See With New Eyes–Rev. Jessica Tate
See With New Eyes
6 June 2010 • Glebe Sunday
Fairfax Presbyterian Church
5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
When I was in school my least favorite subject was history. Give me current events or political science any day, but history—no thank you. There was one exception to this rule. My 10th grade World History class—and more specifically, my World History teacher, Mr. Aldridge.
Mr. Aldridge had been teaching a long time and he approached the subject with just the right balance of seriousness and humor. Roger Shoup kind of reminds me of him—wise, at this long enough to have been around the block a few times, and carrying a gravitas and passion for his subject matter that couldn’t help but convey to his students. Mr. Aldridge had us study far fewer events in the history of the world than most history classes, but we studied them in depth. I still remember learning about Archduke Ferdinand and the confluence of events that led to World War I. I remember learning about ancient Greece and marveling that something like the Hippocratic oath remains part of our lives today. Rather than painting everything as black and white, Mr. Aldridge helped us to understand how Hitler gained a following—not condoning it, but looking behind the facts and dates to get at how and why it happened.
Mr. Aldridge changed the way I viewed history. He helped open my eyes to how complex and marvelous and significant historical events are. He helped me to see that the human behavior, nuance, and events of the past shape who we are and how we relate today.
You’ve had teachers like that, I’m sure. Ones that inspired you and helped you see something in a new way. Or maybe you’ve read a book that changed your outlook, or heard a radio program, or had a conversation with a friend, received an insight from a counselor. Perhaps even, occasionally, a sermon has opened your eyes to see the world in a new light. The things that make you say, Huh! I never saw it that way before. And off you go to eagerly digest this new possibility, to play around with the new insight, to look at the world through these new glasses.
The Apostle Paul is one of those teachers who offers a whole new way to see the world. I think that Paul wants to help us see because that’s the experience he had on the road to Damascus. You’ll remember that he was moving through life as Saul, the anti-Jesus, anti-Christian Pharisee when he’s stopped short by a blinding light and the voice of God. No doubt a terrifying experience…to be confronted by a body-less voice and to have that voice claim to be God. Saul is left blind and told to go into the city where he would be told what to do.
You know the story. Ananias comes to Saul and tells him that he will regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul is forever changed. He now knows the power and grace of God in Christ. And he has new eyes to see the world from the perspective of faith.
In this letter to the Romans Paul gives us a whole new way to see. He offers us fresh eyes to see ourselves and the world. Eyes of faith. Every paragraph of Romans is about how this new sight frees people to live, believe, and hope when they are confident that God’s life-giving victory is true (Long 273). The brief segment of Romans that we’ve read this morning is no different. It’s a short but powerful affirmation of what Christians believe and how that belief helps us to see a way forward in the world-as-it-is…the complex, painful, fearful world-as-it-is.
Paul’s brand of Christianity is not happy-go-lucky nor is it unfailingly optimistic. He knows there is suffering in the world. He suffers a great deal himself through the course of his life…being blinded, jail time, ship-wrecks, constantly needing to fund-raise, traveling all the time, worry for friends and loved ones and the nascent churches. Paul knows of the suffering of life…, the natural disasters that shatter communities and livelihoods, the harrowing diagnosis that shakes our worldview, anxiety about how we’ll pay for college or find a job.
But Paul does NOT allow that suffering to be all there is. He is so confident of the grace of God that has justified us by faith, so confident that through Christ’s dying and rising we have already obtained access to grace, so confident that we now stand in grace that he boasts in God’s glory. Paul is firmly in the camp of hope, gazing into the world, complex and messy as it is, with the eyes of faith and hope…so much so that he’s willing to boast about it.
Let me say a word about boasting because, if you’re like me, when you’re around people who are boasting you tend to tune them out, roll your eyes, and plot ways to avoid them in the future. We tend to conflate boasting and bragging. But what Paul’s doing isn’t bragging. He’s not packing his Christmas letter with all the fantastic things that his brilliant children have done this year or telling you in detail, play-by-play how his smarts and savvy led to his team winning the ball game. Paul is filled with joy and confidence in God—filled to overflowing. It is God alone that is the content of his joy and confidence, his boasting (Wright 516, Boring 480). And he has to share that which has changed him, that which has given him a new lease on life, that love and grace of God that has allowed him to see the world with new eyes.
It is this new way of seeing the world that gives rise to Paul’s famous interpretation of suffering. He goes so far as to say that people rooted in God’s grace can boast in their suffering, because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope. I don’t want to turn this into a vocabulary lesson, but I do want to dissect these words a bit:
Suffering we get. Those things that trouble us, torture us even. Endurance we often think about in terms of running a marathon, but endurance isn’t just about sports. Endurance is about being steadfast, holding on, believing you will get through it. Character may need some unpacking. In this sense, character means to be tested, to be tried and true. You’re not just given character, you earn it. You have some life experience under your belt, which shapes you, molds you, gives you some hard-earned wisdom. All of this, Paul writes, can culminate in hope…that confident trust in that which we cannot see. And this hope does not disappoint us, because it is hope not in ourselves, but in the faithfulness of God.
Paul’s observation here makes sense to me. He doesn’t say that the Christian life spares us from trouble (Boring 480), quite the opposite. Just like everyone else we’ll encounter illness, death, fear, loss, broken relationships, broken trust. And Paul is not glorifying that suffering. He doesn’t offer us the platitude “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (Jinkins 42). Given a real choice in the matter none of us would choose to watch a loved one die, or experience the pain of infertility, or find oneself laid off from a job we loved and believed in. None of us would choose the devastation wreaked by an oil spill or earthquake. Paul isn’t saying any of that is desirable. But he is noting the possibility that the experiences through which we suffer can produce in us humility and hope, not in ourselves, but in God who is more faithful than we can imagine (Jinkins 42).
And that is the perspective that Paul has discovered in the grace of Jesus Christ. That is the new way of seeing that has changed his life. Those are the fresh eyes of faith that he offers to us—eyes that see not only the love and grace of God but also that God’s love and grace are steadfast through all that life might throw at us. Stake you life on that steadfastness of God, Paul says (Long 273). See the world through those eyes.
My dad and I are going to share a song with you this morning. It’s by Jeff Peterson-Davis and was written for the 1992 Montreat Youth Conference. I know this is not the way we’re used to hearing the word proclaimed, but this song invites us, just as Paul does, to see the world with new eyes, transformed by the grace and love of God. Listen.
(Chorus:) And I wonder when we’ll see with new eyes.
I wonder when we’ll realize
that the love of the one who created you and me
is a love that transforms gives new sight to the blind, let us see.
Questions and confusion,
all this winnin’ and losin’
fears and doubts about who I am,
set me free if you can. (Chorus)
Find a place for a bed tonight
Children playing where soldiers fight
the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor
Is there hope anymore? (Chorus)
Growing, changing, becoming new
Leaps of faith and new points of view
Called to living without disguise
Can we see with new eyes? (Chorus)
Graduates, we honor you this morning and we pray that you will see with new eyes. We pray you are changed by Paul’s teaching and that you go out into the world–to college, to work, to graduate school, to whatever is next for you–with new eyes. Eyes to see the love of God, love that is with you always.
When we gather to break the bread and share the cup, all of us come to this table with suffering. Mourning, fear, loss, anxiety, illness, depression, burdens—whatever it is. Share in the bread that is Christ’s body, sharing our brokenness. Drink from the cup that is the hope of salvation. And be transformed by this meal. Be reminded of God’s steadfast love, love that leads us from suffering to hope. Receive the new eyes that see God’s love poured into us, eyes that give us hope that through it all, that love will not disappoint.
Let us see with new eyes. Amen.
Boring, Eugene and Fred Craddock. The People’s New Testament Commentary. Louisville: WJK, 2004.
Jinkins, Michael. Pastoral Essay on Romans 5:1-5. In Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3. Louisville: WJK, 2010.
Long, Thomas G. Preaching Romans Today. In Romans: The Journal of Interpretation. Vol. 58(3) July 2004.
Wright, N.T. The Letter to the Romans. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. X. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002.