Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!

Sermon for Sunday May 17, 2020

Passages: John 9:39-10:10

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Christ is Risen!

In November of 1861, during the early days of the United States Civil War, Julia Ward Howe was asked to pen the famous lyrics to the popularized song “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This patriotic song lifted spirits and instilled bravery, and coupled with the newly formed lyrics, it drew parallels between the final judgment of the sinful at the second coming of Christ, to the calamities of the Civil War. Words, which as prayer looked to Gods glory and truth as his swift judgment came against the enemy. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.” To see with our eyes, the glory of our Lord, to see his divine judgment perhaps is something which lifts us up and yet, for many it strikes fear. And this ability of sight though so blessed, in today’s reading of the Gospel of John it appears as though Christ is changing our abilities to see and observe.

“Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’” (v. 39) Christ here is acknowledging that He has come in order to bring judgment. And he continues not by stating what kind of judgment but rather why he is bringing judgment – “so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” If we were to look at today’s reading starting from here, it may feel strange, why is Jesus talking about making people blind; after all Christ taught that all things hidden will be revealed and all will be brought to light. It almost feels like Jesus is contradicting himself.

In the passages preceding today’s reading, we read of Jesus healing a blind man. So if Jesus is in one instance healing blindness, why is the latter part of God’s judgment meant to blind us? In the Gospel of Luke, we meet Simeon the Elder, a man who in his old age was waiting to see the savior of the world. When Jesus is brought to the temple 40 days after his birth, according to the Jewish law, Simeon took the child in his arms and prayed, “’Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:29-32).

Simeon, seeing with his eyes Jesus Christ affirms that he has seen “the salvation of the world…a light for revelation [to all].”

Likewise, when we are baptized in the Church and the priest anoints our eyes with Holy Myron he prays, “May this seal in the name of Jesus Christ, enlighten your eyes, so that you may never sleep onto death.”

My dear brothers and sister, through Christ Jesus, through our faith our eyes are opened, enlightened and bearing witness to God and his love. So when Jesus is referring to giving sight to those who do not see, what He is teaching us is that through our faith the eyes of our souls and minds are opened to see hope in hopelessness, to find richness in our brokenness, to find love when we are surrounded by hate and anger. The limitations and failures that life has burdened us with or the sickness and pain we feel closed off by – these chains are broken and our eyes are opened to see God’s glory and presence in those moments. By seeing Christ, as Simeon the Elder did and as we do through our baptisms, we see the salvation, which is the judgment upon this world. Now, what about those who can see that will become blind, who are these?

One of the Armenian Church great orators, teachers and Patriarch of the last century, Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian writes that the Pharisees, who were listening immediately, understood that Jesus was talking to them about seers becoming blind. That is why they immediately asked, are we also blind? The Pharisees were the ones who knew the laws and they knew the prophecies. However, because of their arrogance and egos, they would become blind to seeing God’s glory. They pretended to not see their sinfulness, therefore, they would be blinded from seeing their reward. The best example of this case is found in the Gospel of Matthew (20:34-39) Jesus heals 2 blind men and says, you are healed according to your faith.

My dear brothers and sisters, what sort of healing will our faith bring? Will it open our eyes to the truth, to salvation or will it bind our eyes and blind us because of our own self-interests? In this life we all will face judgment. Through the life we each live, we will face hardship, sickness, pain, failure and brokenness. Through Christ Jesus, we are healed and are able to look past and walk through that darkness into love and into his light. The light of God is a powerful flame, which after we have been filled with we are also charged to take forward and continue lighting for the rest of this world through our own actions. However, if we think we are better, if we think we are more in anyway shape or form than those around us, than those who are still struggling and who are sick and in pain; if we like the Pharisees become blind to our self serving ambitions at the cost of others, then we will become blind to God’s light. The eyes of our souls and minds will be limited to God’s love and presence and this itself becomes our judgment.

Therefore, my dears, if like the words of the song, our eyes seek to see the glory of the coming of the Lord – we must humble ourselves, confess and pray for our sins and for each other, asking that our eyes will be illumined to the truth of God’s love. A truth that is marching on and that cannot be stopped; the truth of Christ Jesus. Who is the light of this world and who is the salvation for the revelation to all. And when our eyes have been opened, we pray, that our hands and feet will walk and be directed in the ways of our Lord which is to bring love, hope, care and healing into this world. Whereby, we will glorify our heavenly Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Seeing the Cross

Sermon for Sunday May 10, 2020
Feast of Appearance of the Holy Cross

Passages:

Galatians 6.14-18; 1 John :1:1-10; John 7:14-23; John 19.25-30

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Christ is Risen.

Imagine if you were there. Looking up and seeing the cross. Knowing that the cross means death. How would we feel? How would we react? In the Roman Empire, the cross was meant as a tool of ridicule and death. Only the worst of criminal’s were crucified, that is why crucifixions took place up on hills, so that when others would see it from afar, they would know not to break the laws or else they would meet the same fate. Yet, today we do not live in the Roman Empire, the cross is not used as for capital punishment, so when we see the cross today, what do we feel? Would it strike fear in us, as it did to the 1st century citizens of the Roman Empire?  Would it lift us up and fill us with hope?

Throughout the last 2000 years, several apparitions or appearances of the Holy Cross have taken place across the world and people’s reaction has been very different. Some have doubted, some have feared. St. Paul reminds us that for those who don’t have faith the cross remains a folly (foolishness) but for us Christian’s the Cross is something we take pride in, that we must glorify because through it “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (v.14) Meaning that when Christ was crucified on the cross for our sins, we was set free and we are no longer a slave to this world. But what if we don’t believe or what if we struggle with our faith? What reaction will we have when we see the cross?

Today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Appearance of the Holy Cross. In the 4th century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and thousands of others, Christian and non-Christian looked up and saw the Holy Cross appear in the skies of Jerusalem for several days – day and night – shining brightly. It stretched from the hill of Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, to the Mount of Olives, where Christ Ascended into Heaven and those who saw all reacted differently. Many ran in fear, because it is believed that seeing the cross was the coming of the end of the world, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew (24:30-36). Many more – prayed. There are witness accounts of how countless individuals and families gathered in Churches, where mass baptisms took place. Yet I wonder, how we would react? If the cross appeared to us, what would we do?

My dear brothers and sisters, the cross which was meant to strike fear into the hearts of the law breakers in Rome, today and through the sacrifice of Christ has been transformed for us into the life giving tool which must pour love into our hearts. Today, that tool of death has been made new, and through it we have, likewise, have been made anew as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Sometimes, when we read of these miracles and stories, such as the cross appearing in the sky, we begin to wonder and say, “If I saw that, I would definitely believe” or “I wish I could have been there to witness that miracle”. Yet, we do not need to see the cross appear in the sky or for it to all of a sudden appear in random places. The cross for us is everywhere and it’s message of salvation through Christ is everywhere. We cross ourselves every time we pray;

The Cross hangs around our necks and it decorates our homes; The cross is in our Churches; The cross is on top of every Church, placed high up for all to see. In fact, in middle eastern cultures, every time you saw a cross of the Church or in the cemetery you would bow down or cross yourself. Because for all humanity the cross today is a sign of hope, it is the definition of love, it is a shield and sword which protects us all. Yet, for those who do not believe, for those break communion with God, the cross remains folly and it remains as a sign of fear, regardless of where it appears.

Today, we are bound to our homes and unsure when we can return to some form for normality in our lives. Today, more than ever in recent history, we have far more questions than answers. However, when it comes to our questions of faith, when it comes to our hope and our salvation, the only place we must turn to is the Cross of Christ.

Today, when we see the cross up high on a Church, in our homes or in the sky, it is a presence and the love of God. For the cross is the Altar upon which our sins are laid upon; the cross remains the ladder by which we rise up to God. Yes, the cross is the tool by which God chose to bring salvation into this world transforming all death into life, all hate into love, all doubt into hope and all darkness into light. And we are called to likewise, use this Cross, as a tool for good in this world.

As we read in 1 John chapter one, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have communion with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have communion with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from our sins.” (vv.5-7) The blood of Christ, my dears, was spilled upon this cross so that we may live. Therefore, we must remain firm in our faith, turning to God and trusting in Him to also transform our lives. So that when we look up and see the cross, wherever it may appear to us, our hearts will be filled with love, hope and life. So that we will be strengthened to likewise, fill this world with love, hope and life and thereby glorifying our Savior Christ Jesus, with the Father, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Blessed is the Resurrection of Christ!