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Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey
November 26th, 2017
The Eye, the Heart.
Hear, again these words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
I do not cease to give thanks for you,
remembering you in my prayers,
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom
and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope
to which he has called you
Writing this letter to encourage the faithful of the early church in Ephesus, Paul tells them that he is praying for them.
He prays that the “God of our Lord Jesus Christ” give the believers of Ephesus “a spirit of wisdom.”
Paul writes that this “spirit of wisdom,” can be gained only when the Ephesians know God.
This is the eternal question…
How are they to know God?
For Paul, the answer is quite straightforward. He says that it is through the
“eyes of your hearts, enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you
“The eyes of your hearts, enlightened…
How are we to understand this?
Eyes are for seeing,
and hearts are for pumping blood.
The heart is essential for survival itself.
Eyes, though strictly speaking not necessary for survival, are critically important to human life, for it is through our sense of vision that we interact with the rest of the world.
And it through interaction with the world, that our lives are given meaning.
So the heart sustains life
And eyes give meaning to that life.
For Paul — and for Jesus Christ also, it was not enough, simply to have a heart.
Having a heart, by itself, makes life merely about survival.
The religious impulse, in all its forms, seeks to extend the ambition of human life, so that it is no longer simply about survival.
It is no longer simply about pumping blood.
In other words, the heart, by itself is a biological necessity,
But the heart with eyes is a religious necessity.
The heart must interact with the rest of the world.
Then the heart is given meaning.
Then the life is given purpose.
19.7 Billion dollars
Have you heard of Elon Musk?
The founder of four billion dollar companies: Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity, Musk is among the most successful engineers and entrepreneurs alive today.
According to Google, his net worth is in excess of 19.7 billion dollars.
But, according to The Week magazine:
…after splitting up with his latest girlfriend, actress Amber Heard, Musk has no one with whom to share his luxurious lifestyle. Musk says: “Being in a big empty house, and the footsteps echoing through the hallway, no one there — and no one on the pillow next to you. How do you make yourself happy in a situation like that?… When I was a child there was one thing I said”’I never want to be alone.”
Amazing isn’t it?
The human heart is an incredible thing.
But the heart must interact.
Otherwise it is simply an organ — a biological fact.
You could be totally broke…
Buried in debt…
Unsure where your next meal comes from…
But if your heart can reach out to someone — if there is someone around to respond to the call of your soul — you are better off then someone worth 19.7 billion.
This cute little fable from the celebrity chatter page is all very well — but I’ll be the first to admit that there is a problem with my romantic notion.
The fact that I have never gone hungry — the fact that Cary and I can — through circumstance, privilege and hard work, keep a roof over our heads and food on the table — makes it easy for me to romanticize poverty, and be glib about the value of 19.7 billion dollars.
An empty stomach is not romantic.
Food security should be a human right.
Poverty is the result of injustice
And, of course, all this feeling sorry for Elon Musk is a bit silly. After all, it’s not like he’s going to have any trouble finding a new girlfriend.
I venture to say that, despite his success and vast wealth Mr. Musk does have a problem.
He has a spiritual problem,
a fundamental uncertainty —
an insidious suspicion that he will never escape…
Indeed, Mr. Musk’s situation brings into stark relief, a spiritual problem that affects all of us.
Since financial profit is the engine of our economy, it has become second nature for us to prize people according to the external measure of their wealth.
And when we do this, we lose sight of the sacredness that comes from each person’s basic humanity.
This problem creates a condition in which real love — in the divine sense — is almost impossible.
This real divine love is, ultimately, the only love that will ever truly satisfy Mr. Musk
(or any of us)…
but it is, ironically, the one love that Musk may never find…
The kind of love that is blind to 19.7 billion dollars.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ…
Biologically, it may be enough to have an organ that pumps blood to every part of your body.
But spiritually, this organ is not enough by itself.
For our lives to have meaning, our hearts must have eyes — they must be able to interact with, and be changed, by the world.
But even this is not enough.
Remember what Paul said?
To know God one must have “eyes of the heart, enlightened.
Teachers of Tenderness
In 1964, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, resigned from his post, and moved to a small house in a village about 60 miles outside of Paris.
Jean Vanier, who had received his doctorate in Philosophy from the Institut Catholique in Paris only two years before, gave up a promising academic career in order to make this move.
His companions in the little house in the outskirts of Paris, were Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux — two developmentally disabled men who had, until that time, suffered terrible alienation in institutions.
This act — moving into the house together with Simi and Seux, and living with them was a sea change in the way people with developmental disabilities were offered care.
Instead of an institution with a professional staff, Vanier set up a home.
Inspired by his deep Roman Catholic faith, Vanier developed a philosophy that guided their lives together.
Since we care for them, the developmentally disabled are often considered burdens.
But Christ teaches us that this is not the case.
Since we care for them, the disabled are not burdens, they are teachers.
They are our teachers.
Vanier named that little house “L’Arche” — which is French for “the Ark” — a reference to Noah’s ark — a boat where he invited people who were in pain.
In the decades that followed, the L’Arche model of care, that began in these humble circumstances, grew into a network of houses that, today includes 147 communities in 35 countries.
The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. Vanier once said in an interview. If I have more power and more knowledge, then I can do more. I’m strong and I’m powerful, I have the knowledge. And this is the history of humanity. The whole educational system, is based on this idea. We educate people to become capable and to take their place in society. That has value, obviously. But it’s not quite the same thing as to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves. So the equilibrium that people with disabilities could bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart. You see, maybe a father is a very strong man and businessman, and when he comes home, if he gets down on his hands and knees and plays with the children, it’s the child that is teaching the father something about tenderness, about love… so it is people with disabilities. It’s the same sort of beauty and purity in some of these people — it is extraordinary…
Eyes of the heart enlightened.
Perhaps this kind of love is not impossible for the likes of Mr. Musk after all.
Perhaps there are people who can look at him and not see his 19.7 billion.
If Mr. Musk really feel lonely, in that big house of his, I suggest he get in touch with Mr. Vanier.
And this, of course, all leads us to Jesus Christ, who spoke of salvation.
To be redeemed, according to Jesus, has nothing to do with having a lot of money.
It has nothing to do with living in comfort
Or having a large mansion.
To be chosen by God, Jesus tells us, does not depend on the financial success or fame a person has during life.
These are not the criteria for judgment.
In the passage from Matthew 25 that Mary-lu read for us, Jesus tells us how to enlighten the eyes of our hearts.
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
Confused, the righteous ask:
‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’
And Jesus replies:
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.
Our society sends us a strong message.
We see 19.7 billion dollars and we understand this to have extraordinary value.
But our religion gives us another, powerful, and undeniable message —
To care for the least of our brethren is the most important thing we can do.
And where do we find wealth?
In the luxurious mansion — immense, but empty, where footsteps echo in long marble hallways?
Or the tiny house on the outskirts of Paris, where a man lives with, and cares for, two disabled friends?
Open eyes of the heart… dear friends
Let them be enlightened.