Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Turn a Blind Eye? Christ Calls his Own to Follow Him."

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Fellow Redeemed by the Grace of our All-Knowing Savior:
The ancient wisdom of the ages continues to offer its advise for those who are entering into a new relationship: keep both eyes open before beginning that new relationship - and then, after joining in that relationship, keep one eye closed. That might be good advise for not only those considering marriage, but for those entering into a business partnership or a friendship in the classroom. On a very practical level, that proverb speaks to our relationships in the home, at work, at school, in our neighborhood, and even in the way we relate to others in the church.
Because "keep both eyes open, and then keep one eye closed" speaks to how we can carry out our partnerships with others: examine everything with a judicious eye before signing on the bottom line, before promising vows before the altar, before swearing mutually undying loyalty to each other. Be very critical when it comes to choosing friends and business partners and neighbors and a spouse. Know exactly what you are getting into.
That's the intended strength of online dating services and pre-marital counseling with a pastor. That's the thought behind Dr. Phil stressing that parents have to know what's going on with their children's friends. If we want relationships to last, if we want partnerships to stand the test of time, if we want friendships to be more than just arrangements of convenience and self-centered utilitarianism, we need to realistically, responsibly, cautiously investigate what we are getting ourselves into.
That's why Redeemer Lutheran offers new membership classes on a regular basis. So that prospective members can check out what this congregation believes, teaches and confesses, that there wouldn't be any surprises down the road. Guests and visitors and friends of the congregation should know — up front — where we stand on important doctrines of Christianity, where our priorities lie, what we are committed to be and do under God's grace and calling.
But "keep both eyes open" is only the first half of the saying. Proverbial wisdom would also have us (after doing the hard work of checking things out and doing our "due diligence") remember to keep one eye closed.
Because our spouse and parent and child and partner and friend and neighbor is a weak and fallen human being who is far from perfect, despite what we might initially think or feel. The world acknowledges that it is hard work to keep relationships going because people in our life sometimes — even often — do things and say things and think things that bother us and annoy us and even hurt and wound us.
Scripture goes even further as it reveals not only the real fallen, weak and sinful condition of all those he places into our lives. Scripture — the holy Word of God — reveals that we too contribute to difficulties and strains and bumps in the road when it comes to those with which we share some significant part of our life.
Scripture holds up the clear mirror of the Law — to not only our neighbor's eyes but also to our eyes, that we might begin to understand that our behavior is much more problematic that we might first think. That's what God continues to do — even for Christians — in the Ten Commandments and in the Beatitudes and the exhortations of the prophets and apostles. God holds up his holy and perfect will to our eyes — for our sake and the sake of the precious relationships he has given us to nurture.
Relationships — lasting and blessed relationships — are so precious here on earth because all of us — without exception — live in a universe that too often revolves around self and what relationships can do for our own pleasure and power, for own own interests and greatness and glory.
That's the hard reality that forms the backdrop of broken relationships and spoiled partnerships and friendships gone toxic. According to the wisdom of the world, we need to understand our neighbor as best we can, but then, when we enter into a relationship with another fallen child of Adam and Eve, we need to keep one eye closed — to turn a blind eye to fallen behavior that can be difficult to put up with. To pretend those annoying habits and quirks just aren't there. The wisdom of the world: turn a discriminating eye, but then turn a blind eye to the fallen words and actions of those around us.
But on this the Lord's Day, on this the Second Sunday of Epiphany, how does Christ Jesus manifest his saving glory to us and to the nations? Does he follow the lead of Andrew and Nathaniel in the world's wisdom of "keeping one eye open, then turning a blind eye to the faults and trespasses around us"? How does Christ come to save?
The Holy Gospel According to Saint John, the first chapter:
The next day, after Jesus had decided to leave for Galilee, he found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets gave witness to: Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to [Andrew], ‘From Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?’ Philip replied to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him he said of him, ‘Look! A true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ Nathanael asked [Jesus], ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Before Philip called you, while you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the king of Israel.’ (John 1:43-49)
That inspired, eyewitness account of day four of the beginning of Jesus' redeeming ministry should properly take our breath away and make our jaw drop (as it did Nathaniel's) — for more than a few reasons — first and foremost being that Christ, true man, manifests himself as — shows himself to be — the all-seeing, all-knowing Son of God.
It is Christ who amazingly approaches this dark and dying world, approaches each of us, with his eyes wide open. It is Christ who reveals himself as the omniscient Son of God. He knows Nathaniel's behavior and actions. He sees Nathaniel's mind and heart. Nothing is hidden from his eyes. He sees all our fears and doubt, and he knows if we have received his gracious gifts in faith and taken them to heart. Christ sees everything when it comes to Nathaniel and he sees and knows and understands everything when it comes to me and when it comes to you. Even when he finds us in darkness, the Light brings everything to light.
Jesus not only sees the gift of faith received in Nathaniel, but sees the rest of us as well. Our questions and our doubts, our unbelief in the scandal of God's redemption sent in the hiddenness of the ordinary, the hiddenness of the unexpected, the hiddenness of suffering and the agony of the Cross.
When Jesus comes, everything is transparent. Nathaniel began to realize that nothing could be hidden from this carpenter's son from the lowly, unimpressive little town of Nazareth. Jesus saw Nathaniel as no one else could ever see him, his helplessness and weakness and fallenness and sin. And, in spite of all that — with eyes wide open — Jesus called Nathaniel to faith. He called him to be one of twelve members of the new Israel, and bids him to be an eyewitness of the love of Christ — love that compels our Lord to do something very different than turn a blind eye to sin and pretend it doesn't exist.
Jesus doesn't turn a blind eye, but turns our trespasses and sins into his own, offering his righteousness in their place.
The Word of God incarnate comes to shine his revealing Light into our lives and behavior, into our past, into our minds and heart and soul. He sees us as we really are, as so much less that what he has create us to be. And still, he finds us and brings us to himself, to forgive and renew and wash clean in his sacrifice — his sacrifice for an entire world that couldn't sustain a God-pleasing relationship if its life depended on it.
Our Lord is in the business of graciously, mercifully giving the saving gifts he has won for us by his holy, innocent suffering and death. Christ the Light does not make light of our sins — he mercifully atones for them.
He gave the gift of life, forgiveness and salvation to Andrew. Jesus gave the gift of faith to Andrew, and that faith showed itself in Andrew inviting Nathaniel to come into the light — into the Light of Christ.
The season of Epiphany is the season of Christ revealing himself to not only the children of Israel, but also to the nations, just as his salvation was revealed to the magi not long after his birth. The season of Epiphany is, therefore, also a season of Christian mission — a season of God-given faith calling and exhorting and inviting others to come to him who sees all, who knows all — and still, comes to save, through the shedding of his very life-blood.
Jesus replied, ‘Do you believe just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree? You are going to see greater things than these.’ And he said to [Nathaniel], ‘Truly, truly I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.’ (John 1:50-51)
Christ manifests himself not as a way-shower, but as the Way. He is not some tour guide to heaven. His work upon the Cross is the very ladder into God's presence — for sinful Jacob and for you.
Receive the Light of Heaven as he comes with his eyes wide open to put everything of yours in the light.
Receive the King of Israel as he manifests himself as the one and only foundation of any lasting relationship we could ever receive, on earth and in heaven.
Receive the very Son of God, as he blinds the eyes of those who will not believe, and opens the eyes of faith to his redemption in, with and under the lowly prophets and apostles — in, with and under lowly water and bread and wine — in, with and under the giving of his very self at Calvary.
Let Christ come and bring you into his Light. Let him take a good look at you in the light of his Law. And then let him deal with that one thing that prevents us from any lasting relationship with God or our neighbor.
Let Christ come and forgive and bring new life to you — and those he has placed in your life.
God grant it for the sake of his glory and the salvation of many.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit