The Seen and Unseen

by Rev. Jim Sundholm

Sisters and brothers in Christ, clay bodies of our ever-present Creator, containers of the light that has come loving God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we do live and in whom we do move and in whom we do have our being-present and our being-to-come. Amen.

We have, (allright?!), we have this treasure! It's in earthen vessels, but we have the treasure! We got it!! We don't earn it. We aren't going to buy it. We aren't going to conjure it up! We aren't going to attend enough Sundays and get enough pins that'll suddenly mean we are now eligible to apply for the big contest in the sky wherein we receive a portion of it! The text is amazing. We have it! Blessed be the holy name of our giving God. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We have it. We have it. Oh, what a powerful, wonderful text.

It's like a letter isn't it? How do you know what proof a letter to read and what part of it not to read? You get some letters you read over and over again. You say, "I wonder what part of it I should leave out so I can read it faster?" But sometimes you can't read it faster, It's an interesting and powerful part of the letter that we've been focusing on these last couple of days here and I want to lift up just a couple of things that seem to jump out, at least for me - a window into the text, if you will.

I think there's a strong repetitive use of "seeing" or "seen". If I were to count the word and uses of the word "see" or roots of that word, it comes over and over again and dominates the entire chapter. Therefore a window into the text is the tension between the seen and the unseen, between the hidden, if you will, and that which is known. I think that it is an honest tension that exists in our lives.

As Dave Wright and I were talking on the way out, an interesting little experience happened. He got me reflecting about my own past and he said something like, "What can we do with the youth of today?" I mused a bit on one thing that had happened in my life. There was a tension going on in my home ... and also in my church. Our church was loaded with persons who had a conscious contact with the unseen treasure and they knew they had it. And they emptied themselves trying to create a context at Seattle First Covenant Church where somehow they could give witness to this unseen thing that would somehow be seen by their children.

And that was going on. Sunday we lived at the church. We really did. We got up, went to Sunday School, following Sunday School we had morning worship, which tended in our church to run long. (It seemed more spiritual if it did. If it was after twelve o' clock, the Spirit had really worked). After that we would go home and we would have a scrumptious feast and we would stay dressed-up. Prayers around the feast would be significant to the family and the day, then we would get in the car and go for this ride. I don't know how many of you people had to do that: "the Sunday Drive"! "Guess what we' re going to do today?!" And we did it ! Every Sunday we went for this ride. And I shouldn't say it quite this way, because at the time you kind of adapt, you know? It worked out.

We'd go for a ride; the ride always ended up at church... for youth programs. Youth programs began at four-thirty and ran to six-thirty. That'd give us time to run down to the store and grab some snacks that we'd sneak-eat during the evening worship service. After evening worship service we would get together with other families of the church for a time of fellowship that often ended up doing either some silly singing or some serious singing.

That was going on in this hand: How could Vic and Marion let Dick and Jim and Jean see the unseen? But in this hand the financial life was radically changing for my parents and for all the parents in that church. And they felt, "You know, these kids ought to be able to have in their hands some of the seen." And so they said, "You know, we want you to have that college diploma we couldn't get, because when you' re out looking for a job, boy, it's what's seen that's important. And you know, my family, your grandparents, never had a home and, boy, you know, you've got to have a nest and we're going to buy one. We're going to have a fence around it. And we're going to have our nest ...and we're going to have a car, and we're going to help your uncle get a car (and we're going to make sure you don't get a car!). You're catching the imagery: the seen and the unseen.

Today what I think happened is... I think our parents were too good at showing us the seen; that's where I think they are... I think the seen won. We like shiny things! And often times on Shabbat we shine our things. We shine what we can see. We cut it; we manicure it. And, interestingly, they would rip the hairs from their heads if they knew what they did!! The y thought the unseen was so powerful that the seen didn't have a chance. Brothers and sisters, they were right and they were wrong. We live in such a culture, as Dave [Wright] has shared, and in a sense, as very clearly Sandy [Johnson) has shared, that asks, can there be joy over the unseen? Joy over something deep inside... that makes me look drunk... like the early church? I think that this text lays before us the actual tension that we participate in and that is the tension between the seen and the unseen. And right now the unseen is losing ... and the seen is drowning it out.

I'm really struck as Zenos [Hawkinson) last night shared the six rules of Spener. Paul does an interesting thing in this text. He says, "We've got some basic rules here about us." He says, "One thing you've got to know about us" - and I say this because if we' re a part of a losing battle we'd better know this (this is no judgemental stuff; this is called insight and discernment), that the unseen is losing, then we should remember these rules - Paul says this, "Listen, we don't lose heart! You can kick us, we can get wounded, but we will rise again!! We don't lose heart. Because we got the treasure.

Another thing is: we denounce tricks. Isn't that interesting? Dave's right, giving away a car would have worked, but like Paul, according to the text, we denounce tricks. We won't stand for it because we speak the truth.

The third thing Paul says, (this is interesting in light of issues about "arum" - see Pietisten, Vol. II , number I, p. 2), - Paul says, "We refuse to use deception regarding God's word." (Now I'll use it in other forms... when I'm selling someone a tent, I'll break their legs. However when it comes to God's word: no deception). Isn't that interesting? How many times do we try to fill the churches with deception? You know, it's really a major thing, my kids say, "Now, Dad, don't try to deceive me. I don't want to go there." Deception. Paul says, "We refuse to use deception regarding God's word." No tricks here. This is a little judgemental, maybe insightful; some of the brothers in the media ought to hear this. When it comes to the Scripture, Paul says no deception, no deception.

Then he says this, "And we preach not ourselves We preach Jesus Christ as Lord." I was thinking earlier, it would've been interesting to come up here and to have taken the pulpit and to have moved it and said, "Make sure you never leave worship knowin' the preachers name better than you know the name of whom the preachin's about! 'Cause there ain't a preacher who can save ya. Ain't a preacher who can save ya." That's why we preach Jesus Christ as Lord. You get me in you and aH you' ll get is indigestion! Amen?! Get Jesus in you and you' ll get life! "Taste and see ... the Lord is good." A powerful psalm: "Taste and see."

"We preach ourselves as servants." Isn't that an amazing contrast? It would be logical to talk about Jim Bakker and Senator Hart in this context because I think an intense liability happened when they saw themselves as something they should preach and not Christ. I ... maybe this isn't a good transition here but it's all for the same price ... what happens here in this thing, I think ... I really think that if Hart would have said, "Can we talk? I hate to admit it but I'm so glad I got caught. You aH been talking about me as a womanizer; my life is a mess. And I had no idea when I got the nudge to run for presidential office what was really going to happen was that my addiction to women as a solution to my life was going to end. And I've just got to teH you, America, how grateful I am that my pot got cracked and I can finally submit my self-will to a power greater than myself, and I just want to thank you very much for finally bringing to an end of this cycle of shame and self-hate and rejection that has consumed me." But the poor brother thought he had to preach himself! That he couldn't preach Christ! And I think the same thing is true for Jim Bakker.

We have this treasure. We have the light of the glory of God shining in our lives. And it is, amazingly, put in weak clay vessels. I think there is an allusion in this text to creation motifs. I think it's obvious in a couple of the writings of the text. The allusion is back to the image of God as Creator who uses clay, and chooses in the very creation to put his image, his light into the clay. He knew that; he breathed life into it. I think there is a strong aHusion to the creation motif here.

I think there's a sting allusion to Gideon and his army. That's the last strong story. Remember that? The Gideon story is the craziest story I ever did read! This guy starts by God making him trim out twenty-two thousand people. Ten thousand left. God says, "No, that 's too many." "But you've got this big army against us that has all of Israel hiding in caves!" God says, "No, too many, that's too many." And God keeps going. "Well, take 'em down to the brook and find the guys who drink this way and the guys who drink that way and just take the few of them." (Do you know, I've never drunk like "this" since I had heard that in Sunday School and I was so afraid that if God ever saw me drinking like "that" I was going straight to hell! So I've always drunk like "this". Took me a lot longer to get water, but I said "You wait, one of these times: lightning! ... you' ll get it and I'll be safe!).

Anyway, he ends up with three hundred soldiers, Gideon does, and then God says, "I got an idea; no swords! We're taking clay pots with candles in 'em and trumpets! And we' re going to get the Mideonites!!" Of which there are thousands with double-edged swords! And they had some dummies who stayed! You know I can't get over it. And then Gideon says, "Now, are any of you guys afraid?! And if you're afraid you can go ahead home, okay? The rest of us'll do it." And he said, "Okay, what you do is you put the clay pot with the light in it in one hand and the trumpet in the other and we' re going to walk down and then you stand by one of those tents, all right? And then aH of a sudden what we'll do is bust the pots and let the lights show and we'll blow our horns!"

How many of us are there here tonight? Maybe God didn't want those other folks. Maybe God said, "No, this is aH we want at Pietisten, I was hoping for just twenty-six people. But when you leave here tonight you' re all getting a candle and a trumpet!!" Because God has put God's light in you and when your self-will is cracked open and you are no longer dominated by those things that determine somehow in yourself that you' re going to control your life, and when you can crack that self-will and suddenly the light of God shines through your broken vessel and you blow your horn, "I sing with joy and gladness because my soul has found release!" Then they will fall on their swords, Sad scene, but they will be terrified ... by the showing of the light and the sounding of the trumpet.

The text moves on again. It's a strong contrast between the greatness of God and the frailty of the clay. And I thought, as Art [Anderson] shared with us last night and as the images were picked up clearly for us by Sandy, that the images of the contrast were strong and clear in our minds. We don't boast in our strength and there's no reason to try. In the text it's very clear that the reason for the contrast of the greatness of God and the weakness of the vessel is to show forth God clearly... and strongly.

It strikes me tonight that we are moving out of this text toward the sacrament. And we're going to do an interesting thing in this tremendously frail meal that shouldn't be able to feed anybody - isn't this amazing? It's such a very frail meal; it's not enough. It's a very frail meal, just a little bite of bread and a sip of a cup, but hidden, we say, in, under, and around and through it is the light of the world ... coming to us.

It's a meal embraced with conflict. In fact we do an interesting thing: we make these things real shiny, so you can see them. Because we're afraid the unseen might not be seen. So we gussy it up just in case you might miss it. There's a tension going on tonight between the seen and the unseen. Is what makes it holy for you the way it shines or the way it tastes?

I think it's verse ten of the text that says one more thing that I think speaks to communion. It says, "We are beaten down, but not crushed." I think for us the meal is always a resurrection meal: that our Lord was beaten down, but our Lord did rise again. Christ was not crushed. They did not see it; it was hidden, the tomb was empty, and they were consumed by the conflict between what they saw and what they didn't see. And an earthen vessel was broken open and the light shone forth and we call it Resurrection Morning and we simply live as a Resurrection people.

Clay bodies of our ever-present Creator... containers of the light that's come to shine in the darkness. Take hold, this night, of your trumpet and indeed be cracked forth for Christ's sake. Amen.

Jim Sundholm has served as a pastor and as director of Covenant World Relief for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He now resides with his wife on Maury Island, Wash.

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