Sunday, July 01, 2012

Vision on, vision off

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Trinity iv 2012 based on St Luke vi.36

Rolf Harris is painting a picture. It’s one of those large scale works on an orangey-ochre canvass upon which he daubs thick black paint. He’s putting patches here, flicking paint there and generally moving faster than an octopus after fifteen cups of coffee. You can bet your boots that when the picture is still practically unrecognisable, he’ll turn to the camera and utter the immortal phrase, “can you tell what it is yet?”

How would you feel if he just stopped there, the painting unfinished, and you with no clue as to what it is? Is it a hamster in a cage, a picture of Pope Innocent X, or some landscape from the Australian outback? Don’t you find that just infuriating? What can you do with an unfinished painting?


The infuriation comes because we’re not in a position to see fully. We can’t get into Rolf’s mind to “tell what it is” because he hasn’t finished communicating with us. His picture tells us something and until it’s finished, we’ve not got a clue.

Well, that’s not true. We’ve got some ideas. First of all, there doesn’t appear to be a recognisable figure at the moment. This makes it unlikely to be a portrait of Pope Innocent X. We can’t rule that out though. That bit there looks like a bit of fence, so it’s more likely to be a landscape of the Outback. So there are some things that we can say about this picture with confidence. We might not be certain, but we have a good idea.
Science works in much the same way. We collect data and information from measuring carefully. We make and test predictions and there is a lot that we can say about our world. However, there are limits to what our instruments tell us, so we cannot know things for certain. We can however, be confident that our theories are reasonable, give a clear picture of what we observe and produce results that we can predict some future events.
That’s how we live much of our lives - taking in what’s around us and making judgments on what we see. But what if there’s something wrong with your eyesight?
Losing your glasses can be a frightening affair. Things become vague and distorted. You get some impressions of the world around, but they are not accurate. Nonetheless, if you see what you think is going to be a ditch then you still try to avoid it where possible. Likewise, if you see someone heading for what you believe to be a ditch, you can still warn them to look out. What you may not be able to do is judge the size of the ditch accurately. Someone could conceivably come closer to that ditch than you are comfortable viewing.
If you are completely blind to the ditch, then you can say nothing. As Our Lord Jesus says, “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?”
Why then do we forget this principle in the way we live our lives?
If we see our worst enemy standing over the dead body of our best friend with a smoking pistol in his hand, what can we say? What would our witness statement to the police be? Well, obviously we can say nothing more than what we have seen, despite our feelings and emotions in the situation. We didn’t see the murder, but that’s assuming that it was a murder in the first place. We make too many assumptions based on what we’re feeling. Our view has been narrowed to what we believe to be one possible scenario. If we are honest, then we can only say what we see and no more. Our vision is not good enough to judge and we have to leave the judgment to one more competent than ourselves.
Our Lord Jesus tells us that we cannot make judgments until we appreciate the limits of what we can see. We need to be humble, looking at ourselves objectively and honestly so that we do not pass judgment on what is beyond our field of vision.
If we truly know that our vision is limited then we know that we have to trust someone to lead us in the right way. The idea of trusting another is not a popular idea – we prefer to rely on our own judgment.  Humility tells us that we can’t always rely on our judgment and that we must seek help from others who see things better. Going to Church becomes of great importance for help and encouragement along the way. We need to go to Church to feel our way through life in our blind spots, to help and to be helped.
Suffering, too, can narrow our vision too far for us to see God at work. In our times of extreme pain and suffering, all the more do we need to cry out for God for the ability to cope with our blindness.  Indeed, part of our pain is in not being able to see the end of the suffering or its purpose. It is easy to lose sight of God when we at our lowest ebb because his purposes are veiled from our sight and we lose heart. In looking to the cross of Christ and His suffering for us, we see another who lost the vision of God’s goodness and His promises. That doesn’t mean that suddenly they vanish, they have been eclipsed for a while.
As Christians, we have been given a vision of our life beyond, where all human suffering is suddenly given explanation, transformation and dignity in the Eternal presence of God. That vision is not perfect – we see only through a glass darkly - but we have a good idea of God’s Holy Word. How can we make sure that we clearly see what He is showing us?

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