What do you see in this image?
What do you see when you look at Albuquerque? A place of beauty and diversity or the home of Breaking Bad and Cops?
What did you see when you woke up this morning and looked in the mirror? Probably, the first thoughts were of things imperfect. Maybe you saw gray hairs or extra weight. Maybe you saw yourself as wrinkled or tired.
We tend to see the negative. It was what we are conditioned to do by every commercial, it is a survival mechanism that protects us.
But today I want to challenge you to see differently. To see through the eyes of God, to see abundance, to see opportunity.
If you were to look at yourself again through God’s eyes you would see a person created in God’s image. Beautifully and wonderfully made.
Throughout the Bible, God seems very concerned about the human body.
In Genesis, Chapter 1, when God creates men and women, God calls that creation good.
Of course, by Genesis Chapter 3 Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit. But after having the first family meeting about the implications of that rebellion, what does God do? I imagine God was disappointed and hurt and angry about the separation that had taken place. But the first thing God does is make clothes for Adam and Eve. He provides clothing for their bodies.
Despite Adam and Eve’s turning away from God, God stitches them clothes.
Despite the grumbling of the recently freed slaves from Egypt, God provides manna and water and quail.
Despite the complaining of Jonah, God provides a tree to give him shade.
God’s concern for the body continues in Jesus. Jesus, who over and over again heals peoples bodies. Jesus who says I came that you may have life and have it abundantly. .
In the gospel of Luke, the disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, if he is the one they were expecting or if they should wait for someone else. Jesus responds by saying, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised…”
The very proof that Jesus uses to show that he is the Messiah comes in people who are healed and find life.
This concern and attention for the body doesn’t end with Jesus. It is the same language Paul uses when he describes the church as the body of Christ.
For most of Christian history, the church not only saw itself as the body, but made caring for the body a central part of its mission.
The founder of our United Methodist movement, John Wesley, set up clinics and provided health care. The best selling book he ever wrote was not a theological text, but a medical book carried in the satchel of circuit riders called Primitive Physick. While parts of Primitive Physick are very much 18th Century medical practices that have become outdated, at its core the principles of exercise and eating in moderation and eating more vegetables than meat remain true today.
This attention of focusing on health was not solely a Methodist thing. Most of the major hospital and medical systems of our country were created by churches. Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and many other churches started the movement that resulted in the medicine we have today.
But somewhere along the way, we lost that mission and that focus. We, as the church, abdicated our role in bringing health to our communities. While a century ago people looked at the church and saw a beacon of health, today people drive past the church and see little more than an institution.
The importance of how people sees us is contrasted in our scriptures today.
Jesus comes to us in this part of the gospel of Mark having been through a lot. His cousin, John the Baptist, was killed. He tried to get away from it all but ended up feeding thousands, Jesus walks on water and calms a storm, and then after all of that he gets to the other side of the lake and what happens when people see him? They bring out people who are sick and need healing. When they see Jesus, they see a healer. So much so that sick people filled the marketplaces, reaching for healing.
Think about that. The people of ancient Israel had a very highly developed sense of who was clean and unclean. The unclean could not enter the temple. The unclean are excluded, and people are so desperate to encounter Jesus that the sick are laid in the marketplace there among the food and goods people bought.
When people saw Jesus, they saw the one who gave life.
Then, go forward to the book of Acts. This episode immediately follows the pouring out of the Holy Spirirt at Pentecost. Peter and John are entering the temple. A man is outside the gates. Perhaps he was seen as unclean which is why he couldn’t enter the temple. But when he makes eye contact with Peter and John what does he see. Healers? No. He sees people who care and maybe they will give him a coin or two.
When Peter and John see this man they look at him with eyes of compassion. They don’t look past him, but look at him intently. They give him what they have. His feet and ankles are made strong and he receives life. When this man walks in to the temple, the people see the power of the Holy Spirit at work.
I believe that this scripture brings with it a powerful invitation for the church.
What if we began to see ourselves as centers of health and wellness in our community; and, what if our neighborhoods saw us as a place that created health.
This is the ministry I am involved in, the ministry you have supported me in doing.
I am a United Methodist pastor who is a member of the New Mexico Annual Conference, and as of the first of 2015, I am also a missionary with Global Ministries, serving at the Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio.
Our church is located in the South Side of Columbus, which is the poorest area of town. You have the South Valley, we have the South Side. And just like the South Valley, on the South Side you can plot out health indicators, and the health of our community is not good.
Compared to the rest of the county we are located in, the rate of respiratory disease is 73 percent higher, the death rate is 50 percent higher, and the infant mortality rate is more than three times the national average. On average, 6 babies per thousand don’t make their first birthday, in our neighborhood, among African American families, it is close to 20. Our community is one of the most dangerous places in the United States for an African American family to have a child.
And yet, when we look at our neighborhood we don’t see blight, we don’t see neglect, we don’t see lack, we see opportunity.
We see opportunities to build a healthy community—and in 2015 we distributed almost 600,000 pounds of free produce, engaged people in health coaching, taught people in wellness classes, and created new exercise programs and went on organized bike rides.
We see an opportunity to not only accompany people to healthy birth outcomes, but to celebrate first birthdays.
We see opportunity in people who are categorized as poor or marginalized or homeless, but who we see as people who have hopes and dreams and aspirations of becoming what God created them to be.
We see a world of abundance where there is enough for everyone and we see a community of opportunity where God is at work.
So I come here today to say thank you. Thank you for the ways you have supported me. Thank you for enabling my work as your missionary. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you. Because without you, we could not do this work.
But I come here today not only to thank you, but to invite you to see the opportunities in your community.
A month from now the global United Methodist Church will be gathering for General Conference. At Global Conference, Global Ministries is going to announce a new health initiative. The previous initiative was Imagine No Malaria, which had a huge impact on Africa, but this new initiative has the potential to have huge impacts on our communities.
It is a US Health initiative that is seeking to involve 10,000 churches in being centers of health in their neighborhoods. Churches are invited to do something in areas of physical activity, healthy diet and nutrition, addiction recovery, and mental health. Churches don’t have to do all of these things, they only have to do one thing. But every church doing one thing has the potential for others to change how they see the church.
What if when people saw a cross and flame attached to a building, they saw a place that was a center of bringing about the abundant life Jesus talked about?
How we see the world shapes how we engage the world around us.
This image on the screen is a modern depiction of Jesus. In the year 2000 the National Catholic Reporter put out a call for artists to submit entries on what Jesus would look like today. More than 1,700 entries came in and this was the winning selection.
Jesus of the poor.
Jesus of the marginalized.
Jesus of the people.
And yet, it is in these eyes that we can see healing and love and compassion. It is when we learn to see Christ in the eyes of the other that we find life.
In these eyes, we can find life ourselves and in these eyes we can see life in our churches as we become the ones who give life to our communities.
What do you see when you see Jesus? The one who invites all of us to be a part of God’s work in the world by brining life and bringing it abundantly.