Learning to See
Notes from the pastor
“If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”
– James Baldwin
James Baldwin was one of our greatest novelists, social critics, and leader for the promotion of civil rights in the United States.  He made quite a stir in his life with his outspokenness in the pursuit of social justice and racial reconciliation, coming through most clearly in his written works like Go Tell It on the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son.  In this particular quote, Baldwin reflects on his creative process as it pertained to his work.  He relates his often pointed, challenging tone to the act of loving another person.  “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”  Baldwin’s entire adult life was dedicated to helping people of various racial, sexual, and political identities come to grips with the things they could not see due to their privilege or particular experience of the world.
As I reflected on this quote recently, I was reminded of the final account we have from Paul’s life in the book of Acts. Here, Paul finds himself on house arrest at the end of his long journey to Rome.  While on house arrest, Paul hosted many folks from local Christian and Jewish communities who were curious about his understanding of the faith.  Every day from morning until well into the evening, Paul shared with them interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures, stories of his travels, and the truth about Jesus.  Some believed him.  Others walked away arguing amongst themselves the truth about it all.
As one particular group was leaving, Paul quotes Isaiah 6 to them, which Jesus once quoted to his disciples years before, “You will listen but never understand, and you will look but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.”  Sometimes we miss what is going on around us because we’ve grown too accustomed to particular ways of looking with our eyes and listening with our ears.  The world we see with our eyes is colored by many influences and voices, and over time those influences grow less apparent to us.  Things blend into the background: racist thoughts or comments shared in jest, untruth being touted as fact, attitudes of “not my child, not my neighborhood, not my people, not my problem.”
Paul’s entire ministry, however, was to help non-Jewish people to see themselves as beloved by and belonging to God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ — that is, the truth about who we are because of who God is.  Paul wanted us to see that in Jesus, we are all intimately, eternally connected.  Many people turned away from this message because it was too radical, too dangerous, and too dismissive of tradition.  Those who turned away could only see the world as how they’d always seen it: God couldn’t be including these Gentiles.  God couldn’t possibly allow those who live differently and outside of our hallowed traditions to be called our sisters and brothers.  Paul spent his life as an apostle of Jesus Christ helping others to become conscious of what they couldn’t see or accept.
Paul continues quoting Isaiah.  Yes, the people have shut their eyes, closed their hearts, and sealed their ears, but God can still work with those things.  Paul says that this is, “so that they might learn not to look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.”  With God there’s always the possibility of turning.  The Holy Spirit teaches us to look more closely with our eyes, hear more accurately with our ears, and understand more deeply with our hearts.  The challenge that Paul and Jesus share in Scripture is the same as Baldwin’s so wonderfully worded challenge, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”  It’s my prayer that as we worship, pray, serve, and search the Scriptures together in this new season of ministry, we would be made conscious of the things we don’t see, so that we might be living examples of God’s grace and mercy to all people, without exception.
Pastor Patrick
Last Published: September 5, 2018 10:48 AM
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