The Rev. Frank Logue
Looking with the eyes of
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them.
With these words, Jesus assures John the Baptist that heJesusis the one who was to comethe Messiah. However, what Jesus really told John, and us, is look again. If you have not seen God at work in the world, try looking with the eyes of your heart.
Jesus did not tell John anything new. John already had the facts. Our gospel reading for the week begins with, When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said, Are you the one who was to come, or are we to wait for another? John had heard of what Jesus was doing. He must have heard about the miraculous healings. Surely, John the Baptist heard that Jesus raised the dead and gave sight to the blind. The problem was not that John had not heard what Jesus was doing or that John had heard wrongly. The problem was that John the Baptist could not see what all that Jesus was doing meant.
Sunday, the gospel reading told us what kind of Messiah John had in mind. John described
the Messiah saying, His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his
threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn
with unquenchable fire. Then John gets wind that Jesus, who he declared to be the
Messiah, is going around healing, preaching, teaching, and generally not bringing the big
doom and gloom wrath of God judgment John expected. When John heard what Jesus
ministry was like, he wondered whether he heard God rightly saying, this is my Son,
the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Maybe Jesus was not the Messiah after all.
When Johns disciples come to question Jesus, Jesus does not insist that he is the Messiah. Instead, Jesus sends word back to John the Baptist telling what he does. Jesus Messiahship is seen in what he does. Through his actions Jesus shows who he is. Its like saying, John, you think Im not the Messiah? Look again at all that I am doing? I know youve seen the evidence, let your expectations of who God is and how God acts go long enough to look with your heart.
Jesus trying to get John to look again at the evidence reminded me of a favorite book of mine, Antoine de Saint-Exupérys classic, The Little Prince. I already knew by heart my favorite line from this gem of a book, It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. As I was preparing for this sermon, I decided to look the quote up and see the larger context for those words. I was amazed by what I found. I want to consider the story of The Little Prince alongside our Gospel story for the week.
In the book, The Little Prince lives alone on a tiny planet, which is no bigger than a house. He owned three volcanoes, two active and one extinct. The Little Prince also owned a flower unlike any flower in all the galaxy.
The only problem with the plant was that it was very vain. The rose bragged that she was born the same moment as the sun and went on about how magnificent she was and how she was the only one of her kid in the entire galaxy. The Little Prince carefully cared for the little flowers every needs, but he also became perturbed with the proud plant. Later he wished that he had judged the rose by her deeds, how she cast her lovely fragrance and radiance on his whole planet. But the Prince ran off from his planet and began to travel the galaxy. His travels eventually brought him to earth, where he found a garden filled with roses. His flower was not unique. The Little Prince felt sad. He knew his rose would be annoyed to learn that she was common.
It was just then that the Little Prince met a fox. The foxes fondest wish was that the prince would tame him. He told the prince that to tame something was to establish ties with it. To be tamed was to become connected. The fox told the prince,
To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world
I am beginning to understand, said the little prince. There is a flower I think that she has tamed me
Prince patiently tamed the fox, coming at the same time each day. Each day they got closer
and closer together until at last the fox was tamed and the Little Prince and the fox
could play together. But the time was drawing near for the Little Prince to move on. The
fox warned that he would cry when the Little Prince left. The prince said that being tamed
had done the fox no good at all. The fox insisted that being tamed had indeed done him
good. The fox then told to the prince to go visit the roses a second time and then return
to see him one last time.
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
And he went back to meet the fox.
Goodbye, he said.
Goodbye, said the fox. And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
What is essential is invisible to the eye, the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
It is the time I have wasted for my rose said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
Lets see if I can make some sense out of these two stories. How does The Little Prince help us to see John the Baptist question for Jesus differently? Jesus sent word to John the Baptist that he should see Jesus Messiahship in the things he was doing. John had expected the Messiah to break into human history with stern judgment. The good wheat would be separated from the useless chaff and then the chaff would be burned. John was ready for the end of times to some in a rush. But that was not Gods plan. Gods plan for us humans and all creation was much more loving. God became human and lived among us. Then as a human, God extended that same care through Jesus that God had always had for the creation. Jesus looked with compassion on the people around him. He brought harsh words of condemnation for those who saw themselves as righteous in their own eyes. But for the hurting people he saw, Jesus brought hope and healing.
Jesus would not have bothered to live, suffer and die as one of us, for us, unless he loved us. The care and attention God has wasted for us is what makes each of us special. You are not just like everyone else. To the God who formed you, the God who loves you, the God who listens when you grumble or boast or say nothing at all, you are unique and special. It may sound meaningless to say You are unique and special, just like everybody else, but its true.
But all of that I have said so far could be just smoke and mirrors. How can we know that God loves us and sees each of us as special? Like John we may look at the world around us and miss the hand of God at work. I say that the Kingdom of God breaks into our lives now. Miracles occur all around us. We see the evidence. All we have to do is look again, switching our focus by about 12 inches or so, from here to here [gesturing to my head and then my heart]. Like the Little Prince, we have to look again, this time using the eyes of our hearts. For what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Opportunities to look again come up all the time. Here is an example from King of Peace. Last year this time, we were waiting for Janice Morris to give birth. I got the happy phone call on December 19. Mike Morris was calling from the hospital, but Mikes voice sounded worried and when he asked me to come over, I dashed out of the house. Once at the hospital, I learned that Andrew was not able to breath on his own. I called the church and passed the news on to the womens Bible study asking for prayers. We were joining our prayers with Mike and Janice who had already turned the situation over to God, asking him to handle it.
A special team was on its way to take Andrew to Jacksonville for treatment. There was the eternally long wait for the team to arrive and prepare Andrew. Finally, he was wheeled into Janices room for an all too brief visit. The little baby smothered in tubes, lost in the equipment that was working to keep his struggling lungs working. We opened the plastic doors and Janice held his tiny hands as we prayed for Andrew and all who would care for him. The trained technicians turned to the task at hand, whisking Andrew away to an uncertain future.
There were some worried days. Then there was the hope that Andrew would be home for Christmas. By the 23rd that hope for the family being home together had faded. It seemed like New Years Day was a better time for which to hope. Andrew was progressing, but slowly. Then Christmas Day itself brought with it the miracle of miracles. Janice and Mike arrived at the hospital in Jacksonville for their Christmas Day visit with Andrew only to find that he was ready to go home. That afternoon we shared communion in their home, Janice, Mike, Gregory, and even Andrew were all at home together for Andrews first Christmas.
Here is where looking again comes into play. You could look at this story and see nothing but the miracle of modern technology. I dont want to dismiss the very vital part that health care professionals played in Andrews healing, but neither would I want to dismiss Gods faithfulness to the many prayers prayed for Andrew, most especially Janices prayer when she trusted God to Handle it. When I look with the eyes of my heart, I see that a miracle occurred.
But thats an easy one. A very sick child was made healthy and whole. Life isnt always so simple. Sometimes we pray and nothing seems to happen at all. The people we love die and we are left with questions and doubts rather than miraculous stories. But, if we look at things again, we may see God at work in dark places as well.
My brother Michael died of AIDS eight years ago. If you saw what happened, It would not have looked like the merciful hand of an almighty God. I know that many of you have had family and friends suffer with cancer or other long-term illnesses, and AIDS is the same. You dont mourn the loss all at once when a loved one dies of a long-term illness. The disease kills them little by little. You mourn each loss along the way. First, Michael had to move in with my parents. Then little by little there were losses of ability to mourn as well. In time the disease confined Michael to bed and he needed everything done for him. Finally he lost his hard fought struggle. He died late one night while my parents sat by his bed. When you look at Michaels story you can see nothing but loss.
Was God looking the other way when my brother died? Is God conveniently elsewhere when humans suffer and die? Or can we look again and see the hand of God reaching even into the dark places? Look again at my brothers death. This time look with your heart.
Yes, my brother did die, but he did not die alone. When he first got sick, my parents lived in a small condominium and could not have had Michael live with them even if they wanted to. Thanks to several miracles not worth telling in detail, they soon found themselves in a house, with a separate apartment in the basement. When my brother moved in, he could still take care of himself fully. He maintained some independence for much longer because of the way the house was set up. In the months that followed, my brother had time and space to reconcile himself with his parents and with God. Even as he lost abilities in his body, his spirit was healed and made whole. In his final months, family and friends surrounded him. When death came, he died in the sure hope of the resurrection. He was at home. His parents were by his side. He was at peace. His death was, as far as the disease would allow, a holy death. God was present working in Michael and through Michael even in his sickness.
If we stop looking at the world with our eyes and look with our hearts, we see that God is already making all things new. As the fox told the Little Prince, It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Switch your focus from here to here [gesturing from head to heart], and you will see God at work in your own life.
word back to John the Baptist saying, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good
news brought to them. And you know, that is still true today. I say if you
cant see God working right now, at this time, and in this place, try looking with
the eyes of your heart.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526