This sermon was preached on Jan. 17, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC
The texts were:
1 Samuel 3: 1-20
Palm 139: 1-6, 13-18
John 1: 43-51
In my preaching classes in seminary, we studied and listened to several renowned proclaimers of the gospel, including Martin Luther King Jr. We spent a whole class session on King’s infamous “I have a dream” speech. In listening to the speech in its entirety, our professors pointed out something that most of us hadn’t heard before. About half-way through his speech, when King paused, a woman in the front row could be heard shouting, “tell us about the dream Martin, tell us about the dream!” You see, this proclamation that King had written for that day, didn’t originally contain the “I have a dream” rhetoric. He had used the theme at other times in his preaching, but that had not been his intent for this speech. But he took seriously in that moment the urgency of the woman begging to be reminded of a vision, she wanted to see what was possible, and she wanted all the people listening to catch a glimpse of the vision that King and the Civil rights movement offered in liberation, equality, and justice in God’s kingdom and kin-dom. Kin-dom means humanity gathered as one community in the promises of God. Our professors wanted us novice preacher to not lose sight of what matters, one, sometimes you have to let go of what you had envisioned for proclamation and allow the Holy Spirit’s vision to come to fruition, and two, don’t underestimate the power of offering God’s vision to people. People are hungry for a vision of what could be despite what it seems to be. People are always looking for vision, are they going to see God’s or the world’s? Will they lose sight of our life together and themselves? And more frightening…will God lose sight of us?
I confess that I sometimes lose sight that God sees me, sees all that I do, all that I say, all that I think and all that I don’t do, say and think. Everything. Well, maybe I don’t forget, maybe I live in denial that God sees me. If I were to always keep this fact conscious, I would probably be appropriately paralyzed in fear. I mean, the God of all creation is watching me? That can’t be good. But God does see me, and thank God, sees beyond my failures, my cynicism, my temper, and my shortcomings. God sees me, the one whom God created in the divine image, proclaimed as beloved, having worth and value. God sees not just who I am to God, but who I can be for the world. God’s vision for me is, thank God, beyond what I could ever envision for myself. I lose sight of who I want to be. I sell myself short and figure that nothing good can come from me, as I am too flawed.
The real tragedy in this, is the fact that I then limit my vision of who others are, as well. If I can’t envision myself as God sees me, then I’m not seeing people though God’s vision either. I make assumptions about people and situations, always through my dim and limited human view and not through God’s imaginative and broad vision. I assume that nothing good can come from people whom I only see in one dimension. I forget and lose sight that God can and does see fully, not only me, but all people and that God’s vision is always about goodness and life.
Like Eli and the new disciples in John 1, we don’t look hard enough at ourselves and others. Eli refused to truly see or act on the harmful corruption perpetrated by his sons, and so had to endure the consequences, being held accountable by God and removed as a priestly family with authority. Eli lost sight of his responsibilities and role in the community as healer and proclaimer of God’s grace. Nathanael couldn’t see past his own prejudice of Nazareth, a town no better than a bump in the road that produced nothing of value, which led him to dismiss Jesus out of hand. Despite human failures, God’s vision won’t be clouded. God called the boy Samuel, to be a prophet who would anoint kings for Israel and offer a new vision for the Israelites. God’s own son, Jesus would see through Nathanael’s cynicism and invite him to see beyond what he thought he knew, and beyond his own life to what God was offering the world. In God’s vision, things are not as they appear and good does come from hard situations, hard conversations, and from the least expected people and places. In God’s vision, the question shifts from “what good can come from this?” to “what good does God see in this?” God doesn’t lose sight of the vision of wholeness, love and mercy.
It doesn’t mean that we wear rose-colored glasses or deny hardships, to the contrary, God’s vision requires us to see reality, to see our own guilt and complicity, to see the harm we’ve inflicted, to see our own flaws, as well as to see the divine spark in all people that is begging to be seen, as the woman begged King to tell her the dream again. She knew that God’s desire was for this spark to be seen in the world. There is something liberating about being completely seen. When we know that we can’t hide, we’re exposed, then we can give up the façade, and live into the truth of who we are, and who we are to God. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered people, Black, white and brown this God sized vision of liberation in the truth. He never lost sight of what was important and what mattered, liberation for all. When we face the difficult truths, when we can see ourselves and other people clearly, we can then see God’s kingdom at work in us all, together, not as an “us vs. them” but as a collective community of beloved people of God revealing God’s vision for creation. Jesus called Nathanael to see this vision, and Jesus calls us to see it too. Jesus calls us to do the hard work of setting aside biases, being in relationships with people whom the rest of society shuns, to speak the truth, especially when people are being harmed, and to live in a way that honors creation. God’s vision can’t be dimmed by anything we do or say but we can illuminate God’s vision when we join with God for love, hope, mercy and forgiveness. We will see that good does and will come from what God is doing in our midst through the love of Jesus Christ. We will see God’s kingdom and kin-dom come. We won’t lose sight that God never loses sight of us. Amen.