Faith In 3D

John 1.10-18

[Wearing a pair of 3D glasses] The Heins family, a couple of weeks ago, went to see the movie Avatar. We obviously went to the 3D showing. As soon as the movie was over, Lydia, who was sitting next to me, took off her own glasses and she reached over as quickly as she could and removed mine. I guess she didn’t want to be seen with a goofy looking Dad. I, however, kind of like them. I thought is gave a kind of Elvis Costello vibe (for you rock fans), or maybe a Kurt Rambis look (for you Laker/NBA fans). Well…maybe their benefit lies not in their fashion.

They have other benefits though. The film was visually amazing. It ushers you into another, stunningly beautiful world quite convincingly. The 3D version takes you even a step further (if you can look through these glasses without getting a headache).

You see, in 3d films, a special camera is used to record the images from two slightly different perspectives. Combined with the glasses, the two different perspectives provide the illusion of depth. You can see more, and more deeply. It gives you a more real experience of what is happening on the screen.

I bring these glasses to you today, because I believe that they are akin to the very intention of the bible text we just heard. In these opening verses of John, the gospel writer is saying to us, “Look! Put on these set of glasses. I have something special for you to see!” Among the jour gospels that we have in the New Testament, John stands apart in style and substance as the philosopher. When John looks back to the beginning of the story of Jesus, he doesn’t go back to the beginning of Jesus ministry (like Mark), or the beginning of Israel (like Matthew), or the beginning of humanity (like Luke). In framing the gospel story for us, John looks back to before the beginning of time. There John finds the Word, and the was with God, and the Word was God. This Word, this living Word that is the source of all things, and the light for all things, says John, is Jesus. These are the glasses through which we are to see the rest of John’s gospel.

These 3D glasses also provide an apt metaphor for the very purpose of our gathering here this morning. We got up this morning, and instead of spending the day in bed, or heading up to the ski slope as early as possible, instead of reading a good novel, or watching TV, you and I have decided to carve an hour or so out of our day to gather in this place, and around this table. Why?

One short way of putting it is because we, on some level, have encountered (or want to encounter, or are curious about the encounter with) the Word (capital W). We have met, or want to meet this Jesus, who came at a particular moment in history-who came to us and walked among us in a form we could see, and listen to, and touch-and who could touch us. He took human form, and struggled like one of us, and struggled alongside of us. He fed us, and healed us, and challenged us to be just, and showed us something uniquely profound about love. And something else too. It’s not in the translation you just heard, but in the most reliable Greek manuscripts, the original language says that Jesus carried a big bag around with him. It was always with him. It was filled, always filled, with these [3d] glasses.

You see, he handed out these glasses (this is all in the original Greek now ;) and invited everyone around him to look at the world in a different way, a way both breathtakingly new and as old as when the universe was born. These are the glasses of faith.

You see, the glasses help us to see things like Jesus saw them, from two slightly different perspectives, one human (because he was human and dwelt among as one of us) and the other divine (because Jesus was the word, and the Word was God.). With these two perspectives, brought together with these glasses that Jesus hands us from his bag, we can see more, and more deeply.

From one perspective, we can see good things, yes. We see the wondrous creation, the beauty of relationships, and the blessings of human community. Such vision is both good and important. It provides a perspective that we hold in common with all of humankind. It gives us common ground to celebrate our common human experience.

The thing about this perspective alone, however is that with it we also see our struggles, our human frailty, and our brokenness (both the self inflicted kind and that which is visited upon us). From the human perspective we see the limitations of our reason, and the questions that need answering, and the hurts that need healing. It’s a tough to see this way. We want to see more. We want to see beyond the horizon, but cannot. We can only see so far.

This perspective alone can lead to despair, or apathy, or self-centeredness, or reliance upon the human ways of power and violence. But the glasses of faith match this way of seeing with another.

Jesus, through John, says, “Wait! Put on these glasses! I have another perspective to show you.” In Jesus, our human vision is supplemented with just a little bit of the divine. This slightly different perspective comes from God, who sees us as beautiful, unique, treasured children, children created to live a life with meaning and purpose, and hope and strength that has its source in the creator of the universe. This is the perspective illumined by a love that will do anything to bring us back to the life we were created to live: in love, and in community, treasuring our diversity, affirming our quality and equality. With this different perspective, we see through the veil. We see different ways of acting–not with the exercise of power, not with the building of walls for protection, not limited by human mortality–but with the ways of eternal self-giving, and self-revealing love. This is what Jesus saw. This is what he wants to show us. This is what this table reveals.

When you put on these glasses of faith, it adds depth. Things pop on the screen. You can see more, and more deeply. For those of us who chose to accept the invitation to place these glasses on our nose, this hope, and justice, and love, this vision of human unity and community, is no illusion. This is what I believe.

John’s prologue gives us many nuggets. Among them is the acknowledgment that no one has seen God. But John adds that if you want to get some insight into God, if you want to see into the reality beyond-into the mystery which transcends-the best look you can get is by focusing your gaze on Jesus, who is just about as close to God that you can get. John says that Jesus is close to the father’s bosom (literally it does say bosom, which, to me, offers an interesting, gender bending maternal image for the Father. God truly can’t be contained). Jesus has laid his head on the Father’s bosom. He is so close that he can hear God’s heartbeat…and it beats with love for us.

When we put on the glasses that Jesus offers us, we see that God has chosen to come to us, in the midst of the beauty and strife of our live, to show us grace and truth. The grace and truth invites us to lay our head on the Father’s bosom, to hear the heartbeat for ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I could use a little of that grace and truth. I think that the world can use some grace and truth.

When it comes to the darkness in our lives, it is easy to lose sight…and hope…and a sense of where to turn and where to go. But Jesus comes to us with his healing grace, and his life changing truth, and when he sees the struggles of our lives, which come in so many forms, he says let me help you see with a little different perspective.

If perhaps you don’t need grace and truth in your personal life, you might acknowledge that we need something as a human community. The United Nations Millennium Campaign released a report last year which detailed the fact that over the past year, 18 trillion dollars has been spent to bail out wall street and the creators of the mess that we have been in economically. Compared with that, over the past 49 years, we have spent only 2 trillion dollars on aiding those most in need around the globe–the ones who bear the biggest burden, and who pay the highest price for the mistakes and skewed priorities of the human community in which we all have a share. If you don’t personally need grace and truth, or don’t’ think you do, I would say that as a human family we certainly do.

We need to see things in a way both breathtakingly new and as old as when the universe was born. The good news is that God offers us these glasses, with the prescription of grace and truth.

Now, what does this say about other faiths? I think it’s important to reflect here for a moment on this, and I would respond that all of this has very little to say about other faith traditions. Our glasses don’t have blinders on. They are not tunnel vision glasses. We only give witness to what we believe and experience, and we leave the rest to God, who sees a whole lot more. We don’t need to pronounce a word of judgment upon other faiths in order to give witness to our own. Nor do we need to close the door to learning from the spiritual journey of others.

But for us, we see Jesus.

And Jesus helps us see ourselves, and others, and God’s world with the glasses of grace and truth, and with eyes of compassion.

I think we need more of that.

At this table we are invited to put on the glasses of faith once more.

Happy new year, brothers and sisters! May we in 2010 wear these glasses and may we see clearly. May we see more, and more deeply. May we discover the hope and strength that they reveal. I believe it’s no illusion.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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