(Sermon given May 19, 2019 at Christ Church La Plata & Christ Church Wayside, Episcopal Diocese of Washington)
First day of school.
The teacher wanted to teach us how scientists look at things differently, come up with hypotheses, and test their theories. He also wanted us to learn that people see things differently. And he told us that scientists had to be objective and observe exactly what they see and not what they expect to see. He said he was going to do an experiment with us. He said, “In a minute I’m going to hold up a picture. I want you to describe and write down exactly what you see in as much detail as you can. You’ll have 2 minutes. Do not speak or discuss what you see.”
It was a poster and there was a box around it and a title, and what not.
So … I took the task very seriously. I wrote exactly what I saw in as much detail as I could. After two minutes he told everyone to stop writing. Then he picked someone at random and said, “What did you see?”
The lucky student picked first said, “I saw an old woman wearing a scarf and a shawl.”
Other students in the room nodded while some looked at her like she was crazy. The teacher selected one of the students thinking the first might be crazy and said, “What did you see?”
This girl said, “I wouldn’t say she’s old. In fact, I’d say she’s very young. And she’s wearing a hat with a feather in it and a fur coat.”
The first girl said, “Are you crazy? She’s old with a wart on her nose and a huge nose!”
The second girl said, “Big nose? Her nose is tiny!”
The teacher allowed these two to argue a bit and called on a few other people to share what they saw. Everyone either saw an old or a young woman. Except me. I looked down at my paper and quickly slid it into my folder. I was totally embarrassed by what I had written.
The teacher asked people to raise their hands if they saw an old woman and counted them up. Then he asked who saw a young woman and counted them up. He then showed us that the picture was an illusion, and that both the image of a young and an old woman were present. He used this example to show us that two people could see the exact same thing a different way and both were right. It was quite a lesson for us.
So what did I write on my paper? I wrote something to the effect of: “I see black ink on white paper. I see lines and circles and squiggles. I see splotches of dark ink and areas of total white. I see broken lines and irregular lines.” At the time I wrote that, I thought that I had totally misunderstood the assignment and was so embarrassed. But did I misunderstand the assignment? Or did all of my classmates?
The teacher had told us to write down exactly what we saw. And that’s what I saw. I had noticed right away that the image showed both an old and a young woman. I didn’t see anything strange about that so I went deeper and decided to really look and detail what I saw because that’s what I thought he was trying to get us to do.
The author of this story gives us something to think about.
“I went deeper because I thought that is what he was really trying to get us to do.”
Our gospel this morning has a clear message. It is one we have heard over and over again, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”
There is a story I heard once from a priest friend who described a seminary professor’s homily at Morning Prayer held each day at the seminary. The professor, a formidable man dressed in cassock and surplice with all of the appropriate emblems from his hanging tippet and the hood of his doctorate, arose from his chair and walked to the pulpit. He grabbed the sides of the pulpit, cleared his voice, and looked out at the congregation of seminary students and faculty. He then slowly picked up his Bible and opened it to Mark 12:30 and his his baritone voice, read these words. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And he continued, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”
He paused, looked out at the students, removed his glasses, and closed his bible. There was a stillness in the chapel that could not be described.
After what seemed like an eternity, the professor picked up his closed Bible and held it up for all to see and said, “Love God and love each other. The rest of this book is how-to and commentary.” And he walked back over to his chair and sat down.
This might be the shortest sermon ever. You, my friends, are not so fortunate this morning.
But, I go back to our 8th grade and her words, “I went deeper, because that is what he is really trying to get us to do.” Let’s go deeper.
This week, I watched both Fox News and MSNBC. Their coverage of events and their take on those events could not be further apart. But they have a couple of things in common.
First, they are reporting events. It is less than 10% of what they do but they do have that in common.
Let’s go deeper.
Next, they both offer their interpretation of the events. There is little commonality in what they say about said events but neither are shy about sharing the views they offer.
Now, before you let the hairs on the back of your neck rise up, I have no remarks on either side’s version of the events they report.
Let’s go deeper.
I could make many more observations about these two networks, their people and what they have to say. It is pointless however to our deeper exploration.
You see, it is not what they say that is the point. The point I want to make my friends is that what they say and how they say it in no way exemplifies what we read about in today’s gospel lesson.
There is no respect and love for the opposing view. No one can be wrong 100% of the time and yet our political society is behaving as if the other side is wrong and I see evidence that bleeds over into our neighborhood society as well. You only have to drive on Charles Street at 5:00 in the afternoon to see it.
Let’s go deeper.
This week, I was having a conversation and the topic of homelessness came up. It is a factor in this story for you to know that these folks were people of faith regularly worshipping in church. Back to our discussion, these folks were quite upset about homelessness. I could see their passion rising as we got into the conversation. You can imagine my reaction when their passion was turned towards how inconvenient it was for them to have someone begging at every red light and they cannot even get into the grocery store with someone asking them for help.
Being shy, quiet and reserved like I am, I told them that is why I keep McDonald’s gift cards in my pocket and in my car, so I can help feed those that need help.
The response was that these people should have to work for a living like everyone else.
Let’s go deeper.
We are people of faith. We are called to certain action and feelings and attitudes. Isaiah 61 begins like this…
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…”
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon you, because the Lord has anointed you as well.
It is the season of Easter and resurrection. The word resurrection comes from the Greek word ‘anastasis’ meaning “a recovery or rebirth”
Let’s go deeper.
It is a season of recovery and rebirth and we, the Episcopal Church, are being called to lead that movement. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has from the beginning of his ministry, talked about The Jesus Movement. Our own rector, Kate has shepherded us through The Way of Love series during Lent.
Our 8th grade student in her story says it this way:
Years later I realized that it was one of the first times I can remember that I saw things differently from my peers. I wish I had had the courage back then to speak up and tell the class what I had seen. But I figured that I was the one who had made the mistake.
Try seeing things differently. Go deeper. Don’t just look at the surface. Wonder. Observe. See without presupposing. Who knows what you’ll see when you stop looking with your expectations and start seeing with your heart. Maybe you’ll start seeing things you never saw before. Things might appear that you’ve never seen before because you stopped looking as soon as you had an explanation.
Jesus says in today’s gospel, “I give you a new commandment…”
I give you a NEW commandment he says.
My message to you this day…
Go deeper. Be whoever God created you to be, but go deeper.
Let us pray.
Oh God, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you make all things new.
Long ago, you called your church to love beyond all social and cultural differences and gave them the gift of your Holy Spirit to open their hearts to enact such love.
Give us that same spirit of openness, that we too might discern new directions in our days and in our lives. Help us to fulfill your dream to reconcile and heal our world.
Help us to go deeper.
We pray in the name of the Risen Christ. Amen.
©The Rev. Steven Seely 2019