So I made it through what was actually a very pleasant weekend - catching up with my friend Sam Thursday night as I stayed at his house, meeting the COM and chatting with them Friday and Saturday, dinner with my parents Saturday night, and church this morning. That last included preaching at both services, as many of you know, and an adult forum on the ordination process in Ohio with a couple of current/past COM chairs from my parish. The sermons went amazingly well, though the parishioners there are probably supportive enough of me not to be the best measure of how good the sermon actually was. Now I'm back and I've got to learn to chant Eucharistic Prayer D, Mozarabic Tone, with all due speed, so I can sing it tomorrow afternoon for a final project. For those who are interested, here's the sermon for the later service (the early service was much the same but without the first third). Warning: it's not short. They like long sermons at that service, or at least the rector does. (The relevant readings are 1 Samuel 13:1-16, Psalm 23, and John 9: 1-11. Except at the early service the first half of the Samuel was cut. Without warning me. Luckily it didn't matter.) Anyway:
I love anointing stories. We’ve got three of them this morning: Samuel anoints David. The psalmist talks about God anointing his head with oil. Even the Gospel talks about anointing - when Jesus smears the mud on the man’s eyes, the Greek says he “anoints” mud on his eyes. One of the reasons I love anointing stories so much is that they’ve always sounded kind of mythical to me. Until this year, I’d never been part of a community that did regular anointing, and I would guess that many of you haven’t either. So it’s something that can sound kind of old-fashioned when we think about it today, like being knighted or rescued from a dragon. Certainly we use anointing differently today - we don’t anoint our presidents, we elect them, and we prefer medicine to anointing people with mud to cure diseases! If we think about anointing at all, actually, we tend just to think that there has to be a pretty special reason for someone to be anointed by God. Often we’re inclined to reserve that epithet for Jesus, since the Messiah is the Anointed One.
And it’s true that being anointed by God is a pretty special thing. It’s not your everyday happening. But it’s also not just for Jesus - or even David. We don’t have to be the savior of the world or the greatest king ancient Israel ever knew to be anointed by God. The blind man was anointed by God too - not because he was particularly talented or amazing or because only he could do a particular task, but because it was an opportunity to glorify God.
Some of us may be like David in that God tags us for certain tasks. Some of us may have sensed a clear calling as a doctor or an actor or a teacher. Others of us may identify more closely with the blind man, who was anointed to see and to bear witness to Christ. Most likely, we each have some of both of these going on. God probably does have some specifics in mind for each of us - a place to be, a role to fill, something along those lines - though we may not always know what those specifics are - or maybe we think we know some days and other times we know we don’t. Certainly, we are all called to see the world anew and to witness to Christ’s presence and work.
In fact, we’re not just called, as important as that is on its own. We’re also all anointed to these two things. The reading from Samuel tells us that David was anointed with oil and the Spirit. Does this sound familiar? It should - because we’ve also been anointed at least with the Spirit, and most of us probably with oil too, at our baptisms. Think about the last baptism you witnessed: after the baptism with water, the presider makes a cross on the person’s forehead (often with oil) and says, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Now, being anointed is sort of a scary thing to think about sometimes. On the one hand, people who think they’re God’s anointed usually come to our attention on the news, after they kill someone or something like that. We vehemently disagree that this is the work of God’s anointed, but that image is enough to make us think twice about adopting the label for ourselves. In our society, being “God’s anointed” often means being arrogant at best and psychotic at worst.
Admittedly, it’s not all rainbows and fairy dust when we acknowledge that being God’s anointed means something else, and might even apply to us. We don’t get a menu with daily specials for what we can be anointed to be or do for God. Often, it means we get signed on for more responsibility, harder work, greater risk, than we would have chosen for ourselves, or maybe even imagined. God chooses, not us, and since God is not a short order chef, sometimes we get chicken fried steak and are told to eat it with a potato masher when what we were hoping for was cottage cheese and pineapple with a teaspoon.
So sometimes we’re not sure what God’s going to anoint us to do next. Some of what we’re anointed for, though, we can know fairly definitely, because it’s pretty much non-negotiable. Our baptismal vows tell us that we’re all anointed to do things like pray, work for peace and justice, and repent of our sins. The blind man’s tasks, and ours, of telling people about Christ and seeing the world anew fall into this category.
Seeing the world anew after baptism means seeing the world the way God sees it. So what do we see when we see through God-eyes? Well, my friend Emily used to talk occasionally about seeing the world through stained-glass glasses. What she meant by that was seeing Christ in absolutely everything. We look up at a stained-glass window, and we see something that makes us think of God. Putting on our stained-glass glasses meant, then, that when we look at something or someone, we think of God. We look at a tree, and we see a source of beauty and perhaps of food and shade, and we remember that God created it to grow the way it does, to change with the seasons, to revitalize itself. We look at a broken-down house and we see a way for a group to come together in rebuilding it, and a place where someone who needs a home might be able to afford one after it’s rebuilt. We look at our neighbor and we see the ways in which that person cares for their family and friends, the ways that person makes sense of the world around them, or maybe we remember a time when that person helped us to learn something new or challenged us to work harder. But we see everybody that way, and every thing. It’s not just the people who are easy to love, or the things we like the most. It’s seeing Christ in absolutely every single place we look.
So that’s part of our new sight. But that’s not quite enough. The reading from Samuel gives us a pretty clear idea of what it means biblically to see the world as God sees it. The LORD says to Samuel, “the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” The way of the world is to look at the outside, in more ways than we often realize. We’re no better than Samuel about this. In school we learn not to judge by whether someone walks with a limp, or speaks with a lisp, or whether they wear certain brands of shoes or clothes. We talk about how outside characteristics such as beauty or money or fame don’t make Hollywood actors and sports stars good role models. Adults teach children to listen to what people say and look at how they treat their classmates instead, and those are valuable lessons. As we grow up, though, we often forget much of this. It changes shape, and we learn to rationalize it better, and so sometimes we’re not even aware we’re judging that way. So we look at someone in a pinstripe suit with a briefcase and someone in a trench coat with long hair, and we make assumptions about which person it’s safer to stand next to. If we’re from the North, as most of us are, we hear a Texas accent and we make assumptions about their politics, about their intelligence. If we’re going to a job, we know that we need to look a certain way, because in our society, appearances matter. They matter a lot. And we know all the tricks to justify how those decisions are based on other things, why we aren’t guilty of that - but deep inside, if we let ourselves notice, we probably know that we’re just like the person next to us, or across the street, in this. We are mortals, and mortals look on the appearance of a person, and we see them with glasses that are colored by our own personality quirks and foibles.
But putting on stained glass glasses means seeing the world in radically new ways, completely differently than how we saw it before. With these glasses on, I can see the world the way everyone around me sees it. I can read books and magazines and play on the internet and watch TV. If I put on a pair of sunglasses with purple lenses [note: in the early service I actually did this], everyone looks a little purple. I like purple, a lot. But you and I both know that you’re not actually purple, so seeing the world through purple glasses probably wouldn’t work very well for me in the long run.
Putting on those stained-glass glasses, on the other hand, trying to see the way that God sees, means seeing things honestly for what they are and seeing what God wants them to become. It doesn’t mean trying not to see the differences between people or the conflicts in the world. That’s putting on rose-colored glasses. Rose is a great color too, probably my favorite color. But, just like the purple glasses, rose colored glasses don’t show us a true picture of the world. We only need a little bit of rose in our glasses. Stained glass has all sorts of colors and shapes. Walk around the church after the service and look at all the stained glass. Some pieces are very different from each other, and even in a single piece there’s beautiful variety. Stained glass glasses help us to see all sorts of different facets of creation.
Looking on the heart means we see the true picture, the one we don’t get either with our everyday, worldly eyes or with rose colored glasses. It’s not about ignoring people’s flaws or pretending that only good things can or will happen. It’s about judging people by their character, their actions, the person they are inside, rather than what they look like on the outside. I see the best of you, I see the worst of you, if you will. David grew up to be not only a great king, but a faulty and flawed human being. God knew that. But God also knew that David was true and faithful and loving, because God looks on the heart. That’s why Jesus looked at the man born blind and saw more than just an outcast. By learning to look on the heart instead of the outward appearance, we too participate in God’s love for us and for the world. And that love is the greatest thing to which we have been anointed.