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Seeing Rightly

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at The Church of the Transfiguration
in Dallas, Texas on November 20, 2016

Seeing Rightly
Luke 23:33-43

Our Gospel reading brings us to the foot of the cross to see Jesus’ with his arms of love nailed to the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. Even as Jesus proclaimed forgiveness to those who are in the act of killing him, he is challenged to prove that he is Messiah and King by saving himself. We who follow Jesus two millennia later get the dramatic irony that it is only in not saving himself that Jesus will save us.

Those present at Jesus’ crucifixion who knew the scripture best failed to see what God is doing through Jesus. Rather than standing over creation in judgment, God came in the Second Person of the Trinity entering the creation in weakness. He who the universe could not contain was born to a poor girl in Galilee. Soon after he was born, his family were on the road as refugees. God took on human form in the person of Jesus. As the great champion of the faith Athanasius would put it, “He became like we are that we might become like he is.”

Jesus loved us so much that even when the cost of that love was suffering and death, he would not give up on that love. Through his death on the cross, Jesus broke the power of sin and death that we might have forgiveness and life eternal. And yet, the only one who sees rightly that salvation that can come through Jesus is the thief dying on the cross next to him. He knows that Jesus is sinless and yet is condemned to death.

Dying on a cross alongside Jesus, the thief has just heard words not of judgment or condemnation, but of forgiveness. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” The man who remains nameless to us was known to God. The thief wanted the forgiveness and reconciliation with God that could come through Jesus and he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Such unlikely words of faith. The thief knows that though Jesus is dying, the Reign of Christ is about to begin. How is this perception possible when everyone else is missing it? How does the thief on the cross see the truth that the sinless one alongside him proclaiming forgiveness is even then able to welcome him into paradise? This takes seeing with the heart.

As I prayed through this passage preparing for this Sunday, I recalled a favorite book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, The Little Prince. I already knew by heart my favorite line from this gem of a book, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I decided to look the quote up and see the larger context for those words. I was amazed by what I found. I want to share that journey with you as we consider the story of The Little Prince alongside our Gospel reading. For “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

In the book, The Little Prince lives alone on a tiny planet, which is no bigger than a house. He owned three volcanoes, two active and one extinct. The Little Prince also owned a flower unlike any flower in all the galaxy.

The only problem with the plant was that it was very vain. The rose bragged that she was born the same moment as the sun and went on about how magnificent she was and how she was the only one of her kind in the entire galaxy. The Little Prince carefully cared for the little flower’s every needs, but he also became perturbed with the proud plant. Later he wished that he had judged the rose by her deeds, how she cast her lovely fragrance and radiance on his whole planet. The Prince ran off from his planet. His travels eventually brought him to earth, where he found a garden filled with roses. His flower was not unique. The Little Prince felt sad.

It was just then that the Little Prince met a fox. The fox told the prince,

“’To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…’

The Little Prince patiently tamed the fox, coming at the same time each day. Each day they got closer and closer together until at last the fox was tamed and the Little Prince and the fox could play together. But the time was drawing near for the Little Prince to move on. The fox then told to the prince to go visit the roses a second time and then return to see him one last time.

“The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
‘You are not at all like my rose,’ he said. ‘As yet you are nothing….
‘You are beautiful, but you are empty,’ he went on. ‘One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you—the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under a glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind a screen; because it is for her that I have killed caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.’”

And he went back to meet the fox.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

Let’s see if I can bring these two stories together. How does The Little Prince help us to see Luke’s account of the crucifixion in a new light? Jesus came into a world hoping for the Messiah to break into human history with stern judgment that would set the world aright. The good wheat would be separated from the useless chaff and then the chaff would be burned. Jesus disciples seem ready for the end of times to come in a rush and they will soon be sitting at his right and his left when Jesus is ruling the Earth.

But that was not God’s plan. God’s plan for us humans and all creation was much more loving. God became human and lived among us. Jesus looked with compassion on the people around him. He brought harsh words of condemnation for those who saw themselves as righteous in their own eyes. For the hurting people he saw, Jesus brought hope and healing.

Jesus would not have bothered to live, suffer and die as one of us, for us, unless he loved us. The care and attention God lavishes on us is what makes each of us special. You are not just like everyone else. To the God who formed you, the God who loves you, the God who listens when you grumble or boast or say nothing at all, you are unique and special. It may sound meaningless to say “You are unique and special, just like everybody else,” but it’s true, for you are created in the image and likeness of God. No matter what you have done, you have not marred that image beyond the power of the cross to redeem. God loves you as you are and loves you so much, that God does not want to leave you as you are.

But all of that I have said so far could be just smoke and mirrors. I say that the Kingdom of God breaks into our lives now. We see the evidence. All we have to do is look again, switching our focus by about 12 inches or so, from here to here [gesturing to my head and then my heart]. Like the Little Prince, we have to look again, this time using the eyes of our hearts. For what is essential is invisible to the eye. This means moving beyond the head knowledge of belief as agreeing to a principal, and instead taking belief to heart and making faith real in your life.

Opportunities to look again, seeing with the eyes of faith come up all the time. Consider two in the life of The Fig. The World Vision Experience Truck parked here in September. That experience is designed to give you new eyes to see the refugee experience. When we look with our eyes we can see the insurmountable problems of refugees worldwide and we could be filled with despair. But because the opportunity the World Vision Experience gives one to enter into the refugee plight, we see with the eyes of our hearts how much the welcome Transfiguration provided to four refugees mattered to their lives. And even moreso, you can see anew what a gift this church is the Butanese Christians who worship here as the Church of the Holy Faith. Once trapped in limbo in Nepal, now giving thanks for our crucified and risen Lord in this beautiful building. With the eyes of my heart I see, to borrow a phrase from our Presiding Bishop said in this space, how much this just smells like Jesus to me.

Consider the puzzle that sat over the labyrinth, coming together perhaps frustratingly slowly. You put your piece in, claiming your space in the Body of Christ in this particular corner of the Kingdom. With your eyes, you see the blank spaces. Who are the missing pieces? Where are they? With the eyes of your heart, you can see the many people who this congregation has impacted, the pieces of a puzzle too large to fit over the labyrinth. Yes, some people are not with you week by week and the loss is felt. But with the eyes of my heart, I see how many lives the Holy Spirit has touched in the space in ways that matter to eternity.

These past few days, I saw The Fig offering and overflowing gracious hospitality to more than 400 people that set the stage for Evangelism Matters Conference participants to hear a clarion called to share the love of Jesus with others. More than 70 volunteers worked with your staff to provide and care for leaders from as far away as Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean, and even Georgia. They were inspired by the worship you provided and equipped by the conference with tools to spread the Gospel. You could not fit enough puzzle pieces over the whole labyrinth to capture the impact from just this one event.

The puzzle is a metaphor, and as far as it shows you an individual in context of the larger picture of The Fig, it is helpful. But the image breaks down if you limit what God is doing in and through this church to the pieces of that puzzle. God is working out something much larger and is using The Fig in that eternal master plan.

If we stop looking at the world with our eyes and look with our hearts, we see that God is already making all things new. As the fox told the Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” As Jesus died on the cross, many looked on and said if he was the Messiah, the King, he would save himself. But with the eyes of our hearts, we know that Jesus’ death and resurrection saved us all. And through your ministry in your daily life and through the ministry of this congregation, God continues to make all things new. If you don’t yet see it, try looking with your heart.

Amen.

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