Eyes to See? Exploring Power and Suffering

We didn’t have a service at Caldecote last Sunday, but you can read here the sermon David Newton preached at our ‘sister’ churches in Toft and Comberton. 

Preacher: Revd David Newton
Date: 14 January 2018 (Epiphany 2)
Readings: Revelation 5:1-10 and John 1:43 to end

In my eldest sister’s bedroom there use to hang the strangest piece of artwork. To me at least, it was all dots. A blur of colour and squiggly lines. Apparently if you focused, or unfocused your eyes just right, a whole amazing picture would leap out at you from this strange blur. I think it was called ‘A Magic Eye Picture’. When I was a kid I spent ages trying to see what I was meant to see, but never could. All I ever got were fuzzy lines. My sister did tell me what it was I was supposed to see, but even then I couldn’t see it.

In preparing for this talk I thought I’d have another try looking at one of these images, and once again, I didn’t have the magic sight. You may know of or have seen these pictures. They’re some kind of 3D illusion that requires your eyes to re-adjust, re-see if you like.

This morning I want to suggest that the whole of the Christian life is a training in seeing differently. To see, not through the eyes of the world, but with the lens of faith.

Unsurprisingly in this Epiphany season we are directed to passages that are all about epiphanies; moments when people have their eyes opened, their sight changed.

Jesus walks towards Nathanael and all Nathanael can see is a man from Nazareth. Nothing good can come from Nazareth he thinks. An ordinary looking guy, from a particularly dull backwater is all he sees. No matter how much he stares all he gets are the dots and fuzzy lines – no messiah here.

Until… Jesus speaks, and reveals that even if Nathanael can’t see Jesus, Jesus most definitely can see, and see right through Nathanael. He is seen, not just physically under the fig tree, but intimately and completely. And such ‘being seen’ is enough for Nathanael to have his eyes opened, to see not just a poor wandering preacher, but the King of Israel.

Everything is not what it seems. The fuzzy lines and dots reveal something behind them.

Similar ideas are at work in our passage from Revelation. The angel comes to John and says ‘see the Lion of Judah’, but all John sees is a slain lamb. The angel said lion, John saw a lamb.

But in that moment, John’s eyes are opened to see that the lion is the lamb. This slain, lowly creature is the one who is worthy to open the scroll of the apocalypse, the one to whom all of heaven bows down and worship, the one who has made a Kingdom of Priests in the church.

The lamb is the Lion of Judah.

So the question for us this morning is, what do you see? A poor wandering preacher condemned to die as a criminal? Or do you have eyes to see that in this man the power and glory of God is revealed?

The reason you sit here this morning is presumably because you do have eyes to see, or at least are asking questions.

But this is only ever the beginning of the road. We see Jesus differently. We see the Lamb is the Lion. And then the Christian life is a training in seeing everything else in that light.

In particular this morning, our passages push to think about how we view suffering, and how we view power.

For it is in this slaughtered lamb we are taught to see both God’s glory and his power.

Let me turn personal for a moment. In the final decade of his life, my grandfather was diagnosed with something called PSP. Although his brain continued to work well he slowly lost his balance, and then his use of his limbs, and then his tongue so speech became impossible. Towards the end of his life I remember distinctly visiting him in his nursing home and taking hold of his hand. We didn’t say much, but I squeezed his hand and he squeezed mine back. A faint smile came onto his face. I can’t know how he experienced that moment, but for me I was acutely aware of God’s presence in the stillness of that one moment. For me at least, there was something of God’s glory in that moment; there was perhaps even a glimpse of God’s power – not working through strength and might, but in the place of weakness.

At the very least – there was more to see than first met the eye.

I wrestled with a number of other stories that I could tell you, some more painful, others with comic twists, but in the end decided that there really is no need. We all have our own stories to tell that involve some kind of suffering – you don’t need to hear my stories.

So let me step back a moment and be clear at this point – this is not about about justifying pain or suffering. It is not about trying to make some grand sense of why suffering occurs in the world.

No account of ‘seeing’ God’s glory or power in the midst of suffering can ever make sense of it. No account of growing through pain can ever make it okay.

Instead, you could say I’m nudging us to think about trying to find diamonds in the rough.

This is a call I think, embedded in our scripture readings today: for each of us to be attentive to the work of the Spirit in and through situations and encounters where all we see at first glance is something like a slaughtered lamb, or a roughen from Nazareth.

Two final comments.

First. We are never to force our ‘way of seeing’ onto someone else’s experience. It is my experience of time spent with my Grandad that I have reflected on, not his. And I dare not presume to read his experience in my ways.

Second. There will be moments when any possibility of finding a diamond in the rough disappears. When all we can do is cling blindly to the hope of a world to come, or we even lose the hope of that. Each of us will find us ourselves in that place at some point.

But for the main part – where possible – as we muddle through life, let’s set about training ourselves to see differently, that we might be open and attentive to the faintest glimpse or whisper of the work of God in the midst of whatever situations we find ourselves in.

For we are a people who proclaim that in the slaughtered Lamb and in the roughen from Nazareth, we see both God’s glory and his power.

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