When We Gaze Upon God

This began as a short reflection on the lessons for Proper 27C for the St. Peter’s E-Net.  When I started writing this is what came out.  

Over the last several weeks, we have been hearing, reflecting, and praying on some very challenging passages from the Gospel according to Luke.  It seems to me that one of the messages Jesus is continually trying to get across is that the values of this world – the ways of this world – are not the values and ways of God.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Sadducees try to trick Jesus.  They begin to ask questions, not as a way of creating open dialogue or for the growth and benefit of those involved in the conversation, but as a way to try to manipulate Jesus to gain power over him.  The Sadducees try to put Jesus in a situation where he will appear to the crowd as being neither trustworthy nor knowledgeable.  But, Jesus doesn’t fall for this.  Instead he takes the opportunity, he takes this teachable moment, to talk about the nature of heaven.

In this passage, and over and over again in scripture, we hear that the ways of earth and the ways of heaven are not the same.  One of the more well known scriptural examples of this comes from Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(55:8-9).  But, Jesus takes it a step further than just saying that heaven and earth are different.  Jesus answers the question asked by the Sadducees by saying that in heaven even the lowliest of the society would be considered “like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”  This is one radical statement.

This Gospel passage lifts up the fact that the mystery of the resurrection revealed by Jesus, is that heaven is a place where those who have been dehumanized will be restored; those who have been oppressed will be set free; those who have been treated as inferior will be raised up; those who are last will be first.  All those people who do not fit into the systems of power and privilege in our society will be lifted up and seen as the truly beloved children of God that they are.  They will no longer be seen as property, as second class, as something to be used, abused, and tossed aside.  In heaven, in the kingdom of God, these children will know the joy and peace that was denied them in their earthly life.

In this passage we hear Jesus proclaim that “[God] is God not of the dead, but of the living.” The God of the living is a God of restoration, newness, forgiveness, and liberation.  This is a God that breaks down the bondage and slavery of sin and destruction that we live in: that we play a part in.

What is glaringly highlighted in this Gospel is that those of us who participate in, and benefit from, systems of power and privilege have much to be concerned with.  If those who are held in bondage and oppression will be liberated and set free, what does that mean for the rest of us?  What does that mean for The Church?  What does it mean for us, in the words of Nancy Lynne Westfield, if “Resurrection is especially for the least, the lost, and the left out, a place of honor and respect as we experience the joy of God’s love in the resurrection?” What are we to do?

Pope Francis, in a recent sermon said, “The Church is not the Church only for good people.  Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners.  All of us sinners are invited.” He went on to say, “You either participate fully or you remain outside. You can’t pick and choose: the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized.  It is everyone’s Church!”  I wonder how we welcome the most marginalized into our midst?  How do we make our parishes inviting places where all people – the most marginalized in particular – are welcome to the great feast we are called to share?

We are called to come participate fully in this life of the Church.  To come seeking forgiveness for our participation of the oppression of other people; to seek healing for the ways we have been hurt; to break down the societally imposed barriers between “us” and “them.”

This past week, Br. Mark Brown offered a powerful meditation titled “Gaze” as part of the SSJE offering Brother, Give Us A Word.  Br. Mark wrote:

God, in Christ, has set his face toward us in the hope that we would set our face toward him.  That we would not only grasp his garment, but take hold of him and gaze directly into his face.  There is infinite power in this reciprocal gaze.  There is eternity in this mutual delight.

I think Br. Mark’s words offer us a way to transform our hearts: a way for us to seek forgiveness and a change of life.  If we share in this reciprocal gaze with God, if we experience this mutual delight, there is a way we can begin to break down the systematic oppression of other people.  There is a way we can begin to break the bondage of slavery that takes hold of our lives.

We have been invited to come as sinners to the great feast of The Lamb.  To take heart that despite our shortcoming, our failures, our sinfulness we are beloved children of God. When we come to the altar we begin to experience the in breaking of God’s redeeming love in the world.  When we share this most sacred and holy meal we are empowered to see all people as beloved children of God.  When this happens, we will truly experience the kingdom of God in our midst.  We will know what Jesus proclaims when he says that God is God of the living; when he teaches and describes what heaven is like.

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