Looking But Not Seeing
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, October 9, 2016
“Looking But Not Seeing”
Hebrews 8: 1-12
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Exodus 32: 1
I think most of you can sympathize with me when I tell you that when we are in a hurry and headed out the door, it is not uncommon for one of the girls to tell us they cannot find something. Like all good parents, we respond with something nice and gentle like, “WELL GO FIND IT!” The dance really begins at that point, because moments later they will return with hands raised and offering alternative solutions because they just can’t find what they are looking for. At this point we will often tell them exactly where the missing object is and ask them to go and get it. A few seconds later we are met with shrugging shoulders and downward facing eyes, “I still can’t find it.” So, we put down everything in our hands and go with them to retrieve the object. Usually it is exactly where we said it was, and quite often, they have actually picked it up and moved it as they dug through things to find it.
I would love to stop the examples there, but if I am picking on my kiddos, then it is only fair to tell on myself as well. Many times while cooking or putting together a meal, I will either be looking for something or Alicia will ask me to grab something out of the refrigerator. I will stand with the door open scanning the shelves from top to bottom not finding what I am looking for and usually exclaim, “we must be out of the _________ because I can’t find it in the refrigerator.” Then, Alicia will walk by and grab it out of the middle shelf and hand it to me. Now, I blame my height...it is hard to see in the back of a middle shelf. Seriously! That would mean I would have to bend down and everything!
The problem is the kids and I have defined what we are looking for, we know exactly where it is supposed to be, but we have resigned ourselves to believe it is not there and, in doing so, we cannot see what is right in front of us. It is hidden in plain sight.
House of Salvation
John Wesley used a model of a house to explain salvation and grace. It is actually a pretty simple explanation for what many deem to be a difficult discussion. In fact, it has more to do with just the door to the house than the house itself. Let me explain. In our lives we begin outside the house. We don’t know God yet, and our limited experiences may not have revealed God to us yet, but with each day we get closer and closer to the door of the house. We are held in God’s grace during this time and it is called prevenient grace. This grace is present in us from Day One and it is the spark within us that gives us the desire to know God and to be obedient to God’s Word. Each day this prevenient grace acts within us to warm our heart to God and with each passing day we take one step closer to the door of the house.
One day, we will find that we are standing on the porch of the house in front of this door. The door is an entry point into knowing and understanding God in a way that only an acceptance of His salvation could provide. Through our prevenient grace we realize that this opportunity is before us and that we must make a decision. See, from the viewpoint of this threshold, we can see inside the house and see the light of God on the inside, but we can also see the works of man and the worldly things on the outside. We must make a decision to step through the threshold and place our faith in God. This moment, this act of accepting God’s salvation, this is justifying grace. In this moment we understand what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and we accept this salvation by opening our hearts fully to God and releasing the worldly and selfish desires we previously held. Through Justifying Grace, we say, “Thank you for saving me, I am yours.”
We are welcomed into the house with the Holy Spirit who acknowledges the road ahead is not easy, but we are in the House of God. We are going to move through each room and experience God differently each day. We will come to know God better and better and our hearts will become more in tune with God’s Word and we will become closer and closer to our created potential each and every day. This is life in sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace allows us to move freely in the safety of the house of God, but also allows us to invite others into the house and welcome them in.
I would venture to say that most of us could find ourselves in the Samuel Moore Shoemaker story though. In his story, we often stand at the door of the house looking inside. We want to see what God is doing in the house, but we don’t want to miss what is going on in the world around us. We are only half looking at God’s presence on the other side, but perhaps, paying more attention to the shiny objects on the outside.
While we are at the door we are happy to open it for others and to usher them in with a smile. But we are tentative to cross the threshold ourselves, so we do not look too hard inside and choose to remain in the familiarity of life on the outside. We are standing on the threshold of God’s saving grace and if we only took time to look really hard on the inside and pay attention, we would see the true glory of God’s grace and power. Yet, we glance then look away.
We tell ourselves, if only God would reveal Himself out here, on this side, then it would be easy for me to step through and give myself to God. Only if there was something to show me that God was here. If only there was something each day to show me God’s presence in this world. What are we waiting for? A big pillar of fire?
Sure, when the Israelites wandered through the desert they experienced God in a big pillar of fire. In fact, they watched as this pillar of fire moved to the rear of their assembly and demolish the entire Egyptian army. They had seen this pillar of fire settle on the tabernacle and they had seen it on the top of a mountain and heard the thunder of God’s voice. They knew God was with them. They saw God in this world every day. There was no doubt that God existed and that God’s goal was to rescue them and to provide them with a good life. They were witnesses to the material evidence of God in the world around them.
Yet, it took only a short time for God to be out of plain sight for them to turn away from God and to go back to human idols. We need something to worship they cried to Aaron. So they took their gold and through it into a fire where a chunk of melted metal comes out that resembles a golden calf. They move from the physical presence of God to an idol with no substance, value, or worth. Simply because they could not see God.
All they had to do was look up! God was on the mountain with Moses. They knew God was there. If they wanted proof all they needed to see was the fire and the cloud and to hear the thunderclaps of God’s mighty Word. They chose not to see this, however, and they diverted their eyes to look all around except in the place where God could be seen. They pushed God aside and set out to replace him with an idol of human making.
I think one reason for their desire to do this was because they were tired of wandering the desert. They were tired of listening to God. They wanted to put themselves first and to meet their own desires. So, in a way, maybe unconsciously, they chose for God to not be present. They did not want to find God amongst them. The idol that they wanted, they wanted to control and they wanted things to be done on their time. It was easier to do that, if God was missing in action.
How Do We See God?
It is not unfathomable for us to fall into the Israelites’ same way of thinking today as they had during those moments. It is so easy to see God in all of the good things around us. It is easy to stand on the threshold of the door and look out into the world and see God if we see nothing but good things. When we see children smiling; when we see people helping one another; when we see human needs being met by unselfish individuals; when we see someone beat cancer; when we see loved ones reunite; then it is easy to see the love of God in the world.
But what happens, when we stand on the threshold and we look back on the world and our vision is limited to that of the undesirable things of this world. What happens when we see the devastation of war in Aleppo? What happens when we see the persecution of people in various places in the world? What happens when we see a mother and father paralyzed because of heroin use in front of a school bus of children? What happens when we watch disease result in death? What happens when we see all of the bad stuff happening and it overshadows the good? How do we see God then?
We are looking in the wrong place! God is right in front of us! Standing on the threshold is stopping short of the power of God’s grace. It is looking without seeing! We just have to turn and look at God. We have to step over the threshold and be held in the justifying grace of God. We have to let our selfish desires go and give our hearts to God. Albert Edward Day once said, “We give to charities, but do not give of ourselves; we do not build ourselves into others lives.” That is life on the threshold.
We need to let go and take that step of faith and walk into the Glory of God. Then we can become the door for others. Through us and the power of the Holy Spirit, others will see the glory and the greatness of God. They will feel the strength of God’s love. In the those undesirable things in the world, God will be revealed, because His church will be present and demonstrating His love to all who are present. Don’t restrict your vision, don’t make God disappear. Let the fire within you ignite and illuminate the path for others. The hard work of salvation was accomplished by Jesus Christ on a cross and by conquering death many years ago. The house is established and the door is open. Come on in and bring others with you.