Joel 2:28 Luke 24:13-24, 28-31
The Rev. Tom Herbek
April 15, 2018
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells this story:
Harry, an emergency physician, tells this story. One evening on his shift in a busy emergency room, a woman was brought in about to give birth. The nurses rapidly wheeled her into a room and paged him immediately. He had been in the room next door. As he entered, they rushed out past him to call her obstetrician. One look and Harry realized that their call was probably too late. If her obstetrician wasn’t already somewhere in the building, Harry was going to deliver this baby himself. He liked delivering babies, and he was pleased. The nurses had returned and were hastily opening the delivery packs. The woman’s husband had also arrived and the nurses seated him by his wife’s head. The baby was born almost immediately.
While the little girl was still attached to her mother, Harry laid her along his left forearm. Holding the back of her head in his left hand, he took a suction bulb in his right and began to clear her mouth and nose of mucus. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at him. In that moment, Harry stepped past his technical role and realized a very simple thing: that he was the first human being this baby girl had ever seen. He felt his heart go out to her in welcome from all people everywhere and tears came to his eyes.
Harry has delivered hundreds of babies. He has always enjoyed the challenges of delivery, the excitement of making rapid decisions and feeling his own competency, but he says that he had never let himself experience the meaning of what he was doing before. He feels that in a certain sense this was the first baby that he had ever delivered.
He says that in the past he would have been so preoccupied with the technical aspects of the delivery, assessing and responding to needs and dangers, that he doubts he would have noticed the baby open her eyes or have registered what her look meant. He would have been there as a physician, but not as a human being. It was possible, now, to be both. He wonders how many other such moments of connection he has missed. He suspects there may have been many.
-From Kitchen Table Wisdom
Even for those of us who consider ourselves open to new ideas, well-educated and well-read, it is sometimes hard to see with fresh eyes. We all have our own blindness, those things within us that keep us from moving forward. It is why, even though all of us are called, so few of us allow ourselves to be chosen. Yet, when we allow ourselves to see with new eyes, we can no longer go back to where we were.
Sometimes it takes others to help us to see life differently, to see what we see every day with different eyes. Faith is a journey, a vision of something better, and a striving to reach it in our lives. It is a return to what it is we most need in our lives. It is also a moving forward, guided by a vision of what life can be.
When we look with new eyes, we can see more clearly. When we have our vision renewed and our dreams of what life can be reinvigorated, then we move forward in faith. We have a chance to dream wonderful dreams and see extraordinary visions.
For most of us, we have far more regular days, ordinary days, than moments of exhilaration and celebration. It was a regular day for the two followers of Jesus heading out of Jerusalem on their way to Emmaus. They had seen nothing worth celebrating, only some fanciful story by the women.
How often we see all kinds of things around us, and take in so much stimulation, but miss seeing what matters most. It is understandable that we miss things. We are so busy, going so fast, trying to get just a few of the things on our list done, feeling overwhelmed and tired and disappointed, hoping for more goodness in life and less hassle, and that, at least occasionally, the good guys would win.
Those two on the road to Emmaus weren’t that different from most of us. Their disappointment was overwhelming. Jesus was dead. The power of the Temple and the power of the Romans had triumphed again. No wonder they could not see Jesus. Their eyes were covered with disappointment. Their hearts were filled with disappointment. It was so heavy that it squished everything else out of their hearts that day.
A stranger joins them on their walk, as they trudge along, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. Why didn’t Jesus just say, “Hey, it’s me!” He did that in other resurrection appearances, but this time, he keeps quiet about it. Instead, he walks along with them and he asks questions.
In fact, they get a little edgy with his first question, “What’s the matter with you two?” we can hear Jesus say. They shoot back at him: “Where have you been? Is your head buried in the sand? Are you the only one in this part of the world who missed the events of the last few days?”
So he lets them tell him. He simply walks alongside of them, gives them room to talk, asks them a few simple questions, and listens. Jesus asks them simple questions that, instead of manipulating them or protecting himself, allow them to express themselves, their fears, their doubts, their disappointments, their anger, their sorrow. He does not show them who he is yet because it is not time.
Jesus realizes that the questions are the first steps, the necessary first steps. Faith actions most often begin with faith questions. Being able to struggle with the faith questions in the presence of someone who is listening is often the first step. But the purpose of the questions is to help us to better hear God, better see God, better know God.
No matter what we are doing, how often we miss what is right in front of us, and yet we do miss it. Sometimes we really need someone else to help us to see more clearly. Anna Quindlin tells the following story about someone who helped her to understand what is most important in life:
I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island many years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless suffer in the winter months. He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule, pan-handling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amid the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides.
But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now, even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them. And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters?
And he stared out at the ocean and said, “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.”
And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. That’s all. Words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. When I do what he said, I am never disappointed.
–A Short Guide to a Happy Life
When we are finally able to look at the view, then our hearts can help us to see more clearly. And we finally see God, who has been right there all along. We might have mistaken God for someone standing on the beach, or a fellow traveler on our journey. Perhaps our job is to be open to the feelings, “to look at the view”, to pay attention and not give up hope.
At another point in his time with us, Jesus clearly said that we would sometimes miss him by expecting him to look different: to be more regal, more godly, more imposing.
At one time he said this: “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)
It might be a stranger, it might be the least of these. The good news of Easter is that Christ has risen, that he is still alive in our world and in our lives. We just have to open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, in order not to miss him, and then we, too, will finally come alive.
By faith, we then can grow in our awareness of dreams and visions, and we can use our creativity and our new eyes, to do what we can to make our dreams become reality, and to live out our vision of a new world.
May we each find new ways:
- to see with fresh new eyes,
- to allow ourselves to be chosen,
- to not settle for less than who we have been created to be,
- to live every moment of life,
- to dream dreams and see visions that make this a better world,
- to look at the view!