(a sermon for September 2, 2012, based on John 16:12-15)
Sand Cove – it’s this beautiful little spot on the far end of our lake where there are no camps, and little or no access except by boat; as the name implies, it’s very sandy (there’s lots of mica in the sand, “fool’s gold,” as it’s sometimes called, so the place literally sparkles gold in the sun!); and it’s a great place for kids to swim, with big rocks on the shore to climb and a clearing for a picnic. This was where I’d taken my son Zach and his friend Sean one warm summer afternoon a few years ago.
The thing about Sand Cove is that it’s shared by all of us who live on the lake; since there’s not a whole lot of room there, we have to take turns using the space. Basically, if you’ve been there for a while and another boat approaches, it’s just considered “good form” to move on and let others take their turn. And that’s what happened; we’d been at the cove for a couple of hours, when along comes a motorboat, filled with people and pulling a water-skier behind them! It seemed very clear that these folks were coming in for a picnic, and since it was pretty much time for us to go anyway, we started packing up to leave – just about the time that the motorboat swung sharply around the cove to “drop off” the water skier.
And friends, this man was good: he was skiing slalom, and when he let go of the tow rope, he skimmed effortlessly across the water and almost got the whole way into shore before he sank down. Now, I’m always impressed with people who can do that, especially people who are about my age, which this man was – so I called out, “Nice skiing!” And the man looks at me, keeps on walking to shore, and says absolutely nothing back.
OK… I didn’t think too much about that; after all, we didn’t know each other; so I tried again: “Hey, you looked really good out there – great day on the lake, isn’t it?” Nothing. Guy doesn’t say a word to me!
So now, I’m trying to figure it out – and I’m thinking, maybe this man couldn’t speak English (we do get some French Canadians up there); perhaps he’s uncomfortable with the situation; or maybe he’s just one of those people who won’t put themselves out to talk to anybody! Whatever it was, I have to tell you, this is not how we do things on “the Pond,” and I was starting to get a little put out – a feeling that only intensified as their boat came ashore. I waved again, flashing a winning smile to the rest of the family …and not a single one of ‘em waved back! They totally ignored me – and now I’ve decided that these people are just jerks; in fact, I’ll bet they’re from “out of state!”
Well, obviously it’s time for us to go, so looking toward the father, I say, this time with much less of a cordial tone, “We’ll be out of your way in just a minute so you can pull your boat up.” It’s at this point, the mother, who’d been busy piloting the boat ashore, turns to me and says, very sweetly, “Oh, thank you so much, sir – I’m sorry, my husband doesn’t mean to be rude, but you see, he’s almost completely deaf; and without his hearing aids in, he can’t hear a word anybody says.”
I’d never even considered that possibility! And, trust me, immediately I began to feel more than just a little bit embarrassed! Here I was thinking the absolute worst about these people when the reality was completely different! They were actually very nice, and as they helped us with our boat and thanked us all over the place for letting them use the cove, I found myself thinking how quickly my opinion of these people had changed – a change based almost entirely on the shift of my flawed perception of them!
It’s amazing, isn’t it – how easily our perception of things and people and situations affects our view of reality.
This is particularly true, I think, as to how we view our Christian faith – for instance, it’s perception that makes all the difference as to whether we see this “meal” set before us as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or merely a tray of bread cubes and little cups of grape juice. As Christians, our reality is informed by the fact that we perceive God in Jesus Christ as being alive and present in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup – a perception unique and radically different from that of the rest of the world.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the very essence of Christianity is that in following Jesus, each person is given a brand new perception of God, of life and of eternity, and thus given a new reality. We see this time and time again in the gospels: a tax collector who becomes a disciple; the woman at the well who finds a new joy in life; a thief on a cross who is welcomed into paradise – each one a person who found a new reality in their encounter with Jesus. It’s a redemptive change of perception that continues to be offered to you and me through Jesus Christ. And if you want a Bible verse for that, here it is, from 2nd Corinthians: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (5:17)
Friends, as Christians, we are that new creation; the people of a new reality that comes in Jesus Christ. And I tell you this because so often it is the false perceptions about life and faith that will pull us away from what we know to be real and true in Christ. It’s the false perceptions about God that will lead us to cling to the kind of old prejudices, shopworn ideas and bad excuses that keep us from truly embracing the new reality that Christ brings!
Did you see this morning’s classic “Peanuts” comic strip in the paper this morning? It’s actually one of my all-time favorites of the old Charlie Brown strips. In it, Charlie Brown and Linus are climbing over a fence and gets a sliver in his finger. And Lucy, being Lucy, tells Linus that the reason this happened to him was because he’d done something bad in his life, and this sliver was punishment for his sin, whatever it was! Charlie Brown starts to step in, saying, “Now, wait a minute…” but Lucy is off and running with her rant, telling Charlie Brown that he didn’t know what he was talking about, and that this sliver was most certainly a form of divine retribution …and suddenly, the sliver just pops out of Linus’ hand, much to Lucy’s dismay, and to which Linus replies, “Thus endeth the theological lesson for today!”
It’s bad theology! And it’s a bad idea to which we all too often cling – that we’re somehow the cause of every bad thing that ever happens of life – but that kind of thinking tears us away from a loving, forgiving, graceful God! That’s why we sometimes need a different point of view; the very nature of our Christian faith is that our perceptions should shift away from that which keeps us from God; that you and I should be viewing things in a different light – specifically, the light of this new reality we’ve been given by the grace of God in Christ!
Laurie Beth Jones, in her book Jesus, Life Coach, tells of taking an art class in which the very first thing she had to learn, even before she could to begin to draw a particular object, was to see that object “as it really is, not how we think it looks.” She had to learn to look at the object in question and identify its source of light. “For instance,” she wrote, “this vase on the table in front of me …where [was] the light coming from?” If the light was coming from the window on the left side of the room, that affected every aspect of drawing that vase – the shading, depth and volume. So it is with life itself, and also faith – something a great many people never learn. “Religious robes and words, fancy offices and big bank accounts do not automatically offer light,” Jones writes. “Jesus was adamant that only God can be our Light.”
Admittedly, in a world that offers all manner of “flash,” it is hard sometimes for us to know where we should look to find God’s light – even Jesus knew this to be true. I think that’s one reason we are promised a “Spirit of Truth” that guides us “into all the truth.” We need to know the difference between false perceptions and the new reality – and that’s why Jesus said that this Spirit would glorify him, because, he said, “he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Friends, when we realize that when God’s Spirit moves in such a way that we might better see and understand what’s true about God, then we start looking at everything with a fresh eye – because God has become our source of light and life! And it’s amazing, given that kind of new perspective, how differently we begin to perceive the challenges we have to face in our lives; how our attitudes start to shift regarding the more difficult people in our lives; or how, suddenly, the gut-wrenching choices we have to make become clear and, actually, rather obvious! This is all because, with the Spirit’s help, we’ve found our source of light – and that discovery cannot help but shift the reality of our lives.
In a few moments, just as we do every month here at East Church, and as most of us who have been in the church for a while have done time and time again, we come to the Lord’s Table to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Now, we’ll be doing this pretty much the way we always do it; but today, I’d like to suggest that we do one thing a little differently – this time, and I say this respectfully, let’s pay attention to what we’re doing! What I mean is, today, let’s not simply ‘go through the motions” where communion is concerned; let us truly look, closely listen and deeply feel with heart and soul what’s happening as we break the bread and share the cup.
In other words, today, let’s not get bogged down in the worship mechanics of this – how things are being done and what time it is and so on; rather, let’s allow our senses to dwell on what God is doing in the midst of this sacrament – that is the very definition of sacrament, after all (!) – perhaps to let God’s Spirit of Truth help us find the Source of Light that will reveal the meaning of our worship, a Light that will illuminate this bread and cup and reveal it as a holy meal; a meal that will not only casts a light on a family of faith, but also, and most especially, upon the one who gathers us together, and who, by his presence at this feast, gives to us a reality of life and living – for this Sunday morning, for every day that comes in this life, and eternally.
Thanks be to the God who is that true source of light!
AMEN and AMEN.
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry