Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Here's mud in your eye!

The lessons appointed for the Fourth Sunday in Lent contain two powerful stories of the mysterious workings of God.

I am struck, once again, by the story of Samuel and Saul and the anointing of David in the first lesson found in 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

The chapter opens with God reminding Samuel of the fact that God has rejected Saul as King of Israel. Up to that point in history, God had raised up leaders as they were needed. It had ever been thus from the time of Moses through the days of Judges. It was clear that God was sovereign - not the men who were raised up to be leaders.

As Samuel grew older, the elders of Israel met with him and demanded that he appoint for them a king so that they would be like other nations. At their insistence, God allowed Samuel to appoint Saul, son of Benjamin, "a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else." (I Samuel 9:2).

But, Saul was not a good King. He was an impetuous and impatient ruler. He acted on his own, not obeying orders from God as reported through Samuel. Before going into his first battle, he offered a sacrifice without waiting for Samuel to arrive. Were it not for this disobedience, God would have anointed him King.

Indeed, his disastrous reign only lasted about two years.

The words Samuel uses to tell Saul that he may not be King are these: ".... the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart . . ."

Later, when Samuel is to choose Saul's successor, God says to him, "... for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

In the Gospel lesson for tomorrow (John 9:1-41), Jesus heals the man born blind - the one of whom the Pharisees believed as a punishment for sin - his own or that of his parents.

Jesus says,
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. . . . . When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see."
This enrages the Pharisees and the careful order of their sense of how God works in the world. Besides, Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath. "Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath'."

The Pharisees had driven out the man who had been born blind but now could see. This was outrageous to them! How could a sinner be saved from his blindness? Especially without THEIR divine intervention? THEY certainly would not have done this on the Sabbath! Unlike Saul, they kept what they understood were God's rules.

Jesus later catches up with the man and says to him,
"I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `We see,' your sin remains."
Discernment is a tricky proposition.

It's an exercise in humility, taking one deep into the corner's of one's heart. Sometimes, we make choices with the best of intentions, only to learn, sometimes years later, that our choices were made out of fear or anxiety, or pride and yes, even politics.

I've been thinking a lot about a guest editorial which appeared yesterday in the De Moines Register. It was written by JEFF ANGELO, a former Republican state senator in Iowa, who now lives in Ames and works in media relations in Des Moines.

He writes,
"During my (12 year) tenure in the Senate, I voted for a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and I was lead sponsor for a similar amendment.

I heard from my church and my fellow Republicans that homosexuality was wrong, and I thought I could lovingly disagree with them. I could "hate the sin, love the sinner" as people say when they do not believe gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry. But there came a point when I could no longer ignore how much this attitude hurt the people I know. Because this issue is not about rhetoric; this issue is about people and their freedom to choose a spouse."
Imagine! A Conservative Republican with a change of heart!

Through my eyes, this looks like nothing short of a miracle.

I don't know if that's a statement about my faith in God or my faith in the inherent goodness of the people God has created.

Mr. Angelo goes on to defend his position, based on the liberties provided for in the Constitution while uplifting the Republican values of "small government" and the fact that the "stability of marriage and the sanctity of personal liberty are the foundations of conservative values", adding that "we should be glad those values are spreading and being embraced in so many different walks of life. They are universal and fundamental."

The cynic in me says that this man was able to "see the light" once he removed himself from the harsh glare of politics.

The Christian in me hopes that, while this may well be true, it was more than that. I hope that, he was able to see that God does not judge anyone by the outer self but judges, rather, on the content of one's heart.

When we understand that about God, it's easier to look beyond the categories and small boxes into which we place people - "Black/White", "Old/Young", "Rich/Poor", "Gay/Straight" - and look, rather into their hearts.

Mr. Angelo writes,
"Whether or not you agree with gay marriage, we're all joined by our love of liberty. Free citizens are allowed to disagree and live their lives as they choose without fear of government reprisal as long as life and property are not threatened.

The tenor of this debate does not serve the people Iowa well, and is not in keeping with an Iowa culture known nationwide for displaying respect and generosity of spirit. Each day, Iowans worship with, work with, live with, and love people who are gay. Together we make a great state, facing the same problems and, hopefully, the same bright future.
Well, okay. He's still a politician. But, he's a politician with a heart who looks with the eyes of his heart on the hearts of his LGBT sisters and brothers.

Jesus said of the man he healed, "he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. . . . ."

It's an outrageous statement to make - that God takes our human limitations and foibles and yes, even our sin, and uses them to God's glory. Outrageous! And yet, that is one of our understandings of the mystery of God.

God chose David - "ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and he was handsome", the least of the flock of Jesse - to be King. Oh, he was not perfect, by any means imaginable. But, his heart was the heart of an anointed leader.

How to discern the heart of an anointed leader is never easy. It just looks easy in Scripture because the people writing the story were doing so after the fact.

Here's the thing about discernment: Sometimes, you've got to close your eyes and look inward before your eyes are opened to see God's hand at work in your midst.

Sometimes, you've got to get egg on your face - or mud in your eyes - before you can really see clearly.

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