Open the Eyes of My Heart

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24     Ephesians 1:15-23     Matthew 25:31-46
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Won’t you open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see you.
I want to see you.
To see you high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of your glory!
Poor out your power and love,
As we sing “Holy, holy, holy.”
Holy, holy, holy.
I want you to see you.

So, goes the praise song I remember so well from youth conferences and camps. It feels so good and right to sing – and it is – yet I have always wondered if it’s true. Do we really want to see Jesus high and lifted up? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking if we want him glorified. I’m asking if we want him to keep his distance.

Is it an “in the sky” sort of love that we crave from God, or is it something more intimate and personal? Do we want God to stay in God’s place or interrupt and transform our lives? Is the light of God’s glory something we want to be bathed in for our sake – because we know we need it – or because it means that there is a God and it is most assuredly not me or you?

In truth, I would bet that it’s a little of all of the above, and that’s OK. It’s OK because God is going to do more than we ask or want, whether we know it or not. It’s also OK because today is the day that we celebrate and struggle with the present reality of the reign of Christ.

What does that even mean to the church that has been waiting for his return for two millennia? Well, even though the context of our post-modern questions about life and its meaning, may be a little different our readings do a fair job of framing out an answer.

In Ezekiel, the prophetic priest speaks of hope. He speaks of hope to a displaced people with divided loyalties and confused and misleading leaders. In the end, he reminds them that God is the one who looks toward the lost and the broken— in fact God treats them with greater care and concern.

And so, to begin, our hearts must open to the reality that God connects the status of the lost and broken to the status of the fat and happy. It’s not that God loves one more than the other. It’s the fact that we are responsible for our impact on one another. In some ways, it’s the opposite of the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s more like, how can I be content with my life knowing that you are suffering?

And while it is true that we have to be careful applying the expectations of an enslaved, divided kingdom to our own, we also have to remember that we are not just citizens of these United States. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. And in that Kingdom, we are called to a greater purpose than snatching pants out of someone’s hands to get a deal on Black Friday.

In this Kingdom, we are called by the very hope that holds and embraces the lost and the broken. In this Kingdom, there is wealth and power waiting for us that has nothing to do with money and leverage and everything to do with recognizing each other as beloved by God.

And we – yes even you and me – are knit together through the animating force of God’s Spirit to demonstrate the presence of Christ. That’s what Paul wanted the church in Ephesus to know – wait no more for Christ’s return, for the living Christ is in each of us!

And we will know it – and we will see it – when we are able to serve others as though we were serving Jesus. Now, I gotta say, this is where it gets weird. It gets weird because we hear this story, and many quote it, over and over again. I probably hear it as a justification for something more than a declaration about God’s presence.

But the thing I hear most is a bit of role confusion. You see, we usually talk about following the example of Jesus, so most of us assume that when we care for someone that we are the ones being like Jesus. But that’s not what this text says. It says that Jesus is the one that we are taking care of.

But here’s something else. Neither the sheep (who give care) nor the goats (who refuse care) are intentional about who or what they are taking care of. They aren’t thinking of the hungry one as Jesus. They are just doing what they do as a matter of character.

You see, for Christ to reign, it’s not going to happen by some cosmic show of force. It’s going to happen like the breaking open of an egg – when the being inside realizes that all it knows has become too confining, and the only option is to break free!

And the good news is that we have a part to play! We have a part to play in the smallest, simplest act of compassion and in the greatest stand for justice that we can make. But also, for those of us that are weak and scattered our part is, in the expectation of God’s presence in the kindness of strangers.

You know, while there are so many examples of heroes that have stood for justice, I’m also reminded of a quote from the film version of Tolkien's The Hobbit. The elf Galadriel asks Gandalf, “Why the halfling?” and he responds, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay—small acts of kindness and love.”

There is yet the need for larger acts of conscience. There is yet the need to take time to open the eyes of our hearts in order to see Christ in the hungry, in the one without a home, and in the one that is home. There is yet a need to organize and raise public awareness about issues and events that affect those with little or no power.

As a church, we have to be clear on that. We have to be clear that we are proclaiming the gospel for the salvation of all. Believe it or not, that’s why we are hosting a community conversation on access to insurance next week on December 4.

The Session was very clear when I asked them about this. It’s not about politics. It’s not about colluding with the government. It’s about recognizing that there are those in our community who do not have insurance. So, we are inviting the Director of Navigators for a Healthy Louisiana to come and talk to anyone that might need insurance or small business owners that need to provide for employees.

For, in this way, we are seeking to care for those that others have rejected. We can’t provide insurance coverage for anyone, but we can recognize that in caring for others we are putting the gospel of Jesus Christ into action!

And each of you will do this in your own way, but we must also have a collective witness that is more than just coming to church, singing songs, and listening to me. For the church is the way that the world may know that there is a higher power. The church is the way that the world can see the vanity of the villain who strikes with power and the hero who lashes out with nothing but courage and compassion and self-denying love.

That is the story that brings us to this table. That is the story that we celebrate with the splash of water that reminds us of God’s claim on us. That is the love that grabs us by the tongue when we taste and see with our hearts that Christ is in our midst!

And so, beloved of God, as we guard the truth by setting it free, let us do our best to remember that we are the sheep of God’s pasture. But more than that, all who are scattered and lost are beloved and gathered in by God – the very same God that expects us to do the gathering.

As you think about what that looks like in your life – and in our lives together – I want to share with you a vision of Christ’s reign that another Pastor, the Rev. Jose Luis Casal, shared on Facebook as “The Immigrant’s Apostles’ Creed.”

I believe in Almighty God,
Who guided the people in exile and exodus,
The God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
The God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
Who was born away from his people and his home, who fled
His country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
He suffered under the oppression of Pontious Pilat,
The servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.
Not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s Kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
Who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
And reunites all races.
I believe that the church is the secure home
For foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of Saints begins
When we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.

I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God,
And in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
In which all are distinct, and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner
But all will be citizens of the kingdom
Where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.

I believe in all of these things. I believe in love and compassion and truth and beauty, and through the open eyes of my heart I have seen them through you. That is what we celebrate today and every day in this place and every place until the Kingdom has come in fullness. Until then, let us continue to proclaim the lamb who is slain again and again, so that we might show the world what the resurrection is all about! For now, let us start with the one to our right and left in simple acts that build until there is no question about the reign of Christ in our hearts and minds, even as we await his return. Amen.
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