Recognizing Jesus In Our Midst

Rev. Martha Jacobs
Recognizing Jesus In Our Midst
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, John 20:1-18
Sunday, April 1, 2018      Easter Sunday

There’s nothing more frustrating than a computer that doesn’t work or a faith that doesn’t work for you.

We have had several issues with our computer systems this year which is why this comparison comes to mind. There is something very frustrating about having a computer sitting right there on your desk and it won’t talk to the printer that is right next to it. I want to say to the printer – look the computer is right here – don’t you see it! Likewise, I want to say to the computer – look the printer is right here! Don’t you see it? Why don’t you see it? Why can’t you do your wireless thing and identify this printer? Why can’t you just make it happen? It’s so frustrating!

I have to admit that sometimes, I feel like that with God, too. I get frustrated with God. I wonder why God can’t just make something happen. Why God can’t just connect to my heart and soul. I am looking for God and while God may be right next to me, I can’t connect. We are the ideal wireless receptors because God also wants to be connected to us – and yet sometimes, just like my computer, that connection just doesn’t seem to work.

That connection with God wasn’t working for Mary as she looked for Jesus’ body on that Sunday morning long ago. I guess Jesus did not look like what she expected. After all, she expected him to be dead, to be lying in the tomb. She had not looked around for a living being, but rather was looking for one who had died.

We do something similar, sometimes. We expect someone to look or act one way, and they look or act in a way that we don’t expect. Or we see something happen and it is not what we expected, so we wonder if our eyes are playing tricks on us. Or, we are focused so hard on one thing that we miss what else is going on.

There was an article written recently for the Journal of Academic Medicine by a medical student who had done his rotation at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. He wrote it after spending time with the chaplains at NYP, who, like most chaplains, approach patients and situations very differently. He found that the way they engage and really listen to patients beyond their physical problems, can truly help both the doctor and the patient by inviting them to see things in a different light. You see, chaplains are trained to look for other than what is obvious. In this article, I was reminded of a study that was done many years ago about “inattentional blindness.”

A group of people were asked to watch a videotape of a basketball being passed around. Their assignment was to count the number of times the ball was passed between the people who were wearing white tee shirts. There were also several people in black tee shirts passing around a different ball, but they were not to count them. After about 30 seconds of these people passing a basketball around, a woman in a gorilla suit sauntered into the scene, faced the camera, thumped her chest and walked away. The people who were passing the ball did not react to the gorilla.

Amazingly, when the researchers asked if they had seen anything unusual, half the viewers missed the gorilla. In fact, some people looked right at the gorilla and did not see it. That is inattentional blindness. This “gorilla experiment” became rather well known because people could not believe that we humans could miss a gorilla right in front of us.

Subsequently, a group of psychologists at Harvard decided to study this phenomenon in medicine. They found that expert radiologists who were asked to identify nodules on CT scans, consistently failed to notice a large gorilla icon that appeared on some of the imaging scans. They were focused solely on finding the nodules.

These surprising results demonstrate that when we face demanding mental tasks, we can miss prominent, and seemingly obvious, things that are right before our eyes.

As this and other tests have proven, we usually see only a small subset of our visual world. And, when our attention is focused on one thing, we fail to notice other, unexpected things around us—including those we might want to see, like a person parading around in a gorilla suit.

So, what does this have to do with Easter and Mary and the Disciples? Mary wanted to see Jesus. But, she was focused on looking for his lifeless body. It took Jesus saying her name for her to refocus her mind and open her eyes to new possibilities.

The disciples also had inattentional blindness when they chose not to believe Mary when she told them that she had seen Jesus alive. They too were expecting to see a lifeless body, not someone who was walking around. Even though Jesus had told them that he would return to be with them, their wireless connection was not working. It took Mary, a woman, one who was thought to be among the lowest in the chain of humanity during Jesus’ time, to bring them the good news that Jesus was not dead. He was alive and would see all of them again soon. Mary represents the voice of hope by sharing with the other disciples what had happened in that garden.

In the end, this story isn’t just about Jesus. It is about Mary having the courage to open her eyes to new possibilities. Once she refocuses on what is happening now and not what happened in the past – her expectations change. She recognizes Jesus not as he was when she last saw him on the cross, but how he was in this encounter on Easter morning – reborn, ready to take on a new role in her life, and in ours, too.

As I said earlier, there have been times in my life (and I am guessing in yours too,) when I have been frustrated with God. When I forget about Easter morning and God taking on a new role in my life. In those times, I think God and my faith have failed me. I am certain that there isn’t a connection between God and me. In those moments, I have felt so alone, so lost. But, then, someone stops and helps me. Or they offer to lead me where I need to go either physically or spiritually. When I look back, it is pretty obvious that my wireless connection to God was working. I was just not seeing it. I was experiencing “inattentional blindness”. I was focused on my problem or the issue facing me and not seeing the gorilla that for me, was a human being, stepping in to help me. You see, every time we respond to someone who has a need, is in pain or is feeling that they are an outcast or not worthy, we are pointing out to them the gorilla in the midst of their on-going life.

This past week, a member of our church, who is going through a difficult situation, shared with me that she was afraid she was going to lose her faith during this really scary and trying time. Her eyes showed her fear and she had a deeply worried look on her face. She was focused so intently on what was happening for her that I think she forgot that one of the reasons she is part of our faith community is the love and support we offer each other. And, we take praying seriously. We pray knowing that we are making a difference for someone, whether they are named aloud or not. I was able to assure her that we would be praying for her and maintaining the connection to God for her, just in case she could not. Her face relaxed and she smiled. Knowing that others were going to be supporting and praying for her, brought her great solace and peace. It eased her emotional pain.

You see, like Mary, we too represent the voice of hope every time we respond with love to those who are in need. We meet Jesus again and again in different but very real face-to-face experiences of resurrection, when we are able to look beyond the expected to what is unexpected. And, when we can reach out to those who are afraid that their connection to God has gone silent, we can help them to meet Jesus again and again in moments of resurrection and in moments of great crisis.

So, if you feel frustrated that your wireless connection to God is not working or if you feel like your faith has let you down, I invite you to take another look. Change your focus, change your attention from what is happening in the moment. Who knows, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of God at work, connecting to you in a way that may surprise you.

Or, if you feel like your wireless connection to God is working well right now, look around – there may be someone God is hoping you will be alert enough to help. We all go through times when we feel disconnected to God – but I believe at those times, God is as close to us as Jesus was in the garden with Mary, but for whatever reason, we can’t see or feel God.

Certainly, at our communion table, we find the ongoing steady presence of God and God’s love for us. This Easter morning, with all the other things going on in our lives – Easter egg hunts, chocolate highs, wondering if our brunch or dinner will be as good as we hope – I ask that you try to put those thoughts aside; don’t allow “inattentional blindness” to keep you from seeing the Risen Christ here with us. Just look at the person next to you – that person may be your wireless connection to God when you don’t feel you can connect to God yourself.

I pray that as we celebrate communion this Easter Sunday, you will feel God’s presence in new and different ways that will propel you to reach out to someone who you see has a need. Invite them to see God in a new and different way – through you. Then, they too may recognize Jesus, the Risen Christ, in our midst.

Missing the Gorilla, Teodoro, Nicholas MPH, Academic Medicine: February 2018 – Volume 93 – Issue 2 – p 207.

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