Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nobody Knows

Matthew 24:36-44
Advent 1
November 28, 2010
William G. Carter

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. . . Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The candles are on their ring. It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas. The church gets dressed in Hopeful Purple and Royal Blue. We pull out the hymns that we sing once a year and we sing them once again.

But did you hear the text from Matthew’s Gospel? Advent is not the favorite season for anybody who likes to be in control. It sneaks up on us when we aren’t looking. Jesus speaks of the coming of God, and does so abruptly. "The day is coming . . . and nobody knows when. "

Last Sunday, on the final day of the church year, we heard Jesus speak from the cross about the lack of human knowledge. "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." Today, on the first day of the new church year, he speaks once again about the limits of what we can and cannot know.

The subject is the coming of the Lord. We don't know when it will happen. Three times Jesus says we will not know the time. And presumably we will not know what it's going to look like, because he is careful not to tell us.

In this section of Matthew's book, there are seven parables in a row that tell us to be alert. To stay on our toes. To keep our eyes peeled. God is on the way, and we need to be as ready as we can. Then, as soon as Jesus says this, he add, "but nobody knows -- not the angels of heaven, not the Son, only the Father."

When God arrives, it will be like the time of Noah. People were putting away the turkey, and pouring themselves another glass of wine. Their kids are home from college to announce their breakups or their engagements. Things are going on schedule, when suddenly it began to rain. And it rains and it rains, and most of them had no clue knew it was coming. When God get here, it's going to happen like that. Nobody will expect it. "Because," says Jesus, "when God comes to us, God arrives like a thief in the night."

That's the gist of what this passage is saying. And the challenge for you and me is to simply come to terms with this description of God.

In our theological galleries, we carry a lot of pictures of God. The Lord is my shepherd. God is a loving father who welcomes home every prodigal. God is a mother hen who gathers all the chicks. But today, Jesus draws a picture that I would never think to choose. According to Jesus, God is a Thief.

"Your Lord is coming," said Jesus. If the house-owner knew when to expect the thief, she would have stayed awake. But she didn't know. And thus she was prone to have her house plundered.

This is what God is like. It's not a picture that provides much comfort.

A man had his toaster stolen from his apartment. After the burglary, he did a survey. That's the only thing he found missing. So you know what he did? He changed apartments.

I can understand, can't you?

A woman I know recently lost her husband. It happened without warning. The heart attack came as a complete shock. And before the funeral was held, the first thing she did before she could sleep in her own house was to install a security system. Death broke in once; she didn't want any more intruders.

I can understand it, can't you?

Some of us remember when a thief broke into a church member's car while she was sitting here in worship. It was parked out on the edge of the parking lot. Sometime between the call to worship and the benediction, a criminal smashed into the car and stole a lot of money. That led the stewardship committee to remind everybody that it’s a good idea to bring our wallets and purses to worship. But the situation is not funny. It's not funny at all. It was a robbery. If you have ever been robbed, you know how it feels. Violated. Intruded upon. Broken into. Someone has come into a place that you held sacred, and they have plundered it against your will.

This is the picture of God on the first Sunday of Advent. God is a Thief who breaks into a place we thought was safe. And we can't protect ourselves from the plundering of our own houses.

The New Testament draws this picture on a number of different occasions. Two times Jesus speaks of the day of the Lord as the intrusion of a Thief. Twice in the book of Revelation, Jesus himself says, "I will come like a thief." The apostle Paul warned the people in one of his churches, "Don't let God jump you unawares, like a thief in the night." He had to warn them about it, for the simple fact that God is sneaky. God is not obvious. God is usually up to something when it doesn't look like God is doing anything.

In his commentary on Matthew, Dale Bruner says, "One of the most surprising facts in Jesus' end-time teaching is that the last times will be normal. According to our passage, there will be parties, gourmet meals, courtships, and weddings right into the cataclysmic coming of the Son of Man . . . The Great Tribulation occurs while superficially all seems well. To the unobservant, it's party time. Thus Jesus' teaching of end-time normalcy should move disciples to look beneath surfaces to the deep structures of life - to see what is happening at levels we do not usually think to look."

For those with eyes to see, God is always up to something. And the spiritual life begins with the practice of paying attention. Keeping spiritually alert. Asking: what is God doing around here? How has God broken into this situation? What is God up to? We pay attention to questions like that, and trust this will open us to sainthood.

And yet, God doesn't wait for us to pull together all the answers. God never waits to act until we get ready. God is free to act in any way conceivable or inconceivable. And the Thief will disrupt us.

That's how the story of Christmas began, after all. God broke in, regardless of whether anybody was ready.

Picture young Mary as a teenager. An angel arrives to say, "Mary, you're going to have a baby." She didn't ask for it. She didn't expect it. In a very real sense, God intruded on her . . . and life was never again the same.

Joseph was chopping wood out behind the shop. His arms stiffened like a timber when she broke the news to him. All his dreams of settling down to a comfortable future vanished in an instant. He loved her, but he didn't sign on for this. God had burglarized his settled household and his predictable future. And nothing would ever be the same.

That's how it is when God climbs through one of the windows after dark. Everything we thought was settled is now turned upside down. And there isn't a thing we can do about it. Nothing to do, but to get with God's program.

Now, this is hard for some of us. For most of us. I set two alarm clocks for Sunday morning because I never want to wake up late. We want to show up on time, take charge, and know what’s going on. I was sitting at a meeting in a country church last Monday night. Somebody said, “Who’s playing football tonight? I want to know if I need to go home early.” So the moderator of the meeting clicked his iPhone, and declared it was merely the San Diego Chargers. We could meet as long as we needed.

It’s nice to have the kind of information, that kind of certainty, that kind of control. Check the weather, read your e-mail in church, make sure the Lord didn’t arrive early and leave you behind. All of us do this. I do it. I picked up a used GPS unit for my car. Then I fired it up, and got directions to my parents’ house. The people in my car laughed at me, hooted at me. “But look,” I said, “it tells me the precise time that we are going to arrive!” They didn’t hear me; they were texting on their cell phones and posting on Facebook about my control needs.

Now, to be fair, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we get God to come on schedule? If we could get God to show up when we want God to show up? If we could force God to jump into those situations that we want fixed right now? It doesn’t seem to work that way. And in the absence of any real control over our lives, we manufacture all these different ways, all these different gadgets, to think we actually have control over our lives. It’s a lie.

God has the authority to turn out the lights, cut the power, and break into our house. I'll be the first to admit it. This is not a comfortable description of God. But this is the most honest picture we're going to get. God comes to us like a thief in the night.

And it forces me to face the truth about life and death. I take out insurance policies, but ultimately there's no insurance against an act of God. I'm saving money to use twenty years from now, but it may not even be necessary. Who am I kidding? My life hangs by a fragile thread. The people I love and hold so dearly are temporary residents here, as I am. All those toys I have accumulated, all those possessions I am hoarding, all those things are depreciating as I speak. And most of the gadgets that I cling to in this life are the things that give me the illusion that I don't need to depend on God. My money and my stuff tempt me to ignore the claim that God has on my life.

If I only knew what time the Thief was coming, I could stay awake and keep my house from being robbed. But guess what: I don't know what time the Thief is coming. No one knows the time, except the Thief.

I don’t have a lot on this year’s Christmas list. But I just wrote down the title of a book that I want Santa to put under my tree. It’s called Hannah’s Child and it is the memoir of a theologian named Stanley Hauerwas. He was one of Phil Muntzel’s classmates at Yale Divinity School, taught at Notre Dame and Duke. It was a single quote that caught my eye. Hauerwas writes:

For me learning to be a Christian means learning to live without answers. Indeed to learn to live in this was is what makes being a Christian so wonderful. Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers . . . that’s why I find that being a Christian makes life so interesting.”

I saw the quote, I wrote down the title of the book. Because I need people of faith to remind me that to trust in God is to trust in God. We don’t run the world. To honor God above everything else is to watch and wait when we aren’t always sure what is going to happen next. To honor God is to let God break in however and whenever that happens – - and in the meantime to hang on and trust in God’s covenantal love that everything will turn out well.

We do this because this is the kind of God that Jesus believed in. It’s the kind of God that Jesus reveals. God comes as sneaky as a thief. Ready or not. Advent is the season to prepare for this intrusion, and we prepare by keeping our hearts awake.

(c) William G. Carter
All rights reserved

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Save Yourself – and Us!

Luke 23:33-43
Christ the King Sunday
November 21, 2010
William G. Carter

The church practices a strange kind of politics. We call today “Christ the King” Sunday. We sing of Christ as sovereign. We declare Jesus is raised in glory, higher than every authority. When the world says, “Prove it!” we point to a cross. This is strange politics.

All the other kings of the world do whatever they can to save their own necks – they lie to get elected and immediately start running for re-election. They colonize other lands and declare it is their “divine right.” They blame predecessors for all the problems, cook up crazy schemes, tax their subjects to pay for those schemes, make people fearful to keep them in power, and generally foul up the air.

Nothing new about that. In introducing the biblical books of First Kings and Second Kings, the Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann says the titles of those books should end with question marks: “Kings?” You call these ‘kings’?!?” They know nothing about governing all the people and pander only to their friends. They know absolutely nothing about the common good.

The church says, “Jesus refuses the crown that Satan offered in the wilderness” and then we point to the cross. Listen to what happens there . . . (read the text)


There are a lot of things going on in that story. Some of them specific, some of them symbolic. What draws my interest, again and again, is the brief prayer attributed to Jesus on the cross: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing."

It is a Good Friday word. When ministers in a town gather on Good Friday, sometimes they decide to preach through the seven last words of Jesus. I feel sorry for the preacher who gets picked to preach on the moment when Jesus says, "I thirst." What more can you say about that?

At least this prayer from Luke 23 gives us something to struggle with, if only because there are many people who don't think that this verse belongs in the Bible.

If you followed the reading in a pew Bible, you might have noticed there is a footnote after Luke 23:34. The footnote says these words do not appear in many early versions of the Gospel of Luke. Back when scribes had to copy the Bible by hand, some scribes left out this verse. Maybe by accident, maybe by intent; we don't know what they were doing. All we know is that they left it out.

It could be, as Raymond Brown says in his commentary on the passion story, that there were some Christians who didn't want to believe Jesus actually prayed for the people who nailed him on the cross. Specifically some in the early church thought it was too favorable toward the Jews. So they told their scribes to take out that verse.

I don't know if that's the case, but I can understand how they felt. It is one thing to hear Jesus say, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (6:27-28)." It's another thing to see those words put into practice. It is a hundred times easier to blame somebody than it is to forgive them.

Whatever the reason for its slippery heritage, the verse belongs in the writings of Luke, because Jesus says, "Father, forgive them, they don't know . . ."

According to Luke, that is the fundamental characteristic of the human race: we don't know. In Luke's second volume, the book of Acts, he tells a story about the apostle Paul. Paul stands up in Athens and says, “I passed an altar to the Unknown God, the One of whom you are ignorant. Let me tell you who that is: that unknown God is our Creator. That unknown God is the very One we all seek. And yet, we don't know him."

What was the testimony of the early church? Listen to what Luke says in the third chapter of Acts: "You and your leaders killed Jesus, the author of life, and you did it out of ignorance. You did not know." (3:14-17)

Or in the Gospel of Luke, in the Palm Sunday story, Jesus comes down the hill, around the bend, and sees the Holy City. And he weeps, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only you knew the things that make for peace. But you do not know."

So it’s no surprise that Luke (and only Luke) reports what Jesus said on the cross: "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing. (23:34).” They are ignorant.

I don't know how you feel about that. Those of us who are parents tell our children, "Don't ever call anybody "stupid." Yet that is the blanket description given to all people everywhere. Agnostos, literally “they don’t know.”

For Luke, it doesn't seem to matter who we are. We can have doctoral diplomas hanging on the wall. Or we can graduate Magna Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks. Some of the people who put Jesus on the cross had advanced degrees in theology. Others were adjunct professors in Political Science. Jesus says of both, "They are ignorant." You see, it is one thing to know. It's another thing to know.

That is the ignorance of which Jesus speaks, the gap between knowing -- and knowing. It is possible to memorize all the Bible verses in the world, and still be ignorant. We can gain all kinds of practical knowledge and still not “get it.” We can enroll in Bible School and earn a four point average, and still miss the point. That is the problem.

"Forgive them . . . they don't know what they are doing." That’s the prayer of Jesus. O come on, now, they know what they're doing. They're getting rid of a trouble-maker. They knew about trouble-makers. They had a Bible. They read the prophets. They knew what happened to God's prophets, and they kept doing it themselves, in their own time and place. You see, it is one thing to know. It's another thing to know.

It’s tempting to think you and I have overcome the ignorance. This is the age of instant information, after all. We have more knowledge at our fingertips than any generation before us. If we don't know it, we can download it in a few seconds. Maybe the world’s problem is that it needs more education. What do you think?

I will never forget what they told me as they gave me a tour of the Lackawanna County prison. It was before it got a makeover, when it still looked like a scene out of a Dicken novel. The grim surroundings matched the grim looks in the prisoners’ eyes. We were told not to speak to anybody, just look at them. Back outside, one of the jailers said, "Our society needs to educate people so that they don't commit crimes and end up in a place like this."

Then we got in a van and continued the seminar in an office park. They took us to a sound-proof conference room and spoke of employees who steal computers, raid the loading docks, and take drugs. Those were white-collar problems. What is the solution? They said, “Education. Education is the answer."

Later on I began to wonder. What kind of education keeps people out of jail? When some people would rather die than give up drugs, is their problem a lack of schooling? I may be wrong, but I do not know a school in Lackawanna County that provides a class that teaches thieves to stop stealing.

Yet we keep believing the old line that we can make progress if we accumulate more knowledge, fund more research, build bigger hard drives. We stockpile our facts and nothing really changes. We know all kinds of information, but we miss the Mystery of the Gospel, that in Jesus Christ “all things hold together."

The more I think about it, the more I believe this is the crux of the matter. Jesus says, "Jerusalem, you did not know the time of your visitation." The King came into your town and you did not recognize him. You didn’t even notice him when he prayed, "Father, forgive them. They don't know."

What don't they know? They don't know who that is, hanging on the cross.

Let this be a reminder that, before we point fingers at people who did not recognize the God who came in Christ, we can miss him too. This is part and parcel of “not knowing.” In fact, there is never an occasion in the whole Gospel of Luke when a single human person affirms Jesus as the Son of God. According to Luke, the only ones who really know Jesus are the angels and the devils. Nobody else.

Luke says that, on the day Jesus rode a donkey into the city, the crowd shouted, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" (19:38) Just a few short days later, some jokers took a magic marker and wrote an inscription over his head on a two-by-four, "This is the king of the Jews." (23:28). They did not know who he was, nor did they know what kind of king God had crowned him to be.

And do we know? We cannot claim any superiority in this. The text is a warning to good, upstanding church people. We are not better than anybody else when it comes to recognizing God. If we think we are superior, we run the risk of becoming shrouded in a fog of self-importance. It is possible to become so preoccupied with expertise and spiritual success that we miss the heart of the Gospel. And the heart of the Gospel is this: God helps those who cannot help themselves. God saves those who are otherwise un-save-able.

No amount of spiritual sophistication can unveil a hidden God. No level of education will open our eyes to glory. No scientific knowledge can carry us into the presence of the Holy One. Something else is needed. All we can do is to stand bare-headed, broken-hearted, open-handed, and say with all humility, "God forgive us; we don't know."

Today, the promise is that the prayer has been answered. That's the crux of the matter, isn't it? "Father, forgive them." The gospel is defined by forgiveness. The gospel is coming home to God and discovering that, through no work of our own, all our debts have been cancelled. All our sins are forgiven. All our pettiness has been wiped away.

It’s like the story Jesus tells of the prodigal son who comes to his senses in the pig-pen. He decides to try one more time to take advantage of the Old Man. So he cleans himself up, practices a pious little repentance speech, and goes home. When he appears at the far end of the driveway, his father drops everything. The father breaks all Middle Eastern customs and runs to his returning son. The father cuts off the canned repentance speech and throws a big "Welcome Home" party before either of his two sons can do anything about it.

All the neighbors say, "Look at that! Such shameful extravagavance, wasted on a sinner!" And Jesus smiles a sly smile and says, "You’d better look, all right. That's the very picture of God's good news."

Can you believe it? The key is in the prayer of King Jesus on the cross. "Father, forgive them." In that prayer, he uses the word "aphiemi." It means "a great big cancellation." The point is: God doesn't merely forgive our sins; God cancels them. God lets them go. God sends them away, dismisses them. That’s the word “aphiemi” – to cancel, to send away, to dismiss.

This is disruptive grace. Just imagine: even in God's heavenly domain, there's a hallway of cubicles, each one filled with accountants and bookkeepers. Every day at 2 p.m., God walks down the hall, knocks on a door post , and says, "Give me the ledger book that you have been keeping on Larry Jones." And God finds that page, finds the line where every sin have been recorded. God pulls a gallon bucket of White-Out of a robe pocket and spills it all over your page. Then God says, "Well, that's that."

You never had to ask God to do that, because Jesus has already asked him on your behalf: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." In that prayer is the essence of the Gospel!

I like the words of an Episcopalian priest named Robert Capon, who puts it this way:

There is no sin you can commit that God in Jesus hasn't forgiven already. The only way you can get yourself in permanent Dutch is to refuse forgiveness. That's hell. The old baloney about heaven being for good guys and hell for bad guys is dead wrong. Heaven is populated entirely by forgiven sinners, not spiritual and moral aces. And hell is populated entirely by forgiven sinners. The only difference between the two groups is that those in heaven accept the forgiveness and those in hell reject it. Which is why heaven is a party - the endless wedding reception of the Lamb and his bride - and hell is nothing but the dreariest bar in town.

Jesus died for those for whom he prayed. His love is self-giving, and it is the sign and signal of God’s heart. Our part is to trust this is true, to believe God can love us so much as to give us a fresh start, a new beginning, by cancelling the wrongs we have done and the pain we have perpetuated. “Father, forgive them . . .” This is the true King’s prayer – and we trust it has been answered.

This is a strange politics. The real ruler of the world is the One who refuses to save himself. He chooses instead to save all of us, provided, of course, that we want to be saved.

(c) William Carter
All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Eyes of Your Heart Enlightened

Ephesians 1:11-23

November 7, 2010

William G. Carter

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

I will understand completely if your heart did not flutter with the reading of the text. It comes from the first chapter of Ephesians and it is a little over our heads.

There is a lot of high-faluting language. The writer speaks of huge concepts that aim pretty high. We have a spiritual inheritance, he says. Our destiny is to live out God’s eternal purpose. As we set our hope on Christ, we live for the praise of his glory. Nobody but a preacher talks this way. After you depart from worship, and converse with loved ones over lunch or on the phone, I cannot imagine anybody saying, “I am claiming the riches of my glorious inheritance among the saints.”

This is the letter to the Ephesians. There are a lot of big words in Ephesians, words like salvation, redemption, predestination, and revelation. Nobody normal uses words like these. Such words shut down conversation. Should we speak them, people look at us curiously and clam up. They figure we know what we are talking about, and they need a dictionary just to look them up.

Much of this sounds like church language, like worship language. You have probably noticed we say things in this room that we say nowhere else. Just recall the long sentence that concludes today’s text. It sounds like it belongs in a creed: “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come, and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” It’s hard to know when to take a breath! In English, we add some punctuation, but the first version of the letter was one long burst of energy.

I am aware that nobody talks like that, outside of a church. In fact, few people talk like that inside of a church. Within these walls, there are sign-up sheets and lists of ushering duties. People discuss how many mission projects we should do in December and whether we should sit when we light candles and sing “Silent Night.” One committee hopes enough money can be raised to run all the operations for next year, and another committee is grateful for the cleanup efforts around the grounds. The Deacons ask, “Is this the year to stop Christmas caroling around the neighborhood?” and others ask, “Should we deliver that big pile of canned food to the pantry between the worship services or after the second service?” Welcome to a week at First Presbyterian, the church on the hill. These are only a few of the conversations in the air around here.

And then we hear the line from Ephesians, “When you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in Christ, (you) were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”

It might seem there is a disconnection between the high and holy words of our scripture and the kind of lives we actually live. That reminds me of the man who went to visit a Russian Orthodox Church. It was so much more than he could take in: the gold icons, the haunting chants, the heavy incense, the heavenly liturgy. “It was so incredibly beautiful,” he exclaimed, “but I have no clue what it has to do with my life.”

It’s possible to get the same feeling when we hear the lyrics of the Ephesian letter. The words swirl up high like chants and incense while somebody downstairs forgets it was her turn to bring muffins for coffee hour. Do you know about that disconnection? Some call it the divorce between Sunday morning and Monday morning – to put it as a question: what does the liturgy of Sunday have to do with the labor of Monday?

But here’s the thing: the first chapter of Ephesians would declare that the question is backwards. It should be: what does our labor on Monday have to do with our worship on Sunday? What is it that we discover here that makes a difference in everything we do all week? What are the mysteries in here that we live out when we step outside?

Eugene Peterson, retired minister, wrote recently that Ephesians describes the church that we never actually see. We see the building with the leaky roof, filled with its share of comics and
cranks. Ephesians sees a people in whom God is saving the whole world. Here in chapter one, for instance, the church is full of people called “saints,” the “holy ones.” Look around, they are here! (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, p. 14

What we see, of course, is the fidgety child, the guy who just stifled a yawn, the alto who forgot to turn her clock back an hour. Yet “saint” is the name given to each Christian by Christ. They are the holy ones because holy power is at work in them ever since God raised Jesus from the dead. To see ourselves as saints is to recognize a greater authority over our lives than the power of destruction or the quicksand of despair. Something really big is going on, thanks to the grace of God. Ephesians uses all those really big words to name it: “redemption,” “salvation,” “glory,” “wisdom,” and “power.” This is God’s mission to the world – if only we can see it.

I remember a favorite Norman Rockwell painting. It’s a shot of St. Thomas’ Church in New York City. It’s a gloomy day on Fifth Avenue and people are shuffling by. The priest has just given his sermon title to the sexton who puts the words on the bulletin board: “Lift Up Thine Eyes.” A flock of doves fly upward, and the pedestrians shuffle by with their eyes downcast.

“Lift Up Thine Eyes.” That is the message from Ephesians to the church. See that God has come down here to salvage the world, and then do something to take part in that work. Look through the moment to see what is truly going on. A child is claimed and commissioned by God. A community is fed at the Table by grace. See these moments in all their glory.

It is no wonder that the center of today’s text is a prayer. As Paul describes the holy work of God, he prays for people to have the eyes to see it. The prayer is a mouthful, but listen to it once again:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

That is the prayer: to have “the eyes of your heart enlightened.” To have your faith enlivened. To know the hope, to claim the spiritual riches, to live in the shelter of God’s power. The prayer is grounded in a relationship. As we come to know God, we see more and more glimpses of what God is doing. As we discover how much God loves us, we grow in our love for the poor and the rich, the hungry and the self-satisfied.

We pray to have the eyes of our heart enlightened. And we recognize that the grace and mercy of God lie beneath everything we say and do.

A high point in New Hampshire is Mount Monadnock, a large slope that many of the natives of New Hampshire never climb. Just as the dwellers of Manhattan never visit the Statue of Liberty, the folks of New Hampshire drive by Mount Monadnock. The poet Robert Siegel drove by it all the time. One day he saw the sign for the turnoff and said to his wife, “Isn’t it about time we saw this famous mountain for ourselves?” The experience led him to write a poem:

We see the sign, “Monadnock State Park”

as it flashes by, after a mile or two

decide to go back, “We can’t pass by Mondnock

without seeing it,” I say, turning around.

We head down the side road – “Monadnock Realty,”

“Monadnock Pottery,” “Monadnock Designs,”

but no Monadnock. Then the signs fall away –

bothing but trees and the darkening afternoon.

We don’t speak, pass a clearing, and you say,

“I think I saw it, or part of it – a bald rock?”

Miles and miles more. Finally, I pull over

and we consult a map. “Monadnock’s right there.”

“Or just back a bit there.” “But we should see it –

we’re practically on top of it.” And driving back

we look – trees, a flash of clearing, purple rock =

but we are, it seems, too close to see it:

It is here. We are on it. It is under us.[1]

I suppose some people come to church looking for God. But God is too close to see. God is here. The immensity and glory are under our feet. God is under everything we are, and everything we can hope to be.

Pray for the eyes to see.

(c) William G. Carter
All rights reserved

[1] Robert Siegel, “Looking for Mt. Monadnock,” The Waters Under the Earth (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003) 70.