the result. But we are but dust; insight is difficult to gain and harder to apply. Indeed, our history may be seen as a series of lessons that we did not learn; one case after another in which God’s people could have reviewed their history and been spared the consequences of ill-conceived undertakings.

A prime example of that is found in today’s reading from Samuel. The people of Israel have decided that they must have a king. The logic behind their decision is fairly straight-forward: “All our neighbors have kings.” The idea has become so fixed that “No” will no longer serve as an acceptable answer. The people insist on having a king.

Samuel, and every prophet who came after him, held a very low opinion of human kings. Samuel resisted the very idea on the ground that the people of God were under the care and keeping of their heavenly king. Their king was the God who had created them, the God who had set them apart to be the People of God. A human king would be redundant.

But, in the end, the people prevailed. Samuel anointed a man named Saul whom the people chose to lead them. The most telling flaw in this undertaking was the method by which the new king was chosen. Saul was selected on completely human terms.

Saul’s first qualification was that he was tall; he stood head and shoulders taller than everyone else. If his height wasn’t enough, it could be pointed out that Saul had been very successful in battle. No one seems to have noticed how little any of this mattered, in terms of governing skills, except Samuel; and no one was listening to him. Saul was, quite simply, the man of the moment. The people were so devoted to the idea of a royal house that Samuel was left with no option but to anoint Saul as king.

The folly of it was soon apparent. Things began to deteriorate and it was not long before it obvious that, as a king, Saul was an unmitigated disaster.

All of which brings us to where we pick up the action in today’s reading. Samuel knows that a dreadful mistake has been made. He is afraid to do very much about it because nearly any action on his part could cost him his life. As Samuel is trying to think of what he might do, God intervenes and sends him to anoint a new king. And this time, there’s a difference.

This time, Samuel takes his guidance from God. He sets out without knowing who it is that he is to anoint, or even where he is to find him. He is led to the home of a man named Jesse where he meets a family of handsome and sturdy young men. Samuel is favorably impressed and listens, at first, to his own heart. He is on the brink of picking Jesse’s oldest son, when God intervenes and teaches him a priceless lesson: “the Lord sees not as a man sees.” The lesson sinks into Samuel’s heart, he waits, and near the end of the day, he anoints a shepherd boy named David to lead the people of God.

The people of Israel never found another king like David, although heaven knows they tried. There were a few good kings in the succession, but not even Solomon measured up to the standard of David. In selecting a successor to King David, the people missed a key dynamic. David was chosen and measured by God’s standards, as seen through God’s eyes. His successors were not. Somehow the people of Israel were never able to apply God’s standards to the process of choosing a leader. They were not able to see kingly candidates through God’s eyes, in part, because they were not able to see themselves through God’s eyes.

In very truth, we’re not much better at it ourselves. The lessons remain to be learned. We judge ourselves by external standards. These standards almost never address our true worth as human persons, created in the image and likeness of God. That’s a shame because our inability to see ourselves as God sees us is a peculiar kind of preventable blindness. That preventable blindness keeps us from the fullness of God’s love for us.

The heart of today’s Gospel reading is really about that peculiar sort of preventable blindness. Today’s reading centers around a miracle; a parable acted out. Jesus gives sight to a man who was blind from birth. Beyond question, this is a miracle, but nearly everyone misses the point of it. The disciples want to know why the man was blind in the first place. “Who sinned,” they ask, “this man or another, that he was born blind?” The Pharisees ask how a man of unknown origin, and a man who is not properly certified, could heal anyone of anything. The obvious facts that the blind man needed to be healed, and that Jesus healed him, went by without anyone taking much notice.

The healed man is the only one who gets the point; he was blind and now, thanks to Jesus, he isn’t. He wonders, aloud, what any of the questions he is hearing have to do with that marvelous fact. He even ventures a little theology of his own, “We know that God does not listen to sinners. This man healed my blindness. Therefore, God must hear him when he asks for healing.” The Pharisees cannot follow the lesson because it is counter to what they choose to believe, but ultimately they do not follow the lesson because they cannot see themselves as God sees them.

It would be all too easy, at this point, to ridicule those Pharisees and hold them up as the very worst of bad examples. It would be easy and it would be dangerous. If we choose to judge them, we run the grave risk of falling into the very same trap that held them. After all, blindness comes in many forms, and we are by no means immune to it.

The same savior who healed the man born blind stands ready to heal our blindness, no matter what form it takes. We are given the gift of Lent in order that we might identify our blindness and seek God’s healing. In Lent, we are encouraged to ask for, and accept, the gift of seeing ourselves as God sees us. In Lent, we are encouraged to ask for the guidance of God’s Grace so that we are protected from our own awkward blunders and foolish notions. In Lent, we are called to walk in the fullness of God’s Light. We are called to participate in the fullness of God’s Love and to accept healing for whatever it is that blinds us. We are called to participate in God’s Love and God’s Light, so that in the fullness of God’s Kingdom, when our neighbors look to us, they will see in us the saving, healing Love of God in Jesus Christ.

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Christopher Sikkema


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