Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Blind Spot

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 1 Peter 1:17-23 Luke 24:13-35

One of my favorite, so called “reality TV,” shows is the one with the beefy Englishman who comes in and reconstructs a restaurant from the ground up. Maybe you’ve seen it? He takes a failing restaurant and lifts up the barriers to their success. It’s usually the same: uncleanliness (they get used to their own mess), overburdened menus (trying to be everything to everyone and losing a unique character), complacent staff (loss of vision equals loss of passion), and worst of all – bad food.

Some customers are brought in; sometimes neighborhood residents are even interviewed, to demonstrate the way in which people from the outside perceive the restaurant and its food and service. Usually the perception of those from outside of the restaurant (customers and neighbors) is quite different from those inside the restaurant (owners and staff).

I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with the show, because the part where the restaurateur is confronted with his or her sin is usually pretty harsh. What I love to see is the reveal – when they see their renovated restaurant for the first time. I love the way redemption takes place when their eyes are opened to see the futility of their past and the hope of their future.

Maybe I’m just an odd ball, but it’s hard for me to separate the experience of the impossible – or maybe a better word is improbable – redemption of a failing restaurant from the call to renewal, revival, and revitalization of the church. Our longing for redemption is not so different, but it has become so separated from our day to day lives that we sometimes forget how closely redemption and everyday living are interrelated. It is more convenient to place redemption in some future space and forget that when we say, “Christ is risen indeed!” we are telling people that the moments of our days are redeemed. The mistakes of our past are redeemed! The injuries we have received are redeemed! The opportunities before us are set as opportunities to live as a people who have been redeemed!

Sometimes it’s hard to see things that way. We have certain responsibilities. We have certain expectations. We have certain limitations. We have certain experiences that have proven to us what works, and we simply don’t have time or tolerance to re-invent the wheel. The problem is that all of these good and faithful things can coalesce to become a blind spot – just like the space in our vision that allows the nerves and vessels to carry information to our brains.

Even worse it can be like the blind spot in our car – that space that you can’t see no matter how you turn and crane your neck. Did you know that, according to Consumer Reports, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that almost 300 individuals are killed and 18,000 injured annually in backover crashes, with most victims being children and the elderly.

I don’t mean to alarm you, but the reality is that we are talking about life and death and the hope for the redemption of both. That’s what today’s readings are all about. The authors of 1 Peter, Luke, and Acts are presenting us with what some might call a “come to Jesus” moment.

Peter’s speech in Acts, to be fair, begins with a “therefore” that might need a little unpacking. This is the grand conclusion of the Pentecost experience when people of Jewish heritage have come from every direction throughout the Roman Empire for the Feast of Weeks – a celebration of the law received by Moses on Mount Sinai.

Peter and the Apostles (formerly known as disciples of Jesus) are preaching the message of Jesus’ resurrection in languages previously unknown to them. This is the day that we remember as Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was unleashed and those who followed Jesus became known as a distinct group of believers. The part we are missing is Peter’s testimony that the law and the prophets, the heritage of Jesus, and even his death and resurrection all prove that Jesus not only was but is the Messiah that will redeem Israel. Hearing that the only part they have played so far was to crucify him, the crowd is pretty quick to ask what they can do now!

And Peter’s speech comes back to the sermon and testimony of John the baptizer and Jesus himself – repent and be baptized – and Peter adds, “and receive the Holy Spirit!” Then they had the best problem any church ever had – 3,000 people said, “Yes! Let’s follow Jesus!” Of course we know that not every one of them truly repented. Of course we know that there were households baptized at the command of the landholder or Paternal figure. Of course the church has been arguing ever since about what it means to receive the Holy Spirit, and there are references in scripture to people receiving it before and after baptism.

I believe that the most important thing is that people are told to repent, and they make a genuine effort to turn from selfishness and to turn toward God centeredness. The tradition of Peter’s speech is continued in 1 Peter, where we find that the results of repentance will put us in the truly messy place of caring about what happens to one another. Nowhere does it say that we have to like one another – because my guess is that sometimes we just won’t – but Peter reiterates Jesus’ new commandment that we are to love one another deeply, genuinely, and from the heart.

That means that my salvation, my redemption, my purpose is intimately tied up with yours. It’s the theological version of the statement that “there is no I in team.” As challenging as this may be – or as comforting as it can be – we can still just as easily find ourselves walking down the road like downhearted disciples with Jesus in our blind spot while we look right at him and say, “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

But Jesus is persistent! Jesus revealed to them what they already knew but were unwilling to see – kind of like those restaurant owners that were unwilling to see the things that were blaringly obvious to others. The disciples did not want to know. They did not want to hear. For all they knew they had been duped into the biggest ponzi scam ever. Who knows why they were going to Emmaus – except to get away from Jerusalem, maybe find a job, and start over.

Redemption is deeply connected to life and vitality, you know. So Jesus became known to them in the breaking of the bread and in giving thanks to God for the basic necessities that allow us to see where the sacred and the ordinary are actually the same thing. When we open our eyes to see Jesus, we realize that all of life is Holy! When we realize how quickly we can lose our vision of Jesus because we have chosen a self-centered path, we can do little else but run to find others to share what we have seen – even if it was only a glimpse of what God is doing.

It is in the tradition of recognizing our blind spots and coming together that we will celebrate opportunities to express the love of God today in our “express lunch.” Today we will acknowledge the work of our ministry partner, Family Promise of Acadiana. They have been one our ministry partners for many years, and they truly understand the relationship between redemption and daily living. Every day they work to keep families intact during periods of homelessness and financial strain. They produce amazing results. In fact they have an 86% success rate in helping families graduate into permanent housing. Although we give them a small amount each month, today we will give them an additional $500 from the Jack Henton Memorial Fund to demonstrate our love and support.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to share this news with you, because it represents a shift in our perspective as a congregation. In some ways, it is a shift back to doing some of the things we have always done. For over 135 years, this congregation has generously encouraged the well-being of the community. We have understood the words of Jeremiah (29:7) to the exiles, “…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Yet, in recent years, we have been more focused on the challenge of the BeeGees – stayin’ alive! The shift that I believe we are seeing comes from a sincere desire to live out the Word we have received today – repent, be baptized (or simply remember your baptism and the claim that God has upon your life), and receive the Holy Spirit!

The questions that we are yet to struggle with as individuals and as a congregation are these:

Are we willing to see the barriers to participating in God’s will that others see, and are we willing to do anything about it?

Are we willing to see our redemption as tied up with each others and with theirs – whoever they are?

Are we willing to let love draw us into the uncomfortable and messy space of caring for one another, deeply, genuinely, and from the heart – especially when we don’t like one another?

Are we willing to let Jesus remove our blind spots by focusing on the day to day stuff in a way that gives thanks and glory to God for all of it?

Perhaps even more difficult than all of these is this: are we willing to let go of our expectations for how and what to do in order to see an entirely new possibility – a possible future that does not re-invent the wheel, because we realize that we do not even need the wheel that we are so used to depending on?

I believe these are questions we need to wrestle with as we get ready for our own Pentecostal moment. 3,000 new members would be a nice problem to have, huh? Then again, the Department of Transportation is projecting a population growth of 50,000 in the next 15 years. If we do not anticipate growth, then we might not be as open to the movement of God’s Holy Spirit as we think. Remember, our concern is not simply for their redemption, but also for the way in which ours is intertwined. Let us, then, be motivated by the command to love, by the claim that Christ is risen, and by the experience of redemption in this life so that we can have even more hope in the life to come. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen!
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