A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By michael Hare Duke
Sermon 26 February 2006
This Sunday which marks the way into Lent suggests a novel outcome that might result from our keeping of these forty days.. Might we learn from the fast a new way of seeing people and events differently - in a new light. Traditionally we have associated Lent with giivng things up. As children perhaps we have seen chocolate as one of the luxuries that we have laid aside and then been rewarded by a feast of Easter eggs. when the abstinence is over. I remember a friend at University who settled for a rule that he would only spend 5 minutes in his morning bath. Some people add an extra ten minutes to their daily prayer, give up alcohol, read a demanding spiritual book. All admirable choices but perhaps one of the most fundamental disciplines of all could be to revise our way of seeing. Much of the time we have a fixed view of the folk around us. We expect them to fit the stereotype that we have formed of them.
"Old so and so" we sigh "boring as usual!".
"Late again!, just what you'd expect!"
I am sure that you can fill out the list of examples. But to-days's readings are all about catching a new vision, seeing a different person from the humdrum individual that we have come to expect. Perhaps there was something of the same in the disciples' expectations of Jesus They thought that they knew what he would do, though sometimes he took them by surprise, like restoring a dead child to life. When the three special friends from the disciples followed him up the mountain, they may not have been expecting anything thing out of the ordinary. They had got to know him on the dustry roads of Palestine as he went about teaching and healing. They had seen him tired, they had known him at prayer, but now everything changed, this was a new revelation. There was a brightness shining from him and he was accompanied by the two great figures of their faith, Moses and Elijah. It took their breath away and they seemed to hear a voice from the sky giving to their Rabbi a new dignity 'this is my son, the beloved, give heed to him'.
This central experience is illuminated by the two other readings. The first is the story of Elijah and Elisha as they take their last walk together and the teacher Elijah is caught up in a chariot of fire. Elisha has been taken into a new dimension. He had seen the world in adiffferent way. He feels tht he has been bequeathed Elijah's cloak and with it his spirit. After this he is equipped to take up the role of his master and carry on the work of prophesy, healing, uttering the words of God. In his letter to the young church at Corinth Paul picks up the theme of the new vision which is given to the baptised who see 'the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ'. But equally they see the human situation transformed each individual becomes a manifestation of Christ. Do you remember Jesus' teaching about the care of the sick, the prisoners, the hungry 'in as much as you have done it to the least of my brothers, you have done it to me'? The new vision is the recognition of the face of Jesus in our neighbours.
If we take this seriously,it makes a difference to our response to the News on Televison. The faces that appear on our screens are not just ordinary people, they become significant as we recognise in them images of the sufffering Christ. The raped girl, the abused child, the maltreated prisoner all take the believer back to the Son of Man. We have been give a new way of seeing our neighbour as a person potentially bearing the marks of God.
This says something about compassion, we cannot just shrug our shoulders and ignore what we do to one another This erson mattters to God and therefore to us. It also says something about our hope for the people that we are tempted to write off. If we do not like what we see of him or her we may project a personal lack of value or a condemnation of the part of society he or she represents. ight we be able to pick up an echo of the voice from the clouds "This is my Son, my Daughter, the beloved". Maybe most important of all is to allow those words to apply to myself, when I feel at the bottom of the pit, without worth or dignity. When I think of myself as stupid, with nothing to say, the voice say "Hear her" or Elisah finds he has inherited Ellijah's cloak. From myself the approval goes on to include all the others that I am tempted to write off.
In our society we are struggling to avoid racism that puts down the folk who are different, black skinned, members of another faith. Over the generations we have persecuted the Jews, hounded the Muslims, harboured hatred of the Pakistanis. Long ago I remember a poster which showed one pair of feet standing beside three feet and it carried the caption "I like you, you're different". We find that so difficult to say. We are divided by difference,either we envy a person who has got what we haven't; we fear the difference or we are put off by it This is true of sexual differences and minority groups. Language differences make us feel excluded and sometimes people have felt that this is true of kind of Church jargon that shuts them out. A true theology looks with delight at the infiinite variety of God's creation, there is beauty in the kaleidoscope of species, types, skills, gifts and languages. Yet we quickly wish that people were like us. a phrase that I have treasured as a description of the Church is 'the Fellowship of the Unllike'. But to value it demands a revolution in our way of perceiving others.
On the mountain of Transfiguration Peter was so caught up in the experience that he wanted to stay in hte moment of exstacy, to build three booths to capture the new way of seeing. But that would have been to have institutionallised hte difference, a safe community of people who saw differently, marked off from the ordinary world. That is not the point. The vision of God's world is not a place where the few have achieved a special private truth but a community that is expanding to include all the varieties. Archbishop Tutu captured the ideal with the phrase 'God's Rainbow People'. But it is not simply a matter of colour. It is the inclusiveness that makes room for differencs in sexuallity;understandings of theology, ways of worship and so many of hte things that a the present time are dividing the church.
The glory of the garden is not expressed in a field of marigolds or even lilies. It is in the blending of the species, in the wonder of the variety of God's imagination which enhances our ability to percieve all that there is.
Michael Hare Duke
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