Seeing the Promises Rightly

Take a moment and watch the following video.

When I first saw this, I was hesitant to present it because I was sure everyone would see the gorilla. I knew it was coming, so to me it was incredibly obvious. But if you were not looking for it, you probably didn’t see it. We did this at the Monday Night Class, and only two of thirty people noticed the gorilla.

In other words, we tend to see only what we are looking for. And if we are not looking for it, our minds will filter it out. We don’t see what we are not looking for.

Which leads me to ask, what are the things we do not see? How many other things do we miss?

In the Gospel story today, Peter missed something very important. And Jesus says something pretty harsh to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter could not see what Jesus was really all about. He had an idea of what Jesus was all about, what Jesus’ agenda should be, and when Jesus himself said different, Peter just could not see it.

Specifically, Peter could not see Jesus suffering and being rejected. It was just not in his line of sight. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that is NOT how a Messiah should be treated. Jesus should not suffer; he should be treated like royalty. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes should not reject Jesus; they should follow him. They should not kill him; they should bow down to him!

But the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes could not see who Jesus really was, nor could Peter. We are not sure exactly why the others could not really see Jesus, but he tells Peter what is wrong—“… you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Now just before this, two very interesting things happened. First, Jesus heals a blind man. Here was man who could not see—literally—and Jesus heals him, he helps him see. Even more interesting is that immediately before this, just a few verses earlier, Jesus asks Peter who Peter thinks he is, and Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He gets it, or at least he seems to. He sees!

But then, he loses it. Here I had it. Here I lost it.

He had his mind on human things, not on the things of God.

And to be honest, we are not all that different from Peter. We see what we expect to see. We see what we want to see. We can easily see the human things, but we have a hard time seeing the divine things.

Sometimes it is very hard to see the work of God.

Ask Abraham. Here he is, a 99 year old man, and God tells him he is going to start having kids. I tell, at 57 that would not exactly come as good news to me! You look at Abraham, and at Sarah, and it must be very hard to see what God is up to. Even Abraham did not quite get it right, because after they went a while without conceiving, he went ahead and had a child by Hagar, his maid servant.

You cannot blame him for not seeing the work of God. Ninety-nine is pretty old to be having kids. But the call was important. It would affect Abraham greatly, even if he did not understand it. And it affects us, because the fact is WE are part of God’s work with Abraham. We stem from the promise God made to him ages and ages ago!

How do you see God’s work in the world? How can you tell what God is doing? Peter thought he saw what God was doing, and he did get a large part of it right. But he also got some parts wrong. Really wrong!

That’s the problem we have. We can see some things, but totally miss other things. We tend to focus on what we THINK we will see, and when do that, just like the people missed the gorilla, we miss out on what is really happening around us.

So how do we miss out? How is it that we miss what God is doing?

One way is that we let other things blind us. Martin Luther had to stand up to the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1500s because they were blind to what God was calling the church to be. They were so fixated on maintaining power and wealth that they missed what God was doing.

I think a large portion of the church today is so fixated on politics they are missing out on what God is really doing today. Politics is a seductive business, and parts of the church have been so seduced by the possibility of political power, that they are blind to what God is calling them to do.

In the same way, I think that sometimes we can be so fixated on the CHURCH that we can miss out on what God is doing. I visited an art museum once and what struck me about this museum was that the frames AROUND the paintings were so ornate, that I realized I was paying more attention to them than I was to the paintings they framed. fdec940fc083248b28c0d21fc59ffc81The church is frame around the work of God, but sometimes we get so fixated on the frame that we lose sight of the painting.

Like the people who were watching the people pass the balls that they missed the gorilla, we can miss what God is doing because we are too busy paying attention to other things.

Another way we miss the work of God is that God does something unexpected, and we are not open to that. And so we don’t see it.

I was in the airport once, and a person came up to me and asked me how I was doing. I had no idea who this person was, until they asked how Steven was doing, and I remembered! She was the doctor who delivered Steven! But I was not expecting to see her outside of the hospital, wearing street clothes. Sometimes we don’t see the work of God because we don’t expect to see it.

So what is it that we do see. We get a hint in what Jesus told Peter. “…you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” We are so fixated on ourselves, on our experiences, on our limitations, that we don’t see what God is doing. We end up not seeing what God is doing because we get so caught up in ourselves.

What Jesus says in the Gospel lessons a little harsh; “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We don’t like the idea of denying ourselves. That sound dangerous, it sounds like it is in not fun. It is not American.

But Jesus is right. When we focus on ourselves, we tend to end up losing our perspective, and losing the important things in life.

I once was a part of a bowling league. Now I am a fair bowler, and by that I mean that I bowl either strikes or gutter balls. I just don’t have a lot of middle ground, and I end up throwing more gutter balls than strikes.

But when I was asked to join this league, I got kind of excited because I thought I could overcome my bad tendencies, and actually contribute something to the team. Oh, how wrong I was! I was so focused on looking good in front of the team and impressing that other teams, that I could not bowl worth beans. And I was not the worst person on the team!

By the end of the season we were hopelessly in the cellar. If there was a place AFTER last place, that is where we deserved to be. So for the last game, I figured I would just bowl. I didn’t care how I looked, because I knew I looked really bad. I didn’t care about winning, because even if we won, it would not change our last place standing. I didn’t care about anything but just getting the ball down the alley. So I put on my headphones, listened to music, and just bowled for the fun of it.

I ended up bowling the best game of my life–ever. I had three turkeys! I was not focusing on myself and how I looked; I was focusing on the music and on the ball. I lost myself in the game and had one of the best, and most enjoyable games in my life.

The reality is that when we get too focused on ourselves, we tend to lose sight of the things that are really valuable—if we focus too much on ourselves, we miss the world around us. If I am in a relationship and I am focusing too much on what I am getting out of it, and not on the other person, neither of us will be happy. If I am a part of a church and I am too focused on my needs and what I am getting out of it, I will not be happy in that church.

In a relationship, we focus on the other person. In church we focus on God, and the people around us. As a church, if we focus too much on ourselves, we will wither and die, but if we focus on the world around us, the community around us, the people who go here, the and if we focus on God, we can never die.

If we focus on ourselves, we will only see human things, and not things divine. We will only see our own work, and will be limited by our own perspective. But if can take the focus off of ourselves, we can start to see what God is doing, both in our lives and in the world.

And God is doing some amazing things! In God’s eyes, we all have intrinsic value. In God’s eyes, we are not judged by our income, our jobs, how good we look to the world around, or how much success we have accumulated in human terms. In God’s eyes we are called to love–to love God and to love others. In God’s eyes the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. In God’s eyes, human trappings of success don’t count.

What are you seeing? Are you missing the gorilla of Gods’ work in the world? Or are you participating in it?

About tmrichmond3

I am the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon. I believe that faith should be able to sustain us, not oppress us.
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