A sermon for the Parish Eucharist, preached on Sunday 23 February 2020 by the Rector, Canon Eric Woods
Normally I see red if I spot any of you reading the Pewsheet during the sermon. It happened the other Sunday at Castleton, and it was as much as I could do not to throw a hymn book at the offender! But today I want you to pick up your pewsheet and look at the bottom of the last page. It spells a word. Please put up your hand when you have worked out which word it spells.
Mmm – not bad, but too many of you are looking at the word in the wrong way. You are conditioned to look at black ink on white paper. Try instead looking at the white spaces between the black marks. Can you see now? The word is ‘JESUS’. Too often we don’t see Jesus because we are looking in the wrong place and in the wrong way.
That is exactly what happens in today’s Gospel, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain, when ‘his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.’ Then Moses and Elijah appear in glory. And Peter and James and John see all this, but what they do not see is its significance. Peter blurts out something embarrassing about building shelters for their heavenly visitors, but he does not know what he is saying. He does not see into what is really going on until a voice comes from heaven: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ Then Peter and the others see that here is indeed the true Son of God, who has come to show us the way back to the Father, and they fall to the ground, overcome by fear. [Matt. 17. 1-9].
Christianity is about seeing. It is about seeing with new eyes. It is about seeing with God’s eyes. And what do you see when you take the decision to entrust yourself and your life to Jesus Christ? What do you see that you didn’t see before?
First, you see yourself properly. That is in fact a very hard thing to do. From childhood we are surrounded by adults who project an image of how they want to be seen, and how they want us to be seen, and soon we join in the conspiracy. The very clothes you wear are chosen to make a statement about yourself. The person who comes to church in a carefully-tailored city suit is saying something different about himself from the person who comes in country tweeds – or in jeans and trainers! No one style is better than the other. No one is worse. The statements are just different. The car we drive, the way we furnish our homes, the things we choose to do with our leisure time: these are all part of the image, the persona, we wish to project. But where is the real you behind all this? How often is the real you allowed out? How easy do you find it to share your hopes and fears and dreams and worries with other people? How often do you really own up to the truth about yourself to yourself? How often do you own up to the truth about yourself to God? Becoming a Christian, being a Christian, means being able to be honest about yourself with yourself, and honest about yourself with God. For Christianity is not about how you ought to be. It is about how you are. It is not about leading a good life, but about the sort of life you actually lead. And it is about realising for the first time that God wants you as you are, not as you think you are. He wants you as you are because that is real, that is authentic, and only when he has you as you are, warts and all, can he do anything with you. Our faith is about seeing ourselves as God sees us, and knowing that he accepts us as we are and that only then can he begin to fashion us into what he wants us to be.
Then, second, being a Christian enables you to see others as Christ sees them. So often we don’t do that. I was shopping in Cheap Street one day and I was in a hurry. The girl on the till in my first shop was going very slowly and making a botch of it. I could feel my blood pressure rising. And then I thought ‘Hold on a minute. You don’t know anything about that girl. She may be new to the job. She may not feel very well. She may have problems at home. Try to see her as a unique human being for whom Christ died.’ Then I went into the pharmacist’s. A different problem this time. An elderly lady determined to tell the assistant her life story and entire medical history. Blood pressure mounts again. Then, ‘Hold on. Jesus would see that for this old lady the shopping expedition isn’t a chore to be done as quickly as possible, but the highlight of the day – perhaps the only bit of human contact she will have all day.’ Oh, it’s not easy to see others as Christ sees them. But it is vital if we are not all to become dehumanised, less than human, because we cannot see the Lord in those other human beings he has made and whom he loves.
Then, last, being a Christian helps us see God. Not face-to-face, because we couldn’t bear it, not this side of heaven. Now we see through a glass darkly, says St Paul. But not as a set of doctrines and dogmas either. So many people have an image of God as either an absent-minded elderly school teacher or a bad-tempered hanging judge. Where on earth did those extraordinary caricatures come from? But Christians can see God in Jesus Christ, and in all the love and grace and mercy he showed on earth, and we see God in our prayers and our worship and our praise as we draw close to him and let him live in our hearts and our lives.
In my last parish there was an RAF base with a large hospital, shared with the Army. Sadly it has long been closed, but during my time, whenever the padre was away on little things like the Falklands campaign, I would cover for him. For ten years I was the ‘Temporary Officiating Chaplain’ of RAF Wroughton. Once I met a retired army optician there, who had served during both the Second World War and the days of National Service. And he told me an interesting thing, that many of the new conscripts arrived either with defective eyesight and no glasses, or defective eyesight and defective glasses. He would test their eyes and write them up new spectacles to enable them to see more clearly. But getting the men to wear their new glasses was another thing altogether. You see, they were so used to blurred vision that they felt uncomfortable in a clear world. They preferred a hazy view of reality.
Seeing, really seeing, is not always comfortable, especially when it is about seeing yourself as you are, and not as you have always imagined yourself to be. But in the name of God be content with blurred vision no longer. Come to him, so that you will be able to say – and say gladly and with great joy – ‘All I know is this: once I was blind, but now I see.’