That's the title of our church's Lenten series this year; also, it's the title of a famous gospel song. I confess to knowing the chorus pretty well, although I'm not sure why. It's by no means a Lutheran song, and I'm sure I didn't sing it at church growing up. But, I heard it somewhere, and it's been in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks now as I've been comtemplating the theme for Lent.
This year we're going to have a series of dramatic monologues on Wednesday in Lent.... Jesus through the eyes of.... Nicodemus (for example), or Peter, or Mary Magdalene. When they looked at Jesus, what did they see? And what do we see, when we turn our eyes upon Jesus? I hope our series will help us wonder about that, too?
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.
You know, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings when I hear, or sing, those words. Not most of them, actually. It's just that third line that makes me feel uncomfortable, "and the things of earth will grow strangely dim." Somehow those words sound a little escapist, as if the purpose of looking into Jesus' face is to escape from the troubles and problems of the world, to find that quiet nest with him, where we don't have to worry about the hungry, the poor, the unemployed, and the sickness and sadness in the world.
So, I struggle with this. Because I don't think Jesus wants to give up on feeding the hungry, on trying to create more justice, on comforting the grieving, on being healers. I don't think Jesus wants us to retreat to a little nest and forget about the things of the earth, like kids who can't read, like kids who join gangs.
Sometimes it's a temptation, though: I'll admit that I get overwhelmed sometimes. I make the mistake of reading the comment under news stories where people call each other names (like socialist, or fascist, or commie, for example) when they disagree. I get discouraged when I consider the ever-widening gap between haves and have nots, when I read yet another story about a soldier's death, this time in Afghanistan, when I think of all the people I know that are looking for work, all the young people who don't have a clue why the Christian church is even around. It's a temptation to give up.
But maybe when the song talks about the "things of earth", these are the things they mean: the insulting comments, the voices of discouragement, the voices of cynicism who whisper in my ear, "just give up." Maybe the things of earth are the hopeless voices, the voices that let poverty, fear and grief have the last word.
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Look Full in his wonderful Face
And the Things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
Because if we really turn our eyes upon Jesus, what do we see? We see one whose suffering love was willing to go the distance for us.
When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, what do you see?