All That Is Seen and Unseen

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He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  He who has eyes to see, let him see. Amen.

One of the many things that I like about our church is the unpredictability of it; you never know what you’re going to get on any given Sunday.  Today you’re getting me.  Pastor Sonia asked if I would preach today and I said yes because she works too many hours for us already.  Our Vestry has promised to help her reduce her hours as she seeks to complete her doctorate.  In another year or so, she is going to get that doctorate, and we will have to call her Dr. Waters, and then she will leave us, and our hearts will break.  Fortunately for us, that time is not yet at hand.

The same thing happened to those first disciples.  Jesus spent three years with them, he died, rose, appeared to them again, but ultimately he had to leave them too.  But he did not leave them alone.  He sent his Holy Spirit as we know from our recent Pentecostal celebrations.  Jesus HAD to leave, to become the New Adam, to defeat death, to make a path for us, to sit at the right hand of the Father.

Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit descended, but even that was not the end of the story.  Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road to Damascus, after Pentecost.  Saul of Tarsus is forever changed, becoming St. Paul the Apostle.  He wrote today’s letter to the Corinthians, which this sermon will follow.  You will see each verse on the slides.

(Slide 1, 4:13-14)

4:13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture–“I believed, and so I spoke” –we also believe, and so we speak,

4:14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.

If you have ears to hear, hear this.  If you hear nothing else in this sermon, hear this.  We KNOW the one who raised Jesus will raise us.  Not just hope it, or think it, or wish for it.  KNOW it.  That defines us as Christians.  The skeptic will say how do you KNOW?  Well, how do we know?

For those first Christians, the humble bunch of nobodies that Jesus pulled together, it was actually easier to know.  They saw Jesus, heard His words, saw His actions, watched Him die and met Him again in the upper room, put their fingers into His hands.  It was easier for St Paul, who literally got knocked off his horse and struck blind and dumb.  A human being cannot experience these powerful events without being deeply affected by them.  How else to explain the ‘miraculous’ spread of Christianity from such humble men?   And that they were willing to die for it too?  Something happened to them.  They heard something.  They saw something.  They KNEW something.  And it changed them.  They believed, and they spoke.  And more and more people heard, and believed, and knew.

Is it harder now, for us, to KNOW?  Two thousand years removed from the events that triggered a new gospel, a new understanding of the relationship between God and man.  How can we know?  Jesus told his disciples “you have seen and so you believe, but blessed are those who have not seen but yet believe.”  Jesus was talking about us.

(Slide 2, 4:15-17)

4:15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

4:16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

4:17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure

To the worldly eye, life is a simple linear progression:  stud, dud, thud.  To the spiritual eye, it is a circle, created by God, renewed day by day in the Spirit, and then joining in Christ’s resurrection.  Stud, thud, wow!  Or to be more precisely scriptural, stud, thud, an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure!  An eternal weight of glory awaits us, even if we don’t deserve it.  Everything is for our sake, even if we don’t deserve it.  Our inner nature is renewed, even if we don’t deserve it.  Our salvation is assured, by faith, through grace, in Christ Jesus, with thanksgiving, to the glory of God, even if we don’t deserve it.  For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us that we might be saved.

(Slide 3, 4:18-5:1)

4:18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

In the Nicene Creed, we profess God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.  What is unseen?  It’s much more than just the undiscovered, the microscopic, or the unvisited far reaches of interstellar space. It is all of the spiritual transactions taking place within our material world.  Love, power, grace, the majesty of God.  It surrounds us, yet remains unseen.   Let me offer a few personal examples to illustrate Paul’s point here.  Let’s take a quick guided tour of this sanctuary, as we see beyond the furniture here.  Let’s see the spiritual history.  Let us witness to the spiritual transactions.

This is a cheap little plastic light.  Pull the plug and it will go out.  But that is not what it is.  This is Pastor Darlene’s mysticism.  It is an Eternal light, it reminds us of the eternal Presence of the Holy Spirit of God in this place and in all places.

This is a little room with a bunch of mismatched donated furniture. But this is a Prayer room, where people go to talk to God. This is where the Bishop and Vestry experienced a visitation of the Holy Spirit, giving birth to our All God’s Children Service.

This is a rug that used to sit unused on the floor of my library at home.  Now this is the Bible Story Time area. A canoe sat here once to tell about the miracle of Jesus walking on water.  Allegra read scripture here once, a miracle in itself, and I still shake as we all did when we heard it, with our hearts up in our throats.  This is where young minds open up to God.  Impressions are formed.  Mustard seeds of faith are planted.  We see a rug, but what we have seen for five years is Jesus letting the little children come unto Him.

This is a heavy chunk of marble.  It is a Baptismal font.  This is where Paula’s baptism displayed the Power and presence of God in her life and in our lives.  No human being can experience such powerful events without being deeply affected by them.

This is a simple wooden lectern.  This is where Joan used to conduct Morning Prayers with such reverence that I felt like I was eavesdropping on an intimate conversation she was having with God.  Soon there will be a new cross here too in loving memory to Joan.  We will see the cross, but I will see the overflowing generosity of the congregation only too happy to contribute to such a fitting memorial.  I will always see three hundred people here celebrating her life.

This is another simple rug.  This is where Michael proposed to Cynthia on Easter.  This is where Ed announced his upcoming marriage to Karen just last week.  We can’t really see the love these men have for these women, but we felt it.  We can’t see God, but we can feel His love for us too.

This is a silver plate.  This is a slow-motion miracle of loaves and fishes, every week.

This is a simple wooden table.  Nothing more, and yet nothing less than our holy altar to the most High God.  This is where bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

That is my tour, I encourage you to take your own, not just here, but throughout your life.  As you do, remember everything we can see is temporary.  Nothing we can see is eternal.  The rug will wear out.  The table will rot.  Even the marble font will eventually wear away.  We are temporary, our bodies a mere earthly tent.  We wear out.  Harold is wearing out.  Rebecca and Joan have worn away.  Our church building, our corporate tent, made with our human hands, will erode away.  But when our bodies are destroyed by death, when our church is destroyed by time, when all that can currently be seen will become unseen, then we will see what we cannot see now:  we will have a building from God, eternal in the heavens.  Unlike our temporal human bodies, our eternal souls will not wear away.  Unlike our physical church building, our eternal building from God will not rot.  George will not worry about maintenance of the church any longer.  As Christians, we have no fear of the loss of the temporal.  We have no fear of stud, dud, thud.  We have no fear of losing everything we can currently see.  Just the opposite.  We hope for the loss of the temporal, so that we can gain the eternal.  We hope for stud, thud, wow!  But even that is not enough.  We do not HOPE for these things.  We KNOW these things.  Paul says we KNOW that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also.  Paul says we KNOW we have a building from God eternal in the heavens.  We know it because we have been given eyes to see and ears to hear beyond the momentary afflictions.  We know it because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.

So, keep your spiritual eyes open, look beyond the momentary afflictions and passing physical realities.  Look for the unseen suggestions of the eternal hiding in plain view all around us.  See that All God’s Children kid opening his heart to God.  Feel the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit at Paula’s baptism, hear the unspoken fervent prayers of every child of God in their passionate quest for reunion with their unseen Maker.

And when you see the unseen, and hear the unheard, rejoice.  When you come to realize that your inner nature is being renewed day by day even as your outer nature is wasting away, rejoice!  Rejoice, you child of God, for everything is for your sake.  Rejoice, and tell everyone what you see and hear.  For we believe, and so we speak.  Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also, to a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

He who has eyes to see, let him see.  Amen.

Ray Bonker
June 10, 2012