“Soul Food” Sermon Series Ends

Date:  September 24, 2017

Title:  “Open-Hearted Eyes”

Preaching:  The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture:  Ephesians 1:15-19

Bonjour, mes amis!  It is good to be with you this morning, to be together as sisters and brothers in Christ.  Bonjour, mes amis!  It is good to gather together with you in this sanctuary, to praise God and to connect with one another.  Bonjour, mes amis!  It is good to be back in Portland, Oregon, to be together with this congregation of faithful, hopeful people

Oh sure, I could go on a long time (about 1200 photos worth of time), to give you a little taste of the beauty and the wonder I encountered these past three weeks in southern France, Italy, and Germany.  But it seems like that might just be mean, because the time away and the adventures encountered were fabulous , but I couldn’t take you all with me.  You didn’t all have a chance to see that incredible view of the Mediterranean from the balcony at Eze bord de mer, or the vibrant colors of the houses with their red clay tile roofs.  You didn’t get to experience the grandeur of the perched villages, or the inspiration of Chagall paintings, Picasso drawings, Volti sculptures…to say nothing of the bread, the cheese, the fish, the wine!

And it is not like the peace and tranquility of Provence these past days could sum up the whole of the planet’s experience.   First there was Hurricane Harvey and the Houston flooding.  Then came Hurricane Irma’s devastation… and Hurricane Maria,   and the earthquakes in Oaxaca and Mexico City. And then, whatever heartache or worry, distress or success, triumph or tragedy you experienced in these past days.

Maybe I could be forgiven for wanting to go back and live in the memory of France.   And yet, this kind of self-protecting, deliberately isolating vision is not what the text from Ephesians is suggesting this morning.  “Open-hearted eyes” are ones which recognize the reality of the world as it is, while also hanging onto the world as it could be.  Open-hearted eyes face up to the devastation of natural disasters.  Open-hearted eyes rebel against violence and hate, political posturing and suspicion, brokenness and hopelessness.  Because open-hearted eyes see something more.

Recently, theologian Jurgen Moltmann put it this way:

Anyone who trusts the living God does not just see the world in terms of its reality.  Realists do that, and they always arrive too late.  Anyone who trusts the future sees the world according to its potential.

 I think that is what “open-hearted eyes” are all about.  The world relies upon us Christ-followers to see its full potential in the light of the Gospel.  As Wesleyan Christians we cannot separate our love for God from our passion to create the kind of world where God’s kin-dom can truly be incarnated here on earth, the kind of world where hurricanes and earthquakes, wars and rumors of war are not neglected or ignored, yet they are also not allowed to define the totality of our existence.

So this morning, when the author of Ephesians prays, it is a specific and directed prayer, asking that his friends be illuminated in the present moment, praying for eyes of the heart to be opened, and for hope to become as central as knowledge and joy.

As Edgardo Colon-Emeric writes:

As ridiculous as it might sound, God called the Christian community at Ephesus to be a sign of the age to come.  By eating together in friendship, they actively participated in the unfolding of God’s purpose for creation.

 By joining together in the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, this small band of disciples witnessed that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God…In short, God called the little flock at Ephesus to be a sacrament of Christ’s work of cosmic reconciliation.

 As ridiculous as it might sound, God is asking of us exactly the same thing.  We too can be a sign of the age to come.  We too can participate actively in the unfolding of God’s purposes for creation.  We too can be a sacrament in the work of cosmic reconciliation, if we will hang onto hope and begin to see with “open-hearted eyes”.

Barbara Kingsolver puts it this way:

The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for.  The most you can do is to live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides.  It helps to remember that the arc of history is longer than human vision.  We abolished slavery, we granted universal suffrage.  We have done hard things before.  And every time it took a terrible fight between people who could not imagine changing the rules, and those who said, “We already did.  We have made the world new.”

 The hardest part is to convince yourself of the possibilities, and to hang on.  If you run out of hope at the end of the day, you must rise in the morning and put it on again with your shoes.  Because hope is the only reason you won’t give in, burn what’s left of the ship and go down with it.

The hardest part may be to open up the eyes of our hearts – to consistently utilize “open-hearted eyes”, which enable us to see the world (and ourselves) in our fullest Gospel potential.

After the two weeks in France I spent the last week in Berlin meeting with the Commission on a Way Forward for our United Methodist Church.  On the last morning of our meeting my friend Casey, from Ft. Worth, Texas, preached a powerful sermon about hope.  She started by reminding us of these words from 1 Peter, chapter 3:  Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.  And then, she said this:

Ten years ago, I knew these words to say, but my heart had not caught on.  I was defined then by my brokenness because I would never acknowledge it or name it.  It owned me.  It occupied my thoughts and my emotions and my energy.  It affected my body and my health and my relationships.

 I’m not so scared of the things that make me broken today.  And while I grieve the brokenness in our beloved church and wish it were not so, it really does not scare me.  I am not threatened by it.  And I think that is because in this space, in our work, with great courage and vulnerability, we have named the brokenness we all share. Our church is broken; each of us is broken.  We have each been shaped by a different cast of imperfect communities and imperfect people and imperfect experiences. 

 But each of us has also been molded by a perfect God, with perfect love for each of us, making each of us more perfect in love every day. The brokenness of our church and the challenge before us do not own us. The hateful rhetoric swirling around us and sometimes launched toward us does not own us.  The paranoia and anxiety and fear about what is next do not own us. The uncertainty of what will happen to the hard work we are doing does not own us.

 These things do not own us, nor do they define us… because we are defined by Jesus Christ.  We are defined by his gospel of love.  We are defined by the promise that God is making all things new.  We are defined by the mission to follow Jesus and to change the world.  We are defined by the hope in us and the hope before us.

 One more story….Yitzhak Perlman, the great violinist, played an extraordinary concert in New York one night.  It seems he was crippled by polio as a child, so he wears leg braces and has to walk with crutches in a very painful, slow way, hauling himself across the stage.  Then he sits down and carefully unbuckles the leg braces and lays them down, puts down his crutches, and then picks up his violin.

So this night the audience had watched him slowly walk across the stage; and he began to play when suddenly, there was a loud noise in the hall as one of his four violin strings snapped. Everyone expected he would have to put the leg braces back on, walk back across the stage, and find a new violin.  But no… Yitzhak Perlman closed his eyes for a moment, paused, and then signaled for the conductor to begin again, as he began where they had left off.  And here’s what happened, according to Jack Riemer in the Houston Chronicle:

“He played with such passion, power and purity, as people had never heard before.  Of course, everyone knew it was impossible to play this symphonic work with three strings…but that night, Yitzhak Perlman did not know that.  You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head.   

When he finished, there was an awe-filled silence in the room, and then people rose and cheered.  Perlman just smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to us and then said… Sometimes, it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left. 

Sometimes, it is our task to find out how much hope we can defend when we are defined by God’s love alone.  That is what open-hearted eyes will show us all at last.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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