Isaiah 6:1-5; Revelation 1:9-20
July 31, 2022
- Experiencing God through our vision
Would it surprise you to hear that I believe God’s glory abounds? I actually kind of surprise myself. For the last year, I have been posting photos on our church Facebook page just about every day that speak to me of the wonder, the beauty, and the glory of God’s creation. Photography has been a hobby of mine for a while, ever since the girls started showing off as babies. That is when I became more aware of photographing the world around me. Occasionally, I snag a pic that really makes me stop in awe of the amazement of life that can be captured in a photo – a picture that is even better than I imagined when I first saw the moment. Yes, if you have not checked out our church Facebook page, please do and follow our daily posts. It feels like a ministry to share my love of the visual world from the perspective of being children of God.
I remember walking on the Appalachian Trail back in my Camp Hanover counselor days in college. You can certainly imagine that there are plenty of God vistas up on the mountains, but the one I still vividly remember was an overcast day walking down into a depression where a small cloud had settled. It created a surreal scene of walking into another world. Then, there was the time I was visiting Paris with my father, and we walked into the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was nearing sunset, and the light, the atmosphere, and the chant all moved my soul in a way that made me forget who I was, and I began walking toward the confessional. Then, I came back to my senses and remembered I wasn’t ROMAN Catholic. We are ALL of us HOLY catholic church – that is the “universal” church of all of God’s children across all time and space, but I am fine sticking to my Protestant ways, thank you very much. I absolutely love the fact that I can catch glimpses into the amazing reality of God’s world through my picture taking. It has forced me to see the world differently, to stop and notice things that most people pass, and to open doors to a world that I hope and pray that lift your hearts and spirits as they do mine.
All of this is sight and vision which is our sense today in our exploration of how God engages us through our senses. Thank you for sticking with me in this journey through the Bible, faith, and experience as sensory people. Today, my hope is to open our eyes to God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love.
We all know how important vision is to us. It is probably the dominant sense through which we do most of our engagement with the world. We really depend on sight in a way we probably do not depend on the other senses. This makes challenges to sight even more difficult for us. A great many of us have some vision trouble, but most of the time they are situations we can manage. My glasses are great for keeping things sharp at a distance, but I cannot see anything clearly up close with them on. You know what I am saying.
Thankfully, we do not need glasses to see God. Seeing God is a whole different ballgame than with any other sense in the Bible. This is the only sense that can end your life, as a matter of fact. Exodus 33:20 says that we cannot see God and live to tell about it which is why Moses then sees the back of God. Still, a number of people do somehow see God in the biblical record. Abram, Moses (in other ways), maybe Jacob, and still others have some kind of “beholding of the Almighty.” And they are changed by these encounters. Moses ends up glowing so badly from being in God’s holy presence that he had to wear a veil over his face because it disturbed the people so much.
Our scripture passages today are also theophanies, the technical, $10 word for times of seeing God. Isaiah has this encounter with God in the Temple. Because he is a prophet and they were also people of visions, it could be that it is more of a metaphor, but Isaiah tells us this vision of God in dramatic terms. He could not escape the holiness of God, either, and had to confront his own unholiness before God’s perfection. He had to have his lips and speech purified with a burning coal to be commissioned as God’s prophet, but clearly, Isaiah is undone and overcome. John is the same in his appearance of the resurrected Jesus in full “King of Glory” appearance. If a theophany is a vision of God, you might guess a Christophany is an appearance of Jesus Christ. Same thing goes, though. It can rock your world to see God or Jesus. Paul is struck blind, and his life is forever changed. Thomas immediately gives up his idea to challenge the resurrected Jesus’ hands and side. The Apostle John is also struck to his core by the appearance of Jesus which (of course) is also full of symbolism.
The point for us today is that when we see God, we are changed as people. We desperately need to recognize that we can recognize God or Jesus around us.
If you have never wondered about the beginning of Hebrews 13, it well past time to start. This verse alone could form the basis of every ministry of godly hospitality in the world: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
This fantastic idea invites us to see everyone as potentially a God-contact. It is a little bit of a cheat, though. We should welcome all strangers with the same Christian heart whether they be angels or not, but the audience for Hebrews (just like folk today) can use a little bit of creative reimagining of how we see people. When we DO see others, however, in all shapes and sizes, we can easily miss their value that goes beyond what we can see. Maybe we just need to assume everyone has the greatest value – which of course, they do.
Jesus rams this idea home in an even more powerful statement of how we care for others. This passage is the foundation of much of the church work in the world today. If you can only hold a few passages in your head from the entire Bible, this is a good one to keep – Matthew 25, particularly beginning with verse 31.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Then, Jesus does the opposite, the curse version of the same passages. When the children of God failed to do for the little ones, the least in the Kingdom of God, they also failed to do these things for Jesus.
This is absolutely brilliant because it completely reframes how we see each other. Yes, we all come in all sorts of different sizes, shapes, frames, colors, but one of the desperately most important things that we can remember as people of faith in Christ Jesus is that we should be able to see Jesus in the face of ANYONE. If we can see the person across from us, whomever that might be, as someone bearing Jesus within them, then we can see them with our hearts. We will treat others as if they are actually Jesus. This is a phenomenal passage and a phenomenal lesson.
In a way, the actual eyes are not even as important as how we see through our hearts. Yes, we can behold God’s glory abounding all around us. Please do stop to notice God’s goodness happening all the time around us however you can. See things you would never have seen otherwise and be amazed. I love how pretty weeds can be, for example. Something unloved and unwanted can be so beautiful. We can be so tremendously blessed through sight.
Same goes for people. If we can be bold enough, true enough, faithful enough, and loving enough to see literally anyone, especially those who are the smallest in society, as being Jesus, the face of Jesus, then that will revolutionize our ministry. It will reprioritize how we consider others and direct our ministry in the most positive way possible.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency has been using this passage as its guiding principle for years, directing all of its mission ministry through the lens of building congregations that are vital, dismantling structural racism, and eradicating systemic poverty. Once we start seeing all people as truly valuable, as valuable as Jesus himself, then we are freed to be the church God is calling us to be. There is a list longer than I could read of churches in the PCUSA that have taken up the challenge of being a Matthew 25 church and have shared stories of their experiences in this kind of ministry. I believe this may be a way forward for us, as well. It will be my recommendation for our Session to consider embarking in this work of trying to see Jesus and to be changed. We need to see Jesus in such an open and honest way that we will be revolutionized and reborn for ministry. You cannot leave the same person after an encounter with our Lord. Once our eyes have seen the glory of God, we will be renewed for the next chapter of our congregational life. If we dare to see our neighbor as Jesus, we will be changed very quickly. If we shut our eyes, however, our story will be much shorter.
While many people live with a vision deficiency, we cannot afford a God deficiency. They say seeing is believing. This goes especially if God is in our seeing, if Jesus is our vision, then faithfulness is for us. To God be the glory. Amen.