A young shepherd boy anointed king, old creations become new, and a mustard seed grown into an enormous bush. Today's readings are all about how God does not see things the way do - as our reading from 1 Samuel says, "the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." And from our second reading, from 2 Corinthians, we hear "We walk by faith, not by sight. From now on then we regard no one from a human point of view. .. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away." And in our gospel reading from Mark, we have the image of the mustard seed, a teeny-tiny seed the size of the tip of a pencil, growing to be bigger than we can possibly imagine. Today our message is that we see only a small part of God's creation, while God sees so much more of it than we could ever hope to.
I say this, and you’re thinking, yes, of course. We could never see as much as God sees. This is not a new concept to us. But today I want to help us to think about this more deeply. What does it mean to say that God sees the world more fully than we do? In particular, what does it mean to say that God sees people more fully than we do? How is this Good News for us?
Often, when we say that God sees us, we mean that God sees all of the secret and sinful things we do. When I was little, I used to think that God was watching me all the time. Which is probably normal, but six year olds are not always the most rational of people, and for some reason I was convinced that God could see me through my watch. So, when I wanted to play with something that belonged to my sister that I wasn't supposed to touch, I would take off my watch and hide it in a drawer. God couldn't see me then, right?
We have this idea that God watches us, and sees in our hearts, in order to catch us doing something wrong. Kind of like Santa Claus - watching in order to put us on the naughty list. Who remembers hearing in confirmation class and Sunday school that God will know if you've broken any of the commandments because God knows everything? Who remembers getting the impression in Sunday School that God sees the evil thoughts of your hearts and will judge you when it's time? We never imagine that God is watching us in order to catch us doing something good, or that God’s judgement is something to look forward to because we’ll get a ruling in our favour. God watches us kind of like Revenue Canada or the IRS - to see if we’re cheating - not to offer us a refund we forgot to calculate.
This is a problem for a lot of reasons, but what concerns me today is that this idea that God sees us with eyes of judgement is so pervasive and so embedded in our religious psyche that it affects how we see ourselves and how we see others. This understanding that God is watching us in order to catch our failures and shortcomings becomes the way in which we look at others and ourselves. Seeking to live up to what we imagine God’s expectations are for us, we look at others and we look at ourselves with the same judgement with which we imagine God is looking at us. Which means that we spend an awful lot of time looking at people's failures and weaknesses and faults and sins - and our own, too, and passing judgement. We watch the driver who cuts us off at the exit ramp and judge him for not caring about the safety of people around him. We watch the overweight woman who can barely walk down the street carrying an extra-large soft-drink and judge her for not having self-discipline and being lazy. We watch the misbehaving boy in the store (and his parents) and judge them for being self-involved and disrespectful. We watch the business woman with no children and judge her for putting work above family. We watch the young people who don’t come to church on Sunday morning and judge them for leaving God out of their lives. We watch and judge ourselves. Every mis-step, every bad decision, every ungrateful thought in our hearts - we see and judge it all.
We look at others and ourselves under a harsh light. And we see what is really there - our failures and weaknesses and sins. But God does not look at creation in this way. God does not look at us only under this light. God does not look at only the sin in the world, and in us. This idea we have that God watches us in order to condemn us is not the whole picture, or even most of the picture. God takes a much broader view and God sees more than we see ourselves. God sees *everything.*
- We see an impatient driver who didn’t signal and cut us off. God sees a beloved child who is a single parent trying to get work on time after cleaning up his son’s vomit from the floor. A son who is frantic that he might lose his job for being late *again* and that his family will be evicted for being behind on rent and end up in a shelter.
- We see a morbidly overweight woman slowly crossing the street in front of us with a 7-11 extra-large Slurpee cup in her hands. God sees a beloved daughter who grew up in a house so poor she cried herself to sleep every night. A daughter who now eats whatever she wants to prove to herself that she and her children will never live through the same food-insecurity she did.
- We see an unruly 7-yr-old who ends up in the principal’s office every day because he can’t sit still in class and is constantly mouthing off to the teacher. God sees a dear child who goes to school without breakfast because his parents don’t get it ready for him and who will be beaten - again - when he gets home from school. A child for whom school is the only safe place to work out the anger and frustration that his parents don’t love him.
- We see a high-powered business executive in her fancy suits and shoes who has chosen a career over family and children. God sees a beloved daughter who was sexually abused by her parents since the age of five and over-achieves so that no one will ever see the scared little girl inside. A daughter who has sworn never to repeat the sins of her parents.
- We see a young man with his smartphone and his cute dog who would rather have Sunday morning brunch with his friends than come to worship. God sees a beloved son trying to get over the pain of being rejected by Christians and a church who told him that he was better off dead than marrying the love of his life who also happens to be a man.
- We look in the mirror and we see our flaws and our fat, our wrinkles and our regret, our failures, our shortcomings, our sins, our things done and left undone. God looks at us and God sees beloved children who are struggling through overwhelming pain and loss, who yet manifest moments of grace and kindness. God sees us as kind and caring and strong and wise and beautiful. Not because God is blind to our sins, but because God sees more than just that. God sees everything.
God see us differently than we see ourselves because God has compassion for us - a word which means passion or suffering-with - because, through Christ, God knows what it is to be human. God knows the pain of this life, and God knows that we get through it the best that we can. This is why the Incarnation is so important for us, actually. In Christ, God took on humanity and experienced human existence. This means that God took on the suffering and the passion that we live through on a daily basis. Through Christ, God came to know personally and bodily what it means to suffer - what it means that the decisions and choices we make to get through our lives are affected by the decisions and choices others have made for us. God sees in your hearts and God sees the suffering that shapes who you are. God sees the stories behind your sin, and the context behind your failures, and the sacrifices behind your success, and God sees how sometimes, what others judge as sin is really the only way we know how to survive what has been done to us. God does not watch you solely in order to judge you - God also watches you in order to have compassion. In order to show you love. God watches you because God doesn’t see the little mustard seed - God sees a giant shrub that has survived drought and sun and now offers shelter to others.
“The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." The prophet Samuel was right. God sees your heart, and God has compassion on you. And, in turn, God enjoins you to see the heart of others. For "We walk by faith, not by sight. From now on then we regard no one from a human point of view.” We are called to regard everyone from God’s point of view. We are called to see others - *and ourselves* - not with eyes of judgement and condemnation, but with eyes of compassion and love. When you see someone, and judge them, take a moment and see them as God sees them. See their suffering and their fears and have compassion. When you look in the mirror and judge yourself, take a moment and see yourself as God sees you. See your own suffering and fears, and have compassion on yourself. See others, and see yourself, as God sees you - one of God’s own dearly beloved children, in need of care and compassion, and do for others what God, though Christ, does for you, offer compassion and love and the blessing of forgiveness. Thanks be to God. Amen.