Toorak Uniting Church

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Seeing Beyond

Psalm 121   Hebrews 11: 8 – 16
Rev. Dr Ron Savage
2 April 2006

When we return from Australia to Northern Ireland and are looking back, most around us will be looking forward to their vacation, lifting their eyes above the daily routine to the hope of relaxation and change of scenery – and perhaps climate. It is great to be able to see beyond the immediate weather and chores and problems to something more attractive or relaxing.

Some years ago when we arrived in New Zealand we were driven from the airport by my friend Ted through the gathering dusk to a village an hour from Christchurch. We turned in amongst trees and up the driveway to his house and fell into bed about 1 am. He told us that, in the morning, we would have something worth seeing beyond the trees when we opened the curtains. I was first up and when I looked out behind the woodland was a mountain scene that made me draw in my breath and tell Margie she must come at once to see it. Great purple mountains, rugged and snow-capped, looked as if they had been painted rather than real and almost within reach! Down in the village farmers, shoppers, delivery people, commuters went about their immediate business – but we looked beyond and were inspired.

Another visit took us to a former school friend of Margie’s. We were surprised to find she no longer wore spectacles – or contact lenses. Her sight had improved dramatically. Her husband John, an airline pilot, had been used taking eye exercises in flight as they are taught, and when she saw an ad about eye exercise training she went to the classes. By constantly refocusing on far away objects she had improved her vision. Unfortunately I did not get all the details and Margie and I still have the specs.

But I read recently of a woman whose work demanded constant reading. Having difficulty with her eyes, she went to see her doctor, who told her her eyes were just tired and she needed to rest them. She thought this would be impossible in her line of work. "Do you have windows where you work?" he asked. "Yes, one looks out over the city roofs and buildings and onto green fields and from another I can see way over the city and to the hills." "That’s what you need," he told her. "When your eyes feel tired, leave the computer screen, books and papers and look out at the hills for 5 minutes – the far away view will rest your eyes." She needed to see beyond her papers, her books and computer screen. The Psalm we read could have told her so. "I will lift my eyes to the hills." But it tells us more.

"I will lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
It comes from the Lord who made the heavens and the earth."

The Psalmist refers to how people in troubled times might have looked to the hills in hope of their tribal militia appearing over the ridge for their relief and rescue. In our Lord’s time the people might have looked to the hills where insurgents hid out and emerged from time to time to harass the Roman convoys whose forces occupied their land.

But the writer knows to look beyond the hills. He looks beyond to the one whose creative work produced the mountains and the sky above them and whose power far exceeds all human forces and whose rule is over all. His little song teaches his people to see beyond and encourages us, too, to look to the God of earth and heaven. There are those who pass our church doors because they think we have within a very restricting view of life. What they do not know is that we can see far beyond these walls. It’s like entering the Tardis in the BBC television series ‘Dr Who’. Here we can see as far as eternity.

In the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a fanatical Pharisee who was opposed to Christianity and all the Apostles stood for, he is blinded in a conscience-stricken encounter with the living Lord on the way to Damascus to lay hands on Christians and have them imprisoned. He is led to lodgings in the city where Ananias, a devout and forgiving Christian, comes to see him and prays with him. It is as if scales fall from his eyes and he receives his sight. On the Damascus road with eyes closed he could see further and understand more than he ever could with his eyes open. The Lord opened the eyes of his mind and he threw open the windows of his soul to see beyond. Saul of Tarsus became St Paul the Apostle and evangelist. When the windows of our soul are darkened we need a miracle of grace and divine forgiveness to see beyond.

We need to see beyond

1.     Problems and Difficulties

The Psalmist with alarm all around says "The Lord is your keeper." "The Lord will keep you from all evil, he will keep you as you come and go, now and always." He has lifted his eyes beyond the troubles to the Lord over all. Our political difficulties in Northern Ireland are a reflection of his difficulties. All around people only see the immediate problems, and irritations – the SF/IRA and UUF/UDA organised violence and community control, the paramilitary crime, parades difficulties at Drumcree, Ardoyne and elsewhere, suspect politicians gaining respect and influence. But do we not need to trust in the Lord and see beyond as Ananias saw beyond the immediate danger of Saul? And the same in personal problems with relationships, health, finances. The Lord is your keeper.

I will lift up my eyes…. to see the beyond.

We need to see beyond

2.     The Sins and The Sinner

Some give up hope about others’ improvement. "They will never change," is often our thought. And some give up on themselves. When I hear the same faithless talk, observe the same godlessness in people I have known for years, remember how they promised to be in church and bring up children Christianly and never do, I am tempted to give up and write them off. When I see people with a faith no further advanced than it was in Primary School I despair of them.

But that is not as Christ sees us. He sees more.

Bishop Mehaffey in a BBC ‘Thought for the Day’ told of moving to a new home on retirement and purchasing self assembly furniture. Boxes of screws, shelving, pieces of wood, seemed a bewildering and hopeless pile. His son suggested looking at the instruction book. But it ran to 20 pages. However, the task was done eventually and the furniture stood. How? He said the key thing was to keep the picture of the finished product in mind.

None of us are finished products as yet. So we need to see beyond what we are to what we can become by the grace of God.
//Sometimes we are looking at the wrong thing. The Psalmist confesses this in Psalm 73:-

"My feet had almost slipped – for I was envious of the arrogant. I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pain, their bodies are sleek and sound. They are not in trouble as others are…people praise them." "Then I went to the sanctuary of God and perceived their end…." "They are a nightmare…Ruin awaits them; terrors."
He began to see beyond. Unlike them he could have God forever.//

John wrote "It does not yet appear what we shall be – but when Christ appears we shall be like him."

We need to see beyond

3.     The Earthly To The Heavenly

Jesus would have said we need a vision of the Kingdom of God. He provided that vision as he came preaching that the Kingdom of God had come near. He was its embodiment full of grace and truth, caring and sharing, forgiving and guiding.

The writer to the Hebrew Christians takes Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as examples of those who saw beyond. They took God at his word and believed they would become a people for his purposes of salvation in the world. They received children, prosperity and a land of their own. But their ambition was beyond these earthly things. They believed there was more to life than meets the eye. Beyond all earthly territory they believed in the Kingdom of God – a heavenly city. Their citizenship was in a better country. Later writers called it a New Jerusalem. St Paul uses the same analogy writing to Christians in towns in Asia Minor which were colonised by retired Roman civil servants and military personnel. He says the Christian communities there were little colonies of Heaven on earth.

//Jews of the Diaspora began to use the phrase in every celebration of the Passover "next year in Jerusalem". Every colonist longs for home. But our true home is not Jerusalem or Rome –Belfast or Melbourne! It is Heaven with Christ our Saviour. In Holy Communion the phrase we use nearest to the Passover phrase about Jerusalem is "till he come"//.

Paul says Christians look beyond – to the time when Christ will take them to the Heavenly country. Meanwhile they live on earth with their eyes on the beyond and replicate Heaven on Earth as best they can by the grace of God.

Finally, we need to see beyond

4.     The Physical To The Spiritual

We are more than physical beings who hunger and thirst and lust and eat and sleep and work and are entertained. We have longings that have no physical answer. "My heart and my soul cry out for the living God as a hunted deer longs for running water, "says Psalm 42. But many people are confused and short sighted. They seek satisfaction in the wrong places. Sankey’s old gospel hymn was spot on:

"Now none but Christ can satisfy; no other name for me;

there’s love and life and lasting joy Lord Jesus found in thee."

Lift your eyes. See beyond.

© Rev. Dr Ron Savage, 2006


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