Seeing God in Others
June 22, 2014
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Pentecost + 2
Scripture: Exodus 4:10-17 (MSG)
10 Moses raised another of his objections to God: “Master, please, I don’t talk well. I’ve never been good with words, neither before nor after you spoke to me. I stutter and stammer.”
11-12 God said, “And who do you think made the human mouth? And who makes some mute, some deaf, some sighted, some blind? Isn’t it I, God? So, get going. I’ll be right there with you—with your mouth! I’ll be right there to teach you what to say.”
13 Then Moses said, “Oh, Master, please! Send somebody else!”
14-17 God got angry with Moses: “Don’t you have a brother, Aaron the Levite? He’s good with words, I know he is. He speaks very well. In fact, at this very moment he’s on his way to meet you. When he sees you he’s going to be glad. You’ll speak to him and tell him what to say. I’ll be right there with you as you speak and with him as he speaks, teaching you step by step. He will speak to the people for you. He’ll act as your mouth, but you’ll decide what comes out of it. Now take this staff in your hand; you’ll use it to do the signs.”
Mark 3:1-6 (MSG)
3 1-3 Then Jesus went back in the meeting place where he found a man with a crippled hand. The Pharisees had their eyes on Jesus to see if he would heal him, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. Jesus said to the man with the crippled hand, “Stand here where we can see you.”
4 Then he spoke to the people: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” No one said a word.
5-6 Jesus looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” The man held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin Jesus.
Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the scriptures are read and the Word is proclaimed. Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away. May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace. Amen.
The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies will always be known as the team that suffered one of the great collapses in sports history. They let a huge division lead slip away by losing ten games in a row at the end of the season. Despite the collapse, the Phillies season had its share of memorable moments, including a perfect game and a ninth-inning home run by a Phillie to win the All-Star Game.
But the most remarkable moment of the entire season occurred after a game, not during it. Clay Dalrymple, a Phillie pitcher, was asked to assist a blind girl who had requested a chance to walk out on the field. Dalrymple took the girl to home plate where she reached down and felt the plate. Then they walked to first base, second base, and third base before ending up at home plate once again.
While Dalrymple was showing the girl around the bases, he never noticed that the fans remaining in the stadium had stopped to watch him and his companion. He just assumed that the silence in the stands meant the fans had gone home. But when the two of them finally reached home plate, the ballpark erupted. Dalrymple was shocked by the applause. When he looked up, he saw thousands of fans giving him a standing ovation.
Later, Dalrymple told a Sports Illustrated reporter, “It was the biggest ovation I ever got.” 1
Can we imagine what it must be like to be so absorbed in doing a good thing that we could tune out thousands of people surrounding us? This is often how God behaves towards us; all we have to do is pay attention; to stay tuned. Now, there are times when staying tuned is hard, even devastating.
Our Experience Expanded
Another illustration. Guy Henry tells this story: This past summer I went to Wal-Mart for some supplies. I quickly did my shopping, but the people I was with were there more for browsing purposes so I had some time to kill. I wandered off to the men’s department, and started to compare prices on various sock deals. There was a lady nearby looking through a rack of clothes (all right, there were LOTS of ladies looking through the racks!) I hadn’t paid her any notice until I heard a commotion in her direction. Onto the scene burst a little girl about eight years old.
“Oh Mother,” she said out of breath,” Look at this dress!” She was holding a long black dress, still on its hanger.
This was far more interesting than comparing the varieties of socks, so I was watching this typical interchange.
“Do you LIKE that dress?” her mother asked calmly.
“Oh, I LOVE it, I absolutely love it,” the little girl cried out.
“Do you WANT that dress?” her mother asked.
“More than anything!” she said excitedly.
The next words that came from the mother’s mouth almost caused me to collapse to the floor. She said, “That dress is for a pretty little girl.” She paused. Then she said, “And you are NOT a pretty little girl. Now put it back.” And she returned to browsing the clothes rack.
I stood there amongst the socks in shock. I am not very emotional, but there were tears in both of my eyes after witnessing this scene. It wasn’t the cruel words uttered by the mother that bothered me most; it was the reaction of the child. If she had stomped her feet and said, “I can’t believe that you said that!” I would have felt a little better. Perhaps her mother was having a real bad day, a spell of bad judgment. Instead the little girl’s smile vanished, her shoulders dropped, and she turned and left, probably to hang the dress back up. That told me that she had heard this sort of thing before, probably often. 2 And we have to ask why a parent would ever act like that. How could a child’s mother fail to see beauty in her own child? How could she fail to appreciate the goodness and worth of her own daughter? Such cruelty is indeed difficult to absorb, explain and certainly we cannot possibly be expected to appreciate it. Even at our worst we are assured that God sees something good about us, something worth saving in us. Many stories in scripture illustrate this for us.
Moses from our text this morning is one. There is always Moses and what a character he was. God had certain expectations of Moses and Moses for a host of reasons couldn’t seem to live up to them. And we can go back even further in scripture for other examples.
It all started with Adam and Eve. They sinned against God and they tried to hide from God. Out of fellowship, broken, marred by sin they try to cover up. Moses tries to protect his insecurity by refusing to speak. Saul tries to hide his low self-esteem by hiding in the baggage. He tries to conceal the void he felt spiritually. He hides his face, wears a costume so that he can visit the witch and try to find spiritual answers. His successor, King David, also fails miserably. He attempts to hide his killer lust by killing Bathsheba’s husband. His son continues the act. Solomon tries to conceal his lack of intimacy by surrounding himself with a 1000 concubines; relationships designed to hide his lack of relationship. In Isaiah the nation of Israel boldly admits to its desire to cover up when they say, “We have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves.” We all cover up. We all hide. We all conceal. We don’t want anyone to see our doubt, our pain or our lack of self-esteem. This legacy can be traced throughout Scripture. It occurs over and over again from Genesis to the Gospel of Mark. Jesus comes into contact with a man with a withered hand. Now it was obvious to everyone that the man had a disability. His hand was withered. Something strikes me as interesting in this account though. When Jesus speaks to the man and commands him to stretch forth his hand the man stretches out his withered hand. Why didn’t he stretch out his good hand? You may think that is stupid, but that is exactly what we do. We try to cover up the things in our life that stink or the things that are broken or at least the things we perceive to be less than perfect. Remember what Mary and Martha said to Jesus when He wanted to uncover Lazarus? “But Jesus, he has been dead four days. By now he stinks.” Yes, but the only way to get life again is to uncover what stinks. Jesus is always trying to uncover the stinky things in our lives.
It is only human to try and cover up our shortcomings. Do we not respond to the Invitation to Discipleship after every sermon because we want everyone to think that we have it all together? Do we decline to worship with no inhibition or fear because we don’t want anyone to see our withered condition? Like the withered hand, or the outrageous remarks of the mother to her little girl in WalMart, or Clay Dalrymple so engrossed in a little blind girl that he is totally unaware of his surroundings, yet it appears to be obvious to everyone around us doesn’t it? How many of us are totally oblivious to the obvious? We truly think that we have God and everyone else fooled. But just as obvious as the man’s withered hand was to Jesus our issues are apparent to him as well.
I want to declare this morning that we can stretch forth our good hand, our good side, our good act, our good façade all we want and we will never be healed, never be free, never be whole. If the man had stretched the other hand out I don’t believe he would have been healed.
Re-mything Our Traditions
Margaret Slattery, in her book Living Teachers, tells of a community in which a stranger came to settle and to engage in the practice of law. He immersed himself in his legal work; and when he was sometimes seen walking at the eventide, he walked alone, with his head down, and with the look of mental distress upon his face. One day he confessed to an artist who had a studio in the town without going into the details that he had made one sad and terrible mistake in his life. The artist said nothing, but parted from him and went into his studio. Weeks afterward, the artist invited this melancholy and dejected lawyer to come in and view a portrait which he had finished, telling him that it was his masterpiece. The man was surprised and pleased that his judgment should have been sought by the artist, but when he went into the studio to view the portrait, he was surprised to see that it was a portrait of himself, only now he stood erect, with his shoulders thrown back and his head up, ambition, desire, and hope written on his face. Regarding it in silence for a few moments, the man said, “If he sees that in me, then I can see it. If he thinks I can be that, then I can be that man; and, what is more, I will be.” 3 Whose ultimate responsibility is it to see God in others? Ours and ours alone. It is a high calling.
I am going to close this message with an old puritan prayer. May it be our prayer? Let us pray:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, thou hast brought me to the valley of vision where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights. Hemmed in by mountains of my sin, I behold thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess everything, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive.
Lord, in the day times, stars can be seen from deepest wells and the deeper the wells, the brighter the stars. Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley in Christ’s name. Amen.
1 Clay Dalrymple tells a story to Chris Potter Sports on You-Tube