Sermon for Sunday, February 19, 2017 || Epiphany 7A || Matthew 5:38-48
Just today and next week left in our Epiphany sermon series in which we are imagining our way into God’s eyes and trying to see ourselves as God sees us. God sees, names, and celebrates us as beloved, befriended, gifted, blessed, and enlightened. Last week we talked about God designing us to be unfinished products, always ready for further growth as we love and serve the Lord. So it might surprise you that we return to God’s point of view today and see that God also names us “finished.” How can we be both finished and unfinished at the same time? Well, this is one of those experiences of both/and reality so common where God is concerned.
More than any sermon in this series, I am least qualified to talk about this one. In the next few minutes I might say something that is true, but if I do, it will have been by accident because what I’m really going to do is talk about Adam’s point of view about God’s point of view. It springs from Jesus’ command at the end of today’s Gospel: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In other words, be complete, be your entire self, be finished. Now from our own point of view, it is impossible to be our entire selves, to be finished as it were, because we still have many days ahead of us. But God’s point of view is, I think, entirely different.
Try to imagine God’s point of view with me for a few minutes and see if you can avoid spiritual vertigo, because I can’t. Here we go: All of creation from the moment that moments began is alive all at once. Every star that died billions of years ago, but whose light is just reaching us now; every single-celled organism gliding through the primordial ooze; every person we have ever loved and every person we have never known; all of them alive to God, all of it happening now for God.
I don’t know about you, but I get a little dizzy just trying to comprehend this thought – the riot of color and sound, the collision of what we see as the past and future, the unmeasured light years of space and uncounted eons of time all seen now by God, all spoken into being now by God, all loved and cherished now by God.
We can’t ever hope to comprehend this thought because we live our lives in linear fashion, moving moment to moment. We have memories of the past, and we have hopes for the future. Yesterday happened yesterday. It’s not still happening today. This linear model is like flipping through the pages of a magazine. Once I’ve flipped from page 35 to 36, I’m no longer looking at page 35. But from God’s point of view, the magazine is a collage of all the pages, with each picture cut out and arranged just so, like an elementary school art project.
This thought comforts me. From God’s point of view, I’m not simply Adam as I stand here before you: a month on from his 34th birthday, his stomach rumbling, his sermon moving along apace. No. From God’s point of view, I am the totality of myself: everything that has ever happened, everything that will ever happen, every joy, every regret, every skinned knee, every embrace, every relationship, every failure, every triumph – everything that makes me the person I am, God sees and God speaks into being. This totality of myself includes my death and whatever there is in what we would call “After,” but what God still sees as “Now.”
The apostle Paul understands the difficulty of speaking about God’s point of view, and he says what I’m trying to say much better than I ever could. He says these words to the church in Corinth: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
To be fully known. This is how God’s point of view works. God knows us fully – the finished products whom we have never met. God knows the totality of each of us, just like God sees the entirety of creation happening now.
Speaking about God’s point of view has the unfortunate byproduct of making us feel so small, so insignificant. It’s only natural in the face of the idea that all of creation is always present to God to think that we don’t matter, that in the grand cosmic scale our lives are worthless.
But from God’s point of view, nothing could be farther from the truth. God couldn’t care less about the “grand cosmic scale” because the notion of a “scale” of any kind is meaningless to our eternal and infinite God. God speaks every subatomic particle into being and celebrates it as if it were the only speck in existence. Each speck has God’s full attention; if it didn’t, it would cease to be.
We may look up at the night sky and see ourselves as small, insignificant specks on a small, insignificant planet orbiting a small, insignificant star. But to do so is to deny the truth not just about ourselves, but about all of creation. All of creation is present to all of God. This includes you and me. If God weren’t constantly and continuously speaking each of us into existence, we would cease to be.
So if we are anywhere in the ballpark of the truth of God’s point of view, what does this all mean for us? Too many things, of course, to close this sermon with, so we’ll look at three – what we call past, present, and future, but each of which is always now to God.
First, the past and our grief over people dying: From our perspective, the sun sets below the horizon. But in reality, we are spinning away from the sun. Likewise, we grieve when someone dies because, from our perspective, that loved one is gone. But we know in a place deeper than normal knowing that, in reality, our loved one is still alive to God. Ultimately, grief is a way to express our frustration that we have a severely limited ability to perceive reality. But for anyone who has ever had a loved one die, you know that every now and again, you catch glimpses of true reality when you feel the presence of that loved one alive in a different way.
Second, the present: Since God is fully present to every particle of creation, which includes each of us, we have no business thinking of ourselves or anybody else as insignificant. Everyone matters, so we must affirm this in our actions. Thus God’s point of view catalyzes us to champion the cherished significance of all people, of their needs and rights, and of the environment in which we all flounder and flourish.
Third, the future: Those we perceive as future generations are as alive to God as we are. Therefore, it is our duty to honor their significance in the same way we are called to honor those we meet today. This means making choices in our personal and communal lives that sustain our world, which, in the end, is another piece of creation fully present to God and therefore worthy of our honor.
I know this sermon was headier than most, but I think it important every once in awhile to step back and gain perspective, especially when we are mired in the constant turmoil of an ever-changing world. We are unfinished products continually given the opportunity for growth. But we are also finished; we are the totality of ourselves from God’s perspective, which means God has already guarded and guided us to whatever end awaits us. In between unfinished and the finished lies our transformation, which we will tackle in our last week of the Epiphany sermon series.
In the meantime, I invite you to pray yourself into God’s expansive point of view. Give yourself permission to feel fully known by God. And in the faith that God’s Now includes your Future, go forth with boldness to love and serve the Lord.
Art: Detail from William Blake’s “Ancient of Days”