Monday, April 9, 2012

The Eyes of Christ

For those who helped by responding to my question on Facebook, here is my sermon, The Eyes of Christ, preached on March 25th at Union and Saks United Methodist Churches.

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:30-34
St. Catherine’s Monastery, which is located at the foot of Mt. Sinai, contains a large collection of religious icons. Unlike idols, icons are not objects of worship rather they are devotional aids. They are generally rather simple in design and their purpose is not for us to focus on the beauty of the painting but to focus beyond the painting to the person of Christ. Like a computer icon, the icon is not what it is important rather it is simply a pathway to something greater beyond itself. So while we may stand before the Mona Lisa and marvel at Da Vinci’s artistry or wonder about the story and legends behind the painting, when you stand before an icon you look beyond it to focus on God.

One of the icons at St. Catherine’s is rather odd. It depicts Jesus holding a Bible in his right hand. His left hand is forming the traditional symbol of blessing. But his face is somehow off kilter because the eyes are very different. The eye on the left is small and steely and the other eye is large and soft—almost a puppy dog eye. The end result is a face that looks off-kilter as if someone who lacked visual perspective had drawn it.

Yet, the icon is all about perspective because the face of Christ is drawn this way for a purpose. The painter wanted those looking in the eyes of Christ to see themselves and the world as Jesus saw them. The left eye showing his anger and frustration at the sin and brokenness of the world. And the right eye showing his love and compassion for us and for our world.

This Lent you have been exploring various parts of the body of Christ and today we are going to focus on the eyes of Christ. Eyes which see the world as it really is in all its beauty, in all its promise and all its brokenness and pain. Eyes which don’t simply scan the room but which peer deep into the inner recesses of our hearts and minds. Eyes which truly see us for who we are as well as who we were created to be.

That’s why if we are honest we have to admit that looking deep into the eyes of Jesus may not be the most comforting thought. If we have any sort of solid biblical understanding of Jesus then we know that in Jesus’ eyes we may see some things within ourselves we’d rather not acknowledge.

After all, Jesus’ eyes don’t miss much. He looked at the rich young ruler and saw his love of money. He looked at the Pharisee and saw his hypocrisy. He looked at the Woman at the well and saw her checkered past and present.

His eyes are deep and penetrating and there is nothing we can hide from him. In his eyes, we see our sin—not just the bad things we have done but all the good things we have failed to do. We see our lack of love, our selfishness, and our laziness. It is impossible to look full in his wonderful face without experiencing the guilt of knowing we are sinners in need of his grace.

Looking into the eyes of Christ forces us to –in the ancient words of confession—acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins.

What’s more it is hard to look into his eyes without also seeing his pain over the state of the world around us. God’s pain for those who are lost, those who are hungry, those who are oppressed, those who are hurting, and those are in pain. To look into his eyes is to see his pain over the brokenness of this world.

If we take the time to look deeply in to the eyes of Christ, we can’t easily ignore the deep needs of the world. In fact, when we look into the eyes of Christ, we realize that to try and ignore those needs is, in fact, sin.

It’s a dangerous thing to look into the eyes of Christ because in doing so we risk being broken . . . we risk feeling the pain of the world . . . we risk feeling anger at injustice. . .we risk feeling guilt at our sinfulness.

But then there is the good news, the fact that even though he sees us and our world very clearly Jesus feels compassion. Despite our brokenness, despite our sinfulness, despite it all, Jesus looks at us and feels compassion for us.

There are many instances of Jesus seeing and acting on behalf of people in the Bible, but today I picked this passage from Mark because I am always awed by Jesus’ response to the needs of the people.

Thus far in Chapter 6 of Mark: Jesus was rejected by the people in his hometown; the disciples had been sent out by twos to cast out demons and heal people: and John the Baptist was beheaded. If anyone had a right to be tired and have some time away it was Jesus and the disciples. So Jesus sends the crowds away and gets on the boat with the disciples to head toward a deserted place for a break from all the neediness. But when they get there, the place is anything but deserted—it’s full of people in need. And our scripture says that Jesus saw the great crowd and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd so he began to teach them and then immediately following this passage we learn that he not only taught them but because he was concerned about their hunger, he fed all 5000 of them.

If anyone had an excuse to ignore the needs around him it was Jesus. If anyone had an excuse to care only for those closest to him, it was Jesus. Yet faced with the great need of the crowds, we are told that Jesus SAW them and felt compassion for them.

Recently, while driving to my office I noticed a rough looking man standing on the side of the exit with a sign asking for food or money. So as I pulled up next to him and had to stop and wait for the light, I began looking around the front of my car, fiddling with my radio, checking for texts on my cell phone . . . anything to avoid making eye contact with him . . . anything to avoid really seeing him.

After all if he knew he’d been seen, I’d have had to respond. If I’d really looked at him, I might have recognized my brother in Christ. If I’d truly seen him, I might have felt compassion. Better to look away, to not acknowledge him or his need, than to see him as Christ sees him.

Because Jesus never looks away. Jesus sees the needs of the crowd and feels compassion. Jesus sees the woman doubled over and heals her. Jesus sees Zaccheus hiding in the tree and he calls him down. Jesus sees the crowds at the foot of his cross taunting him and he forgives them.

Jesus looks and sees us as we are and feels compassion for us.

And this compassion is not simply a sentimental feeling. It’s not like us looking at pictures of starving children in Africa and thinking “Oh, how sad!” The word translated compassion here implies a gut-wrenching, stomach turning feeling. In fact, the word compassion comes from the world passion which means suffering and com which means with. In other words to feel compassion is to suffer with.

So Jesus looks at us and sees us as we truly are, he grieves our sin, he is angered by our wrong doing, but he also suffers with us in our brokenness and pain. And in the end he takes on all that sin and all that pain and carries it to the cross in the ultimate act of compassion.

The other day, I posted on Facebook the question “What would you see if you could look into Jesus’ eyes?” And I was amazed by the number of folks who chose to share. Since I hang out with lots of Methodists, many of the responses focused on the love, compassion, and forgiveness found in Jesus eyes. A few spoke of the judgment they might find there.

One particularly poignant response came from a friend who said that because of his sinfulness he couldn’t possibly look into the eyes of Jesus. And my heart broke for my friend because the good news is that because Jesus does feel compassion for us and went to the cross for us that we can look him fully in the eyes despite our sinfulness. The good news of his love and grace always trumps the bad news of our sin and brokenness.

But the less prevalent response was the most mature and the most Biblically accurate observation—in his eyes we see sadness over our sin and the brokenness of our world but in his eyes we also see love, forgiveness and joy.

And unlike the eyes on the icon, it’s not either/or. It’s not bad news/good news. In a very real way it is all good news. We dare to look into his eyes and acknowledge our brokenness and sinfulness because we also know that the eyes that judge us are also the eyes that not only forgive us but which love us more than any other!

We don’t have to hide from the truth of our sin. We can acknowledge and confess our sins because we know the one we confess our sins to knows us and loves us despite those sins. What’s more we only know the true depth of God’s love for us when we realize how much we have been forgiven and to what extent Jesus was willing to go on our behalf.

So we dare to look full into his wonderful face and deep into his wonderful eyes and see the truly good news that despite it all, we are loved and we are forgiven.

But if we truly look into the eyes of Christ, something else happens as well. The more we look into those truthful, compassionate eyes, the more we begin to see the world as Christ sees it. We see signs of God everywhere. In his creation—the beauty of a sunrise, the crashing of the waves, the juicy sweetness of a ripe strawberry, the joy on a baby’s face as she discovers her hand for the first time. But we also see it in the face of a beggar on the side of the road, a starving child in Africa, the person who betrayed us . . . We learn to see God in the good and the bad, the strong and the weak, those like us and those very different.

What’s more when we see the world through Jesus’ eyes, we are moved by his compassion. We see the world’s brokenness. We see its injustice. And instead of running to hide our head in the sand or clucking our tongue in disgust, we are moved by compassion to act on its behalf.

Remember a few years back when everyone was wearing those WWJD bracelets? What would Jesus do? Well today I’d like us to ask ourselves WWJS? What would Jesus see?

If Jesus lived in our home, worked at our job, worshipped at our church, read our newspaper, and travelled our roads, what would he see? Who would he feel compassion for? And what would he be compelled to do on their behalf?

Actually, there is a strong connection between asking what would Jesus do and asking what would Jesus see because it is only when we truly see people and their needs that we can truly know how to help. All too often we are looking for some stock program or words to answer the needs of those in our community. But it is only when we truly see what they need that we can determine what we should do.

Last night, I took my daughter and two of her friends to dinner. Somewhere in the midst of the meal the conversation turned to a young man they knew. They were marveling on how he could be blunt and honest and yet people were drawn to him. Then one of the girls shared about a time that this young man was all prepared to tell someone just exactly what he thought that person should do to get his life straight. However, he said that when he began to say his piece, he saw something that made him hold his tongue and spend the evening getting to know this person. Then Sarah said, “That’s why he can do it! That’s why people are drawn to him even though he is blunt and honest. He invests himself in them!”

To see people with the eyes of Christ means we have to invest ourselves in them. We have to listen more than we talk. We have given more than we take. We have to value risk rather than security.

After all, when we see with the eyes of Christ we are seeing with the eyes of the one who taught that if anyone wishes to be his follower then he or she would take up their cross and follow him.

We have gathered here today to be the church—the body of Christ. And as Christ’s body, we must take the time to look deeply into the eyes of the one who called us here, to see us as he sees us, and to learn to see the world as he sees it.

And as Christ’s body here on earth, we are also reminded that we are the ones called to continue his ministry here on earth. And just as Christ looked on the crowds and had compassion on them so too we are now called to look on our communities and our world and to continue Christ’s work of compassion on their behalf.

As St. Teresa of Avila famously reminded us:
"Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now."

So as we leave today, let us look deeply into the eyes of Christ, acknowledge our sinfulness, accept our forgiveness and to learn to look with Christ’s compassion at the world asking “What would Jesus see” and therefore, “What am I called to do?”


Kim said...

I love this sermon. I wish I could 'hear' you more often!

Ben Morris said...

VERY thoughtful and insightful, Sherill- I so wish I could have been in your audience to hear you deliver it. All the best- Ben

Anonymous said...

VERY thoughtful and insightful, Sherill. I so wish I could have been in the congregation to hear you deliver this message.

All the Best- Ben Morris