Open your Eyes!
From Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
Open your eyes!: 5th August 2012: The Very Revd Frank Nelson
- Psalm 51: 1 - 13
- 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12: 13
- Ephesians 4: 1 - 16
- John 6: 24 - 35
Three strong and powerful readings are offered us this morning, each worthy of a sermon or two in their own right.
Among the most shameful episodes recorded in the Bible is that of King David and Bathsheba. We heard the story of the king’s seduction of Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, last week. Not only does he seduce another man’s wife, but he has him killed, to cover up his own wrong-doing. And then, as we find only in the Bible, this cameo of a parable told by Nathan the prophet. It’s the same Nathan we heard the Cathedral Choir singing of yesterday in that stirring coronation anthem written by Handel, but the message is very different this time. Such is the writing of the author of 2 Samuel that one can feel King David wither as Nathan fixes his eyes on him and says, “You are the man!”
From Ephesians, Paul’s summary of his Gospel message: There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. This is the message Paul has been preaching, that he implores the Ephesians to live out faithfully. Using the example of a Roman triumphal procession and the giving out of largesse by the conquering hero, Paul says that God has showered gifts on the church, different gifts to different people. But all come from the same source, and all are to be used for the common purpose of building up the Body of Christ, the Church.
In the second of a number of readings from John chapter 6, a series of questions is posed to Jesus. When did you come here? What must we do to perform the works of God? What sign are you going to give us? What work are you performing? The passage ends with the enigmatic statement by Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Each of the readings has its own story, its meaning, its hidden depths. Are there any connecting links? The connection I want to suggest this morning comes through tomorrow’s church festival known as the Transfiguration. It is the well-known incident where Jesus takes three of his disciples up the mountain, and is there transfigured before their eyes. Peter, James and John eventually realise they have had an encounter with the living God. It is an ‘aha’ moment. One in which the scales fall from their eyes and they see, if only for that moment, something of the larger truth. They saw that Jesus really was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the great “I am”. The disciples had their eyes opened by God. My mother put it more straight-forwardly when we returned saying we could not find a schoolbook, or missing sock. Open your eyes! I invite you to open your eyes and ponder on today’s readings.
As a university chaplain we used to sing a hymn written sometime in the 1970s which had the invitation, “Look around you, can you see? Times are troubled, people grieve…” You may know it. Open your eyes to what is happening around you. Look more carefully at society, at the world you live in. And I well remember a young music student coming round to the chaplaincy one night and sitting down at the piano. He began to compose and a simple, but hauntingly beautiful, melody flowed from his hands. As he played he sang an invitation to look down in the crib and see the Son of God, to look up at the cross and see the Saviour of the world.
It is this idea of looking and really seeing that Paul, I believe, is inviting us to live into when he writes to the Ephesians about unity and gifts given to the church. Look at yourselves, he writes, see what gifts God has given you. Stop pussy-footing around. Get on with being the church; making a difference in the world. You are not children. You have been worshipping for many years. You have heard many sermons. You have been to many study courses. Be adult about your faith. Let your life reflect that calling to which you have been called. Christine and I spent a few hours in Christchurch on Friday. The devastation of the city is appalling. In one sense, it is no wonder that Christchurch people are clinging so fiercely to the dream of keeping the cathedral. But Bishop Victoria is on to something different. She is with St Paul. Focus on what binds you together. Recognise and use the gifts that are abundantly there. Let each do what she or he is best at, without need for competition or showing off, as the new body of a city grows and builds itself into something beautiful – both for God and for the nation.
Sometimes we need the hard finger! We need the Nathan figure who will round on us and say, You are the one! You are the one at fault, stop pointing at others. Sort out your own life. Turn to God. Isn’t that what we do at baptism? “Do you turn to Christ? Do you renounce evil?” Isn’t that what we are given opportunity to do every time we meet for Eucharist and confess our sins? “Merciful God, we have sinned….” What do we mean when we say those words? “We have sinned in what we have thought and said, in the wrong we have done and in the good we have left undone….” After listening to Nathan’s parable King David is said to have written the great lament of Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me O God in your great kindness…” We have a great advantage over David. We have the death of Jesus on the cross buying, winning, our forgiveness. We don’t have to go on and on beating ourselves up as David did. Forgiveness is offered to us. Our response to that, at least if we accept what St Paul wrote, is to lead a life worthy of the calling of God, one “marked with humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…”
And then there is the Gospel and those questions put to Jesus. When did you come here? What must we do? What sign are you going to give us? How Jesus must have wanted to scream at them: Open your eyes! In John’s Gospel there are no miracles, only signs. The first is the changing of water into wine. The greatest of the signs is Jesus himself. Each time he talks about himself he gives another clue to his identity. I am the bread of life. I am the true vine. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. After the service today, take a walk around the ambulatories. Look at the stained glass windows there. Read the text. Ponder on the meaning. I am … I am … I am. Look around you. Look in the crib. Look at the cross. Look at yourself. Open your eyes.
Perhaps if we do that we will not need to make the sort of statement made by Captain Robert Lewis, whose words, written in his log after dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima sixty-seven years ago, are printed on the front of the Today Sheet. “My God, what have we done?” The date was the 6th August, the Feast of the Transfiguration.