Monday, May 18, 2015

Eyes to See

Eyes to See
1 John 5:1-6[1]
I’ve never learned to fly a plane, but I have ridden in a single-engine airplane. It was a fun and interesting experience, but I don’t think riding in a private plane comes anywhere close to the experience of actually flying the plane. One aspect of flying that I find hard to imagine is when pilots have to fly only by their instruments. In bad weather, or situations of extreme darkness, the only thing the pilot has to be able to tell which way is up is the instruments like an artificial horizon, an altimeter, and others. In fact, pilots who have failed to trust their instruments in those situations have crashed because they can literally confuse up with down. I’d have to say riding in a plane when the pilot is flying by instruments only isn’t something I think I would enjoy.
To some extent, I think faith is a little like flying by instruments only. We’re all in the position of entrusting our lives and our future to things we’ve never actually seen with our own eyes. When we embrace the Christian faith, we learn to define our lives by values and convictions that are based on events that we cannot necessarily prove. The resurrection is a case in point. While we have plenty of testimony, both in Scripture and in our own personal experience, what we make of all that is far from certain. I think this can leave us feeling like faith takes us to a place in our lives where we’re flying blind.[2]
One of the statements from our lesson from 1 John for today is a case in point. The Elder emphasizes that, despite the difficulties this world can throw at us, “this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4). In the context, it would seem that he is talking about the victory we experience through our faith in Jesus who won the victory (cf. Jn 16:33).[3] Now, there have been times in my life when I would have given a hearty “Amen” to that. But there have been other times when the language of “victory” has seemed hollow in the face of what life has brought. I have an idea that I’m not alone in that ambiguity surrounding the “victory” of our faith. At the very least I would have to say that there are times in our lives when that “victory” seems less than obvious.[4]
But I don’t believe that’s the whole story. While we cannot verify in a concrete way the convictions and experiences that serve as the basis for our faith, there are other “confirmations” of faith that are available to us. Despite the fact that the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead can strain our imagination, I think we’d have to say that something actually happened on that first Easter Sunday that changed our lives for good. That’s one confirmation. In some way that we simply will never be able to sufficiently explain we also continue to have the experiences of the living Christ in our lives.[5] That’s another confirmation. Through our faith in Jesus who died and rose again for us, we have glimpses of a new life, even though they may seem to be fleeting at just the time when we most long for them. And yet those glimpses can also help us. And finally, the love that we share in the community of faith can help us here.[6] Our lesson for today tells us that our love for one another serves as a confirmation that we love God. I would also say it’s a confirmation that God loves us.[7]
In a very real sense, I would say that one of the tasks that we who would seek to embrace the Christian faith in our day and time face is to develop the eyes to see the “victories” that our faith offers us every day. Most of us have had significant “victories” in life that we would attribute to our faith. But those tend to come sporadically, and perhaps even rarely, in life. It seems to me that we need to find ways to experience what we might call “smaller” victories in our daily lives. We need to find a way to attune our senses to the everyday benefits and commonplace blessings that can keep us going on a regular basis.
I think perhaps the most important way we can develop the eyes to see the victory of our faith on a more daily basis is by cultivating our own spiritual practice.[8] I realize that we can tend to relegate that to Sundays. Or, more realistically, I think we’d have to say many of us relegate it to some Sundays. But our faith is just like any other pursuit in life: when we practice it only occasionally or even haphazardly, we get uneven results. However, when we seek to practice our spirituality as often as possible, both in Sunday worship and in our daily routines, I think we will begin to discover those “commonplace victories” on a more regular basis.[9] I don’t just think this; I know it for a fact from personal experience.
So how do we go about doing that? How do we develop these spiritual “eyes” so see the victory of our faith? There are all kinds of resources available to help us accomplish that. There are Bible reading plans, prayer books, even web-based resources and smartphone apps![10] I’d say if there’s a problem, it’s that we have too many resources to choose from. Some of them can be overwhelming, so I’d recommend you start with something simple. What matters is that you do something as often as possible. We may not be able to pray like monks or nuns, but I think most of us can make more room in our lives for personal worship. Rather than filling the empty spaces of our days with what can sometimes be empty pursuits, we can set aside some of those times for personal worship. To do that, it must become a part of the rhythm of our daily lives. And as with any of life’s pursuits, the more we practice our spirituality, the more we will know the joy that comes from the experiencing the presence of the risen Lord Jesus. The more we attune our senses to the realities that can sometimes take us beyond what we can see, the more we will develop the “eyes” to see the victory of our faith in daily living.

[1] ©2015 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/10/2015 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 2.1:159, where he says that the life of faith involves a feeling of as if we are “suspended and hanging without ground under our feet.” 
[3] Cf. D. Moody Smith, First, Second, and Third John, 118: “The person born of God overcomes the world … essentially through faith in Jesus, the one who has already overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).” Cf. similarly, Georg Strecker, The Johannine letters: A commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John, 179-80. Cf. also Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.3.1:172: “From the very outset it is clear and certain what will be the result of His ministry and rule, namely, that His right and might will triumph in opposition to the resistance and challenge offered to Him, removing the challenge and destroying the resistance.”
[4] Cf. Smith, First, Second, and Third John, 119, where he points out that “Jesus speaks of overcoming the world as he goes to his death.”
[5] As Kierkegaard also pointed out, despite all our questions and quandaries, “Christ enters through locked doors.” Cf. Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, edited by Howard V. Hong, p. 118 (5313, IIA 730).
[6] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 316, where he defines the community of believers as “the fellowship of friends who live in the friendship of Jesus and spread friendliness in the fellowship, by meeting the forsaken with affection and the despised with respect.” 
[7] Cf. Smith, First, Second, and Third John, 119: “Love of God and love of our brothers and sisters are mutually dependent.”
[8] Cf. The Book of Order 2013-2015, W-5.2001 (p. 133): “The daily challenge of discipleship requires the daily nurture of worship.”  Cf. also ibid., W-5.1003: “The rhythm of the life of the believer moves from worship to ministry, from ministry to worship.”
[9] Cf. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 158, defines worship as “to experience Reality, to touch Life. It is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community.” But for this to truly become our experience of corporate worship, he recognizes that we must “learn to practice the presence of God daily” (ibid, 170).  Cf. also The Book of Order 2013-2015, W-1.1001 (p. 75): “In worship the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they respond to God’s claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed.”
[10] Some of the most helpful are the PCUSA Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer EditionA Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God; and the ambitious three volume Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle, which simplifies the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  Or you can find daily Scripture readings and Psalms for prayer at, or by searching for “Daily Office” on the internet.  PCUSA even has a “Daily Prayer App” for either iOS or Android devices.

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