Sermon for Epiphany 3
Repentance – Seeking God’s Face
My Heart says ‘Come! Seek His Face’
Your Face Lord do I seek
There is perhaps nothing more awe inspiring than a new born baby. It is a profoundly sacred moment -bringing Life into the World.
But new born babies are not as some would have it, blank slates. One of the ways the contemplation of new birth stops me In my tracks is the simple fact that we are born into this world seeking a face, and more, not only are we born looking for a face, within 3 days of birth we are looking for a face which according to our particular culture is thought to be beautiful . . . and we hadn’t even had time to learn how to use tik-tok or other social media to learn the stereotypes . . . We are born looking for a beautiful face . . . but then something happens to our sight.
Rather like the shepherd with his sheep, or the woman with the coin, we are born into the world looking for something we have lost . . . and then we forget . . . We think we learn to see, but increasingly our seeing blinds us.
We find ourselves as a family in the flood season of family birthdays. Our three babies hit the one year mark, Miriam is 3, Ella, Megan, Sam and myself also have birthdays around this time. And birthdays bring presents, and rather like the teddy bears I introduced you to last week there are a multiplicity, which seems to blind.
To this day I am almost haunted by a memory of Sam being given a small model helicopter – possibly at age 2 – and how his sisters just wanted to ply him with lots of other presents. Yet he was absorbed in turning this one thing over and over in his hand. As we get older we get trained out of the wonder of seeing things as they are and thinking we see and know . . . and seeking a face?
It’s curious, but from the face seeking of infancy we start to actively hide from faces. Even, tragically those of our own children – Paediatricians note how there is a huge increase in children at 6months who don’t smile – for their parents aren’t seeking their face . . . and again, have you noticed how you might be in a social context, say a café, and there are people whom you don’t know. You are absently mindedly gazing towards someone and then they look in your direction – we seem to know we’re being looked at – and immediately you look away. ‘Don’t stare, it’s rude!’ we’re told in our childhood and we learn not to see. Bizarrely, the more we are given to look at – Look Here! Look There! The less we see . . . The more faces, the more we look away.
I always remember one of my mentors, a man of much missionary experience saying how odd it was for him to return to England where people asked, ‘how are you?’ without of course being remotely interested in the answer. He compared this with his experience in Africa, where the standard greeting was ‘I see you’. We seem predisposed in our culture to flee from the connection of the gaze . . .
Last week we heard from our own St John’s gospel of how Jesus starts his mission, which is ‘to draw all men to’ himself, and Seeing is front and centre. How it begins John the Baptist crying out – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold! – Open the eye of your heart . . .
Sin as I’ve been saying is disconnection. Disconnection brought about by blindness – we are groping for something, but in the wrong place. This is picked up in Jesus first recorded words in the Gospel of John. He turns, sees the disciples following and asks ‘what are you looking for?’ You might well say that ‘sinners’, those whom Jesus comes for, are those looking for something in the wrong place. ‘What ARE you looking for?’ What a question.
But first Jesus sees them – He is also looking . . . we’ll return to this shortly.
They said to him, ‘Where do you abide?’ to translate more literally – interestingly we are looking in the wrong place, and they ask Jesus to show them the place where he is staying -resting, abiding – and he invites them to ‘Come and See’ – and they came and saw where he abided, and abided with him . . .
This week from Matthew, we hear how Jesus, the light spoken of by the prophet, shining by the Sea of Galilee in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali opens his ministry with the words – ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand . . .’ It’s near – it’s so close, just a breath away, if you simply repented, you would see it . . .
John in his gospel never uses the word ‘Repent’ – rather his language is of Seeing and Knowing, seeing and knowing God what is more . . . As Jesus says to the disciples – If you know me, you will know my father also. From now on you know him and have seen him . . .
Repent. A much abused word . . . This is not about ‘saying sorry’. In fact you will have to scour the scriptures to find this. Yes, there is sorrow for our sins, after all if you are missing the mark, looking in the wrong place, then you are also missing out on Life . . .
The word in Greek is metanoia – which we tend to translate as ‘change your mind’ – so influenced are we by the idea that what makes us special is our rational mind. But the Noia which we must meta – the nous which we must change – is the eye of the heart – redirect your sight
Redirect our sight towards the source of our life. The Lord is my light . . .
This is repentance – turning to seek the face of God.
The Psalmist hears his heart speaking to him, saying ‘Seek His face’ – this is the deepest voice within us, the voice of the heart – ‘what are you looking for?’ An answer comes from within our heart, seek His Face . . .
Each morning especially at this time of year, I like to get some early morning Sun. God blesses is in the Sun which is an agent of his life giving purposes as is all else in Creation. The Sun is sustained by God’s goodness, and so as we look towards the Sun in a real sense we see the goodness of God streaming towards us – we See his Goodness.
If we truly see, then we see the image of God walking towards us in every person. We see in our food, God’s Goodness coming towards us.
Yet, we grow up in a world of fishing nets, where we are told that it is our work that sustains things, and the curse of the secular age, a bitter poison drunk by so many in the church is that all things are held up by our hard work – but they’re not. Everything is sustained – held in being by God.
Then we think that all we have we have because we worked hard. We are not seeing right. Everything comes from you O Lord, and of your own do we give you . . . the words of the Eucharist.
All good things come from God – Look! Open your eyes
Let me give you a simple personal illustration. Did I acquire Sarah? Funnily enough when we got married this was part of the story. Because I worked two summers for her father, putting up marquees, and at the wedding I joked that I’d got off lightly as Jacob had had to work seven years for Rachel, and fortunately I went on, Derek only had one daughter!
But of course that was nonsense. I didn’t work for Sarah, I didn’t earn her.
So, what was the story. Back in 1982 a travelling preacher came to town. Luis Palau from Argentina. Well one night I came far more alive in Christ -woke up to what all this church business had been about, and straight afterwards I saw an apparition – a young woman in a blue dufflecoat and yellow wellies ran up and gave me a hug . . . God’s gift coming to me . . .
And the more I meditated on this, and all the goodness that has flowed from that, none of which I had much of a hand in – and then you see the Sun, and feel the warmth, and you realise that the world is alive with the goodness of God . . . always coming towards you . . . sheer Gift
It’s all Gift. The Life is continually coming from above – we look to The Sun, the source of Life – listening to the voice of the heart which says, seek his face – and THEN we start to grow up from the earth, to be lifted up. Not making a life for ourself, but receiving Life and Goodness from God. For the disciples, fishing had been their life, it was how they ‘made their living’, but leaving their nets revealed that Life didn’t come from their efforts . . .
When Jesus tells the disciples I will make you fish for men, he is invoking something made clear in John’s gospel. There, Jesus says – ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag all people to myself’ – it’s exactly the same verb used for the hauling of the nets full of fish out of the water when Jesus meets the disciples after his resurrection on the shore of Galilee. The more we grow up towards the source of Life, the more our lives become Life giving, and draw those around us in the same direction.
I started out speaking of two of Jesus’ three parables of the lost. The coin, the sheep, but then there’s the prodigal. The parable of repentance. And the prodigal starts home – looking for where his father lives, because he remembers it as a place of blessing, of life, where food came from – and he thinks it is all about him ‘Saying Sorry’ . . . that’s what he thinks repentance is, and perhaps you do too? It’s a toxic thought. I think we project our own sinful desire for those who have wronged us to come grovelling back onto God . . .
But The Father isn’t interested in our ‘how sorry we are speeches’ – he just wants us home. That is repentance – turning to see Him as the source of all goodness – for everything that is wrong in the world today can be traced to our not trusting God to be Good, not seeing, tryig to take it all into our own hands . . .
You see, Repentance is not about God looking for your apology – he is not looking for your apologies – he’s looking for your face . . . And deep within us, where he abides, in our heart a voice is saying ‘Seek my face’.