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Hear and See Jesus

All Saints A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

On an arid dusty mountain in the rolling hills of northern Israel, somewhere near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sat down among the disciples and a great crowd.  Some came from the eastern region known as the Decapolis (or ten cities) of the Gentiles beyond the Jordan, others from throughout Galilee, Judea, and Samaria.

Some came because they were curious; some to be a part of the action. They came to see for themselves because somebody told them they would see a miracle. They came because they were desperate.  They came on behalf of beloved friends or family. The sick and the lame came from all around wondering if Jesus could heal them. They came daring to hope Jesus could be the beginning of the good news, the end of capricious power, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of cities and streets to live in (Isaiah 58:12). Some came who had left everything behind to follow him.

Together, they were a great crowd, trudging, clanging, and banging their way through the wilderness, lugging bags, supplies, and the infirm up a mountain behind Jesus.  The earth in that part of the world is so fine every step generates a cloud of dust.  It was not easy.  Clearly, they were not seeking comfort but something more elusive, more powerful, more important.  They came hoping for hope. They gathered amidst dust hanging in the air, covering their bodies, catching in their eyes, choking their throats. They came to hear and see Jesus. What do you hear and see?  It may be one of the simplest definitions of our faith.  A Christian is a person who hears and sees the living God revealed in the person, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Others may use a different name, or other words, to say who God is. Or, they may have no words. We call ourselves Christians because Jesus opens a window for us to glimpse the face and character of God operating in, with, and under creation—in everything, every place, and every event that is.What we have glimpsed in Christ Jesus is a loving God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) as St. Paul described to the philosophers of Athens.  Somehow, we were like fish swimming desperately in search of water. We did not realize there is no separation between us and God. It is Christ Jesus who invited us finally to quench our thirst, open our hearts, transform our minds, and extend a hand to be part of the One Life we all share in God.

What we have glimpsed in Christ Jesus is a loving God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) as St. Paul described to the philosophers of Athens.  Somehow, we were like fish swimming desperately in search of water. We did not realize there is no separation between us and God. It is Christ Jesus who invited us finally to quench our thirst, open our hearts, transform our minds, and extend a hand to be part of the One Life we all share in God.   The scripture abounds with metaphors to help and guide us.  We are called to take our place at the heavenly banquet, to count ourselves among the nations flowing to the throne of God, to let ourselves be built into a living sanctuary, a temple not made with hands; to be joined together as vine and branches, and become part of the body of Christ.  We literally enact this God-given reality in worship each week through Word and Sacraments.  This is the basis of our hope and celebration today on the feast of All Saints. We are joined with the living and the dead in the waters of baptism, at the Lord’s Table, and in song and praise.

The scripture abounds with metaphors to help and guide us.  We are called to take our place at the heavenly banquet, to count ourselves among the nations flowing to the throne of God, to let ourselves be built into a living sanctuary, a temple not made with hands; to be joined together as vine and branches, and become part of the body of Christ.  We literally enact this God-given reality in worship each week through Word and Sacraments.  This is the basis of our hope and celebration today on the feast of All Saints. We are joined with the living and the dead in the waters of baptism, at the Lord’s Table, and in song and praise.

St. Paul writes, “And [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] 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 (Ephesians 1:22-23). The Eucharist offers Christians the message in a condensed form so we can struggle with it in a very concrete way. You cannot think about such a universal truth logically; you can only slowly digest it! “Eat it and know who you are,” St. Augustine said.

For most of us, like the crowds surrounding Jesus on that dusty hilltop, the truth reveals itself slowly. The unbelievable does not become believable in an instant. The Body of Christ is not up there, or over there; it’s in you—more precisely—it is here in us. It is us whenever we are gathered in Christ’s name.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Slowly, little by little and sometimes, all at once, you and I are literally the second coming of Christ. We do God’s work with our hands.

Jesus declared us Blessed, not when we are achieving things, and not when our lives are going splendidly, but as we become more lost and lonely and loveless even as we become more engaged and passionate, and in love with the world. The fruit of your labors will be multiplied thirty, sixty, and one hundredfold.

The Beatitudes, we read today, may be among the first words ever written about Jesus. As a literary genre, the Sermon on the Mount is intended to epitomize or summarize the entire gospel in as few words as possible.

You are the saints of God, Jesus said and always seemed to be saying, when injustice and uncaring or sheer bad luck have trampled your spirit, caused you to suffer sacrifice or loss, humiliated you, and left you hungry and thirsting for righteousness. You are the saints of God, Jesus said and always seemed to be saying, whenever you respond with mercy and simplicity of heart to restore peace and well-being, and whenever you are persecuted for being disciples of Christ.

Where have you seen and heard Jesus? Having seen and heard Jesus enables us more confidently identify God at work in others. By their fruits you shall know them, Jesus said.

This Friday Brian Ibsen and I traveled with Allen Stryczek and his wife Suzanne of St. Gertrude Catholic church to Rolling Meadows at the invitation of friends from the Ismaili Center who invited us and several faith leaders from Edgewater to celebrate with them the 60th anniversary of their Imam, the Aga Khan’s spiritual leadership.  We were two Lutherans and two Catholics in a car discussing whether it was strange or not that a religious community would identify a single person to be the spokesperson for God.

We learned about humanitarian work being done by the Ismaili community throughout the world, especially in Africa, to build schools, hospitals, universities, cultural centers and economic development projects such as hydro-electric dams and public parks.

As the late great Fred Rogers used to say, when bad things happen, don’t concentrate on those who hurt and destroy, look for the helpers.  There are always helpers.   The community of Ismaili Shia Muslims are helpers, working to make the world a better place.

They asked, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ People of God come from all tribes and peoples and languages were standing before the throne of the Lamb.  I would not be surprised to learn there are Muslims among them like my friends at the Ismaili Center. For the feast of All Saints, we stand against those who would use hate and fear to divide us. We who have heard and seen the living God in Christ Jesus can recognize the fruits of God’s grace when we hear and see it in others.

‘From earth’s wide bounds, from oceans farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, let us sing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!’ (ELW #422)

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