The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Flaws and All
Oh, mirrors. Every day they tempt us with us. We give in and there staring back at us are all our flaws. In the mirror is that one white hair in a sea of brown. There's the solitary blemish surrounded by beautiful clear skin. And that one tooth that doesn't quite fall in line with the others. Amidst such great beauty, God’s own handiwork, we have this tendency to see only the flaws. It's not that they are not there, it's just that the flaws are such a small part of who we are; they not certainly the whole story. They are true, but they are not the truth.
Most days I look right past my sparkling green eyes, and see only the bags under them. I miss these full, pink lips, because of the little lines around them – these lines earned by age and stress. It’s all part of the picture but no one detail is the whole truth. There is more to me, and to you, than the mirror will ever show. Lara Biyuts wrote, “Mirrors don't lie. They show only a part of truth.” And I suppose that is true.
There is a lot going on behind our eyes. It makes it very difficult day to day to truly see ourselves. Mostly we focus on tiny parts. We underestimate and criticize the reflection staring back at us. We see in ourselves bits of truth but never the whole truth.
With just two eyes, belonging to just one person, we collect a multitude of perceptions and opinions; we can find a lot of flaws. And then we collect ourselves into communities – a lot of eyes, belonging to a lot of people – a lot of eyes trained to find flaws. And flaws we have, of course. But we're not alone. Today's scriptures contain some pretty flawed characters too.
To begin with, the Isaiah community, which I explained last week, is being addressed while in exile. And because that is a really big thing, they cannot see past the reality of their immediate situation. God is trying to open their eyes to the larger truth, but they cannot see it. They can only see their own mistakes. To God they say, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”
When they look in the mirror they see their unworthiness; they see a community that has been beaten down. And, to a point that is true. They were defeated. They are living in exile. And while it is not all their fault, the prophet reminds us elsewhere in the book that their past behaviors have contributed to their downfall. They cannot see past the flaws. What they see is true, but it is not the whole truth.
God sees something else – something all those eyes belonging to all those people, cannot see. God says to them, “You are my servant in whom I will be glorified.” God sees in them a light – a light to the nations. They are God's perfect partner – that's what God sees. God wants to spread salvation to the ends of the earth. And God chooses them. They see themselves as deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers. They see the flaws. But God sees so much more; God sees the truth beyond the flaws. And God chooses them – flaws and all.
Don't let the intro fool you, Paul's letter to the Corinthians will get pretty rocky later on. It was like looking into a broken mirror; there were a lot of cracks. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians details in fighting, jockeying for spiritual superiority, class inequalities playing out around the Communion table. They had their issues; they could see the flaws. There were cracks and they were pretty obvious. Paul will later not be shy about confronting those issues.
But their flaws were not the whole story; there was more there than just the blemishes. Were they flawed? Of course; they are a church after all. The members are human. But God saw beyond the flaws, beyond the brokenness.
God can, and does, work with flawed human beings; God can work with brokenness. That is basically God's thing; it is hard to understand, but it is. Paul, very pastorally, though also firmly, reminds a fractious church of this very important fact. The community is not perfect; but they are more than their brokenness. When God looks at them, God sees past their flaws.
When God looks at them God sees Jesus – Jesus, who is making them, even them, holy, calling them to be saints. Maybe only God could see it – they were a quarrelsome group, gifted but quarrelsome. On the surface there was division and pain, jealousy and pride. Somehow God saw beyond the flaws; God saw the beautiful Body of Christ – gifted to share the Gospel with the world. They had their problems; their problems were not insignificant. But God loved them – flaws and all.
Our Gospel passage from John is the story of Jesus' first disciples. Jesus is building his team. And it begins with an open house. Andrew and his buddy start tailing Jesus. Jesus notices and asks them, “What are you looking for?” And they ask him where he is staying. If this happens to you – two random dudes start following you and then ask you where you live, don't respond like Jesus. He says, “Come and see.”
Of course, we know it was about more than the home; Jesus was inviting them to come and see. Have their eyes opened. There is something about being in the presence of Jesus, being with Jesus, that changes how we see the world, how we see ourselves, how we see God. Andrew came to Jesus as a stranger, as a simple fisherman, a nobody. And Jesus opened his eyes.
Eyes wide opened, he ran to get his brother Simon. Now, we know Simon; we usually call him Peter. We know the stories. Simon has his flaws. He will deny Jesus. He will doubt Jesus. He will abandon Jesus. But that is not the whole story; there is more to it. Jesus looks at Simon and he sees in this flawed character the Rock upon which the Church will be built. Andrew and Simon Peter were a couple of pretty ordinary guys, less than perfect, flawed characters: Jesus called them – flaws and all.
Today is our Parish Annual Meeting Sunday. Today we once again look in the mirror. We take stock. And we're gonna see some flaws. It is inevitable. Our financial situation is less than ideal. We're still trying to rebuild our endowment from a rough patch in our history – years ago. And our church is made up of people – us people, none of us perfect.
The flaws are there; that is true. But there is so much more to this church than the flaws. If we focus on our flaws, we will miss so much. God is doing amazing things with us and through us. This is an exciting time in the history of our parish. We are growing – in a lot of ways. God is opening us to new possibilities. God is offering us hope and a future.
The truth is God sees in us so much more than we can see in ourselves. Yes, we have challenges. Sure we have flaws. We aren't perfect. But God is not looking for perfection. God wants us – St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Toledo, Ohio.
God believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. Because God sees in us more than we see in our selves. God is choosing us, loving us, calling us – flaws and all.