Preached by The Rev. Tracie Little September 1, 2019 At St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, Fenton, MI
Proper 18 – Spiritual Hunger (seeing myself as God sees me)
Luke 14:25 – 33
It was right at the beginning. Jesus was in Nazareth and he went to the synagogue. He unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and began to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus had summed up his entire mission. He had come to fulfil the words of Isaiah’s prophecy.
I wonder if Jesus’s mission went a whole lot deeper that simply making the blind man see in the 18thchapter of Luke, or casting out the legion of demons that had possessed the man who was chained, naked and living in the tombs in chapter 8. I wonder if his mission was really to help us all to see one another as God sees us. People saw a blind man. People saw a man who scared them to death. God saw God’s beloved creation. God saw gift and potential.
Maybe it’s even deeper than that. I wonder if Jesus really wanted us all to see ourselves as God sees us.
Identity. What makes you who you are? Each of us is different. Some of our uniqueness is a part of our DNA. Some of our individuality comes from our life experiences. As we grow, we begin to learn who we are as members of our families. Eventually, we leave the protection of our homes and our experiences at school, at work, in social settings, among friends all begin to shape how we see ourselves. We begin to see ourselves in a particular way, one that’s influenced by how other people see us.
Our identities and the masks we wear to display those identities develop throughout our lives. It seems to me that as they become more and more of who we are, they become harder and harder to remove. The longer we wear them, the harder it can be to see the us that God sees; the person we are beneath all those masks. When we don’t see ourselves as God sees us, we can’t see other people as God sees them.
Jesus knew the power of masks and he knew the challenge of removing them. He also knew that in order to grow in our faith, we really need to live into the fullness of who we are as Children of God and that all begins with seeing ourselves as God sees us.
Jesus reputation leads the way throughout the Gospel of Luke. Jesus has been travelling and teaching, healing and feeding. Whenever he’s anywhere close, people have wanted to get to Jesus, to experience for themselves the kinds of things that they hear about in stories. Crowds seem to gather around Jesus wherever he is.
Crowds numbering in the thousands. Crowds wanting to be close to him. Crowds pressing in on one another just to hear a wee tidbit of hope. Crowds pushing against one another in order to experience a new beginning with a healing. Crowds tripping over one another to have their grumbling bellies calmed and their hungers satisfied.
Crowds that, perhaps, wanted to be more than just to be following. Crowds that might, at least on the surface, want to become disciples.
All of them wore masks that blocked off that Child of God that God sees. Jesus needed them to understand at a deeper level that following Jesus might not be so easy. He needed them to see in themselves what was standing in the way, blocking them from a deeper relationship with Jesus. He needed them to remove their masks and to see themselves as God saw them.
It was in Los Alamos, New Mexico that I discovered just how deeply I was connected to a particular mask. We were in a museum that detailed the town’s involvement in nuclear research. There was a room that highlighted how nuclear research has benefitted the medical field. And there was a room that showed how nuclear weapons were developed and created. It was in Los Alamos that the nuclear bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War found their birth.
As I wandered through the nuclear weapons displays, I was reading all of the material that was presented. That’s where it happened. I hadn’t even made it all the way around the displays when the power of my mask showed up. The displays seemed to me to celebrate the town’s involvement in creating bombs that destroyed countless lives at the time of the bombing and affected generations to come. My pacifist mask shoved me through the door. I had to get out. Fast. I identified so deeply with being a pacifist that I couldn’t stay in the museum.
My pacificist mask was one that I was particularly proud of. It’s one that’s a part of who I am as a Christian. I explained to my facilitator that I was going outside to sit under a tree. She asked what was going on, so I told her. One of my other classmates was also wanting to leave the museum so the three of us went and grabbed a coffee.
As we sat in the nearby café, I learned a lot about Los Alamos and its people. Today research continues in Los Alamos but now it’s focused on biological weaponry. As I listened, my pacifist mask formed an impenetrable wall protecting me from people who I simply couldn’t understand. How could anyone work in a field that was designing weaponry that would destroy precious lives? How could any of these people think that was okay? Did we learn nothing from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? As I sat and listened, my mind began forming answers to my questions. But they were only guesses. My pacifist wall mask was making certain that I would not engage anyone in conversation.
This mask that I was so proud of, this mask that was, I believed, a part of my core belief as a Christian, was barring me from being in relationship with the people of Los Alamos. I saw people I just couldn’t understand and, truth be told, I really didn’t want to understand them. I wanted nothing more than to hate this stream of research and I needed my anger and hate to continue to strengthen the wall that my pacifist mask had created.
As I reflected on that story through the lens of today’s gospel reading, something began to change for me. I began to think about the people of Los Alamos, even the ones who work in the field of biological weapons research, through God’s eyes. I wondered what God saw when God gazed at the people of Los Alamos. Of course, God saw God’s beloved children.
I began thinking again about what it must be like to work in a field that you might not ethically agree with. I wondered about the masks they might have to wear in order to go to work every day.
Great questions that I will probably never have the chance to ask because my pacifist mask had created such an insurmountable wall that I was unable to see the child of God who got up every day and went to work in a place that conducted research that I just couldn’t accept.
That’s when it happened for me. I discovered that this mask that I continue to wear has become a barrier. This mask that I have firmly believed to be a part of my core belief is really a wall that blocks me from loving as God loves, seeing as God sees. This mask might even block me from being in an authentic and deepening relationship with God. It’s time, I decided, to remove this mask and reveal the child of God that is my identity that dwells deep within. I’ve held onto that mask for so long, that I’m not sure where to begin to remove the barrier it has become.
Then I began to wonder, why am I so afraid of taking off this pacifist mask? How will my life change if I take off this mask and reveal the child of God that dwells deep within? It is time to take off this mask. I know it won’t be easy. It will be a journey, one that likely will stop and start over and over until I can finally totally remove this mask.
It’s something I know I can do. Romans chapter 6 puts it this way.
“Do you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Our identity as followers of Jesus is found in Jesus. That newness of life, that’s at the route of our identity. Everything else is a mask. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in today’s gospel. Taking off all of the masks we wear isn’t easy. And it doesn’t happen all at once. Jesus wants to be in relationship with all of us; every part of all of us. Jesus loves us right down to the deepest truth that is our true identity. Jesus wants to help us to take off our masks and live into what it means to be a follower.
I wonder what masks are getting in your way?
Are you ready to take off your mask and follow Jesus?
Are you ready to see yourself as God sees you?
God’s already there, loving the real you, the you you hide beneath your masks. Jesus is already there as well, ready and willing to help you and me remove the masks that get in the way of living and loving as God loves!
Jesus came to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy. He’s already brought good news to us. If Jesus could restore the blind man’s sight, if Jesus could send a legion of demons packing, if Jesus really did come to help us see one another and ourselves as God sees us, then Jesus absolutely will help us to dig down through the masks we wear and see the Beloved Children of God that we are.