Do You See What I See?
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’ 11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
In January of 2007, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of commuters at a D.C. Metro (subway) stop to the music of a violinist. The overwhelming majority of the 1000+ commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of bills into the violin case of the street performer. No big deal, just an ordinary day on the Metro.
Except it wasn’t an ordinary day.
The violinist wasn’t just another street performer; he was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s finest concert violinists, playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius.
Three days earlier he had filled Boston’s Symphony Hall with people paying $100 a seat to hear him play similar pieces.
The question the Post author, and many others since have asked is simple: Have we been trained to recognize beauty outside the contexts that we expect to encounter beauty?
Or, to put it another way, can we recognize great music anywhere outside of a concert hall?
I’d ask the same of our people: Can we detect God only when God is surrounded by stained-glass windows and organ music?
When John stood in the River Jordan, baptizing people for the repentance of sins and Jesus came to him to be baptized, what did John see? When Jesus came to John, John said: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is what John saw.
Remember these two men are cousins. Remember they are both sent by God into the world to change the world. And now John is in prison. Does he remember what he saw when he stood in the River Jordan? Does he remember when the heavens parted?
Do we see God only where we expect to see God? Or do we see God everywhere?
Is God only in church on Sunday mornings or is God with the homeless man begging on the street corner?
Where do we expect to see God and what does God look like?
I interned in northwestern Ontario. I was not raised Lutheran. I went to a non-denominational seminary before I went to a Lutheran seminary. My internship was to serve five churches. One was a regular four-point parish and the additional church was added for when the intern came to town.
I will never forget my first service. It was a Saturday night service. I was really nervous. I like to do the liturgy with some passion and excitement. I always felt that that the opening line was always very important. I walked out of the sacristy, to the center of the chancel at the appropriate time. There might have been thirty people there. I spread my arms wide and as about to say the words of the invocation: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. My mouth was open. Suddenly a voice from the back of the church said very loudly: “Momma, that’s not God.” The congregation got a really good laugh. The little girl, an adopted First Nation child, was used to seeing the senior pastor of the church (whom she assumed was God). She was not used to seeing me, the intern.
I don’t remember if I spoke the words of the Apostolic Greeting during that service, but I learned that day the importance of context, always asking the same question: “What do you see?”
When John, in his prison cell, begins to doubt, he doubts what happened on the River Jordan, so he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one who is to come, or should they wait for someone else?
Listen carefully to what Jesus says: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
What do we see and hear now in this Advent time? Do we expect an encounter with God on the streets of Overland Park or Kansas City? Or do we only expect to encounter God here in this place where we light candles, pray, read the Word and share the holy supper?
When John and Jesus had this conversation, through their disciples, they had not written, with their lives, the story, as we know it. We have the advantage, we know about the resurrection. We know about the forgiveness of sins. We know about love.
Now think with about what Jesus says to John’s disciples and what results when the reality of the people who are affected by their limitations is changed. Jesus says: Tell John what you see and hear. “The blind receive their sight.” When eyes are opened, physically or spiritually the result is pure joy. When the lame walk, the result is joy. When lepers are cleansed, the result is pure joy. When our ears are opened and we hear, physically and spiritually, the result is pure joy. When the dead are raised, those who loved the one who had died experience and express pure joy. And finally Jesus says the poor have the good news brought to them. And the result is joy.
I was talking on Wednesday night to some folks from the Synod staff that had worked in the MLM Christmas Store at Immanuel Lutheran Church earlier that day. There was a glow about them. There was a joy in what they had done. It wasn’t the gift that they were giving that changed them it was the good news that they were sharing with people. They were sharing themselves. Everyone from OPLC who worked at the Christmas Store had the same experience. It’s what we do that people see and hear.
So what do you see this Advent time? Is it just the trappings of the season? Or do we see the sight of the blind restored, do we see the lame walk, do we see the lepers cleansed, do we see that hearing is restored to those who can not hear, do we see the reality of the dead being raised, and perhaps most importantly, do we see that the good news is brought to the poor.
What do we see and hear, and what do we do in response?