Eyes Wide Shut
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
2 August 2015, 10:30 (THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY)News moves fast and changes quickly in this 21st century and our interests similarly warm and enthuse and just as quickly forget and pass on to the next story.
At present, the dominant news item is the daily scenes of chaos spreading from Calais into Kent with Operation Stack and the disruption of many lives.
Here in Rochester we are just about far enough away to be spectators in this drama at whose heart lies the tragedy of wars, poverty, cruel and evil atrocity and a benign and bemused neglect.
Individuals, some mere children, are seeking our shores for work and safety and sustenance – yet this is happening on a scale and in a manner which our geographically small and highly populated country struggles to see a sustainable future of welcome and haven in the face of overwhelming numbers.
Politics and livelihoods are inextricably bound up in the debate and the crisis. What are we to do and what do Christianity and the Church have to say?
Is Jesus in Whitehall and the corridors of power or in the Jungle in Calais, squeezing through the Eurotunnel terminal wire to board a train or a lorry?
The answer is always what we don’t really understand or want to know.
And so our gospel reading takes us into this confusing world of truth and meaning lived out in Jesus who manages to feed thousands with plenty of leftovers starting with a handful of food.
What is this about? The crowd experienced a miracle and wanted more.
Jesus told them that they were looking with their eyes closed and trying to solve the wrong problem.
That is our human predicament that we insist on the monopoly of our own perspective: our idea of God’s view is at best inconvenient and at worst revolutionary.
We want the bread but we don’t want to know where it comes from and how it must change us.
We see the world through our own pair of eyes and frequently struggle to accept our differing viewpoints.
We see our world from about 1.75 metres above the surface of the planet, with three dimensional vision whose colours probably vary considerably from person to person.
Whenever we are confronted with a very different perspective we become puzzled and disturbed, disorientated and fearful.
Last month we had scientific reports from Pluto and the distant planet called Kepler 452b or Earth 2.0.
The New Horizons Pluto space probe was launched nine and a half years ago and travelling at 31,000 miles per hour – a speed that would get us from London to New York in six minutes – it has now passed the planet some 3 billion miles later and sent us back initial information that has significantly changed our understanding of this distant dwarf planet in our solar system.
Similarly, a week or so later, the Kepler space telescope discovered the most earth-like planet to date whose year has 385 days and possibly also the right temperature to allow liquid water to exist on its surface. However, it does have twice the gravitational pull; it is also slightly larger than our own earth.
But then there are the extraordinary facts which put us in our place: it is 1400 light years away which means that our fastest spacecraft would take, wait for it, 25.8 million years to get there – and we human beings have only being going 2.5 million years!
Our lives, our minds and our point of view are very, very small.
We are just a tiny part of creation and always have so much more to learn.
Certitude and arrogance are our undoing: faith and humility open us to salvation.
We can see in our Old Testament reading how our power can blinker our sight and even allow ourselves to re-write history according to the truth we want to prevail.
David quite blatantly disposed of Uriah the Hittite having slept with his wife Bathsheba and fathered a child. Nathan the prophet speaks out and challenges King David with a parable of injustice which paralleled his own actions. He, David, is furious at the wrongdoer but cannot see that it is indeed himself.
Nathan has to spell it out: ‘You are the man!’
Although David will not die for this sin, his house and his future will be troubled and punished.
St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians exhorts the Church to receive and live out the gifts of Christ which enable us to grow up, speak the truth in love and be delivered from deceitful trickery and scheming.
Without God we are truly nothing. There is no future save that of passing and meaningless dust.
But that is the bread which so often we work for: our self-centred lives happily ignore God, his spirit and Jesus Christ, the bread which comes down from heaven.
As I speak we are gathered around the altar of God as his Eucharistic people.
But what do we see and hear?
Is the miracle of God and his love evident in the way that we see the world anew and allow ourselves to be forgiven and remade individually and as his Church?
The Eucharist is that revolutionary and radical. Everyone is changed by God’s reality so that bread and wine carry the Spirit and the significance of eternity in which we who eat and drink are challenged to recognise the Christ in everybody and everything else.
Baptism, Christ’s new and risen life, leads us daily into crisis: the challenge to choose the way of Jesus.
How we hear and react to the news is not an option which we can ignore. Christ is present in my neighbour and yours – and our judgment and our life depends on how we respond.
All this seems pretty difficult and disturbing.
That is why we need the strength, comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit – and this so often works through our sharing together in our fears and hesitation, our sense of lack of faith and inability to be a follower of Jesus the Way.
Jesus speaks to us in our timidity and inadequacy as a friend and as a saviour.
He knows how small we are and what a struggle it is to choose to follow him.
He told the parable of the hidden treasure which the poet R.S. Thomas in turn hid for us in verse in the 20th century. You will find these lines in the service booklet – please take it home and read the lessons, the Gospel, the prayers and this poem.
And expect to see new things and familiar things in a new and unfamiliar way. That is the dimension and adventure of prayer.
Put aside everything for the sake of the hidden treasure in ‘The Bright Field’. It may feel that we are losing everything we know and value but through the miracle of love which is the grace of Jesus the Christ, we actually possess everything in that nothingness and renunciation.
And we see beyond our horizons into God’s kingdom.
And having seen, we then open our eyes anew to the world, its problems and joys and one another.
The bread of the Eucharist is the pledge and sign of this miracle and love.
‘The Bright Field’ is here and now.
Are your eyes wide open or wide shut?
Turn aside and look: see the miracle of the lit bush;
behold the Lamb of God ...and taste and see.
Yes, in the power of God’s Spirit break through the wire of our self-made fortresses into the freedom and life of his eternal love.
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
The Bright Field ~ R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)
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