October 22, 2017

A Prayer for Spiritual Sight

Passage: Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 22:15-22
Service Type:

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 of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

N.T Wright in his commentary on this prayer offered by the Apostle for the Ephesian church relates the story of looking through a friend’s new telescope.

“So how strong is it?”
My friend was showing me his new telescope. It was set up in an upstairs room, looking out towards the sea.
“Well, take a look.”
I had been scanning the horizon with my own small binoculars. There were a couple of ships going by. A few small fishing boats closer in. Nothing much else. I put my eye to his telescope and couldn’t believe what I saw.
The two ships I had seen—suddenly they were so close that I could see their names on the side, and people walking to and fro on the deck. But that was only the beginning. Out beyond, where my binoculars had registered nothing at all, were several other ships: large and small, military and commercial, including a cruise liner. The telescope seemed to have the uncanny power of making things appear out of nowhere.

The gospel declares that, spiritually speaking, the human in rebellion against God cannot see. Jesus said to Nicodemus, a religious man who though he possessed great spiritual insight, that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above … what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” (John 3:3-7) Unless God restores spiritual sight we don’t see much.

This is the Apostle’s prayer for the church. A prayer for a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that with the eyes of our hearts enlightened we can see what God wants us to see. Our best efforts see only the shape of two ships on the horizon. But what is on that spiritual horizon that God wants us to see?

1. In P.D. James’ novel Devices and Desires (p. 57-8) one of the characters is the director of a nuclear power station built on the edge of the sea. From his office window, writes James, “Even on the darkest night, by the light which the sea seemed mysteriously to absorb and reflect, he could make out the splendid fifteenth-century West Tower of Happisburgh Church, that embattled symbol of man’s precarious defences against the most dangerous of seas. And it was a symbol of more than that. The tower must have been the last sight for hundreds of drowning mariners in peace and war. … Built in an age of faith, the tower stood as a symbol, too, of that final, unquenchable hope that even the sea would yield up her dead and that their God was God of the waters as He was the land. … But now mariners could see, dwarfing the tower, the huge rectangular bulk of Larksoken Power Station. For those who sought symbols in inanimate objects, its message was both simple and expedient, that man, by his own intelligence and his own efforts, could understand and master his world, could make his transitory life more agreeable, more comfortable, more pain free.”

In this character James captures well the spirit of our age where the Divine has been domesticated. Two contributing factors are “scientific fundamentalism,” which asserts that the only path of truth is through the empirical scientific method, and a “secular messianism” which imagines the world to be perfectible by human agency alone. An instance of how this manifests itself came to me recently in an electronic message from the company that manages my health insurance benefits. The headline posed the provocative question, “Would you like live to 150?” The idea being that by our human efforts we can keep on increasing longevity. So what do we need from God?

The entire text we are considering today is about God and what God does. God is the subject. God is the actor. It implies something very profound and overlooked by our cultural experience; that God is at work in the world moving ahead with his agenda to redeem a people for himself. And the Apostle’s prayer is for our Lord to forge his reality over our lives, or as the Apostle states it—with the eyes of your heart enlightened. We come to church carrying the burdens and challenges typical of human life. We come perhaps hoping for a word of help. And indeed God has something for us—spiritual sight. Maybe we were hoping for something else. But God’s thoughts and not our thoughts and we must trust our Lord that he knows what we truly need.

Note with me how the Apostle describes the outcome of God’s gift—“with the eyes of your heart enlightened.” The heart, in scripture, is the centre of our being—it includes the other faculties of mind, emotion, and will. Yes, there is an intellectual component that understands the meaning of the words that describe what God wants us to know. For example, God wants you to know the hope to which he has called you. We can articulate what that means but God’s gift of spiritual sight is that this doctrine would not remain a saying on a religious wall poster but would burst alive in our hearts. We would experience the comfort and encouragement in our hearts God intends. Knowing is an experiential concept in scripture.

So God ‘s work in our lives is for this hope for life to which we are called to be experienced in hopeful living, in always knowing the best is yet to come. These things that seem to defeat us are never the final word. And we know this in the experience of how a scripture or hymn or even sermon resonates in our hearts delivering that which we know can only come from God—think how often something at worship seemed specifically for you. This is God’s gift of spiritual sight.

2. In God’s gift of spiritual sight what is it that God wants us to see? The first thing mentioned is that you may know the hope to which he has called you. The cosmic significance of this hope is expressed in the preceding paragraph. “With all wisdom and insight he (God) has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:8-10) The Apostle has in mind God’s redeeming work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We have noted on other occasions that for Christians hope is a future certainty grounded in a present reality. The present reality is the faithfulness of God. God’s faithfulness is marked out by major landmarks (promises he has kept) in his involvement with his people, an involvement he won’t renounce on behalf of a people he won’t abandon. The landmark that towers over others and gathers them up into itself, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Here all the promises of God find their fulfilment. Here the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel and to Israel’s greater Son overflows out onto all flesh. God had promised to renew the entire creation in Christ, liberating the creation from its bondage to the evil one, freeing it from its frustration and allowing it to flower abundantly. God’s raising his Son from the dead is the decisive moment of this promised liberation and is therefore the landmark of God’s faithfulness.

One of the ways the scripture describes this hope that all things will be gathered up in Christ is that one day we will see God. Faith will become sight. We read today of Moses seeing God’s back, how God hid him in the cleft of the rock so he could see him. In the mystery of God’s holiness and our sinfulness to see God’s face meant death. But a day is coming where we, perfected in Christ, will see God. I love the way the Apostle John put it; “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

In this hope in Christ, death has been rendered the gateway to life. Robertson McQuilkin, president emeritus of Columbia International University, published a prayer for the sundown of life. (McQuilkin is the author of A Promise Kept, about his struggles in caring for his wife stricken with Alzheimer’s disease). It is an evocative prayer reflecting on the later stages of life. McQuiklin prays:

“It's sundown, Lord. The shadows of my life stretch back into the dimness of the years long spent. I fear not death, for that grim foe betrays himself at last, thrusting me forever into life: life with you, unsoiled and free.
But I do fear. I fear the dark specter may come too soon— or do I mean too late? That I should end before I finish or finish, but not well. That I should stain your honor, shame your name, grieve your loving heart. Few, they tell me, finish well. . . Lord, let me get home before dark.
The darkness of a spirit grown mean and small, fruit shriveled on the vine, bitter to the taste of my companions, burden to be borne by those brave few who love me still?
No, Lord, let the fruit grow lush and sweet, a joy to all who taste; Spirit-sign of God at work, stronger, fuller. Brighter at the end. Lord, let me get home before dark.

We don’t all get home before dark but no matter the darkness our Lord’s hold on us will bring us home. Our surety rests in him. And this is at the heart of the gospel—it is God who comes among us in the Son to rescue. The identity of the one doing the rescuing makes all the difference.

3. The next thing God wants us to see is “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” I like the point that J.D. Greear makes regarding this inheritance. He invites us to consider our worth to God. The point being that the inheritance belongs to Christ—an inheritance that he shares. That inheritance is his resurrected life shared with all those he dies to save.

In the prayer Jesus prayed in anticipation of when he would give up his life for us he prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (John 17:1-2) To put it directly, we are his inheritance. He came to break down the wall of hostility between humanity and God; to turn a rebellious people to himself and make us right with God; to save a wretch like me. Here is our worth to God; while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Of course, much more can be said of the riches of this inheritance but what God’s gracious action witnesses of our worth to him is worthy of taking time to reflect upon.

4. The third thing God wants us to know is “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe … the power God put to work in Christ when the raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand.” It is interesting to note that God does not ask us to look at God’s creative power to make the world but rather at the resurrection power that raised Jesus Christ. The power at work in us in bringing us to believe is this resurrection power; the power to give spiritual life where there was none after all, as Paul will remind readers in this letter, “We were dead in our trespasses and sins.” It is this resurrection power to bring life that God is working in our lives.

In 2014 a story was published about a lost boy who found his was home using Google earth.
When he was five years old, Saroo Brierley fell asleep on a train bound for Calcutta, India from his hometown. Separated from his family and unable to describe his way home, he was taken into state care and eventually adopted to a family in Australia. But his memories of his village in India, of his mother and siblings, persisted. Fast forward 26 years, and Saroo is sitting at a computer looking at Google Maps. He realizes that this might be the tool he needs to find his family again, and begins using the photographic map to follow the rail lines that radiate out from Calcutta. Eventually, he sees the image of a train station that's the same as the one in his memory, and sets out in search of his home. He finds the house of his childhood, and, a few meters away, his mother. Reunited after 26 years, because of a longing for home, and the right kind of map.

C.S. Lewis wrote that we all have a longing for our “true home." The Bible describes us all as strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land. Instead of a map Jesus comes among who is himself way, truth and life to call us home. In him we find the true place where we belong.