Monday, May 17, 2010

God's Invasion: Horizon-Sighted

Preached at Kahlotus United Methodist Church, May 16, 2010.
Scripture Readings:
Acts 11:19-26; John 12:17-33

When I was a child it became clear that I had some vision problems. When I was ten, I realized that other kids in my class didn’t have to squint to see what was on the blackboard.

I found out that I was near-sighted. I remember struggling with the concept of being near-sighted; that being near-sighted meant you couldn’t see far, and being far-sighted meant you couldn’t see near.

Early on, I had another vision problem. It seemed as if I was always tripping over things, and bumping into things. When my dad saw me do this, he would order me: “Watch where you’re going.”

And he was right. I wasn’t looking where I was going at all. I was usually looking somewhere else; or probably not looking at anything in the real world. I was (and am) an incurable daydreamer.

Near-sightedness can be treated by wearing eye-glasses, or contacts, or (nowadays) laser surgery. After almost fifty years my glasses are almost a part of me. I would be a different person if I didn’t wear glasses.

We live in a part of the world where most vision problems can be corrected. A lot of us need this kind of correction.

On the other hand, I have never found a correction to my incurable day dreaming. I go around oblivious to a lot of things that are going on around me. This could be dangerous. On the other hand there may be times when a person who is seeing things that other people are not seeing can be helpful.

There is a kind of spiritual vision that comes from our being created in God’s image, and that also comes from our being reclaimed by God: coming into God’s ownership and being transformed by the love of God entering our lives through Jesus. Through the life of Christ, through his dying for us on the cross, through his rising from the dead in power, we die to our dysfunctional and selfish self, and we live a new life of forgiveness, and grace, and the wisdom and power of the Lord. And we learn to go around seeing what a lot of other people don’t see.

We have a wide range of sight. We have a spiritual near-sight that gives us an understanding of personal life: our need for God, our purpose in God’s plan as part of his kingdom and his new creation, the quality of our close relationships, the issues of the part of our world that is nearest and dearest to us.

And then there is a spiritual far-sight that enables us to understand the sending nature of God pushing us, pulling us, calling us beyond our normal field of vision. Our spiritual far-sight not only enables us to be aware of the things that are part of the larger world. Our spiritual far-sight enables us to see the things that are far from our heart.

Something that wasn’t important to us in our family, our church, our community, our world becomes important when our spiritual vision is corrected. We become sent: sent to that cause or that issue.

When our far-sight is corrected, people outside our normal range of living (even if they live within sight of us), people we see but we do not know them by name, people who just move in other circles, people with whom we have quarreled and from whom we have become light-years’ distant, all come into the range of this spiritual far-sight. All of this comes near to us. All of this becomes important because spiritual nearness is a matter of seeing.

The disciples were spiritually near-sighted. They saw Jesus, and the gospel, and the kingdom of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit as something that mainly involved themselves and their own people (the people of Israel). They were comfortable sticking to the people who were most like them, with whom they had the most in common, with whom they got on the best.

They needed corrected vision. Unless we are better than the disciples, we are in the same boat and need the same correction.

Jesus told his disciples and us about his pattern for correcting their vision and ours. In the first scene of the Book of Acts, Jesus said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Some of the disciples who heard Jesus say these words probably never went any where. They probably died in Jerusalem. They were probably killed in Jerusalem. And so they were planted there, and they bloomed where they were planted. But they were also people who heard Jesus’ words of sending.

No matter how planted you may be, you are always “sent”. Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, gives you near-sight to be witnesses to the world right under your nose. But even the people and issues that exist right under your nose may be spiritually a million miles away.

By the miraculous power of God (and we must realize that when we are dealing with the Holy Spirit we are living in the realm of the supernatural, we are living in the world of miracles), by the miraculous power of God the issues and people that seemed so far from our concern, even though we live in their vicinity and work around them every day, become close. They become our mission. They become the place for our giving and our sacrifice, as witnesses for Jesus.

Jesus told his disciples to see the movement from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth not as something that might apply to others but as something that applied to them. It was as if Jesus gave them a picture of the ripple effect, not as if they were a drop or molecule of water lifted by the ripple and almost at once set down again, but as if they were in the very force that went outward from the center.

In your personal spiritual growth and in your growth in ministry (because each one of us has a ministry or many ministries) there is this ripple effect that Jesus talked about. You can stay in one place and travel millions of miles spiritually in your growth in wisdom and faith. You can stay planted in one place and travel millions of miles spiritually in your awareness of God calling you to service here, to the people here.

I think that the more we know of Jesus the more we are aware of not just the ripple effect that raises you and moves on, but we are aware of the ripple force that carries us on and on.

In the case of the earliest disciples in the Book of Acts, they had to be persecuted into this ripple force. They are examples to us of how it is our very nature to miss the clear calling of Jesus, and how God must drive us to it. It is as if we will never do it until we are driven. And so, the more we know of Jesus the more likely we will ask ourselves what we are missing. Is God letting us stick in our near-sightedness? Have we not let the power of the Holy Spirit take us the millions of miles we need to go in our ministry, even right at our very doorstep.

If we were to think over Jesus’ words about “to the ends of the earth” from a purely human point of view, we would know he was talking about something that went so against our nature that it is something simply impossible for us. But, since we are talking about the words of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, it challenges our faith and makes us ask what the Lord wants us to do that we don’t want to do?

No one knows better than I do that I shouldn’t be in the ministry. My earliest remembrance of calling to the ministry came when I was twelve years old. It was the very last thing I really wanted to do. I have always been extremely shy and awkward. I knew this calling would be impossible for me, and that I could never manage it. I could never survive the simple ordeal of it.

Anyone who knew me as a child or as a teenager would have agreed with me. Some people who know me now may very well agree with me. I had to be carried a million miles spiritually in order to even try to do what I do.

For us, life, as planetary beings, means that our horizons are the normal natural limit of our vision. We don’t see beyond our horizon just as we don’t see around corners. It’s the same principle.

The far-sight of Jesus sees beyond our horizons. The “ends of the earth” of the non-Jewish world were over the horizon for the disciples. It wasn’t only a distance measured by physical miles. It was a distance of seeming spiritual impossibility.

Where we stand is the center of a circle of vision. The circle, or the circumference, moves when we move.

For the disciples, the center of their circle, the center of their spiritual vision and universe was Jerusalem. They thought Jesus was going to Jerusalem, the center of their universe, to begin his rule as king. But in the Gospel of John a strange thing happens. Jesus felt he was ready to establish his kingdom not because he stood at the center, but because the horizon came to meet him, because the Greeks came to meet him. (John 12:20-23)

The Greeks were people who lived beyond their horizon, even though they didn’t live all that far away in physical miles. The Greeks were some of the people at the ends of the earth spiritually from the disciples and from Jesus; and at last the ends of the earth came to the center. And Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23)

Jesus is horizon-sighted. He is sees the people who live off the edges of our map. The power of the Holy Spirit has a job description and part of that job is to bring what is over our horizon to a place right under our noses.

We can only truly understand the sending nature of the kingdom of God, of which we are a part, if we ask about our own horizon-sightedness. Who do I not want to talk to or deal with? What don’t I want to do? How do I need to bend? Where do I need to give in? What is unthinkable for me? What is impossible for me?

We are supposed to have a full range of vision, and use that full range.

We have to look nearest to us in order to know who we are, and who and what we are comfortable with. We have gifts and ministries for our near-sight. It is not an absolute rule that God only calls us to what is hard and unwelcome. He gives us ministries that give us peace and pleasure.

But God is also a sending God; a God who makes us look beyond our horizon.
In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Christ means king. “Christians” means “The King’s People”. They were always talking and acting like they belonged to someone they called “The Christ”, “The King”.

The ancient disciples were not the ones to call themselves Christians. It was a nickname that came to them from outside the church, and it wasn’t a complementary nickname. It was a nickname that poked fun at a strange group of comically obsessed people who made strenuous efforts to live lives that stood up for the nature and personality of someone they called the Christ, the King.

The name Christian came to them (and ought to come to us) from outside the church. The name of Christian should reflect how we are seen by others. They should call us by this name, first, because they misunderstand us and, then, because they see Christ in us.

We are the people who are beyond the horizon of some people who see us every day. Just as in the days of the ancient church in Antioch, we can only expect to be truly named as Christians if we cross over into the lives of those other people by crossing over our own horizon and over their horizon to meet them.

It may not be a distance of many miles, physically. But it may be a journey of light-years, spiritually. We are not wrong to be in awe of the distance to be travelled. We are not wrong to be apprehensive about the effort, and the changes, that the journey we make to meet them will require of us.

Of course it’s scary. Of course it’s unwelcome. But it puts us on the course that Jesus himself has set for us. Making that journey, riding that outward rising wave, acquiring the horizon-sightedness of Jesus, is the clearest course to a great name: the name of Christian.

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