Rev. Harry Currie
Jan 14, 2024
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (19-20), 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51
This week marked the third anniversary of the storming of the U. S. Capitol Building after an impassioned speech by the sitting president.
And while it probably took a lot of people by surprise, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that in a free democracy, democracy itself is threatened, not because of free speech, or the right to assemble, or the right to one’s one beliefs, but because truth has been under assault for some time.
You can win elections not be standing for the truth, but by telling lies, as long as the lies are popular, as long as the lies reinforce the prejudices and misinformation people already have. You can actually get people to worship falsehood as long as it is panders to their self-interest and their sense of entitlement.
It may be true that in an age of information, that the exposure to misinformation is ubiquitous and it is hard to tell what is information and what is misinformation…
...but I think a major factor in a society that some even call “post-truth” is that for the majority of people, what they see, perceive and understand is not only their reality, not only their right, but what everybody else should see, perceive and understand.
The intolerance to those who see differently is of mammoth proportions in this world.
And yet we have been fueled in the last several decades, by an ever pressing need to assert our own rights, to assert our own perceptions, to assert our own beliefs, as the one and only truth.
This may be a reaction to governments, courts, schools, judicial systems and churches, who in the past were too heavy-handed, demanded too much absolute obedience to the system…
But I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and the rights of the others, the beliefs of others, the perceptions of others, the need for us to work for the good of all, is being swept under the carpet in order that my rights, my thoughts, my perceptions, my truth will win out. To hell with everybody else because I am right and they are wrong.
Today’s scripture lessons are all about seeing. Eli cannot see and metaphorically cannot see God or God’s word, while the young Samuel hears the voice of God and metaphorically can see God’s word.
The Psalmist talks about a God who sees us and knows us intimately.
Paul talks about seeing ourselves correctly as residences or temples of God, the Holy Spirit, and of Jesus. Not cheap or expendable bodies, but sacred vessels of grace, bought with a price.
And then there is the gospel story of Nathanael, whom Jesus sees.
I want to start there because there is something that I think is critical to the politics of seeing in that story. The story sort of reiterates what we find in Psalm 139 about God knowing us and seeing us.
Jesus sees Nathanael. It is not known exactly what Jesus saw and how he saw it, but when he says that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree, Nathanael seems to understand it in a kind of supernatural way. How did Jesus know he was under a fig tree?
I don’t want us to get too hung up on the miracle, because the real miracle is not just that Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit sees us, the real miracle is that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit see into our hearts and minds, and understand us completely. And the real miracle is that the divine loves us anyway, even though God knows everything about us including the whole panorama of sins, deceits, lies, fake news and ego illusions.
The fact that God sees us and comes to us, and loves us and chooses us, is what is paramount in this story, to me.
I know there have been many sermons built around the text: “Come and See” the words that Philip says to Nathanael when he questions if anything good could come out of Nazareth, which was rather a hick town I guess.
Maybe today we might say: “Can anything good come out of Boyle Street or the Bissell centre, or the Mustard Seed?” Because if a Messiah came today, I can almost guarantee, those are not the places you would think a Messiah would come from.
Philip says: “Come and See.”
So, Nathanael thinks that he is going to see Jesus and he will make the decision about Jesus. He will determine if Jesus is the Messiah. He will choose whether to follow him.
It is his perceptions, his seeing, his choice, his faith, his story that really counts in his life.
And frankly that is the way many approach life. It is normal to approach life that way, in fact, one individual’s rights have been held up so much, that we think we have all the power to judge, to test, to evaluate, and make decisions about life, and about faith, and about what we believe, and about what we do.
It is all about our choice. And we who are brought up in a consumer society and used to making choices, to trying things on, to deciding what we want, and if you buy it on Amazon, or get it at Costco, and you don’t like it, you just take it back or send it back no questions asked.
But the whole equation changes when Jesus says to Nathanael. “I saw you.” Jesus says that before Philip even spoke to you, I saw you.
Jesus sees all, and sees into our hearts and minds. Jesus is not some piece of clothing hanging on a rack, which we can decide to try on and see if we like it, or want to choose it.
Jesus is life. Real Life. Jesus is knowledge. Jesus is vision. God is the only one who really understand everything.
Everything we know is filtered and conditioned though family and culture and propaganda, and all kinds of people who have agendas. While we think we know it all or most of it, we are so preconditioned by culture, by family, by friends, by peers, by media, there are scientists who actually use the term predestined to speak of the choices we make.
If you had a big enough computer and put every bit of your life into it, every experience, every book, every study, every conversation, every feeling, every thought, the computer would be able to tell you what you would choose in pretty much every situation.
And Jesus is the one who knows every thought, every action, every feeling, every story, and knows exactly what you will do and say and be…
And Jesus chooses you. We think we choose Jesus, but the one thing good old John Calvin had right, is that Jesus is not a commodity, you can buy or sell, or choose or not choose. Jesus is reality.
It is not that we humans have no capacity for choice, or free will, or no power to evaluate, judge or choose.
It is the fact that we are limited, sinful, broken…and the only one who can really choose and choose love in every situation is Jesus.
We may choose this person and reject that person, or we may choose this theology and dismiss that theology. We prioritize one value over another, but ultimately, we do not see the whole picture, and our choices are always limited, influenced, conditioned or arbitrary. What we think is worthless sometimes is priceless to God, and sometimes what we think is our greatest treasure, should be thrown out.
The consumer is not always right in God’s economy and God’s politics. That assumption is built on the myth that our seeing, and our vision is the ultimate power. To that assumption Jesus says: I am the one who really sees you and really sees truth, and I know you better than you know yourself.
Soo maybe the phrase should not be: “Come and See,” but “Come and be Seen.”
And maybe you know what that is like. Maybe you know what it is like for someone to really see you, really know you, really understand you, really be there for you, really care for you, really love you, warts and all.
When we stop thinking of prayer as us always asking God for stuff.
When we start thinking of prayer as being in the presence of love and having conversation with our friend, our partner, our confidante, our lover, our parent, our sibling, our bestie, our guide, our counselor, our advocate, our God, our shepherd.
When we stop thinking of prayer as just being words, but also realizing it is presence…
When we stop thinking of prayer as thinking and understand it also as feeling.
When we realize that prayer is the giving and receiving of the self to the divine self, and the divine self to the self.
Wow…. Sometimes is it so good to just sit in the presence of God and feel known, feel loved, feel understood, feel forgiven, and feel that you are not being judged, but accepted.
God sees you.
The great Presbyterian writer, preacher and theologian Frederick Buechner who died about a year and a half ago, talked about Psalm 139 as the secret prayer of us all.
Buechner talked about being in the presence of God in the everyday ordinary things of life, and about God being there even in our secrets, our pain, our tragedies.
Buechner wrote about God seeing him and being there for him even in his father’s alcoholism and suicide, and his daughter’s struggle with anorexia.
I quote from Buechner’s book Now and Then
"By examining as closely and as candidly as I could the life that had come to seem to me in many ways a kind of trap or dead-end street, I discovered that it really wasn't that at all. I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living… opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife good-bye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. In my writing… it came to seem to me that if I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. What I started trying to do as a writer and as a preacher was more and more to draw on my own experience not just as a source of plot, character, illustration, but as a source of truth."
It was God who helped Buechner see his life with new eyes, with new vision, as a place where God lived, and talked and was active.
It would be one of my deepest wishes that people and you specifically could see yourself with the eyes of God.
First of all, you would see through all the bullshit, the lies, the masks, the false narratives and see the truth about yourself.
Second, you would be able to see your hurts, your wounds, your pain and where those hurts came from, who did what to you, and how you have helped nurture and feed that pain, and how you create a victim story in your head about that pain… and then seeing yourself as God does, you would start forgiving, yourself and others and be healed.
Third you would see how much you are loved.
Fourth you would see just how much you have to offer to others, your gifts, your uniqueness, your love, your grace, your compassion, your very self.
And fifth, you would see how God is a part of every part of your life.
God sees you. The Holy Spirit sees you. Jesus sees you.
And part of our calling is to help the world see. To try and help the world see itself for what it truly is…
Because those people who stormed the capitol building didn’t really see themselves for who they are.
The world is a world of power, hostility, mistrust, fear, greed and injustice. We are all part of it, but we as the church are supposed to help people see an alternative to that world, but tragically sometimes the church has just been too much a part of the world.
I think the very first Christians were not part of that world of violence and power. They were known by their love. And I think that they didn’t bullshit the world. I think that is why the church grew so much in the first few centuries. While not free from sin, they helped people see an alternative the world of violence, power and greed. And that alternative was Jesus, who was truth, and love and who understood them, saw them and loved them.
There was a jogger who every Saturday morning would take a light jog around a park near his home. There’s a lake located in one corner of the park. Each time the jogger jogged by this lake, he saw the same elderly woman sitting at the water’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her.
One day his curiosity got the best of him, so he stopped jogging and walked over to her. As he got closer, he realized that the metal cage was in fact a small trap. There were three turtles, unharmed, slowly walking around the base of the trap. She had a fourth turtle in her lap that she was carefully scrubbing with a spongy brush.
“Hello,” he said. “I see you here every Sunday morning. If you don’t mind my nosiness, I’d love to know what you’re doing with these turtles.”
She smiled. “I’m cleaning off their shells,” she replied. “Anything on a turtle’s shell, like algae or scum, reduces the turtle’s ability to absorb heat and impedes its ability to swim. It can also corrode and weaken the shell over time.”
“Wow! That’s really nice of you!” the jogger exclaimed.
She went on: “I spend a couple of hours each Sunday morning, relaxing by this lake and helping these little guys out. It’s my own strange way of making a difference.”
The jogger went on “But don’t most freshwater turtles live their whole lives with algae and scum hanging from their shells?” I asked.
“Yep, sadly, they do,” she replied.
The jogger scratched my head. “Well then, don’t you think your time could be better spent? I mean, I think your efforts are kind and all, but there are fresh water turtles living in lakes all around the world. And 99% of these turtles don’t have kind people like you to help them clean off their shells. So, no offense… but how exactly are your localized efforts here truly making a difference?”
The woman smiled. She then looked down at the turtle in her lap, scrubbed off the last piece of algae from its shell, and said, “Sweetie, if this little guy could talk, he’d tell you I just made all the difference in the world.”
It seems like a lot to change the whole world. But if you could go from here and see one person with eyes of God, and make a difference with that one, that’s how the world changes, one person at a time.