“The Easter Gift of Vision”
Ps. 30 & Acts 9:1-20 ~ Northwood UC ~ May 1, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
I see trees of green, red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself…What a wonderful world. I see skies of blue and clouds of white. The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. And I think to myself…What a wonderful world. Louis Armstrong first sang that song to the world in 1967, and he invited us to see the wonder that is out there in the world.
But as you hear that song, have you ever considered how what you see is different than what others take in? What if the wonderful world you see is not filled with trees of green and red roses? What if the world they take in is much different? What if your red roses and green trees appear to another in shades of brown and yellow, as they would for a person with red-green colour blindness? Or…what if the world others ‘see’ is experienced through senses other than vision? What if the trees of green and red roses are experienced by their fragrance, or their touch, or the sound they make in the wind. What I’m wanting begin exploring this morning, is that we all take in reality…yet we all experience that reality in different ways…probably more ways than we can ever imagine.
Another way of experiencing reality occurred during Last Sunday’s Annual General Meeting. As we have been attempting to become a hybrid church, we made the AGM accessible to people who gathered in-person and also to those who gathered from home. But what we quickly discovered is that there is about a two-minute lag time between what occurs here in worship and what it is delivered to people’s homes via YouTube. This ‘reality’ that we experience ‘in-person’ will not occur until about two minutes later for our virtual community. There are two different time realities…the one here in-person, and the one with our at-home community. The reality that we take in here ‘in-person’ is different than the one others experience in the virtual community.
I see trees of green, red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. I think what we are beginning to uncover is that the wonderful world that each of us ‘sees’ ~ is dependent upon the perspective in which the individual views the object.
In the text before us, we have two very different ways that the same person views reality. At the beginning of Acts 9, we meet a man named Saul who saw with the oppressive authority of the both Rome and the religious officials. He saw anyone who was following the compassionate way of Jesus to be a threat. And, he was licensed to bring them: bound and gagged to Jerusalem where they would face a horrible death. That was the first way he viewed the world. But as the text explains, there was a new way that he came to ‘see’. This new way came as a result of a flashing light. And attaining this new vision was like having “scales fall from his eyes” and to those he previously persecuted, he later became charged to protect them, to encourage them, and to even go to prison for them. What Barbara read for us this morning was the story of the way Paul learned to see with the eyes of the Christ-follower.
And the challenge for us, as we become aware of the limits of our perspective, is that we tend to base our decisions on what we deem to be reality. We take in all this information around us and we use it to form our thoughts on what is real; what is right and wrong; and how we should act. Now, for a rose or a tree, you might argue that it really doesn’t matter. The rose and tree are both beautiful no matter how they are experienced. However, what happens when your view causes you to judge, persecute, or act in harmful ways? This happened with the gay and lesbian community, when a Psychiatric diagnosis was attached to this expression of one’s sexuality prior to 1973. Prior to 1973 a homosexual person was judged to have a mental disorder. When the Diagnostic and Statistical manual released its 3rd version in 1973; however, it removed this diagnosis. And it began to pave the way for us to all see…and welcome…and celebrate the diversity of ways in which we are created. Yet, the challenge remains…we tend to see things with our version of ‘right’ or ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’. And creating a fully inclusive community, where all are welcomed at the table continues to be a challenge when we limit ourselves to our own viewpoint.
So, how do we see the red rose or the green tree? A similar challenge is being addressed around the stigma of mental health. In the past, mental health was a taboo subject and people suffered in silence. While we would ‘see’ or acknowledge other forms of physical illness, mental illness was hidden away. The Centre for Disease Control reports that 50% of the population will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder within their lifetime. And I have shared in other sermons stories of my personal struggle with depression and the help that I received to work through that illness and recover. In the last decade, there has been a growing awareness around Mental Health in society. This week begins “Mental Health Awareness Week” that is promoted by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Their focus this year is on “empathy” ~ that gift we can give to others of deeply listening to them, of letting them invite us to share their struggles, of (perhaps even beginning) to see the struggles, the journey and the pain they deal with. The CMHA adopted this year’s focus because it is so important that we not view others with the reality in which we see the world. It is the difference between ‘being with’ people who are struggling and trying to ‘cheer them up’. Therapists tell us that sentiments like: ‘look at all that you have to live for’ are not helpful. However, deeply listening to their story, to their reality, to their struggle….offering empathy is a gift to them.
Of course this begs the question of how we are ever to begin to live in such a vast, diverse world with around 6 billion people and counting? Six billion perspectives? Six billion points of view? What is right? And what is wrong? What I love about this text is that there is something about being a Jesus-follower that causes the scales to fall from one’s eyes. And when the scales fall, we begin to further see with the eyes of Christ. In the story of Saul’s conversion, the bright light caused the scales to fall from his eyes and began to see: with eyes of love; with eyes of compassion; with the eyes of Christ. Last Sunday, at our AGM, we added the concept of “Christ consciousness” to our mission statement. It is that life’s work of faith that we are charged to do to find an increasing unity with the Holy. Jesus once distilled his teachings in the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Mt. 22:38-40).
I wonder, as we consider how we view the world; how we are called to live in the world, if there is an implicit call to acknowledge how little we can ever see from our own perspective. I wonder if the text challenges us to look, as Saul did, to the light of God. To gauge our actions and ensure they are ones that offer light; which bring love, which offer healing, which are a source of compassion.
May the scales of separation fall from our eyes; may the scales of judgement fade away; may the scales of righteousness be removed. May we see with eyes of love; may we see with eyes of compassion; may we see glimpses with the eyes of Christ.