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With Eyes to See

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 23
Luke 17:11-19

 

17: 11“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: In your love, O God, your people find healing. Grant that the pains of our journey may not obscure the presence of Christ among us, but that we may always give thanks for your healing power as we travel on the way to your kingdom. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

I have given you a drawing. I would like for you to look at it for a while.

 

This picture, My wife and my mother-in-law published in 1915 by the cartoonist W.E. Hill.

This picture, My wife and my mother-in-law published in 1915 by the cartoonist W.E. Hill.

 

What do you see?  Do you see the face of a young woman?  Do you also see the face of an older woman?  It is an optical illusion?  It is an image that is perceived one way that is different from reality.  What the human eye sees is interpreted by the brain in a way that contradicts the real image.  You can look at an optical illusion and see one thing and someone else looks at the very same image and they see something totally different.

Now, another exercise.  Take a look around.  What do you see?  People or Pews? Stain glass windows or a Pipe Organ?  Do you see a church or a congregation?

 

Jesus tells of an experience he had with a group of ten lepers.  These ten are outcasts.  The ten approach Jesus and beg for mercy.   The ten must keep their distance from him because they are unclean.  The ten have been trained by their own bitter experiences not to expect any help from those around them.

 

In response, Jesus instructs the ten to go and show themselves to the local priest.  The ten go to see the priest and they are made well, cleansed of their leprosy.   Then one of the ten returns to Jesus to show his gratitude and to say thanks.

 

This one particular leper was different.  He saw things differently.  He saw what the other nine didn’t or couldn’t see.  He saw salvation, they saw a healing.  He saw a future, eternal life; they saw a return to life as they knew it.  He saw gratitude they saw getting back to family, friends, work.

 

So, unlike the other nine, this one had to return.   The other nine could go and do whatever.  This one leper could not.  Having seen, he had to return and praise God.  He had to throw himself at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving.  This one lepers experience was so overwhelming, so life changing, so joyful, that he had to share it.

 

I must point out that the other nine did nothing wrong. In fact, they did exactly as they were told.  Again, they didn’t do anything wrong and received the blessing that Jesus promised them.

 

All the lepers were healed; one, however, saw, noticed, let what happened sink in…And it made all the difference.  Because he sees what has happened, he recognizes Jesus, his reign and his power.  Because he sees what has happened, he is thankful.

 

This parable serves as an invitation to believers to open our eyes to see. When we open our eyes what do we see?

 

When we look at God what do we see?  Do we see God as a stern judge or loving parent? When we look to ourselves, do we see failure or beloved child? When we look to the future, do we see fear filled uncertainty or a positive open horizon?  There is, of course, no right answer to any of these questions.  How we answer depends upon what we see.  What we see shapes our outlook and our behavior.

What do we see when we look at our blessings?  What do we see when we look at giving to the church?  Giving to the church, Stewardship is not first about giving, but about seeing all that we have been given and rejoicing in a way that cannot help but shape how we act.

 

Before we are called to believe or confess or help or do we are called simply to see…and to help others to see.  We are called to point out blessings.

 

At the beginning of this story, ten men are stuck.  All ten are made well.  But one sees something more.  He has seen Jesus, recognized his blessing and rejoiced in it, and changed his course of action and behavior.  And because he sees what has happened, the leper is not just healed, but is made whole, restored, drawn back into relationship with God and others.  For this leper his healing was more than just having his health restored, he saw that he was saved.   He saw that through Jesus he now had eternal life.  He saw that he was saved from inward focus, he was saved form negativity, and he was saved from sin. He was saved to live a life of gratitude, to live a life enjoying the blessings that God had given him.

 

That is stewardship, that is worship, and that is Christian living.  It is the tenth leper turning back.  For now as then, seeing makes all the difference. And that’s what the nine missed, they didn’t see the same thing the one particular leper saw. It’s not that they did anything wrong; it’s that they didn’t see their good fortune and didn’t voice their blessing, and so missed out on also being made whole.

 

Now on final exercise, as you leave today you will walk out into our community, what will you see?  Will you see troubles? Yes.

 

Will you see blessings, I sure hope so!  You will see, families that care for each other, colleagues who work hard and well, schools where teachers care about their pupils and students are eager to learn, relief agencies that tend the afflicted, service people who regularly put their lives on the line at home and abroad, good neighbors who support one another, and our church where the Word of God is preached, hymns of praise are sung, the importance of faith is taught and the life of faith nourished, and so much more.

 

This world is full of blessing and challenges. Your life is full of blessings and challenges.  Which will you focus on?  Will you see as the tenth leper? Will you find blessings in life or not? Will you turn back to offer God your words of gratitude and praise, or not?  You must open your eyes to see.

 

Let us pray:

 

Congregational Hospitality: Welcoming our own.

 

Exodus 1:8—2:10
Psalm 124
Mark 10:13–16

 

10:13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of grace, you have given us minds to know you, hearts to love you, and voices to sing your praise. Fill us with your Spirit that we may celebrate your glory and worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

This is the final sermon in our series on Hospitality.  For the last three weeks you have heard biblical texts and sermons that have focused on the broad sweep of Hospitality and the theme of welcome.  We have talked about how our church can be more hospitable and how we can be more intentional in our welcoming of others. I have shared my definition of biblical Hospitality which is a life of openness to the presence of God and to every human being.  This understanding of hospitality is a thread that weaves its way throughout the Bible.  It is the recognition that the presence of God pervades the world, and that God may come to you and me at any moment.  So, to be truly hospitable, we must live in an open readiness to experience the presence of God at any moment, and in any human being.  I have shared numerous stories and theories in those previous sermons.

 

Today, in our text from Mark 10, we read that a crowd has gathered around Jesus and some in the crowd brought their children to Jesus in order that he might bless them or heal them.  But his disciples, being good mangers and bodyguards, scolded the children and their parents, “Get out of here! Can’t you see he is too busy, too important, to be wasting his time with little ones. Come on, move back.”  We must understand that these disciples were just upholding custom and tradition because Children were nobodies, so why should Jesus pay attention to them? Jesus had much more important things to do with his precious time.

 

In response Jesus becomes indignant and rebukes his disciples – “Let the little children come to me – do not stop them – don’t you understand, of such is the kingdom of God.”

 

When we read the Bible we learn that Jesus welcomes all types of people of every station and situation in life.  Young, old, healthy, sick, clean, unclean, insiders and outsiders, rich and poor, saints and sinners.  No matter the place: a formal wedding reception, a dinner in the home of friends or with sinners, or out on the dusty roads of Palestine, Jesus welcomed people.  To be that welcoming, that hospitable means that one must be open, vulnerable, and approachable.  As Jesus welcomed those children, they couldn’t possibly understand his teaching or his message he was doing it because of them and somehow they felt welcomed.  Jesus welcomed and cared for these children who were considered the least and most vulnerable human beings.  He took them into his arms, he blessed them.

 

We are upset with the insensitive action of the disciples.  We all agree that children matter, because they are precious.  We love them, we support them and we affirm them.  That may be what we think and say but what is the reality?  Do we as a church really welcome children? Or are we more like the disciples?  I am not implying that we are gatekeepers fencing off the church and Jesus, not at all but our reality is much more subtle than that.

 

Here are some examples of what I am talking about.  Are we welcoming to our own?  Especially children?  I have listened and observed in my first six months with you with an eye on children and youth for many reasons, first because they are the church too, not the future of the church but the church here and now.  Selfishly, my children are in the church and involved in these programs so naturally as a parent I am attuned to it.  Here are some observations I have gleaned.

 

We have a solid core of seventh and eighth graders that we would like to do more with to prepare them for confirmation and youth group. So, Jennifer and Michelle are planning to do more for our growing middle school age group but their first question to me is how do we pay for it.  We are running on a bare bones budget and we are behind in our giving for the year.  So what do we do?  We would love to do more and offer more but the financial constraints prevent us.  I know we have the financial resources to make it happen so let’s do it.

 

We have young families in the church and we want to offer them opportunities to educate their children in the Christian faith and tell them of God’s love but we are in constant need of Sunday school teachers.  Most of the teachers we have come from parents with children in this age group.  This means that they miss the worship service.  I know we have capable and talented adults who can step up and teach so that some of these young parents come enjoy worship as well.

 

We have children with mobility and other issues and they faithfully worship with us on a weekly basis.  We have caring staff and teachers to help them but we also have limitations to our facility.  We are in need of an elevator so that all can reach the education classrooms downstairs.   It is also an issue for our choir that many of them have trouble with the stairs and an elevator would be a huge help for them as well.  Our classrooms downstairs and in the pre-school wing are not air-conditioned so in these hot and muggy months it is uncomfortable for teachers and children to gather for Sunday school.   I tell you these things because they reflect how welcoming we really are.  Again it is very subtle but people notice.  I know that these are large expenses and will take time and effort and work to take care of but if you don’t know they are needs then they are out of sight out of mind.  I am also convinced that we have the resources to make them happen.  We just have to do it.

 

We have so many resources and so much potential it is our challenge now to step up and respond to truly welcome our own, to make the children feel at home here so that they can learn the important stories of the Christian faith, so that they can grow together and find love and encouragement as they grow in the faith. So that they can be the church as we all are.

 

The question is not just young children.  I know you have noticed how many young kids we have come down for children’s church?  It is wonderful!  I love it!  But have you also noticed there aren’t too many high school age young people in worship? What happens?  Do they get too busy and use Sunday mornings to sleep in? Or is there something we can do to be more welcoming, more supportive and embracing, more hospitable so that as these young ones grow up they will want to be here – to be here in worship where they know that they are loved and accepted and appreciated.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers, but I think about it a lot.

 

I don’t see these issues as obstacles but as opportunities for us to respond. These are tangible and real opportunities to show how we welcome and how we take seriously God’s call to share hospitality with the stranger, the visitor, and especially to our own whether they be young or old, new to the church or longtime members. May our eyes be open and our hearts accepting to all we meet.

 

Let us pray:

 

Journey to the Cross, step 3: The Test

March 23, 2014
Third Sunday of Lent
Service for the Lord’s Day
Indian Hill Church
Exodus 17:1-7
Reverend Stephen Caine

 

17: 1 “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, You give the water of eternal life through Jesus Christ your Son. May we always thirst for you, the spring of life and source of all goodness; we pray in the name Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

The human narrative continues forward from – the fall of Adam and Eve, to the call of Abram and Sarai, and now to the Israelites and their journey in the wilderness.  While they are traveling – they put God to the test.  The Israelites are the people of God.  They were born out of an agreement that God made with Jacob, a grandson of Abraham.  Remember it was Jacob who wrestled with an angel of God.  And Jacob, who held his own and did not let go of the angel until the Lord blesses him.  Jacob is blessed and his name is changed to Israel and in that moment the nation of Israel is born.

 

Now, we jump forward – the Israelites are on a journey into the Sinai desert.  They are led by Moses, a man they hardly knew and each step took them further away from what they knew and deeper into the unknown.  (Note that in the bible the wilderness is a place of depravity where basic human needs are lacking.)   So, as the Israelites are following Moses through the wilderness they face hardships and trials.  The first hardship they faced was the water was too bitter for them to drink; then they ran out of food; and then they run out of water to drink.  Doubt sets in; their sense of trust erodes, their fears overwhelm them, and they begin to complain.  And they quarrel amongst themselves, then they quarrel with Moses and ultimately with God.

 

However, each trial the Israelites face, God provides: God delivers them from slavery and the Egyptian army, God provides sweet water for them to drink, food to eat, and then water from the rock.   The LORD heard the Israelites cry in the midst of slavery, danger, hunger, and now thirst and God provides for them each time.

 

Now while they are wandering in the wilderness they have used up their resources.  They have lost their way.  They have forgotten God.

 

In their forgetfulness the Israelites have settled at a place called Rephadim and they have run out of water and they can’t find any water anywhere.  They “quarrel with Moses, and say, ‘Give us water to drink!  Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?‘”  In response, God tells Moses to take his staff, the same staff he had used to part the Red Sea.  Then at a designated place, Moses was to strike the rock, and water would come out, and the people could drink.

 

Yes, this is a story about Israel and its’ history, but it is also a story for us.  Even though we live in a time and a place where water is available at the turn of a faucet and food is abundant.  During this time of Lent, many people create a sense of want by giving something up, coffee, chocolate, bread, cursing, or some other pleasure.

 

So, on this Third Sunday of Lent, it is fitting to contemplate the Israelites experience of thirst and want.

 

As we reflect on this story our primary purpose is not to learn about the past. You see, it is not the people of Israel who were stiff necked, hard hearted, and lacking in faith.  It is all of us. It is not just the people of Israel whose community was threatened by their sinfulness.  It is true for us, our nation, our communities, too.  It is not merely the ancient Israelites who complained against God.  We do too.  Notice that God did not condemn their grumbling.  Because, God can handle it.

 

This story tells what it means to be human – sinful, broken and fallen creatures that we all are but more importantly it bears witness to the faithfulness and graciousness of God.  In fact, the entire Book of Exodus is about the faithfulness of God.  God hears the people groaning in Egypt and remembered the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

 

This story also has something to say to us as individuals.  The Israelites look at their situation and they ask the hard question.   It is the same question that has haunted men and women of faith since Adam and Eve – ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’  We ask it on a personal level as individually we wrestle with the challenges of life in our everyday trials and temptations.  Why me lord?  Why cancer?  Why the economic downturn? Unemployment? Why an earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear meltdown?  Oh Lord, are you with me or not?

 

We ask it corporately as a Church, as our community is changing around us how do we respond?  Are you with us Lord?  Time and again the Israelites had evidence of God’s presence among them, God’s gracious provisions for them and God’s covenant with them.  The Church today is in the midst of great change – the challenge for us is to have faith and hope in a God who is always travelling with us, providing for us and loving us as we go!  God has been with you and me, our ancestors, the ancestors of this great church, since the beginning.  God has never forsaken us.  God will not desert us now and God will be with us in the future.

 

As the Israelites thirsted in the desert, their plight became a crisis because they forgot the story of what God had done for them.  Let’s vow never to forget what God has done for us.  Let’s remember God’s story of faithfulness to the people of Old Testament, again, again, again and again until we can’t help but remember!  Let’s tell each other the stories of how God has worked in our lives so that we can celebrate God’s faithfulness to us!  Let’s proclaim what God is doing in our lives right now so that we will know that God is with us and will be with us to the end!  As we remember, we develop faith that the God who was with us in the past will be with us through all of our tomorrows.

 

God is at work in you!

In me!

In each of us!

If we trust in that, and in the spirit it brings to life in each of us, then there is truly nothing God cannot accomplish in and through us.

 

So whatever wilderness you find yourself, know this: God is with you…

Just as God was with the grumbling Israelites.  It’s amazing to me that with such a lack of trust and faith, God still gave them what they asked for. God is with us.

 

Let us pray: