Last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we talked about the “ineffable” nature of God, and how we try our human best to understand it through the Trinity. It is difficult to try and contain something so BIG and OTHER as God through our language! But the one part that needs to be visible and as plain as the nose on each of our faces is Emmanuel: God with us. This is evidenced and visible in the modern world through all of us. We are the “Visible Jesus.”
Our Epistle reading spoke to this. It was from 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, and Paul writes to explain that we are merely human (clay jars) and fallible; it’s the Jesus part of us that shines. When we care for others, we are caring for Jesus and we are being the visible Jesus to that person. It’s a pretty cool concept:
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
So yeah — we are supposed to be the visible Jesus to one another. Even in our hurting. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Letting others care for us and to be vulnerable to them, but when we remember it is part of our calling to one another, it’s a little easier to open up and share. Because if we don’t, we are denying others of seeing and being Christ.
Apparently though, it was difficult for those who lived and walked with Jesus to actually see the light. Those who were vulnerable to him, of course, recognized him immediately as pure, living love. But there were so many who were absolutely closed to Jesus, and it pained him that their hearts were so hardened. Our Gospel reading from Mark 2:23-3:6 offers two examples of some people with some pretty hardened hearts. They were obedient followers of the Torah and keepers of the law, but in their strictness and passion to follow the letter of the law, they lost the Spirit of the law.
One sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”
And Jesus said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Again Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure the man with the withered hand on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And Jesus said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against Jesus, how to destroy him.
Jesus saw suffering — whether in the hunger of the disciples or in the pain of the man with the withered hand — and he chose to be present to their suffering and heal them.
Early last week when I had already begun studying these two lectionary readings for preaching them on Sunday, I also took some time to listen to one of my favorite podcasts. Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” podcast features interviews with famous people who will share openly about their faith. The one I listened to was called, “How to Listen With Compassion” with Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I listened and was really intrigued. In fact, I listened to it again as soon as I finished it the first time.
What I noticed was Thich Nhat Hanh’s gentleness in teaching, and I noticed how he paralleled Jesus’ teachings in what he was calling people to put into practice. It was such a powerful message. He said he practiced these things all the time: being present; being present to people in their suffering; and taking time to listen to them with compassion. He cited several Matthean passages where Jesus is teaching and living the very same thing: “Worry not about what tomorrow brings; tomorrow will worry for itself” and “Give us today our daily bread.”
Wow! I had never considered those passages to be so closely parallel to the practice of “being present.” I listened to the podcast again and decided, upon conferring with God in my morning meditations, that I would give the day to being present. My schedule was full and I was a little anxious about accomplishing everything, but I agreed to an attempt at practicing being present.
Have you ever noticed that when you pay attention to things like this there are opportunities EVERYWHERE around you? My day started with preschool chapel and the children seemed extra loving and excited about chapel time. They sang at the top of their lungs and shared such enthusiasm for the love of God that I found myself on sacred ground with them. Great way to start the day with huge rewards for being present!
Then I received a call from a couple from Texas. They wanted to elope. They had a big ceremony planned for November but wanted God’s blessing on their marriage and wondered if I would do the service. Today. As soon as they could drive over.
My inner pharisee started in, remembering the process by the Book of Order and the details I needed to cover before performing a marriage. My inner voice said, “Paula, your policy is six sessions of premarital counseling and ample time to discern that they understand the commitment of marriage, especially one that is being blessed by God. Then you need to contact the elders of the church and ask for permission to use the sanctuary for said marriage. . .”
And then I caught myself. What was I learning about being present? Could I challenge myself to be THIS present? I pondered what the couple was asking for — a blessing from God. Could I meet them in their suffering and be present to what they needed? Could I somehow serve as the visible Jesus to them in their need? I stilled my mind and prayed and before I knew it I had invited them to come over for some brief counseling before we did a short service in the forest.
When I blessed their rings and helped them exchange their vows of love and commitment, I found myself on sacred ground again. The light dappling through the pine trees, the backdrop of the Continental Divide, the fresh smell of our Colorado summer: all of this would have been missed if I had let my inner Pharisee take over. The joy in their eyes as they walked through the rest of the forest hand in hand, officially married before God and all of Creation – this would not have filled my day at all.
And though my day was busy, it ended up being such a productive and blessed day. I recognized that sometimes the inner Pharisee needs to be quieted so that I can be the visible Jesus as well. I need to remember that my old clay pot needs to let God’s love and light shine through even when it means I’m not following procedure and obeying polity. Isn’t that what Jesus was teaching through his healing of the man with the withered hand on the holy Sabbath?
May all of you find a way to become more present to others as we move through this beautiful and wondrous life. And in your presence, may you also bring the gift of a visible Jesus to a world that needs his presence, love, and grace more than ever.