The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Jennifer Allen, Bishop’s Curate for Mission

Matthew 14:13-20

 

 


“See Me”

Good morning! I’m so glad to be here with you today, sharing the gospel and worshipping.

At Bethany House and Garden, I am in the midst of revising our ministry plan, based on changes we have made with timing because of the pandemic and things that we have learned so far. A ministry plan relies heavily on understanding the ministry and its identity. Who we hope to be and who we hope to serve. Today’s epistle and gospel lesson tell a lot about identity.

The importance of knowing who and what we are and how our identities work in our communities. Understanding our identities help us to know one another.

One of my favorite images teaches me about knowing one another each time I look at it. The piece is a wood engraving by Fritz Eichenberg, called “Jesus in the Breadlines.” In it, Eichenberg portrays Jesus standing in line with a group of the hungry. When I see that image, I always wonder, “would I know Jesus if he was just hanging out in an everyday scene?”

Jesus asks his disciples a version of that question, Do they know me? When he asks, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The disciples answer in much the same way that most of us answer the question of “who am I?” A quick surface answer. “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” They don’t take the chance of being wrong and asserting anything specific. Asking them to dig deeper, Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” For once, I imagine Simon Peter pausing before blurting out, considering the question before answering, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter provides perhaps the riskiest response we can give someone who asks us who we are to them, he provides the truth.

It’s a risk to be truly known. To be known not by the surface image we may carefully curate for ourselves on social media, not for the persona we use in public, but to be known as our true authentic selves, unadorned and unhidden. It’s risky.

And, yet, in this world of texting, Zoom meetings, and emails, we yearn to be truly known. To be seen for who we really are.

In Isaiah’s call narrative, the LORD asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response is usually translated as, “Here am I, send me.” The Hebrew translated as here am I, chuni, is better translated as, “See me”

See me. The words of the prophet are a prayer, see me Lord. See me as I am and send me.

We yearn to be known. To be seen. But how can we be known, until we know ourselves? Until we understand the gifts God has given us and embrace those gifts and accept who we truly are without shame, so that we can be our authentic selves and be truly known.

Paul helps us to crack that code a little bit and unwrap this knowing and seeing.

Paul reminds his congregation in Rome that they are all parts of the body and have a specific role. The hand can’t function as a heart, and the heart can’t be the brain, and the brain can’t be a foot. Our gifts are what help us to be a part of the body, and our role as a part of the body is as important as any other part. Regardless of what our gifts are, we are important to the body of Christ. We are needed. And in that role, we are seen.

Too often, we spend time trying to be something we aren’t. Something safe, something tame. Yet, to be known, we have to be authentically us. We have to be vulnerable enough so that others can know us.

It is surprisingly difficult for us to be the foot and not the hand. Or the heart and not the brain. I think the only way to be able to be our authentic selves is to understand that God loves us, as we are. God loves us as we were made and the gifts that God has given us are more than enough. For me, God’s love is the only path I have found for the courage I need to be my authentic self. And I need daily reminders that God has found me to be “good enough.” I need constant help to be able to live into who I was made to be.

Who are you?

It would be much easier if all we had to do was be our authentic self, difficult as it is. But we also have to fight our way through the perceptions of others to be seen and truly known. Jesus in the breadline becomes just another hungry person if we use a broad brush to define everyone in the breadline.

And we do use broad brushes. Those who dwell on the margins are often unseen. I remember a homeless man in New York who always had the same sign next to him, “I might as well be invisible.” Unseen, unknown. Yearning for someone, anyone, to see him as a human being with hopes, dreams, and gifts. Yearning for relationship…this man could very well be the prophet, preacher, minister, teacher, giver, leader or the compassionate one we need. This unseen man could be the link to making our community whole.

It is this homeless man in New York who comes to mind when I think of the unified body Christ wants us to be. I wonder how many other members of the body have become invisible to us and how we can hope to function without all the diverse and beautiful parts of the body.

Who do you not see?

Our understanding of God is tightly woven with who we understand ourselves to be and who we are able to see. When we only see who we want to see in the mirror and around us, God becomes a dim reflection of who God truly is. And God’s actions in the world become clouded. We begin to see in God only what we want to see. The God we see becomes an idol of our own making.

When we are able to truly see who we ourselves are, and when we are able to see all of God’s children for who they are, we begin to open up our view of God. We begin to see God’s actions more clearly. We stop seeing an image of a false god and we begin to enter into an understanding of God and ourselves in the world that transcends our curated selves and begins to reflect God’s truth.

Our relationship with the unknowable God is tightly bound with our relationship with our own selves and with each other. It is tightly bound up with the question of “Who do you say that I am?”

Who are you? Are you ready to answer the question without avoiding authenticity?

Who is invisible to you? Are you ready to see those you fail to see?

Who do you say that your fellow believers are? Are you ready to let those around you be authentically themselves?

Who do you see and who do you not see, and what does that say about who you say that Jesus is? When the Lord asks you, “who do you say that I am?” Are you prepared to pause, enter into vulnerability, and answer thoughtfully, “you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God?”

Amen.