Whose eyes are we looking through? When we leave this place and go out into the world, with whose eyes are we seeing our fellow men and women? Romans 12 reminds us not to be conformed to the world outside, not to be seduced by the priorities and imagery that the world that is not the kingdom of God, not to be conformed to what that world thinks of as so very, very important.
So our alternative is what? We can pretend that we can see through the eyes of God, that we can see humanity in that way, even for a second and survive the overload. It would overload us, you know. I think we’d be shocked that God doesn’t hate the people we hate and doesn’t care about the things we care about and doesn’t give a hoot for who is the next president of the United States.
We can try and see through the eyes of God but I don’t think we’d be made happy by the view.
So whose eyes are we looking through?
I need to use these things here to see the page in front of me, in fact I need to wear them to write the page I front of me, and to order from the menu and to read the paper and pretty much everything else that happens within fourteen to thirty inches in front of my face. But I do not need them to drive and so I often leave them in the car. I actually keep a couple of spare pairs in the sunglasses nook above my rear-view mirror, just in case but I am constantly having to go back out to the car to get them.
I need them to see. I leave them in the oddest places, all over the place, everywhere. That is why I have about seven pairs of reading glasses, really almost every time I see the buy one pair get the second half price signs go up at CVS I am there for another two pair.
I put them on to see certain things and they help me. It took some getting used to, but now they are more comfortable, less weird to have on my face, a better fit for my life.
It takes getting used to.
Now imagine you could try on, from time to time, the vision of the Lord, to try and see through the eyes of God. You’ll forget to do it and lose the glasses all the time until you get used to it, no matter how much you might wish there was Lasik for this kind of vision, there is no shortcut.
You are stuck, you cannot manage it all the time, all at once it is simply too much and if you get out of the habit you will forget how important it is and the very notion of seeing the world as God sees it, filled with blessedness and with people turning away from that blessedness and then the words in the scriptures are just words, in no particular order because you have misplaced the sight of the Lord and everything is only what it costs, what it is worth to you, the things of this world are all that there is.
That is why we come to church. It’s like there is a bin in the narthex filled with the glasses that help you see through the eyes of the Lord, that show you what the word worth really means, what things are really worth.
The reason that the world is not transformed into the Kingdom of God lowered down to the earth is that the vision that we gain in this place, the vision of the Lord brought to our very own eyes is not as comfortable as we might like.
We have to see the homeless man with the misfit glasses, the missing teeth and the kind of crazy laugh as being just as beloved by God as we are, with our clean clothes and our cars and our warm, dry homes. We have to, when we try on the vision of the Lord, see the rapist and the murderer, the criminal and the parasite, words we hear in the media all the time, every day, the vision of the Lord forces us to see that if anything, God’s love for them might be even greater than our own, because the need for grace is more.
We already have the Gospel, we’re not perfect but we have a chance and God’s vision being cast across the face of those who woke up this morning quite cold and very wet likely looks more kindly out of the bottomless well of compassion that is the very nature of God and when we try on the vision of the Lord, that is what it shows us.
So we tend to lose those glasses. They get misplaced from time to time because otherwise it is difficult to think of ourselves as winners and other people as losers, as us being worth more and them being worth less. It makes it hard to see us and them at all. There is only us, only God on the one side and us on the other, that is the only division, the only difference that matters.
So when you hear Jesus say something like “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” it rings harshly in our ears because the world makes that distinction, the poor and the rich the worthy and the unworthy.
Jesus knows that it is simply not so.
Jesus knows that there are poor people, they are always there, there is no magic bullet but grace to make that not so. The disciples are thinking about the poor in this reading as if they were something you could think about or not think about, as if they were something to be solved, something to be fixed, so that they will not be a problem anymore.
They are over there and we are over here, they are different from us, the poor.
Through the eyes of Jesus all are equally poor.
Poor vision to not see that when one of these the least of our brothers is not whole, then we are not whole.
Poor understanding to not get that it is not grace that saved us from poverty, God’s concern, God’s eternal desire, God’s mission in the world is not that we should be wealthy or prosperous but that we should be saved.
Poor hearing to not notice that the cries of those in need are not like the tide, something that is here now and gone later, then back and forth again and again but rather like the rustling of the wind, a constant drone in the background, the chirping of birds or the sound of flowing water, always asking of us, what can you do?
It is not by the grace of God that we have been saved from poverty. That means that god’s grace falls more heavily on some than on others. That idea makes us think that it is about luck, that God is rolling dice to determine who is and who is not going to drive a new car and not worry about college tuition, that God turns the divine back on anyone, leaving them, for lack of grace, to live lives of desperation and degradation.
Slip on the glasses of the vision of the Lord and see that if there is a back turned, if there are dice rolled then it is we who are turning, we who are gambling with the lives of others.
I know the tropes. I know the stock answers, “they like it like that,” “some of them choose to be homeless,” “they are mentally ill,” or my personal favorite, “they messed up their own lives, why do I have to fix that for them?”
Slip on the glasses of the vision of the Lord for another second and see what you see.
Behind each and every one of us there is . . . nothing. No past, not a hint of guilt, not a bit of the decisions that we have made before today.
Salvation is a today thing that stretches out into the future. It is the letting go of things that are past and the embracing of things that are to come. Most of us should be grateful that it is, truth be told, because there are things in our own pasts that we’d like for God to let go and it is our confidence that God will abide by the words of Isaiah this morning and not remember the former things, or consider the things of old, but to do a new thing and make us whole today so that we can live tomorrow.
It is no surprise that the eyes of the Lord see us all in pretty much the same light. It is a puzzlement why we insist on seeing things any other way.
The poor are with us always because there is always somewhere where the grace of God needs to shine and we are the ones called to carry that grace. All of the tropes about the homeless get lost in the fact that Jesus never gave up on any of us, not the whole of humanity with all of its variations, why should we then decide that our wisdom is superior to Christ’s and simply decide that some have fallen short and should suffer for it.
The vision we get, the vision of the Lord we put on from time to time until we get used to it shows us what God would have us do while we spend our time here.
Mary demonstrates for us.
Today is the day she has with the Lord, He is passing through on His mission among the people and today is the day Jesus has come to their home and they are having Him over for dinner, like you do.
Yesterday was when Jesus raised her brother but today is the day Mary revels in the presence of the Lord, giving a gift of great monetary value, but of greater meaning. She finally sees through the eyes of the Lord and does what she can, with what she has, right where she is.
You see, the vision of the Lord, the ability to see through the masks and the veils and the pretensions of this world, that vision if of today and what our role is today.
It is not about the past. Remember Isaiah, and about a thousand other places in the Bible where God’s will is, simply put, to remember the past no more, to loose the bonds of inherited guilt, to grant to all a fresh start so that they will know the mercy an majesty of the Lord, the love of God given freely, graciously.
It is not about the future. After all, who among you can guarantee passage into heaven? Who here is the one who decides and knows and can tell? I know that a lot of preachers will tell you that it is entirely about getting into heaven but listen for a moment to Paul. He too has left behind all the baggage, the honors, the accomplishments, he sees them as nothing, as worse than nothing, his gains are loss, so much more is the salvation in Christ worth.
It takes faith to simply let go of your future, to truly trust that you are in God’s hands and that there is no guarantee you can fashion that is better than that.
Paul also does not look to the future. He knows that it is out of his hands, that his fate lies with Christ alone. He almost sounds like he is working toward heaven but listen in with me.
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Straining forward, feeling the call of eternity in his bones what Paul is seeking is not heaven, but his calling, the call of God in Christ Jesus.
Today, he is seeking the calling of Christ. Today he is speaking and teaching. Today he is giving thanks and confessing and praising the Lord for the righteousness that is not his own, but is given to him by Christ.
Not for nothing, for today.
Today is the day we put on the glasses of the vision of the Lord, renewing our senses most importantly when we look into the mirror.
We have won no race, we are all still running. We carry the banner of Christ but if we carry it only to be seen, only to be celebrated and not to carry it into the places where it is needed, then we are living too much either in the past or for the future and not enough right here, right now, where God has placed us, where God has called us to bring our gifts, our help, our prayers, our hope and our faith into the world.
The past is gone, the future is in other, better hands, and today the poor are with us always, no matter how you define them, poor in money, poor in spirit, whatever. They remind us that today is the day that the Lord has made, let us work as if this were the only day we could serve Christ and our neighbor.
Because it is.