Sermon on the Mount

Seeing More Than Just This

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grape hyacinth

by Linda Rex

One thing I’ve noticed since moving to the metropolis of Nashville is how common it is to find television sets in restaurants. Thoughtful restaurant managers keep the volume down but turn on the captions so customers can follow what is happening. Others don’t seem to care what’s on the television or whether or not customers can understand what is going on.

I remember sitting in a restaurant last year and counting at least ten TV’s, most of which were located in or near the bar. While customers were eating, they could watch sports events, game shows or the local news. The captions helped us to see what the story was about.

The other night I sat in a tiny restaurant with two televisions, one of which was showing the local news with the volume turned down and the captions turned off. I watched this TV for a while, trying to see what was going on with the severe weather threat I was sitting out, but I couldn’t figure it out—I don’t read lips. The other TV was showing a Marvel cartoon series and had the volume turned all the way up. But I had my back to the television, and I couldn’t see the show. Personally I would have preferred having both TV’s off so I could hear the great jazz music being played on the other side of the restaurant. But that’s just me.

Having access to televisions as well as smart phones and tablets means we are constantly being exposed to visual stimuli. No matter where we turn, we are seeing something which is impacting us in some way. This impact can be positive or negative, depending on the content of what we are seeing. And our brains and psyches are processing this massive amount of material moment by moment. It is no wonder we feel stressed out and overwhelmed at times.

I’m not against TV’s, smart phones or tablets. I think they are great tools for living when they are used with wisdom. But also I think they can distract us from taking the time and making the effort to look at so many other things which matter and which are of lasting value. We can be so busy looking at this visual content we don’t take time to look within ourselves or into the Word of God, or try to see the spiritual realities we are included in through Jesus Christ and by the Spirit.

The apostle Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). But walking by sight is a whole lot easier—it comes naturally to us. Seeing with the eyes of faith means we must stop believing everything we see. What we see, feel, touch—what our senses tell us—does not always speak the truth when it comes to things of the Spirit or the things which have to do with the person God made us to be in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah had a vision of God seated on his throne. The beauty, majesty and glory of it all overwhelmed Isaiah—in seeing God for Who God was, he saw himself for who he was. His response to this vision of God was “Woe is me, for I am ruined! … I am a man of unclean lips, …” He saw the spiritual realities for just a moment, and his unworthiness and brokenness crushed him. God sent his angel to offer him mercy and cleansing, otherwise he could not have borne the spiritual insight being given him.

I’ve often thought about Jesus’ words spoken in his Sermon on the Mount—he said the pure in heart would be blessed, for they would see God. At first glance it seems he is talking about when we all die, and is saying if we’ve been good people, then we will get to have the blessing of seeing God. But really—who among us can really say to the core of their being, they are pure in heart? I know I would like to be, but I also know I am not.

Only Jesus, when he died and when he lived on earth while sharing our humanity, was truly pure in heart, and only he has seen the Father and lived. For us as human beings, to see God and live required God to enter our humanity and become one of us. When we see God in Jesus his Son, we see ourselves as forgiven and beloved children, not as broken rejects or unworthy throw-offs. Our purity of heart comes from Jesus.

The eyes of faith enable us to see God, for Jesus was and is the perfect ikon or exact representation of God’s being (Heb. 1:3). And in seeing God in Jesus by the Spirit, we are abundantly blessed. Our relationships with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, which we share with one another in the Spirit, are spiritual realities, which if kept in the forefront of our mind and heart, provide us with joy, peace and hope in the midst of whatever life may throw at us.

This is why it is important for us to slow down and look at these spiritual realities, which involve the eyes of faith rather than the touchy, feely visual stimuli of our technology-driven world. Taking time to look at Jesus Christ enables us to see beyond our flawed humanity into the humanity God created for us in his Son and by his Spirit in which we can see God and live. We can, in taking these moments for reflection and contemplation of the spiritual realities, begin to see ourselves and God for who we really are, and be blessed by the grace and love inherent in our relationship with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

When we take the time to contemplate and reflect on God and our life with him through Christ and in the Spirit, we begin to find a capacity to see the world around us and the people in it with new eyes. Our brokenness and struggles become the common brokenness and struggles of every other human being. The grace we receive through Jesus is the same grace offered to every other man, woman and child who lives in this cosmos. And the broken creation becomes a place where God is at work even now to heal, restore and renew, and in which we can participate in his work of bringing about a new way of living and being that has eternal value. May we learn to see with Jesus’ eyes of faith.

Holy Father, thank you for giving us new eyes through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Thank you for enabling us to see the true spiritual realities—may they grow more clear to us day by day, and may they fill us with joy, hope and peace. May your grace and love keep our hearts pure so we may see you in us, with us and for us, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Isaiah 6:5–7 NASB

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8 NASB

Power To Love the Unlovely

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christmas angel

by Linda Rex

This Sunday is the last day of Advent, and the topic for the day is Love. What crossed my mind this morning was that one of the most difficult things God asks us as humans to do is to love the unlovely.

At one point in our team meeting Wednesday, we were looking at the sermon Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives. It seems that Jesus gave a lot of “impossible” imperatives, including praying for and doing good to those who use and abuse us. We all know how impossible this is for us as humans—we have enough of a challenge just loving those who love us back.

And we agreed that that was Jesus’ point. We can’t just naturally love the unlovely. It’s not in our nature to do it. Apart from the grace and power of God, we will not and cannot do this impossible task he is asking of us.

Anyone who lives in a painful and difficult marriage can attest to the fact that it is very difficult, if not humanly impossible, to love someone who is critical, selfish and even downright abusive all the time. It is very hard to love someone who dumps a truckload of emotional baggage all over you whenever they get the chance. Loving the unlovely is not a job for sissies, that’s for sure.

But that doesn’t make it any less a requirement for us as human beings to love one another. God’s two great commandments include loving God with all we are, and loving our neighbor as our self. Loving our neighbor and loving God, Jesus said, is the fulfillment of the law.

So why would God ask us to do something we cannot of ourselves do? Could it be that God never meant for us to try? For in the scriptures we see that God, from before time, always meant to send his Son, to stand in for us, to take our place. God always meant for us to love him and love others, within the context of a relationship—the eternal relationship he had and has even now with his Son.

Here at Christmastime, we celebrate the coming of the Word of God into human flesh—the Father’s Son given as a gift for all humanity. This gift is so precious, because in Jesus, God gives himself. God gives us his love—through a Son who lived died and rose again—and through the Spirit Jesus sent from the Father to transform human hearts by faith.

It is by the love of God within through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit that we are able to love God and love one another the way we ought to. It is as we live in loving relationship with God and each other that we are able to be the people God asks us to be. It is not something we have to try and figure and work out on our own by following a lot of lists of do’s and don’t’s. They come in handy as guideposts, but they do not transform human hearts. Only the Holy Spirit does that. He is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.

Finding the will and power to love the unlovely comes only from God. It is God’s gift to be able to love both with grace and with truth. There are times love has to be tough and times when it needs to be gentle. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us in discerning what is needed and empowers us to do it in a timely way. And it is God through Christ and in the Spirit who gives us grace when we fail to love as we ought to love—something that will happen, since we are still very human and very faulty.

We need to see our loving of God and of others as a participation in Christ’s loving his Father and loving of others in the Spirit. It’s not something we do on our own. We were never meant to.

So this Christmas season, as we find ourselves in situations in which we are with people who are difficult to be with, or around people who are very unpleasant to be around, let’s remember that we are called to love the unlovely in the midst of a relationship with God who through Jesus and in the Spirit loves the unlovely in our place. We just get to join in with what he’s already doing. We can be alert to the possibilities of doing the impossible, because we are in Christ and he is in us through the Spirit.

Merry Christmas!

Dear God, thank you for never asking us to do anything you are not already doing yourself, and for never asking us to do it on our own. Thank you for the most precious gift you have ever given—the gift of yourself—in your Son Jesus, and in the gift you sent through him, the Holy Spirit. Thank you for not only giving us forgiveness, but for giving us all new life and the ability, through Jesus and in the Spirit, to love the unlovely people you place in our lives. Amen.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5