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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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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