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The Gift of Sight

November 7, 2016

“The Gift of Sight” Ephesians 1:11-23 © 11.6.16 All Saints by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

“The eyes are the windows of the soul.” So goes the old saying. We can tell what’s going on inside someone by looking in his or her eyes. Happiness, love, pity, begging, exhaustion, lust, greed, dishonesty—our eyes communicate all these things and more.

But we can take the saying in another sense. Closed and shuttered windows let in no light; the room is engulfed in darkness. The place communicates and evokes despair, hopelessness, blindness, confusion. By contrast, light streaming in through a clear window lifts our spirits; the whole space is flooded with warmth and brightness. So, when our eyes—those windows to the soul—are closed, our souls suffer the same fate as the shadowed room; they’re filled with despair and defeat. Open eyes bring us hope and joy, the assurance that if today has brought light, maybe tomorrow will as well. Jesus said it: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light….”

Of course, our Lord wasn’t talking about literal, physical eyes. There are others you and I have, those of the heart. With them, we perceive other realities. We see beyond what’s readily apparent. We’re not born with them. Rather, they’re granted us in baptism, the gift of the Spirit. Throughout life, as come to know God better and better, our spiritual eyes open more and more, our vision becomes sharper and sharper. This side of eternity, we never quite get rid of a slight distortion, a sort of blurring of vision. Those who have gone before us and have joined the Church Triumphant now have perfect perception, and that’s God’s promise to us all. But for now we have to make do with the lenses we have.

Yet despite the problems, there’s a great deal we can see with our spiritual eyes. They’re powerful organs that peer from time to time into the very throne room of God. That miracle of sight can happen any time or place, since the Spirit of God is present everywhere. But a window into heaven is opened never so much as in the liturgy on the Lord’s Day.

That’s really an astonishing and somewhat foolish claim. But it’s true. Despite the poverty of our language, the poorness of our praise, and the prolixity of a typical sermon, God is present in our worship. He transcends our feeble efforts. He looks into our hearts. In the praise and worship of our sovereign God, our eyes begin to be opened, the drapes are drawn back, and we get a glimpse of what the saints see in full. When we proclaim the risen Jesus, when we sing hymns that exalt the God who raised him from the dead, we’re saying there was once an event that changed everything, whose effects are still felt in the second decade of the 21st century. Out in the world, with its chaos and brokenness, any possibility of life ever saying “yes” to us and our neighbors seems impossible. Any claim that God is powerful enough to transform life is greeted with skepticism. The evidence is, frankly, against us. Love, justice, and peace are not the dominant forces in our world. Bigotry, hatred, fear, and violence are. Resurrection? Reconciliation? Renewal? Where? When? How?

But the liturgy, the worship of God, says sometimes boldly, sometimes timidly, that there is a different world available, beyond sight, sound, and touch. There was a new era inaugurated by the raising of Jesus, and one day that time of peace and hope will come in its fullness. But there’s more. Liturgy claims that the coming reality of the kingdom is an accomplished fact. Because Jesus has been raised, there is a way to live with hope in the midst of despair, with love in the face of fear. Even now we have a kind of down-payment on our inheritance. It’s the assurance in our hearts that despite all appearances to the contrary, God has dominion and power and is working diligently toward the day when he will be all, in all.

On All Saints, more than any other time except Easter, the shutters on the windows of heaven are thrown fully open. We see with the eyes of our hearts into the new reality. Time and again in his journals, John Wesley referred to All Saints as a day of triumphant joy. And indeed it is. As someone has written: “This service is a deep remembrance in which we encounter anew the most profound dimensions of what it is to be the church. There is a clear eschatological vision and tone to this celebration, since it reminds us of those for whom the battle is over, the victory won, and also of our continuing pilgrimage toward God and the heavenly banquet” (Don Saliers et al., Handbook for the Christian Year: 267). As we recall in our hearts and minds the lives of our loved ones and the examples of countless millions of the faithful, we’re encouraged and strengthened. As the images form before the eyes of our hearts, and we see those saints at prayer and at work, talking and sharing, giving and helping, we’re shown the body of Christ. This is the covenant community in its fullness, spanning time and space and every national or any other boundary. We’re part of something larger, something that has been unfolding and even now is happening among us. We’re connected to all who have lived to the praise of God’s glory.

The legacy of those saints to us is a way of seeing. They no more than we could look into the future and predict in any specific way what tomorrow would bring. They no more than we lived in a perfect world free of evil and destruction, chaos and confusion, pain and sorrow. As they looked out their windows onto the world, it must have seemed, as it does to us, that God had fled, abandoned humankind to our own devices. But they saw with other eyes, those of the heart, because they were people of faith. They knew there was an alternative reality glimpsed occasionally in the world and quite often as the people of God worshipped together. Now they see with perfect clarity, illumined by the Lord who is their Light. We keep looking in a poor mirror, squinting through lenses that aren’t quite right, but our vision is getting better all the time, as with the dawn of a new day. Those who have gone before us would bid us know that what we see with the eyes of our hearts is no illusion, no mirage of wishful thinking, but the true reality that undergirds all creation. Inspired and encouraged by their example and faith, we too will live such lives as to bequeath to our children that very special gift of sight.

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