Tuesday, July 12, 2016

July 3, 2016 Through A Glass, Darkly

As you have no doubt noticed, I am almost always preaching in a series.  Following a series helps me to look ahead for a number of weeks and to keep a particular theme on my mind.  When I am not in a series, I generally follow the lectionary.  In the coming weeks, however, I will continue to ask the Spirit to lead me from one connecting point to another.  While I believe the Spirit can certainly work within structure and planning, sometimes it can be helpful to step out of one’s usual structures.

That is what I will do in the coming weeks, as I am following what I call connecting points.  A connecting point is an idea that leads me to another idea, and then to another idea.  Speaking a few weeks ago about love, for instance, I read I Corinthians 13 as the Call to Worship.  Verse 12 of that chapter has embedded itself in my mind the past few weeks and I draw the title of this message from that verse.
Hear now the reading of that verse, and a passage from Mark’s gospel as our Scripture text for today.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat.
15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?
19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”  “Twelve,” they replied.
20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

I am always searching for analogies in life, because analogies help us to learn.  Jesus often used analogies in his teaching as well, and his example of this has led me to do the same.  Jesus used analogies in teaching about the kingdom of God, saying that it was like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-31), a growing seed (Mark 4:26-29), a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44-46), and a net (Matthew 13:47-50).

An analogy I would like to offer this morning comes from an event a number of years ago.  In a previous home where we lived, the house has a bow window in the living room, and one summer day, as I looked out the window, I saw quite an unusual sight.  Walking across the sidewalk was a raccoon with a peanut butter jar stuck on its head.  I worried about what would happen to the raccoon if that jar remained on its head, as there was no way it could eat or drink.  Not only could it not eat and drink, the jar prevented it from seeing clearly, so it could easily wander onto the highway, which was highly dangerous.  

I decided I needed to help the raccoon, but I also knew they can be quite vicious creatures when they feel threatened so I wanted to take steps to protect myself.  Going to our garage, I began to look for items that could offer me protection.  A few months before this event, I went home to bring back some of my dad’s tools, as my mom was selling our home place.  Among the items I brought home were a pair of welding gloves that my dad used with his acetylene and electric welders.  The gloves came up to my elbows and were very thick.  I also had a pair of goggles that covered my eyes and a good deal of my face.  Seeking further protection from the claws of the raccoon, I grabbed a few old towels in which I could scoop up the raccoon.  Up to this point, it all seemed like a very good idea.

Going out into the yard, I began chasing the raccoon, trying to catch it so that I could remove the jar from its head.  Passing cars offered some very strange looks at the sight of me, covered in my safety gear, chasing a raccoon with a jar on its head.  Unable to catch the raccoon, I quickly grew frustrated, wondering why the poor animal couldn’t be more willing to allow me to help.  Eventually, I simply gave up.

The analogy I wish to draw from that story is this – just as that raccoon had to see through the distorted lens of a jar on its head, we have a lens through which we see life as well, and that lens often distorts reality and makes it difficult for us to comprehend.  Generally, we aren’t aware of the lens, so we fall into the category of which Paul speaks – we see through a glass darkly.  The passage from Mark’s gospel that we read this morning is a reminder of just how dark that glass can be, and how it either distorts our vision or prevents us from gaining understanding into what God seeks to teach us.  It’s important to remember that Jesus was not giving the disciples a hard time as much as he was offering what we often call a teachable moment.  Jesus was attempting to help them see through that glass, endeavoring to bring their understanding to a greater level of clarity.

As we speak of Through A Glass Darkly this morning, I want to offer three thoughts –

1.  Life Is Always Deeper Than What We Think.
Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus said the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.  These words of Jesus are a remind that there is always more to life than what we see on the surface.  As we believe that God is the creator of this unbelievable vast universe it then becomes necessary for us to remember that we have a tendency to make God too small. 

God is always working in the background, just as Jesus says about his spirit.  We cannot see the wind, but we can see its effects.  We can see the trees and the grass move even if we cannot see the wind itself.  Similarly, we do not see God, but we see the effects of him moving in the world, in our lives, and in the lives of others.

We certainly make God small when we believe in only what we see.  I love science, and the benefits it brings to our lives, but it does have its limitations.  One of those limitations is that it leads some people to believe that if one cannot see something, measure it, test it, and touch it, it cannot be real.  Nothing is farther from the truth!

Jesus confronted this as he spoke about the Pharisees, in verses 11-12 – the Pharisees came and began to question Jesus.  To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign?  I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.”  Here is what I would say to those who always desire to see evidence of God – how much evidence is needed, and what is evidence?  It seems to me there is plenty of evidence all around us.  Why is it that people who want evidence never seem to find it?  And why does faith need evidence?

2.  We Do Get Glimpses.
You see me put on my reading glasses at various times on Sunday mornings.  I don’t struggle as much if I have very good lighting.  Sometimes, when Tanya and I go out to eat at a nice restaurant, I kill the mood because of my inability to read the menu.  You know how those restaurants can be when it comes to reading a menu – the lighting is dim and there is a sheen on the menu, which makes it hard for me to read.  So I do what I have to do – I put on my glasses and then I find it necessary for more help, so I take out my phone, open the flashlight app, and shine it on the menu.  Getting down close to the menu I can then say I’ll have the big stack of onion rings!  It really makes a great impression on Tanya.

Some of you have benefitted greatly from Lasik or cataract surgery, so you know what it is like to awaken to better vision.  Even though we see through a glass darkly, we still get some glimpses of what God is doing, thankfully.  I hope to get some glimpses while at camp this week, and I certainly hope and pray that the students get some glimpses.  Jesus certainly gave some glimpses, some of them very big glimpses, such as the raising of Lazarus (John 11:38-44), the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), and the healing of the paralytic, brought to Jesus by his friends (Mark 1:1-12).  Some of the glimpses were easier for some to miss, such as when Jesus went to the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).  Jesus was demonstrating his love for all people, but many missed that glimpse into his character because of their dislike of Zacchaeus.

Thankfully, even though we see through a glass darkly, we still get glimpses of the other side.

3.  Those Glimpses Are Given to Help Us See God.
Jesus asked his disciples don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up? (18-19).  Jesus was attempting to get the disciples to focus their vision, to understand that they had been given a glimpse of what God is like and the manner in which he operates.

One of the reasons why God gives us glimpses is in order to remind us that we are made in his image.  Sometimes, we seek to make God into our image, and place upon him all of our characteristics.  We want him to love those whom we love, we want him to like what we like, and we want him to act in the same ways in which we act.  But God wants us to see him as he is, not as we wish him to be.  God wants us to love those whom he loves, to act in the ways he acts, and to seek to be like him. 

Yes, we do see through a glass darkly, but we are given enough understanding from God that we can wipe away the human-added smudges that make it difficult to see clearly.  I don’t always see what’s on the other side, but I have received enough glimpses to believe in it.  I see some of those glimpses in you, I see those glimpses in the work of this congregation in Vacation Bible School, at God’s Kitchen, at the Serenity Center, in hospitals, nursing homes, and even in funeral homes.  I hope to get some of those glimpses at camp this week.

By the way, that raccoon that I mentioned.  A few days after chasing him around the yard I found the jar.  Thankfully, he had been able to get it off of his head and go on his way, seeing much more clearly.  One day we will also see more clearly, as Paul says For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.  For now, we get a glimpse, but one day, it all will be made clear!

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