"With the eyes of your heart enlightened"

November 21, 1999 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon  Ephesians 1:15-23

Twenty years ago last month, Karen and I were married. It was a day full of thanksgiving, even though it threatened to be just the opposite. I have often retold this story at wedding rehearsals, in order to get across the point that there is no such thing as a "perfect" wedding, and that life together is made up of moments which later may be remembered fondly, but at the time are lived through tenuously. Bear with me if you’ve heard it before, for I’m telling it again.

Karen and I arrived at that day having survived the "minefield" of premarital preparation. Now, most of you women who’ve been there were blessed with a man who let you do your own "thing" when it came to your wedding. Karen, however, chose to marry a minister, for better or worse. Enough said? We made it through our "creative discussions," even agreeing on a bulletin cover similar to the one you hold in your hand. It was, after all, a Fall wedding.

The rehearsal turned out fine, even though the restaurant for the meal had to cancel last minute; even though part of the wedding party arrived over a half hour late. We won’t mention who. Everything was ready, or so we thought. How, though, does one plan for a sick bride? That’s right, the night before was rough, and it was more than premarital jitters. The next morning we went together to the doctor, who gave Karen medicine for an infection. From there we went out to breakfast, though Karen didn’t eat, as she hadn’t for the last day or so.

As the hour approached, Karen felt worse and worse, huddled in her wedding gown under piles of coats on a church sofa. As for me, I paced the floor waiting for the same persons who had been late the night before. They finally arrived with minutes to spare, and the celebration proceeded. Actually, the ceremony turned out quite well. Karen was the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen as she came down the aisle. We sang hymns, received some good words from the preacher, washed each other’s feet, spoke our vows, and shared communion.

It was that last bit that made for trouble, however. Or, I should say, the "last bite." You see, we each broke off a piece of bread for the other. Karen tried to swallow hers, she really did. The grape juice finally got it down, where it hit an empty stomach and the fireworks began. During the final song, she swayed back and forth, and we all swayed back and forth with her, praying she’d make it. The pastor leaned over and whispered, "there’s a bathroom in my office, take her there." After the blessing, it was a very quick recessional! Let’s leave it at that.

The good part was that when we resumed with the receiving line, Karen and I sat down, which gave the photographer behind us the opportunity to get a picture, face forward, of everyone there. The rest of the day went fairly well, though Karen tired quickly. However, the story is not quite over. When we finally arrived at our motel that evening, the room we’d reserved had, by accident, not been cleaned from the previous guests. Since the night manager had walking pneumonia, I ended up cleaning the bathroom and making the bed. Meanwhile, Karen got into her sweatsuit for warmth and had me rub Ben Gay on her back. Then she rolled over and fell asleep, and I watched Saturday Night Live. It was an interesting way to begin a marriage, to say the least.

Yes, life together is made up of moments which later may be remembered with a chuckle, as I have done just now. But at the time it seems a bit different, doesn’t it?... Another moment that brings us together is this holiday we call "Thanksgiving." In this country, there are more people on the roads and in the air traveling in the next few days than any other week in the year. Where is everyone going? Wherever it is they consider "home," whether that place is where they grew up, or where the center of whatever they call "family" happens to be just now.

We have this image of Thanksgiving that often is fairly high above what the holiday often turns out to be. After all, people are people, and living together is never easy. Life is full of "creative discussions," some of which have created distances between us that even a jet plane can’t seem to cross. We try to set these differences aside as we gather around the table and eat. Furthermore, there are events beyond our control that burden our ability to celebrate, such as the death of a loved one in the past year. Holidays then become especially stressful. In spite of everything that seeks to intervene, though, the human heart longs to be thankful.

Let me offer some encouragement along the way of this journey, which may help us lift up our hearts in thanksgiving. Actually, the good word I want to share comes from the apostle Paul, and was written long ago to the believers in Ephesus. Now, I wish I could say that these were really personal words from Paul to some folks he knew well, as was the case with our scripture lesson last week from 1 Thessalonians. The truth is, Paul didn’t really know these people. He had merely heard of them, of their faith in Christ and love for one another. Even so, he wrote, "I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers." (1:16)

Many things seek to divide us. It’s funny how prayer unites us. Through the 20 years of our marriage, I have counted upon the prayer support of others, some of whose connection to Karen and I may have been only through God. It is a simple thing to remember someone in prayer, but how important it is! We think of this as we face troubling times and our need goes out through prayer chains and other means, but daily life together requires just as much spiritual support from others. Perhaps it is the most significant thing we do - to pray for others.

The encouragement shared in this morning’s scripture lesson is actually in the form of a prayer. This is what the apostle Paul was praying for those believers in Ephesus, whom he knew only through what he had heard. Maybe it can become our Thanksgiving prayer for one another.

"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him." (1:17) Wisdom and revelation ... the glue that holds life together. Wisdom comes with experience. It takes time to develop. Along the way from knowledge to wisdom we make all sorts of mistakes, which can either become barriers or stepping stones. We either learn from our failures, or we become imprisoned by them. Revelation comes with listening and watching. It, also, takes time to happen. What we "see" is not necessarily what is. How many years does it take for us to realize this? Along our journey we either get stuck in seeing things only one way, or we grow in humility - more able to admit our limitations.

Our faith informs us that real wisdom and true revelation flow from our relationship to God. As we grow in this relationship, as we come to know Christ, and as His Spirit becomes our life-breath, wisdom and revelation follow. "Seek first the kingdom of God," Jesus said, "and all these things will added unto you." That takes time. Paul’s prayer, our prayer (?), is that, with time and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we all might grow in knowing what is really real and seeing what is truly true...

After 20 years of marriage, do I really know my wife? In some ways, yes, but in many other ways she is much more than I can comprehend. This union between a man and woman is, as Paul also wrote, a "mystery." Wisdom appreciates what we don’t yet know, allowing what we don’t understand - just to be. Do I truly see my wife? Well, though I don’t often say it, she is more beautiful (on the outside and on the inside) to me today than on that day 20 years ago when she rose from her illness and walked down the aisle. But do I see all that she is? Not on your life. Revelation appreciates the unseen, leaving doors open we might be tempted to close... The same is true of all our relationships. Do you really know your family? Do you truly see them? Think about that as you journey toward this Thanksgiving holiday. Does being thankful only involve what we have known and seen?

"With the eyes of your heart enlightened," Paul continued, "(I pray that) you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power." (1:18-19) There is, indeed, much more than what we have known or seen thus far in our journey. Can we be thankful for this, also?

We have a hope in Christ Jesus that goes far beyond our present circumstances. This is not only a hope for his return, and for heaven off in the distant future. The Messiah is involved in our lives now, and his work in us is as yet unfinished. We are called to greater things. We may not know at this point what this calling is, or see where he is taking us. But our hearts are filled with hope, knowing that (as little orphan Annie alway said) "tomorrow is another day."

Furthermore, we have a treasure in Christ, an inheritance which cannot be taken away. Yes, we need to be thankful for the riches we have now. And we are rich, especially in comparison with the rest of the world. But in many ways we are also very poor. Our material goods get in the way of knowing and seeing our true treasure. Thanksgiving as a holiday is not just about the food heaped on the table, it’s about the relationships represented around the table, and the connection to the One who makes it all possible. Even more so, however, our hearts are filled with a treasure that we, as yet, do not fully know or see.

"God is great and God is good," that childhood table grace begins. Do we really know, can we truly see how great our God is? No. But there is a power at work in this world, in our lives, a resurrection power that is even now transforming everything. If our thankfulness only depended upon what has already happened, many of us would be lost in despair or bitterness. Face it, things often don’t turn out as we wish they would. Sometimes it seems there is nothing we can do to make it better. God, however, is at work, in ways we cannot know or see. Can we be thankful for this as well? Our prayer is for our great God to enlarge our hearts such that our thankfulness can embrace what was, what is, and what is to be - if only the eyes of this heart could see.

That’s the encouragement of Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus. Can it be our prayer as well? That God would, with wisdom and revelation born of our ongoing walk with Christ and His Spirit, help us to know beyond our understanding and to see beyond our vision, the hope to which we have been called, the riches of our inheritance, and the greatness of God’s power at work in us.

With the eyes of our hearts so enlightened, may we be full of thanksgiving. Amen.

1999Peter L. Haynes

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