Sermon – Rev. Carolyn Chadwick
July 4th 2021 5th Sunday after Trinity
Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13
A couple of nights ago, one of the TV channels took pity on those of us who are not that into football, and showed a film – an old favourite of mine: CASABLANCA – with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. I was hooked! Everybody knows the misquoted quote “Play it again, Sam” (which actually isn’t said at all in the film – it’s different, but I can’t remember it….Anybody out there know it????) I love it for several reasons: the period feel, the chemistry between the actors, the music. It’s fundamentally a story about a has-been finding, through love, the strength to do something noble, something costly. My favourite quote, though, is not the ‘play it again’ one, but that very intimate moment when Bogart gazes into Bergman’s eyes, she gazes into his… And he says:
“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”.
No more words needed. The look between them says it all.
I had an appointment on Friday to be measured up for my first Cataract op. Very exciting! It should be done in the next few weeks, and I can’t wait, because my eyesight is really skewed at the moment. None of my glasses or contact lenses work properly – my distance lenses are now my reading lenses, and in the distance I’m seeing everything very distorted, blurred, and in triplicate. Try watching Wimbledon with three balls flying over the net ! The great French Impressionist artist Claude Monet, in his later years, painted with more and more muted colours – no bright greens, blues or reds, but muted, hazy, subdued colours. He had cataracts, and painted as he saw.
How we see affects how we imagine the world to be.
All this ( such an exciting week!!) got me thinking how SEEING, and the WAY that we SEE, really matters.
And, looking at our three readings, it seems to me that Looking, Gazing, Seeing… is what these readings have in common. In Ps 123 we have the Psalmist lifting up his eyes to the Lord, waiting, looking to God for mercy in difficult times; In 2 Corinthians we have Paul talking about how he sees his troubles, his weaknesses, in the light of the mercy and grace and power of God, and in Mark’s Gospel, we have Jesus’ home town, family and old neighbours unable to see him as he really is because they’re still stuck in the story they told themselves about him thirty years ago. How we see is crucial. It can make or break relationships. It can open us to new possibilities or fix us in the past.
Take families, for example.. We live together for maybe 20 years – maybe longer – sharing almost everything: food, time, space, possessions, genes! … but how well do we know each other? I mean REALLY know each other?
Most of our ideas, our understanding of each other is formed very early in life: She’s the noisy one / he’s the clever one/ she’s bossy / he always gets his own way and so on!!!
In later years we can sometimes carry on reacting and responding to each other out of how we saw each other when we were ‘this high’: and so it can become really difficult to get to know each other as we are now.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus has gone back to his home town of Nazareth – a small insignificant place where nothing much ever happens …
(remember how, at the beginning of John’s Gospel, Nathaniel ( a friend of Philip, Simon and Andrew) says, on hearing about Jesus of
Nazareth “Pah! Can anything good come out of Nazareth??” )
Back to his home town, the people who knew him as a tiny tot. Notice how they mutter amongst themselves “ Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this MARY’s son?”
You can hear the old gossip about Mary’s firstborn child still simmering just below the surface… they don’t mention Joseph…. They know all they need to know about him: he was almost born out of wedlock, and he’s just a lowly carpenter. Nothing special at all. What they knew, or thought they knew, 30 years ago is all they need to know, thank you very much. Who does he think he is? ….
! Who, indeed?!
It’s awful to think that their being so stuck in their own version of things stops them from seeing who Jesus really is. And that actually has an impact on Jesus too…. They can’t/won’t receive from him – indeed, they are offended by him – and so he is prevented from giving them the love and healing of God that he longs to give them. If only they had looked to God to help them see him as he truly was, he would have been able to give them so much.
I hope you will forgive me for giving a personal example:
Until a few years ago I had a difficult relationship with a member of my wider family. .. who shall remain nameless. We are very different people in every way, in appearance, in personality, in interests… but it wasn’t that. I think that, at a very early age, we formed impressions of each other which became sort of fixed. Almost every time we were together, some sort of tension / disagreement would arise, where we completely misunderstood each other, believing the worst, based on the beliefs we had formed about each other in childhood. and the sad reality was that because of this we really couldn’t get past it to know each other very well at all.
Over a few years, as I journeyed with God in prayer, I began to question within myself about what was going on between me and this person.. and, gently encouraged by my prayer companion, it slowly dawned on me that I was reacting out of old memories and grievances, which had become the lens through which I was seeing her, and so my sight was distorted….I only saw my notion of her, not the real person. But I couldn’t seem to change my reactions. I didn’t know how.
Then, one day, some years ago now, we went out with her and her husband for lunch. A lovely walk across fields to and from the restaurant. During lunch, something was said, and I could feel the same old hurt reaction rising up in me, but said nothing – it would have ruined the day…. Walking back through the fields together afterwards – we were quite spread out across the field enjoying the sunshine – I said a silent prayer to God – “Lord, I’m really struggling here. Please help me. I know you love me in spite of all this….and I know you love her… and my reactions are not loving, but I don’t know how to change.’
And then I found myself asking God
‘Lord, please help me to see her as you see her.’
At that moment, this person, who was ‘over there’ turned towards the three of us, caught sight of her husband who was a little way behind me, and began to run towards him. Her face was shining with happiness, quite radiant with love and sheer joy…. It took my breath away, and I thought: Oh, you are so beautiful, and I never saw it before’…. And I felt something deep down inside me just melt away, and my inner being filling with a warm and welcoming love…….and I had to go for a little walk away from the others because tears were welling up and I didn’t want them to see and ask me what was the matter. There was nothing the matter – it was more that I felt as though God had just given me a glimpse of how HE sees her – made in his own image and beautiful and loved. I told John later what had happened, but I have never told the person in question. Maybe one day I will… but, hand on heart, from that moment on, our relationship has changed profoundly. Which only goes to show that I was at least 50% of the problem!
I regard her now as a treasured friend, and I love the differences between us, and we enjoy each others’ company, and we TALK! And we’re finding out so much about each other that we never knew before! We even ask each other for advice!
Now I call that a miracle of healing. And I’m so grateful to God.
Here’s a thought:
I wonder what sort of impressions of God we received when we were little? It might be an important question: If I grew up with a notion of God as strict policeman who loves nothing better than to catch me out when I’m doing something I shouldn’t; if my internal notion of God is a stern and severe judge, doling out punishments for every misdemeanour; if my notion of God is a faithless God, who deserts me just when I need him most; or a demanding, conditional God who will only love me if I am good, and rejects me if I’m not…. I may not feel much like drawing close to him in prayer. We can know that God is Love in our heads, but deep down we may also be reacting to God based on perceptions of him we learned as a child.
One of my spiritual heroes, 16th century Spanish Saint Ignatius of Loyola, understood this. He suggests that, just before you settle down in your place to pray, wherever that may be: here in this building, in your favourite armchair at home, enjoying a lovely walk… before you start, lift your eyes to the Lord, and consider, for about half a minute, ( the length of time it would take you to recite the Lord’s Prayer), how God, who created you and loves you, is gazing at you.
He understood that, before we are able to see others as God sees them, we need to discover for ourselves how he sees us. Then we can begin to experience prayer as relationship, being in the presence of the One who created you, loves you come what may, and invites you to walk with him, talk with him, day by day, and realising bit by bit that it’s in our weaknesses, our powerlessness, that we can discover the utter grace and love of God.
So, be encouraged!
When God created you, gifted, and called you to become a unique expression of His image : he gazed on you and loved what he has made. He still does.
…‘Time when the Maker’s radiant sight
And everything he saw was filled
With perfect joy and life and light’… (Wendell Berry)
Here’s lookin’ at you, kid….
Before we say the creed, A Prayer:
Lord, we see in part, we know in part,
Often our sight is clouded
And we see as through a glass, darkly.
Heal our sight, dear Lord,
That we may see as we are seen,
Know as we are known.
Help us to see you as you really are
Help us to see ourselves as you see us,
That we be made perfect in love for one another.
(Note from our Webmaster. We and our prayers are with you Carolyn, for your cataract surgery.)