Correcting Our Spiritual Vision
By Rev. Robin Martin
Last fall I finally reached that stage of life when it was time to get the cataracts that were developing in my eyes removed. I wasn’t a bit anxious about it because I’ve known many people through the years who did the same thing and who were amazed and gratified by how much better they could see. It’s true that someone might have complicating difficulties from time to time, but the chief complaint I heard from most people was about that awkward time between having the surgery and letting it heal enough to get their vision tested and new glasses prescribed. If you’ve been through this process you can imagine my surprise when the doctor said, “We can fix this so you won’t have to wear glasses again except perhaps for reading.” It’s a new kind of lens which not only gets rid of the cloudiness of the cataract but also allows them to correct your vision and adjust for astigmatism on the lens they implant rather than by more conventional means like glasses or contact lenses. I remain thrilled with the results to this day.
As I read Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Rome that we hear this morning, it left me wishing that I could get my spiritual vision corrected as easily as completely I did my physical vision when I had cataract surgery last fall. Wouldn’t it be great to get an appointment with Dr. God, plop ourselves in the chair, have the divine ophthalmologist slap some contraption over the eyes of our heart and fiddle with the lenses until we could see with holy clarity? Wouldn’t it be great to have 20/20 discernment of the will of God? Wouldn’t it be great to correct the astigmatism that always seems to distort how we see ourselves, either making us seem better…or worse in our own eyes than we actually are? Just because we can’t make that appointment and get that easy fix doesn’t mean that the Divine Healer isn’t willing and able to help us though. We’ve just got to work at it a little harder, mostly by being more open than we’re usually willing or comfortable with being.
The twelfth chapter of Romans is a turning point in this particular letter of Paul. The whole epistle up to now has been the story of God’s relationship with human creatures made in love but who rebelled against that love. It’s been the story of God’s grace which refuses to abandon us to any other allegiance than an allegiance to that love which made us. It’s a story that pauses with an implicit question, and that question is: So what? That question is: So what are you going to do? Or more accurately: How are you going to be in light of this abounding and steadfast love that just won’t give up or let go? For Paul the answer is to give in to it, to capitulate to it; for Paul, giving in means allowing the grace, the gifts of God to structure our lives.
One of the things my older grandson and I used love to do together when we had the chance was play with legos. When we were at his house, we played with his legos. When we were at my house, we played with the legos that had engaged the imagination of his father and his uncle so many years ago before. The “sets” those legos came in were long gone at my house, and mostly gone at his house. My legos were contained in a couple of those large popcorn tubs, both of which were mostly full. When young John and I built legos we tended to work independently, though each of us stayed on the lookout for the particular pieces the other needed. What I learned over time was that we tended to structure our creations differently. Mine almost always tended to be boxy and extremely color coordinated, but he could take all those square and rectangular pieces and come up with the sleekest most streamlined and colorful creations imaginable. We seemed to see the raw materials through different lenses as we contemplated how to put them together.
What Paul is saying to the Christians in Rome, and through them to you and me, is that the raw materials for building the kingdom are already present in us. The problem is that we keep letting those raw materials get structured by the demands and vision of the world, and the end product always ends up distorted and misshapen. Instead of rejoicing in the gifts God has given us to be used for the common good, we covet the gifts God has seen fit to bestow on others, by wanting them for ourselves, for our own benefit and self-aggrandizement. Or we carry and use our own gifts as though we’ve earned and deserve them, and we look down our noses at those we think have no gifts at all, at least not any that we think are worth having. When the structures of this world determine how we see ourselves, we end up using who and what we are in grasping kinds of ways that value competition over cooperation, that find value in self only at the expense of another.
Ultimately, it’s not a satisfying way to live, and yet it’s a truly difficult thing to change. The organizing power of the world seems so much stronger and more pervasive than the structures of God’s grace. That’s why Peter is such a comfort to me. He was as close to Jesus as just about any human being on this earth, but he kept getting it wrong. All he’s doing in the gospel today is arguing for the worldly structure for messiahship, and that structure emphatically does not include suffering and death, even if that suffering and death ends in resurrection a few days later. Just like you and me, Peter and all the disciples had to be open enough to allow their vision to be corrected, their understanding of what constitutes success to be radically shifted.
God is transforming the world whether you and I understand and participate in that transformation or not. The invitation given to all human beings regardless of the particularities of our individual lives is to relax into that transformation, to trust God’s designs on and for us.