Friday, July 08, 2016

A Vision and Hearing Crisis

The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America responded to yesterday's news of more killings that touch the exposed nerves of our nation by boldly saying: "We are killing ourselves." After an African-American man is killed in Minnesota in the midst of a routine traffic stop and five police officers are killed in the middle of a protest in Texas, Bishop Eaton cries out in lament, pointing toward the truth: "We're killing ourselves."

She then goes on to lift up the words of good news Jesus shares when he speaks at the synagogue in Nazareth, as shared in Luke 4. "'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he as anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor...' Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Humanity lives with a vision and hearing crisis. The reality of sin serves as a cataract, shielding us from recognizing the kingdom of God which is at hand. Sin is preventing us from seeing it's very real presence among us. Jesus says that scripture is fulfilled in our hearing... but are we hearing? Do we hear and embrace the truth which Jesus has proclaimed and has come to establish?

We all know very well the eye-opening story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10, but do we know that this teaching-moment story is shared within the context of the vision and hearing crisis humanity faces? Luke lays out this truth just prior to the parable in Luke 10:17-24. Jesus has just heard how even the demons submitted to the seventy followers he sent out. After they returned to him, Jesus was delighted to recognize within the hearts of those followers a faithfulness that allowed them to live into the kingdom of God reality. They watched, first hand, the lies of wickedness wilt right in front of them.

Jesus rejoices saying: "I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will... Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it (Luke 10:21, 23b-24)."

See... a vision and hearing crisis! Without a living faith we do not see what the Lord sees. Without a living faith, we do not hear what the Lord hears. The Seventy that Jesus sent out believed: and Satan fell. Many have desired to have such vision, but having your eyes and ears opened takes faith, obedience, and an understanding that the way of Jesus Christ changes you completely.

The lawyer who approaches Jesus with the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" doesn't see it. He knows the law. He understands the words... he's memorized the words... but he doesn't know what they actually do for the soul. For these are words that cleanse us completely and move us to love God and love our neighbor completely. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." The lawyer knows the words... he doesn't know the life.  Jesus says "Yes... Do this and you will live."

Well, how do you do this? How do you do this? Answer: Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus has given us a model, hasn't he? This is how you do this. Help people. Right?

Just last week I had the chance to throw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game. For a lifelong baseball fan like myself, it was a very cool moment. Problem is that I really haven't thrown a baseball all that much for years. Guess what happened when I got to the pitchers mound and took a look at the catcher squatting down behind home plate with his mitt open to give me a good target? I did what I had seen so many big league pitchers do. I stared ahead, went into the windup, and threw a fastball... that didn't even make to the plate. Bounce. There's my first-pitch experience.

Now I could have watched video recordings of Nolan Ryan and Jake Arrieta and Chris Sale until their images were burned into my corneas, and never have gotten to the point where I could throw a fastball. To pitch a baseball takes more than watching some guy... and becoming merciful, as Christ instructs us to do, takes more than just copying some Good Samaritan.

How many years of training did it take for Jake Arrieta to pitch that well? How long had the Good Samaritan been engaged in faithful living, in order for him to have his eyes and hears wide open on that day along the road to Jericho?

The Levite and priest in the story suffer from humanity's vision and hearing crisis. They don't see the man.... not really. They don't see or hear who this man really is... nor are their eyes open to what a living faith would naturally move them to do. They are blind and truth has been clouded. They walk on, enslaved by the world's wicked lies.

The Samaritan has been freed from those lies. He knows how the demons wilt in the face of God's Kingdom. He sees. He hears. He lives in the same freedom the Seventy we given. He lives in the same abundant life that all of us are free to live into if we allow ourselves to be fully transformed inside and out.

We can come back to this parable over and over and over again until its burned within our brains and never become like the Samaritan. No, Christ is not calling on us to help people... to then only allow the pressures of commitments and schedules and fear and everything else lead us to that oh so familiar corner of failure. No.

Christ is not calling us to help people, but to be TRANSFORMED into followers who reach out to help people from the depths of our character and being... who reach out to help people because its as natural as breathing. Christ is calling upon us to no longer be overwhelmed by the vision of and hearing crisis humanity faces, but to grow into followers who most definitely see and hear the presence of God and live into the that Kingdom of God which is indeed at hand.

It's not just about helping people, it's about loving the Lord your God will all your heart and it's about loving your neighbor as yourself because you know to the depth of your soul that you belong to God. It is about becoming a merciful person who can really do no other... because it's who you are.

I am grateful for Bishop Eaton's words to the church and to the nation. We have a vision and hearing problem. As we live into our faith in Jesus Christ, suddenly the kingdom of God comes into focus. You recognize God's presence, experience God Moments, and witness to the kingdom of God at hand. As our spiritual vision and hearing graciously improves we live out our faith and no longer see our neighbor through the tinted glasses of wicked lies. We see the truth: our neighbor is a human being. Our neighbors have been created by God, flawed, yes, but forgiven... Just as you and I are.