Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two Eyes

By Keith E Gatling         Sermon for August 21, 2011

Lessons for Pentecost 10 [21] in Year A
Isaiah 51:1–6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1–8
Matthew 16:13–20

If you’re not already doing it, I’d like you to look at me for a minute. And now we’re gonna play doctor…eye doctor, that is.

Cover your left eye. Everything seems just fine, right? OK, good. Now cover your right eye. Same there? Cool.

I like it when Paul talks about the Church as being the body of Christ, and how that body has many members. He talks about it in First Corinthians, chapter 12, which I preached on ten years ago, and he talks about it in Romans 12, which we just heard a few moments ago.

One of the very important things about that body is that each of its members has its own important role. He says:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

OK. That seems pretty straightforward. We each have different jobs, and they need to be done well. In his more well-known passage about the body he goes on to say

…if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?

In both sets of passages Paul talks about how all the parts of the body are needed. Both for our regular human bodies, and the metaphorical body of Christ. And we all understand that each part is important, and that all the parts need to work well with each other, with no part being able to say that it doesn’t need the other.

I can tell you from personal experience that when the parts of the body that you notice the least stop functioning, all of a sudden, everything changes. Some of you may not know that last year I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes and boy, what I wouldn’t give for a working pancreas these days. There are many people sitting right here who are the pancreas of Christ. You don’t really notice them because the work they do may not seem as glamorous as the work done by the hands of Christ, the feet of Christ, or even the mouth of Christ; and it’s done quietly and in the background. But let me tell you, when the pancreas of Christ stops working, all the other parts suffer.

So we know that all the parts of the body are needed, and that one shouldn’t say to the other “I don’t need you because I’m more important.” We know that the eye shouldn’t say that to the ear, or the ear to the nose, or the nose to…the pancreas.

But what about the eye to the eye? Or the ear to the ear?

I was thinking about this one day as I considered the problems we have when people just see things differently. And I’m not just talking about the ELCA here. It happens in every denomination, in every congregation; it happens in every family.

I thought about how it is that congregations and entire denominations sometimes split because two factions see things differently, with each side seeing themselves as right and the other as wrong. Sometimes it takes an outsider, with no history with either side, to come in, look at the arguing, and laugh.

Why laugh? Because the outsider can see that the two sides agree on 95% of the issues, and are talking about splitting over 5%. And so she laughs. She laughs because of the ridiculousness of the situation, and because she sees that the two sides don’t understand just how much they need each other. They think they’d be better off without those people who are so obviously wrong, and who just don’t understand scripture correctly. But she knows that they need each other.

What does this have to do with Paul? What does this have to do with our little eye test of a few minutes ago? Hold on, I’m getting there.

And so as I thought about all of these battles that occur in congregations and denominations between factions arguing that the other side just doesn’t see things the right way, I wondered why God made us so that we couldn’t all see the same way. Wouldn’t that make things so much easier?

And then it hit me. And then I got the perspective that one only has if you have…two eyes.

I want you to do that little eye test again, but this time we’re gonna try something different. I want you to grab a hymnal and put it in your lap. Look at it. OK, no biggie, right?

Now cover your left eye and look at it. The view changes a little bit, doesn’t it? You’re not quite seeing it the same way as you did before, are you? OK, now switch up the eyes. It looks a little different when you’re only using your left eye to look at it, doesn’t it?

Now let me ask you this question: which eye is seeing it the right way? Aha…is there a right way to see it?

Well, let’s say…just for the moment…that there is a right way to see it. I’m left-handed, so I’m gonna go with that. I’ll say that the way the left eye sees things is the proper way. So to get my right eye to see things the way my left eye does, I move the hymnal a few inches to the right. But what happens? Your right eye is seeing the hymnal the way the left eye did a few moments ago, but now the left eye is seeing the hymnal differently because it’s been moved.

In fact, the left eye and the right eye are never going to see things exactly the same way. Ever. They’re positioned in such a way that they’ll always see things slightly differently.

Now let’s not get ridiculous about it. It’s not like one eye will see a horse while the other sees an elephant. But they will always have slightly different views of the same thing.

And this is a good thing.

Because when both eyes see things slightly differently, and work together, we get a sense of perspective…literally. If both eyes saw the exact same thing the exact same way, we’d live in a world that seemed very flat. If you know someone who’s lost an eye, or lost the vision in one eye, think about how difficult it is to move around in three-dimensional space when you’re only getting half the picture.
Ah…does the left eye say to the right eye “I don’t want to work with you unless you see things exactly the same way I do?” Of course not!

We all see things differently. Two kids growing up in the same family experience that family in very different ways; and it’s not just the obvious case of the older sibling remembering a time when there was no younger one, or the sister having a different experience than the brother. It’s been shown that even identical twins have different experiences within the same family.

And our different experiences within our families and communities, the different things we’ve seen and read, and the different people we’ve been loved or hurt by, all make us see things slightly differently, and lead us all to bring something a little different to the table.

Or rather, they make each of us a different eye. One of us is the left eye of a tall person while the other is the right eye of a short person, and someone else is the right eye of a short person who is very nearsighted. We all see things differently, and perhaps are supposed to…so that the body of Christ has a sense of perspective, and is able to more clearly focus on things in the distance without tripping over the things close at hand.

We spend too much time trying to get all the other eyes to see things exactly as we do. We Lutherans take a great deal of pride in the fact that Martin Luther would rather leave than cave to the demands of the Catholic church.

Except that that ain’t how it happened. He didn’t leave. He was thrown out. He was willing to discuss and to be the other eye that helped give the church a needed sense of perspective. But the Pope had other ideas.

Ironically, and sadly the shoe ended up on the other foot later in Luther’s life. Many of you have heard of the absolutely horrible things he had written about the Jews, things that we modern Lutherans officially disavow – especially in the light of the Holocaust. But why did he write them?

There are many theories. One is that he had written them after he had had a stroke and so his mind…and heart…weren’t firing on all cylinders in the first place. Another, though, is that he figured that the reason that the Jews had not accepted Jesus as the Son of God was because of the obvious corruption of the Catholic Church, and that once he explained things to them, they’d be convinced and convert. Surely he could make the right eye see things as the left eye did.

But when he wasn’t successful, he went ballistic, and wrote those tracts that we’re so ashamed of. He wasn’t able to see as the right eye did and they weren’t able to see as the left eye did; and rather than consider that maybe the other eye helps to give us all a sense of perspective about God, he decided that the other eye should be gouged out.

How often do we do this within the church? Too often, I’m afraid.

We are not all going to see things the same way. Two people in the same Bible study group will come up with three opinions. But that doesn’t mean that we argue with each other until one person wins and one person either caves or leaves. It means that when we understand that we see things 95% the same, we also understand that the 5% where we see things differently are part of a greater truth, and help to give us the sense of perspective that we need as the body of Christ.

I have a challenge for you. I want you to find someone who you know you disagree with on an issue – that should be easy, just check out the bumper stickers on the cars in the lot - and I want you to talk about that issue, where you agree, and where you disagree. And then I want you to see if maybe your disagreement is really only on the edges of what you actually agree about. I want you to see if, rather than becoming all defensive about your own opinion, if perhaps the other person’s opinion can give you some needed perspective on your own, and then to see if you can work together as the eyes of Christ.

Because according to Paul, the left eye should not tell the right eye that it’s not needed.

And this is most certainly true!