Harrowing Of Hell
April 16, 2017

Seeing with Resurrection Eyes

Preacher:  The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Happy Easter.  It is great seeing you here this morning. I only wish my Uncle Bob was here.  He was in town for Palm Sunday, but said he had to get back to Montana so he’d be ready for work on Monday. Uncle Bob is a schoolteacher.

I love my Uncle Bob. He’s always interested in what I’m doing, and he’s always encouraging.  And in the course of our conversations inevitably he weaves pearls of wisdom into the tapestry of my thinking.

We were sitting on the couch talking and he was telling me about the school he runs. It is an “end of the line” school for teens that have been kicked out of other schools they’ve passed through.  Most of them come from difficult family situations, where there is homelessness, addiction, and chronic unemployment.  One of the key elements of this school is teaching the young people how to find a job, act in a work environment, and manage the money they are paid.  Uncle Bob places them in jobs, and then counsels them.

Often times they screw up, and when they do they land in his office. But before they can launch into their excuses, Uncle Bob told me he holds up his hand and says: “I don’t want to hear your “excuses” or your “sorrys,” just go back out there and be your better self.  And remember, you are more than the worse mistake you’ll ever make.  You are good and capable and deserving, so go out there and try again.  I believe in you.”

That is Uncle Bob: Mercy, grace, forgiveness, trust, transformation, resurrection. In my uncle these young people are connected to a man who believes in them, who sees them, not in the context of their errors,  but in the goodness of their humanity.

And here is the miracle that happens Uncle Bob told me… in this little “end of the line” school, he is beginning to see students treating each other with this same mercy and grace and forgiveness. Now in the halls it is just as likely he’ll hear one tough kid saying to one another: “Hey that is OK. Go give it another try. I believe in you.”

When these students are seen differently, they start to see differently; and when they start to see differently the world around them starts to change. It is as if the observer has the power to change the content of what he or she is seeing.  Could that be true?  Could it be true that how we see the world actually changes the world we see?

The Resurrection story we hear this morning is about God saying to us: I see you and I believe in you. Now go see the world as I see you. This is the underlying narrative of our Easter story today.

We find Mary in the garden. It has been 48-hours of horror. She hasn’t slept. She hasn’t eaten. Everything she believed in; everything she had depended on; everything she had placed her hope in had been destroyed with the crucifixion of Jesus.

I think it hard to accurately express how extraordinary Jesus really was. Mary had a front row seat on the most remarkable man to ever live. He was genius. He was charismatic. He was compassionate. He also had power. And I mean he had real power.

  1. It is real power to feed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish;
  2. It is real power to feed 4000 people with 7 loaves and 3 fish;
  3. It is real power to feed to walk on water;
  4. It is real power to feed to heal a man born blind;
  5. It is real power to raise not one, but two and three people from the dead.

I think one of the reasons people don’t believe in the Jesus miracles is because he didn’t use them like we might have use them if we had the capacity to employ them ourselves.

What if Jesus had applied his miracle making capacity in a way that had practical consequence in the context of his time? What if Jesus used them to take on Rome, the most powerful army the world had ever known? He could raise an army.  Easily.  Thousands were following him around all of the time.  And he wouldn’t have needed supply lines.  He could have marched through conquered lands without disenfranchising conquered people by raiding their warehouses or stripping their fields for food.  All he needed was a kid with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish in a backpack. They wouldn’t need to build bridges to cross rivers. They would have just walk right over them. In a battle if someone was rendered blind or even killed, Jesus could have just said: “Hey Jimmy, get up.” And these are just the practical things he could have employed. They says nothing of Jesus’s wisdom and brilliant strategic mind.  Power… that is real power.  That is the power Mary saw firsthand.  That is world-shaking power. That is what she witnessed, and followed and hoped in, and yet, in the end, all of that power was nailed to the cross. Dead.

And that is what was so confusing to Mary. That is what she couldn’t believe.  There was no doubt in Mary’s mind that Jesus really could have come down from that cross. Those nails weren’t what was holding him up there…So what was it? Why did he chose to stay up there on that cross?
That is what was on Mary’s mind, I imagine, when she heard the gardener ask; “Woman, why are weeping? Who are you looking for?” And she responded out of the habit of context and expectation: it must be the gardener she was seeing. And yet, as she met his gaze she was changed. Caught in the sight line of Jesus, Mary saw Jesus, and was changed.

I suppose that could happen. I suppose we could be changed by the gaze of another. Maybe if you have been in love you know what that is like; how the gaze of your beloved causes you to change, or at least causes you to aspire to your better self. Maybe if you’re a physicist you might believe it. That is what the math of quantum mechanics claims, that the observer changes the dynamic of what is being observed.

That is what Uncle Bob believes. That is how he lives his life. How about you? How does how you see change what you see? It is a choice I suppose.

Numerous times in the resurrection stories we are told that some saw Jesus, while others, in the exact same context, at the exact same moment in time, only saw a stranger, or a traveler, or a fisherman, or an orator, or just a guy. But the ones who did see Jesus, they changed the world. It is their names that we still remember. Not because they could “prove it,” but because they were the ones who passed the gaze of Jesus from one person to another to another down through the ages to some of us sitting in this room today.

They saw with resurrected eyes, and passed it on. It is this resurrection gaze that Jesus chose to bequeath to the world. It is a power greater and more enduring than a victory over Rome. It is the power of God coming back to tell us how much God loves us. It is the power of God coming back to tell us how much God believes in us.

And in order to come back, God first had to stay up on that cross. And it wasn’t the iron nails that kept him up there… It was love. It was a passion for humanity, and the possibility (the hope) that the power of love would be passed on from Jesus to Mary to the disciples, down through the ages, to you and to me…because it is that love that really changes the world.

God believes in you. God trusts your capacity so much, that God chose to be seen by you. Why?  Because you are good and capable and deserving. God made you that way.  And if God made you that way, then it means God trusts you with the power to gaze upon the world with resurrection eyes. That is what Uncle Bob does, and it makes a difference. No excuses.  No I’m sorrys needed.

My Easter prayer for you is that you choose to change the world by choosing how you see the world. My prayer for you is that you choose to see through the eyes of Jesus.