- The Rev. Arianne Rice
Opening to Surprise
Good morning my brothers and sisters - I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches God has in store for you and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power – put to work for and within all of us through Christ.
A greeting from me and also from St. Paul – who we do not hear much of these days due to our abridged worship. And yet – his greeting to the people of Ephesus back in the first century – is just as resonant to me right now– given that we cannot, like he could not, be with his faith community in person. So before he begins his letter he starts off reminding them – but maybe it’s more to remind himself what truly connects us – even when we are apart.
Trust in prayer – trust that God is working God’s purpose out. Trust in the hope that God’s spirit – God’s wisdom is made known to each and every one through simply by opening of our eyes. Specifically – the eyes of our hearts.
That’s what Paul lived. Paul – first Saul – was struck down by that power of God on the road to Damascus – and asked – why? Why do you persecute the least of these? Why do you persecute me, asked the voice of Jesus. And then Saul sat in three days of blindness – until his eyes were opened. Paul began to see with the eyes of his heart – where he continuously and joyfully – in the midst of ongoing challenging circumstances – encouraged others to do the same.
Yeah – I’ll be honest – I think I just needed to hear Paul’s words this morning.
This past Tuesday I zoomed with our vestry. We always start our meetings with a check-in – and this week I asked if people would share where they notice the love, or peace or presence of God in their lives.
Many responded with nature – being outside and seeing as if for the first time – the beauty that is all around that so often goes unnoticed. Especially in these last few weeks – the radiant colors of the trees. Blazing with red or gold or orange.
We talked about how we’re outside more than usual these days – and seeing in a new way – or maybe taking it in anew.
But we realize how fortunate we are to live in beautiful surroundings. To have the time and ability to go outside and walk – to take care of our body, mind and spirit with some fresh air. And to look up and see the beauty of holiness – all around us – through the beauty God’s good creation.
That is seeing with the eyes of our heart enlightened – because our seeing prompts awareness. Awareness of the gift of life. Awareness of a power greater than ourselves – that connects us to all things good. I wonder where you are seeing with the eyes of your heart these days? When do you feel the presence, or the peace, or the love of God – and is it ever a surprise?
Surprise is what is so striking in this parable. Not the judgment – come on, this is Matthew’s gospel we should all be used to these challenging parables by now.
But look at the surprise – when was it that we saw you, the righteous ask? They are confused that they are even being rewarded. Apparently their actions of love, just came naturally.
This was a teaching to give hope to the marginalized. Jesus was talking not with the powerful – but with the powerless. A reminder of just how much God values the least of these was for the least of these. And the audience of Matthew is surprised to hear that – it is with the vulnerable and the weak – the people in prison, the people on the margins – that is where we will find God. In the places we do not want to go
Blessed are you who are poor in spirit – you’ll remember from twenty chapters ago. For that is where our vulnerability lies. That is where the eyes of our heart always are. The eyes that we sometimes try and shut very tightly because we don’t want to see vulnerability – in ourselves or in others. Surprise – that’s where God wants us to go.
How might you surprise yourself by opening your eyes to where there is vulnerability this week? It’s not hard to find outside or within ourselves – its just a choice to see.
Two of my favorite definitions of contemplation describe it as a way of seeing – the first, Howard Thurman – he says, to “look with quiet eyes.” Another William McNamara – says contemplation is a “long and loving look at the real.”
We do that – without even knowing it – when we gaze at something as beautiful as a tree at the peak of its fall foliage – that gaze opens the eyes of our hearts.
Gratitude – and this is a week of celebrating gratitude, is gazing in that way all the time. Gratitude, says the poet David Whyte, is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. That we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing.
We are reminded this morning – that we are part of something. We part of a community God brought together that we cannot see.
This week I was on a another zoom call with the Standing Comm. of our diocese – coming together to finalize diocesan support of SLYC. Now that there is no worshipping community in the building that is known as St. Luke’s – the Board of SLYC needed assurance that the Diocese saw the mission of SLYC as vital and as necessary to the Franklin Square community as a worshipping congregation.
And – they did – and my friends, this has been years in the making – and it is a completely new endeavor. A surprising endeavor whereby a property committee and a standing committee come together with a shared sense of mission – to serve. And in so doing – what was made clear even on that zoom call – was even more worshipping congregations – like ours – are joining together to serve.
Be open and be tender with yourselves and with others my brothers and sisters – for I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches God has in store for you and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power – put to work for and within all of us through Christ.