Sermon on Seeing More Than Just What We Look For

By Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23806944

By Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23806944

(click above to listen along)

Sometimes I do something so stupid that I just really want to share it with everyone. Maybe that’s the pathology that leads one to write memoir. I have no idea why, but when something super embarrassing happens to me – like something really cringe-worthy, for some reason my first reaction is to immediately be disappointed that it wasn’t caught on video. Anyhow, I was discussing this with some of you this week – and how one of the more ridiculous moments of my life happened when I was alone and fast asleep in a hotel. I guess I had slept in such a weird position that my arm had fallen asleep – not just kind of tingly and a little numb, no it was completely dead – no feeling in it whatsoever, so anyhow – in my sleep I roll over and was startled to feel what was definitely a human arm, I screamed “who’s there?” and jumped out of bed, my heavy lifeless arm flopping to my side. I almost immediately started laughing at how ridiculous that must have looked to be afraid of my own arm – and then thought, damn I wish that was on video. In terms of possible things that can happen when you are sleeping, a murderer laying next to you in your bed or your arm having fallen asleep couldn’t be more different and I have to say I had never been so thrilled to be wrong.

Even though generally speaking, being wrong is something I try and avoid. I mean, I like to know what I am talking about. I like to KNOW stuff. And I like to be right, and I like to know what to look for in life. I like to have what I consider accurate assessments of people and institutions and events.

But I started to wonder recently if in some ways I believe that being right about theology or right about politics or right about social issues will save me. Especially as a Lutheran – since sometimes I joke that what Lutherans really believe in is salvation through theological precision.

But this week as I read our Gospel text I started to wonder what we lose when we think we already know things. What do we lose when we think we already know what’s possible and what’s not possible? What do we lose when we think we already know the nature and value of the members of our family? What do we lose when we think we already know who we are and what we are capable of? What do we lose when we think we know who God is, how God shows up in the world and where God is obviously absent.

Because the thing that struck me is how twice in our Gospel reading John the Baptist, when talking about how he was able to identify Jesus as the messiah, said he did not know. He did not know him. John baptized a gazillion people in the Jordon and yet he was able to se that this one man, one of countless men he encountered, this one man named Jesus, was the son of God, the messiah, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word. John the Baptist in the midst of his daily life encountered God incarnate and was able to see the Lord – but not because of anything he knew or thought he knew, but because he was in a space of unknowing. It was his unknowingness and not his opinions or certainty that allowed him to recognize God in his midst.

That just made me wonder if maybe thinking we already know things totally gets in the way of seeing anything new… it gets in the way of seeing God right in front of us. Or as my mother Peggy says, Nadia once you decide you’re right about something you stop taking in new information.

And man, am I aware right now of how much what I see in life is determined by what I already believe…how I tend to just scan my life for confirmation of what I already think is true. Like how I only tend to look for confirmation of what I already think I know about someone.

I just think that if John the Baptist was baptizing at the Jordon and he thought he already knew how things were going to look, that he would have totally missed seeing who Jesus really was. And then that makes me wonder how often I miss seeing Jesus in my own life.

Because the other thing that really stood out for me in this text is how many times seeing and watching and looking are mentioned.

John the Baptist saw Jesus

John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending

God said the one on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one

And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

as he watched Jesus walk by

he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”

He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw

That’s a lot of stuff about what we see and what we are looking for and I just couldn’t ignore it this week. Especially as someone who can feel trapped in her own way of seeing everything. I mean, I’ve been Christian for quite a while now and it still doesn’t feel like I once was blind and now I see. Which is why my friend Sara says it’s more like, “I once was blind…and now I just have really bad vision”

And feeling trapped in how I see things is especially hard right now and I don’t think I am alone because right now in our country we are so bitterly divided each side so sure they are right. Each side locked into our view of each other. Half the country will be celebrating this week and the other half will be marching this week. And right now given the fear and doom I am feeling about all of it you know what I want desperately? To be wrong.

I want to be wrong. Wrong about what feels like the Hyrda administration. Wrong about the so called “other side”. Wrong about the future. I want God to give me new eyes to see.

So you know that little part in our Gospel reading where Jesus asked the 2 disciples “what are you looking for?” I heard that question differently this week than I ever had before. Usually I hear that as Jesus saying “search your heart and tell me what your deepest desire is” but this time it felt less like an invitation and more like an incrimination. Like Jesus is asking what are you expecting to see? What do you have eyes to see? What informs your confirmation bias?

Like he’s saying forget what you are looking for and instead see what really is. Which felt like good news I desperately needed to hear. Like Jesus is saying there is more to see than just what I look for.

There is more to see in myself than just what I look for

There is more to see in my enemies than just what I look for

There is more to see in this country than just what I look for.

I need this to be true. I need to stop looking for affirmation of what I already believe and instead see the world and others and myself through the eyes of a God who loves all of it madly. I need Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The one who flips the script and disrupts the narrative and reveals God’s truth. The one who says come and see. Come and see salvation (which is a path we can only experience by not already knowing where we’re going).

My vision is so limited to seeing confirmation of what I think I already know that if Jesus is offering to show me more I am so grateful. Sign me up.

 

Let us pray,

God of desert prophets and unlikely messiahs,

Help us set aside our pride enough to see how little we really know. Humble us. And then raise us up as agents of your peace. Show us that there is more to see than what we look for. More possibility. More love. More forgiveness. When we look upon those we consider enemies, help us see them as your children loved madly by you. Help others who view us as their enemies to also see us as your beloved children. Heal this nation. Heal the people in this room, Lord. Restore our sight so that we may see you in each other.

We’re not going to bother asking politely because we are basically out of other options. Show yourself, Lord. And if you are already doing that and we are too blind to see, then grant us even bad vision, since even that would be a vast improvement.

We ask all of this and that for which we have no words in the name of Jesus Christ, friend of sinners of every variety, Amen.

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org