Sunday’s sermon: With Eyes Wide Open

Texts used – Isaiah 62:6-12 and 1 John 2:3-11

  • Last Sat. morning, I was helping my mom with a program at her library in Le Sueur. Afterward, she was coming here to hang out with the boys for the rest of the weekend. When the program was over, we were taking stuff back out to our cars, and as I was putting my stuff in the backseat, Mom came over and said, “I have a surprise for you.”
    • Thoughts: “Sweet!” → Who doesn’t love surprises?
      • Feeling excited
      • Feeling pretty happy
    • But then she grabs my hand and says to me, “Okay, close your eyes,” and she starts to walk me over from my car to hers. … And she actually expected me to do it! She actually expected me to walk with my eyes closed. Now, if you had asked me if that was going to be a problem before that exact moment, I would have told you, “Of course not.” … But it was! Walking even just those few short feet, even with someone whom I absolutely 100% trust implicitly, was so incredibly difficult! à made me feel …
      • Unsteady
      • Disoriented
      • Extremely hesitant
      • Anxious
    • There are a number of important things that we do throughout the day that require our full focus and effort.
      • Walking
      • Cooking
      • Driving
    • When we don’t give these things the attention they require, it can feel like we’re going around with our eyes closed.
      • Not really the way we want to operate, right? → disastrous results
        • Distracted driving/walking = dangerous
          • Thousands of injuries and deaths every year
          • It’s such a problem that there are actually a number of apps designed specifically to let you see the ground as you’re using your phone so you can walk and text or whatever with your phone and not unintentionally step off a curb or fall down a hole or something like that.
        • Question this morning: Do you consider following God one of those “important things”?→ I’m not talking about just saying you’re a Christian. I’m talking about intentionally being in a relationship with God and seeking out God’s guidance each and every day. Following God should be important to us every day because each of us has a special work to do in this world, and that work can only be found when we follow God with eyes wide open.
  • Our Isaiah passage this morning says a lot about following God[1]:
    • Text: Pass through, pass through the gates; prepare the way for the people! Build, build the road; clear away the stones!
    • These are words of action! Isaiah says, “Pass through, pass through the gates,” not, “Sit around and wait for God to show up.” Get out there!
      • Love that they’re also words of de-cluttering – Heb. “prepare” can also mean “make clear” → Sometimes, when we’re working on something important, we can get distracted by any number of other random things. If we’re being honest, there are even times when we seek out those distractions. Maybe we’re afraid of how important the task is. Maybe we don’t feel confident in our own ability to accomplish it. Maybe we don’t feel worthy of accomplishing it. There are a lot of reasons we try to close our eyes. Or other people try to close them for us.
        • Story after story from seminary colleagues → ministry as a 2nd, 3rd, even 4th career because they’d been avoiding their call for 10, 20, 30, even 40 years!
        • It’s like trying to work in the dark. You can’t avoid God’s path and try to follow it at the same time. God will keep bringing you back around to that place where God wants you to be – that work that God wants you to do.
    • Isaiah also makes it clear that in the midst of all those distractions and the clutter, God is trying to get our attention! – text: This is what the LORD announced to the earth’s distant regions: Say to Daughter Zion, “Look! Your deliverer arrives, bringing reward and payment!”[2]
      • There’s a fun Hebrew word found here in verse 11. Nerdy admission: It’s probably my favorite Hebrew word. Unfortunately, we lose all but the faintest traces of this word in the English translation.
        • Explanation of hinneh → word that doesn’t really have an exact English translation – meant to grab attention, to highlight importance of what follows
          • Often shows up as “Look!” … “Behold!” … “O!” … “See!”
          • Dr. Matt’s favorite translation: Shazzam!
        • Only time it comes out in the translation: “Look! Your deliverer arrives” → quite tame
          • In the Hebrew, hinneh is the very first word of this verse and shows up 2 more times within the verse. (Hinneh! This is what the LORD announced to the earth’s distant regions: Say to Daughter Zion, “Hinneh! Your deliverer arrives, hinneh! bringing reward and payment!”) This is meant to be an attention grabber because in this verse we find a declaration of the ultimate purpose: “Your deliverer arrives!”
            • Pew Bibles translation (NRSV): YOUR SALVATION COMES! … Shazzam!
          • So if we are trying to follow God’s guidance, then we’ve got to open our eyes and de-clutter the path. I want you to stop and think for just a minute about what might be cluttering up your path. What’s keeping your eyes closed to God’s guidance? What’s distracting you from your special, God-given work?
  • Maybe you just aren’t sure what that kind of work is supposed to look like.
    • Granted: everyone’s work is going to be different
    • New Testament passage gives us a hint as to how to find that work à speaks of following/obeying God: This is how we know that we know [God]: if we keep [God’s] commandments. The one who claims, “I know [God],” while not keeping [those] commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps [God’s] word. This is how we know we are in [God].[3]
      • Gr. “keep” throughout these verses could also be “obey” or “pay attention” → Like the passage from Isaiah, these are active words, not passive ones. “Keep” in this sense doesn’t mean put the commandments on a shelf and forget about them for the next 50 years. John is telling us to open your eyes! Pay attention! God is trying to show us the way to go. God is trying to reveal that special work that needs to be done in this world, but showing is not the same as doing. We can’t expect God do to everything for us. We have to be active participants!
        • Active participants in our relationship with God
        • Active participants in that work
  • The good news is that God provides us with signs – evidence of God at work in the world around us, little (and sometimes not-so-little) hints as to where God is calling us to go, what God is calling us to do, and who God is calling us to be. But are we even watching for those signs? Are we being vigilant, or are we waiting for God to drop a pre-programmed GPS in our laps? “Here’s your light. Here’s your path. Here’s the exact route to follow.” Not gonna happen, folks. Instead, we have to keep our eyes wide open.
    • Short but important phrase in Is that could easily be missed: “raise up a signal for the peoples”
      • “Signal for the peoples” = the Messiah – text: Raise up a signal for the peoples. … “Look! Your deliverer arrives.”[4] → The deliverer is the signal. The salvation is the sign. As Christians, we believe that Isaiah is foretelling the coming of Christ, the Savior we know and love and follow.
    • John speaks of orienting ourselves through Jesus, too: This is how we know we are in [God]. The one who claims to remain in [God] ought to live in the same way as [Christ] lived.[5] → Simply put, that’s faith – trying to walk as Christ walked, trying to follow God.
      • Further clarity – important point: The person loving a brother and sister stays in the light, and there is nothing in the light that causes a person to stumble.[6] → In theory, this one’s pretty simple: Christ preached love for others. But it gets a little tougher when it comes to practicing this. You see, Christ never promised that love would always be easy. However, the alternative is clear:
        • The one who claims to be in the light while hating a brother or sister is in the darkness even now. … the person who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and lives in the darkness, and doesn’t know where to go because the darkness blinds the eyes.[7] à truly startling e.g.s of this over the past few days

poem Paris

  • And as much as we may want to close our eyes to it, this attitude of darkness pervades not only extremists like those who carried out these many attacks. This attitude of darkness, of hating our brothers and sisters, pervades our own society as well.
    • KARE 11’s “We stand with Paris” photo – comments underneath it → hate, violence, and underlying fear were palpable
  • Friends, our paths, our work, our way of following God is most certainly different than everyone else around us because God created each and every one of us to be different. But no matter how different we are, our path, our work, our following should never result in harming another person. We are all God’s beloved children, and God desires us to do good in this world.
    • Familiar words from prophet Micah: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?[8]
    • Similar words from Frederick Buechner:
      • Buechner – American author and Presbyterian minister
        • Quote: “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deepest joy and the world’s deepest hunger meet.”
      • We have to remember that whatever work God has for us to do, whatever path God has for us to follow, it is ultimately God’s labor to build up, sustain, and renew God’s Kingdom here on earth. The heart of work like this can only be love – love with hearts wide open, love with minds wide open, love with eyes wide open. Amen.

[1] Is 62:10.

[2] Is 62:11.

[3] 1 Jn 2:3-5.

[4] Is 62:10b-11.

[5] 1 Jn 2:5b-6.

[6] 1 Jn 2:10.

[7] 1 Jn 2:9, 11.

[8] Mic 6:8 (NRSV).

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