What do your See?
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Some confusion exists between seeing and observing, or seeing and perceiving. These occurrences are not mutually exclusive, yet most of the time they are not mutually inclusive. What does this mean? It means that both of these actions can always happen at the same time but they most commonly do not.
For example; you have all been in this sanctuary more than once. Some of you have been coming here for years. And even some of you were here and/or participated in building this sanctuary. You have all seen this sanctuary but have you observed what you have seen? How many pews are here? How many candles? How many windows?
The mind has a clever way of allowing us to navigate in our world without overwhelming us with information that do not immediately affect our well-being. And sometimes, it takes an outside force to make us perceive what we see every day. It is like having a major health crisis reveal that change is needed in one’s lifestyle. Or having a breakdown in a relationship reveal one’s own selfishness or abuse. And even simple things like realizing one’s eating habits have affected the snugness of one’s pants.
Today, as with people 100 years ago or 2000 years ago, many of us still have the difficulty of seeing but not perceiving – hearing and not understanding. Unfortunately, most of what we see and hear is not good. We see our children, our brothers & sisters and our fellow human beings committing acts of evil, acts against the will of God.
This sin against God has become so common that we have even incorporated it into the laws of our society. We have justified our murder of the unborn and the murder of our old and feeble. We cover our guilt and assuage our conscience with words like abortion or euthanasia. We promote adultery and sexual immorality through our media and even our classrooms. We wonder how those who were once good and honest could have turned against others and themselves.
The point of this message is not to articulate the sins of our society we see every day, yet it is surprising how we stand in wonderment of the consequences of our actions. We wonder how a child, raised in a good Christian home, can turn to drug abuse. We do not understand when we see a hard-working father and husband turn to gambling and vice. We see our very society embrace adultery, avarice and deceit and we cannot comprehend how these evils have been able to grow and thrive.
Do not fool yourselves. This is sin. Sin has grown in this world and eats away at our very souls. We see sin yet we do not perceive its effect on us. We let ourselves be fooled by the wisdom of human kind. This is foolishness before God. Without the grace of God, we have no forgiveness of sin. Without Jesus Christ we have no salvation.
What is worse, we often see the sin and sin again by ignoring it or trying to cover it up. Again, this is foolishness before God. The way to rid ourselves of sin is not to hide it in the darkness of our souls, but to bring it into the light of Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist saw Jesus Christ for who he is. He had not known him, as he testifies in verse 31 of today’s Gospel, but perceived the signs he was given which led him to understanding. God had told him that ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ When John the Baptist sees the Christ he proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
With John the Baptist are two of his disciples; if there were others, we do not know. These disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, and John the author of this Gospel, both saw Jesus coming towards them and heard John the Baptist’s words, yet they did not understand. They saw but did not perceive. Even with the testimony of John the Baptist and the Lamb of God in their very midst, they could not put two and two together.
The next day again John was standing with these two disciples and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This time, the sight of Christ and the words of the Baptist made sense, this time they had an epiphany, in other words, a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence. This striking occurrence was the presence of the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
With our temporal position giving us the benefit of the written testimonies and witness to whom Christ is, we may think the disciples were a bit dense and oblivious to what was occurring in their very midst. It is easy for us to stand at a distance and say, “Look! Can’t you see it is Jesus?” But I ask you to give them the benefit of the doubt. I would also ask you to look into your own hearts and ask yourselves what you see but do not perceive, and what you hear but do not understand.
How often do we see our sister in pain yet do not observe our very actions that caused that pain? How often do we see our brother offended yet do not observe that it was our words that caused such offense? We may try to justify our action or inaction by saying, “I did not know they were offended by my words.” Or, “I was not aware my actions caused them pain.” In either case, we certainly did see but we did not perceive.
I say ‘we’ because no one is exempt from such sin. Even I have found myself giving offense by selfish acts or words spoken without thinking. I have even been told, more than once, “It is not what you say, but how you say it that gives offense.” The apostle Paul tells us through his words to the church in Corinth, “…that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” [1 Corinthians 1:5-7a]
As we have been given these spiritual gifts through Christ, then we have no excuse for our sin against our brothers, sisters and neighbors. As Christians, when we speak our minds or voice our opinions, as we have the right to do in the freedom of God’s grace, we are to observe our surroundings as to where we are and of what we speak so as not to give offense.
It is easy to relax our guard when we are in the fellowship of other Christians. It is easy to comfort ourselves with the knowledge of our salvation in Christ. Yet even among our fellow believers, we still sin and we still give offense by what we say and by what we do.
Carelessness leads to such offenses. We become like the Pharisees and Sadducees when we hold ourselves up in piety over our neighbor. How can we expect to follow Christ’s command to spread the Gospel when we hold those who have not heard in contempt? How can we follow Christ’s command when we do not follow it ourselves? Yes, we have been given the grace of God and yes, we are forgiven our sins through the blood of the Lamb, but what shall we say then? “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” [Romans 6:1-2]
As members of the family of God and the body of Christ, we do not hoard our faith. We are not commanded by Christ to hide the truth and the light of the world under a rock. We do not put up stumbling blocks in front of those who seek His name. We do not build up walls of hatred and attack those who seek the Word with arrows of deceit or swords of indignation.
By our baptism, we have been born into the body of Christ. By the death of Christ on the cross, our sin is cleansed in His blood. Through His resurrection, we are no longer slaves to sin but are lifted up into eternal life. As the apostle Paul puts it:
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” [Romans 6:6-7]
Like Christ, we too were formed in the womb to be His servant. God has become our strength. He has made us as a light for the nations that His salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Like Andrew, our first step is to find our own brother and bring him to Jesus
We have heard the Gospel of our Lord and through the Holy Spirit we come to understand the grace of God. We see the work of the Holy Spirit and perceive the saving work of Christ. All this is done to the glory of God. We are now sanctified through the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. We speak the truth in love. We become humble as our Lord so that we do not give offense, so that His Word may be heard and that the Spirit may bring understanding to those who are lost.
I close with the words of the Apostle Paul from Philippians 1:9-11
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” [Philippians 1:9-11] Amen