Sermon by Rev. Craig Lemming - Jun 07, 2020

Seeing Like God: Seeing Jesus and Worshipping Him in the Marginalized

A Sermon for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, Saint Paul, MN
By the Rev’d Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Sunday, June 7, 2020 – Trinity Sunday

In the Name of the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today’s Lesson from Genesis reminds us seven times that God sees what God created and pronounces it good. Light, earth, and water are seen and are good. Plants, trees, fruits, and flowers are seen and are good. Sun, moon, and stars, day and night, are seen and are good. All living creatures in the waters and in the air are seen and are good, and God blesses them. All living creatures on the earth are seen and are good. Humankind, created in God’s image, are seen, are blessed, and God says that indeed everyone and everything that is, seen and unseen, is very good. God sees goodness in us and God blesses that sacred goodness.

What the last several unspeakably tragic weeks have revealed is that we have failed to see as God sees. We have failed to see God’s goodness in ourselves and in others. Paradoxically, centuries of blindness to racism have now been laid bare for everyone, particularly those who are white, to truly see. To see themselves in the white children of God who are so profoundly blind to seeing the goodness of God in black and brown children of God that they kill that which is sacred.

Dr. Jann Cather Weaver was one of my favorite professors at United Theological Seminary. Jann Cather Weaver wrote the definition of “Seeing” in the Dictionary of Feminist Theologies and indeed, Dr. Jann taught me the discipline of seeing theologically. I’d like to share an excerpt from her definition of “Seeing,” as Jann Cather Weaver’s wisdom helps us to interpret what we are seeing today, and perhaps seeing truthfully for the first time. She writes,

Seeing, therefore, calls the viewer to a critical consciousness informed by a hermeneutic of suspicion and committed to liberation: the viewer seeks to see from the margins, from the perspectives of those who are silent or silenced within the dominating culture. A feminist theological discipline of seeing requires the viewer to see with “eyes” scanning for the seemingly invisible cultural prejudices that distort and hide inequity, for the experience and perspective of people cloaked or misrepresented by cultural stereotypes and mythologies. Seeing faithfully disobeys any reigning cultural (mis)constructs, unveiling the lived reality of marginalized humanity and the institutions perpetuating their marginalization. [1]

Hold Dr. Jann’s words in your mind, as we take a closer look at today’s Gospel.

We read that the followers of Jesus went to the mountain in Galilee and “When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him.” Then we read, “but some doubted.” Those who saw Jesus worshipped him; but some doubted. Perhaps some doubted because they did not know how to truly see the crucified and risen Jesus in their midst. And in our world today, when we doubt that every person is made in the sacred image of God, and when we doubt that the violence we do to them is what we are also doing to Jesus [2], we cultivate a blindness that is deadly. For centuries, doubts about the dignity of black and brown people have been cultivated in white eyes and white minds. Doubts that Jesus can be seen in those who are not white. And yet, in the words of the Rev. Dr. James Cone:

Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “recrucified” black body… there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy. [3]

How do we see as God sees in the first chapter of Genesis? How do we see that everything and everyone created is good? How do we see Jesus in one another? How do we see Jesus in black and brown people whom we have been taught not only to doubt but to despise and to destroy?

Today’s threefold tragedy of countless lives being taken by COVID-19, the centuries-old plague of white supremacy, and a mentally ill president, reminds me of one of the most terrifying moments in all literature:

The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. [4]

The Hurricane in Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, shows us that the terror of Tragedy always reveals Truth. Truths ignored for centuries are being revealed. Truths some were blind to for generations are now being seen by everyone. Truths locked up in our collective subconscious are being vomited up and the whole world can see the Nightmare that the American Dream has always been for two-thirds of the people on this planet who are black and brown.

The Good News is that when we see – when we all truly see the Tragic Truth, we will actually all be set free. Free to see centuries of racism. Free to see and own our own shadow. Free to see our denial of the goodness that God sees in everything and everyone created. Free to renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. Free to renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. Free to renounce all sinful desires that draw us away from the love of God. [5] Free to truly seek and serve Christ in all persons. Free to truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Free to truly strive for justice and peace among all people. Free to truly respect the dignity of every human being. [6]

“When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him.” Jesus promises that He is with us always, to the end of the age. Being baptized in the name of the Triune God, we must begin to see Jesus in every person, and when we see Jesus in them, remember to obey Jesus’ commandment to love. See the “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing! O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” Amen.


Footnotes:

[1] Jann Cather Weaver, “Seeing” in Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, ed. Bertrand Russell (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 254-255.

[2] Matthew 25:40.

[3] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011), xv.

[4] Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers), 160.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer, 302.

[6] Ibid., 305.