My mother recently shared an experience she had, and as they say in my business, “It’ll preach!” She was telling me about an exchange she had with another lady in her exercise class. Evidently there comes a point in their exercise class when they have to stand on one leg to stretch and it requires good balance. In order to keep one’s balance it is important to fix one’s eyes on a point either on the floor or on the wall. My mother’s exercise class happens at a Presbyterian church in my hometown, and they meet in the parish hall. Up until this particular morning, my mother had chosen a fixed point on the floor, which was usually a clump of dirt or dust. She said that it had become easier and easier to find those clumps of dirt and dust because the church had not had a sexton or cleaner of any sort for a long time. As the class was wrapping up one of these balancing exercises, my mother turned to her friend next to her and said, “since this floor has so many dirt spots, it’s easy to find one for focusing.” Her friend replied, “Oh, I don’t look at the floor. I look at the cross on the wall.” My mother thought about it for a second, and then said, “You’re right! That’s a much better place to focus.” The friend then said, “That sounds like a sermon, doesn’t it?” “Yes it does,” my mother replied. Like I said, “it’ll preach.”
I think this story illustrates a point that we all need to hear, and it reminds me of those words of Saint Paul to the church in Corinth as he described the nature of his ministry among them. Through all the exercises of life and ministry, he “decided to know nothing among [the Corinthians] except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The cross of Christ was always the spot where Paul’s eyes were fixed. It’s so tempting to look down and to be consumed by the dirt and dust of the world and in our own sinful and selfish hearts. Even when we are engaged in ministry, let alone the everyday changes and chances of this mortal life, we can do it without keeping our eyes on the only reference point that will keep us on our feet.
I was reading and meditating on Psalm 85 this morning and I came to verses 4-7. The Psalmist writes,
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,
and grant us your salvation.
This Psalm is most likely referring to the oppression of Israel by the Philistines, and King David’s vision is fixed on the dirt and dust of the pain and affliction he and the nation are experiencing. To his credit, though, he is looking for another place to fix his eyes, and he’s asking the Lord to provide it. Couldn’t this psalm just as easily be the prayer on many of our hearts? There is good news for us, though. When we cry out, “Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation,” God gives us just the place to fix our eyes, and that’s the glorious cross of his son, our savior, Jesus Christ. The way up out of the dirt and dust is through the cross. The sign of the steadfast love and salvation of the LORD is the cross.
Where are your eyes fixed? Let us decide to know nothing but the cross and fix our eyes there. If we will, we can stand firm!
[Coming Close is a regular blog by our Dean and Rector, The Very Rev. R. Peet Dickinson IV]