There was a farmer who scratched out a meager living off a terrible piece of farm land in South Carolina. He had the worst time growing crops on his land before he finally, after a particularly sad harvest, gave up, sold his land, and went to work in a factory. The man who bought his land noticed the poor vegetation on the property. He therefore didn’t pay much for the acreage. One day, walking over his property, he noticed a strange outcropping of white rock. He had always been interested in geology. He chipped some of the rock and took it to a geologist friend for analysis. To make a long story short, he eventually sold the property for millions. His land contained a huge deposit of a mineral used in the processing of aluminum and other metals. One man was on the land and didn’t notice its value. Another man’s background and curiosity led him to discover something wonderful.
As teenagers, we closed our Sunday night youth group meeting as we all gathered in a circle, held hands, closed our eyes and sang, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full at his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” As teenagers, jerked around by our emotions, our hormones, our fears and dreams, it was difficult to be attentive. Therefore we rightly sang, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”
That, one might say, is the goal of all our worship.
Now that same day (resurrection day) two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Some women went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
The poet, Robert Browning, spoke of the difference between the sort of person for whom almost every common bush is afire with the presence of God and other people who just walk by the bush picking blackberries. It’s all a matter of perception, attentiveness. It takes guts to pay attention, to try to look the world in the face. Taking notice of the world is a courageous, moral act. I have sympathy with those who check out, who comfort themselves with simplistic, reductionistic clichés and platitudes, who stop asking, cease probing, reaching out, touching or being touched. Yet my sympathy makes me respect all the more those who dare to pay attention. The cost of consciousness is great. Pain is the price we pay for attention. Life is not really lived unless it is lived in a state of consciousness. An agnostic believes that when the bear climbs up the mountain there may or may not be something on the other side. On the other hand, what do you call someone who is too lazy or too cowardly even to climb up the mountain and dare to look?
I want us to think of your presence here in church this Sunday as paying attention. You are a member of a minority of modern Americans who have expended the time and effort to attempt to love God, and to risk thereby being loved by God. While visiting up in the Black Hills, I was able to go into a number of art shops. Art is learning to pay attention to the world because people paint life. My daughter Brooks loves Monet, however, when I look at an impressionist painting I want to adjust my glasses because it seems out of focus. I want “realism.” If you’ve ever noticed art, you know that it takes time, training. You get better at noticing it as you go along. When you first look at a great painting, it may not seem great to you at all. It takes time to know what the artist is up to, how the painting is asking you to expand your ways of seeing and knowing. In today’s Scripture, Jesus steps out before his disciples and says “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. It’s a shocking statement. Maybe he had to shock them in order to get their attention. Earlier he had called himself “bread that came down from heaven”. But here, when he says, “eat my flesh,” we perk up and wonder what on earth (or heaven) he is talking about.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. There are so many things in our world that conspire to distract us, to keep us from being attentive to God. Our world has powerful forces that mitigate against an awareness of the presence of Christ among us. Therefore we gather on Sunday in an earnest effort to pay attention.
Paul was right when he wrote to the Hebrews, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.