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“You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice.” – Isaiah 66.14

Sometimes we do look at things, and people, and what we see does make our hearts rejoice – but not always.

The recent re-emergence into the news of Jon Venables,  one of Jamie Bulger’s killers, from all those years ago, also brought out again those eerie photographs of both of the killers, aged 10.  Eerie, because to look at those photographs again, knowing what we know now, is really quite disturbing, and certainly not something that would make our hearts rejoice.

And yet they are two human beings, created by God, two human beings who have committed a terrible act – but is there anything left there to make our hearts rejoice?

It is one of the great clichés of the Christian faith, that “We should hate the sin, but love the sinner!”, but can we do that with Thompson and Venables?  Or, indeed, with Peter Sutcliffe or Myra Hindley or Harold Shipman?

Sin obscures our vision of the person of the sinner, so that when we see them, we see not the person, but the sin.  The sin ‘clothes’ them with a new identity, disguises them.

This is obvious (and understandable) in the case of Thompson and Venables (and Sutcliffe/Hindley/Shipman), but it’s also true of all people.  We all carry our own sins and shortcomings with us, our own loads.  And these ‘loads’ become part of our own ‘self-image’, and of our image of other people.  We become ‘clothed’ what we have done, the good as well as the bad, but especially the bad!  We see the sin, in ourselves and in others, and that obscures our vision of the person beneath.

But God sees all!

This is, more often than not, seen in negative terms:  “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires know,
and from whom no secrets are hidden…” – God seeing all our innermost faults, all our ignoble thoughts and words and deeds.

But God is not fooled by what he sees!  He sees the sin, but he does not let that obscure his vision of the sinner.  He sees through our ‘clothing’, our mantle of sin, to the person beneath.

And he sees in that person infinite possibilities – possibilities for growth and renewal and life.

And seeing, he loves.

And loving, he gives substance to those possibilities.

It is that clear-sighted love, made real, and given substance in the person of Jesus,  and through the mystery of the cross – it is that unobscured love of God that rids us of our outer garment of sin and allows us to stand before him as his beloved people.

He sees and his heart rejoices – even though it is that heart that also knows the pain of the cross.

Our vision of what is real and what is not real, of what is true and what is not true, both in ourselves and in others, makes us what we are.

Increasing clarity in our vision, our awareness, draws us further along the path to God.  It changes us.  “We shall be like him [God]”, writes St John, “because we shall see him as he really is.”

Our vision is clouded by sin, so clouded that we find it hard indeed to see through that cloud in order to love what we see.

But we give thanks that God is not so blinded:
 – that he sees clearly…
 – that he knows completely…
 – that he loves totally…

Father,
grant us your vision,
that we may see,
and our hearts rejoice.

“In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week,
the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews.
Jesus came and stood among them.
He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.”
John 20.19

 “…the doors were closed…for fear of the Jews.”…!

 Fear is a very powerful human emotion…
          – and comes in two ‘varieties’…

 ■        ‘Outside Fear’…
          – fear that originates mainly ‘outside’ of ourselves…
          – fear of something real and threatening…
          – fear that has good reason to be…
                   – standing in the middle of the fast lane of a motorway
                   – climbing into a cage of hungry lions…
                   – being at the receiving end of an artillery bombardment…
          – a variety of fear that is relatively uncommon
                   – stuntmen, lion-tamers, and residents of the Middle East excepted…!

■        ‘Inside Fear’…
          – fear that originates mainly ‘inside’ of ourselves…
          – fear that starts in our hearts or our heads…
          – fear, not of ‘what is’,
                   but of ‘what might be’…
          – fear of the possible,
                   but not necessarily of the probable
          – fear that has little or no reason to be…
          – a very common variety of fear…

 The way that fear works is different for each variety…
         – the different sorts of fear have different sorts of power…

 ‘Outside’ fear releases adrenalin…
          – makes us alert…
          – gives us energy…
          – the ‘fight or flight’ response…

 ‘Inside’ fear, on the other hand, shackles and binds us…
          – makes us prisoners…
          – prevents us from living a full and free life…
          – disables and cripples us…

 When John writes that “the doors were closed…for fear of the Jews”
          – he means more than the physical doors of the room…
          – he means the emotional state of the disciples…
                   – abandoned/bereft…
                   – the doors of their hearts shut too…
                   – locked in by their own fear…

 We all have these ‘inside’ fears that shut and lock our hearts…
          – fear of humiliation or ridicule…
          – fear of what others might think of us…
          – fear of being shown up, or making a fool of ourselves…
          – fear of saying/doing the wrong thing…
          – fear of failing (ourselves/others)…
                   – the list is endless…

 Some of these fears may be grounded in reality…
          – many/most are not…
          – they are fears that exist only in our own heads
          – but they can still disable and cripple us…

 “Jesus came and stood among them.  He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.”

 Jesus comes to set us free…
          – he comes to break all the shackles that bind us…
          – he comes to unlock the gate to new/true life…
          – he comes to bring his peace to us…

 His resurrection demonstrates that the greatest limitation in life: death itself…
          – has been overwhelmed by his victory…

 And if the greatest limitation of all has been eradicated…
          – then so too all the lesser limitations…

 He has broken open, not only the closed doors of the tomb…
          – but also the closed doors of our hearts and lives…
          – we no longer have anything to fear…!

 Love has conquered death…                                                                             1Jn.4.18a
          – “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”                                       

 A rider to all this…
          – the Church has used the power of ‘inside’ fear…
          – particularly the fear of the consequences of sin…
          – and despite the clear assurances of Jesus that he has taken away our sin…

 When Jesus says…                                                                                           Jn.20.23
     “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;
      
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 …we perhaps too readily equate them with the ‘power of the keys’ given to Peter…     Mt.16.19
     “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
     
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

 …and interpret the words as meaning that the apostles can turn forgiveness on and off…!

 I think that Jesus more probably means that the more we hang on to the notion that our sins
(and those of others) can remain unforgiven, then the consequences are the same as if they were unforgiven…
          – in other words, we can, through an unwillingness to let sin go,
         actually feed that inner fear that shackles and locks us up…

 Jesus has forgiven our sin…
          – he has released us from it…
          – but we still seem to have the knack of hanging on to it…
          – and thereby letting it hang on to us…!

 Jesus comes and stands among us…
          – and says to our hearts: ‘Peace be with you – you are set free’.

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