Abandon Distractions . . . Behold!
Sermon for next before Lent – OT8 Year A
The words of God through the Prophet Isaiah “Behold! I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”’
Behold! The everlasting God has carved you into the palms of his hands. Behold!
Of course that was not what we heard – we heard ‘See!’ There are times when one despairs of the committees which translate our scriptures out of Hebrew and Greek. The Command ‘Behold!’ occurs more than one thousand three hundred times throughout the Scriptures. Yet the NRSV has it just 27 times outside the New Testament and not at all in the New Testament. And this translation is the most widely used now in the Western Church . . . Perhaps it is no surprise that we have lost sight of God . . .
One thousand three hundred times, behold! Behold! Behold! The first word God directly addresses to the man and the woman in the Garden? Behold! God said, ‘See!’ NO ‘Behold!, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’
We are perhaps the first culture in the history of Mankind to have all but lost this facility. So people will say – ‘oh it is an old fashioned word for looking – so we will get rid of it’ Look! See! That will do.
Looking and Seeing as we shall discover in our Lent course are ways of blindness. They reduce the World to a set of objects for our use, for manipulating for putting to our own ends – because we do not ‘Behold!’ We perhaps do not even know how to begin and after all there is SO MUCH to SEE!!
We look this way and that – we lost the facility to Behold, rather we have advanced to the highest art form the facility to create a million and one things to look at. ‘Look here!’ Look there! Did you see?? we are held captive by a blizzard of images – and we can no longer Behold the Image of God. The author Matt Crawford – a motorcycle mechanic philosopher 🙂 – argues in his book ‘The World beyond your head’ for the right ‘not to be addressed’. He is writing about the fact that everywhere you look someone is trying to grab you attention – trying to get you to buy something. A local school is ‘Recognised by Apple as a distinguished school for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.’ Recognised by Apple . . . Does no one See? Are we blind to this?? Have you ever taken time to consider their logo . . .? We have created an existence in which we are surrounded by a million and one human artefacts – look! Look! Look!
Returning from retreat at Ngatiawa on Monday I took the bus to the airport. Disoriented by the sudden blizzard of visual stimuli having spent a week in the bush – I glanced at the screen where our route was shown – only to see the name of a stop followed by ‘alight here for Burger King’.
And our distraction leaves us open and vulnerable to everything under the sun. We are an age like no other plagued by mental health issues and anxiety disorders. A young girl comes on retreat. She wants to know ‘what is the wifi code’ and is disturbed to find that there is no wifi available.’how will I keep in touch with what is happening in the world?’
In the time of Jesus – worries were sharp and upfront and pressing – what WILL we eat? what WILL we drink? What WILL we wear? And Jesus advice sounds at first like no more than a pragmatic answer. Who by worrying can add an hour to his life??
in the movie Bridge of spies – a Russian spy played by Mark Rylance, is caught in America. As his lawyer (Tom Hanks) explains his situation to him, of how he may well face the electric chair he seems unperturbed, so he asks ‘aren’t you worried’. Rylance putting more power into three words than most can in thirty three thousand replies ‘Would it help?’ But Jesus wants us not only to wake up to the futility of worry. He desires that we ‘Behold!’ And so in the fulfilment of those words first spoken in the Garden of Eden, he says ‘Behold! The birds of the air! they neither reap nor sow nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.’
The gentiles worry about these things – those who do not know that they are the children of God. Who do not Know God as their Father – who do not Behold his engraved palms and see themselves there. Those are the people who worry. Your Father in heaven knows you need all these things. So strive for his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you . . .
What does this mean? to strive for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness?? It is to desire God through all, above all and in all. it is nothing new – It is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and souls and mind and strength – it is to make every effort to enter in through the narrow Gate – to Love Him above and through and In all.
As St Augustine puts it – in the words of our collect – our hearts are restless – this is a matter of our desires – Look here! Look There! Did you See? Our hearts are restless until they find there rest in you.
Jesus has been teaching this all the way through the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t store up for yourselves treasure on earth – where your treasure is – there will your heart be. If you set your heart on the things of this world they will fail you – they will rust and the moths will get them – or someone will hack your bank account – or or or a thousand and one worries . . . all because our hearts are not set on God. Where your treasure is there will be your heart . . . you will be devoted . . . you will gaze longingly on it . . . and the eye is the lamp of your body – so if your eye is set on things that will decay, then so will your heart – your Life, your existence. you cannot serve two masters – you will hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other
For the first thousand years of the life of the Church, the church new this – they had a strong word for distraction – they called it ‘fornication’ – it was to have as it were those adulterous eyes that look for life anywhere but to the Life giver. Eyes set anywhere but on God – looking, Seeing, but not Beholding.
There is the lovely story of a man sat in a church – same time each week he would turn up – finally the Vicar asked what he was doing sitting there. The man gave him a beatific smile – Oh, I just sit here smiling at God and he smiles back at me . .
The Psalmist speaks of this beholding – ‘For God alone my soul in silence waits – for my hope comes from him’
A brother came for a word from the Elder. Father, give me a Word/ Love the Lord your God with al your heart and soul and mind and strength’, The brother went form his teacher. Ten years later he returned, ‘Father, I have learned that word. Give me another Word. the Elder replied ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ The young man went out from him never to return. Such I suggest is the deep work which beholding God in Silence does. This Lent, if we have begun this work, let us continue. If we have put it down, let us pick it up again. If we have not yet picked it up, do so. for truly ‘Behold! He has engraved us in the palm of his hand’ This is not one fact amongst many – it is THE Fact – It is Life – it s The living God – it is We who are found there in His hand. It is there that our True Life is to be known