Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who Do You See?

A week does not go by when we are not confronted again with television images of a person of color who has been shot by police officers. Conversely we also see images of police officers who have been ambushed by some angry person out of a sense of revenge. The question that arises in both instances is who do you see? The answer to this question goes to the heart of how we respond to others that we perceive are different from us. This perception is not solely along racial lines but manifests itself in a myriad of different ways. For example, how do we perceive a person who may have a skin disorder which is visible to the outside world? In the Old and New Testaments we read about stories of people who lived with leprosy. The Hebrew and Greek words translated as "leprosy" were used to define various diseases affecting the skin not necessarily leprosy. Nevertheless, the response to those suffering with these skin disorders was ostracism. Additionally the person had to cry out "unclean" so others could be warned that the person who was literally considered "unclean" was headed in an individual's direction. The question who do you see? remains relevant. In the example of the leper, the individual's value and worth was demeaned and swallowed up by their outward appearance. Human nature has changed very little since Jesus walked the earth. In our culture today, we experience the same reactions to the perception that another person who we outwardly perceive as different has a diminished value. Slavery and racism are woven deep into the fabric of the history of the United States and has never truly "gone away" as some would like to believe. There have been attempts to gloss over our history and compartmentalize it to something that happened "a long time ago." However, those individuals like myself who have grown up seeing and experiencing segregation and hatred towards attempts to recognize that "all men are created equal" understand that years of oppression will not remain underground for long. This does not give oppressed people a license to rise up and commit heinous crimes out of a sense of injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the course of history through non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement. His course of action mirrors what God calls us to in the Scriptures regarding how we perceive others. In 1 John chapters 3 and 4, strong language is used by John to point to the standard God expects when it comes to how we "see" others. "For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother....Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him." (1 John 3:12a,15) "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God whom, they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21) (emphasis mine) When we hear words like "keep them out!" "send them back!" "frisk them down!" we are no longer in step with the Spirit of God. We are no longer seeing people, we are seeing objects, less than human, not created by God who clearly tells us that each person is "fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14a) So who do we see when that Muslim woman passes by wearing a birka? Do we see a possible terrorist or a woman who may have a family and who shares the same hopes, dreams, and fears for her children like other parents? Who do we see when that black person is walking along the street? Do we fear that person may be carrying a concealed weapon and ready to shoot anyone at any minute? Do we see a potential gang member? Do we see a possible welfare cheat? Do we even see a human being or some lesser species? If we fail to see a human being who has value and worth then we are truly blind and the Spirit of God has no place within us. When Samuel tried to judge who it was that God had sent him to anoint as king, Samuel tried to use the visual "litmus test", outward appearance. However, the Lord said to Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7b) Jesus also had some things to say about the heart, "Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body," (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: "What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come---sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person." (Mark 7:18-23) Perhaps it's time to stop looking at people according to the broken and fallen standards of this world and get back to "seeing" through the eyes of God. May all who claim to follow Christ, be bold enough to pray this prayer on a consistent basis, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Sheree