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Though technology streamlines communication in so many ways, it is all too easy to miss the nuances that help us feel empathy for one another. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” Rev. John Weems explores the significance of this statement in Paul’s day, and in ours.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

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If there is one place today that darkness is thriving, it is in the form of Internet trolls posting comments and hiding behind their keyboards. For those of you who have managed to avoid this phenomenon, an Internet troll is a term officially included in the Oxford Dictionary as, “A person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online post.”

Trolls tend to attack innocent victims without provocation.

Here is a purely hypothetical example.

Let’s say I have a scale, but I don’t like how much it tells me I weigh. So I buy four more scales that still tell me I’m heavier than I would prefer. An Internet troll would then start to Tweet messages such as: FAKE SCALES. Loser scales. FAILING SCALES.

Since this is a hypothetical example, let’s look at a real one.

One real Internet troll tweeted, “Dippin’ Dots is NOT the Ice Cream of the Future” about a company to which they have no discernable connection. He continued to troll for more than five years with insults, such as, “If Dippin’ Dots was really the ice cream of the future they would not have run out of vanilla.”[1]

Sometimes Internet trolls become the White House Press Secretary (or even higher).

Though common wisdom suggests that the victim should not engage the troll, the victim occasionally stands up for itself. This was the response from Dippin’ Dots to Sean Spicer:

“Dear Sean,

We understand that ice cream is a serious matter. And running out of your favorite flavor can feel like a national emergency! We’ve seen your tweets and would like to be friends rather than foes. After all, we believe in connecting the dots.

As you may or may not know, Dippin’ Dots are made in Kentucky by hundreds of hard working Americans in the heartland of our great country. As a company we’re doing great. We’ve enjoyed double-digit growth in sales for the past three years. That means we’re creating jobs and opportunities. We hear that’s on your agenda too.”

The Dippin’ Dots CEO offered to treat the White House to a free ice cream social—the most generous response a troll could receive.

Though Spicer’s feud with Dippin’ Dots is relatively inane, there are cases in which it becomes very serious. When producers remade Ghostbusters with female lead actresses including Leslie Jones, who happens to be black, racist trolls relentlessly attacked her with comments I will not repeat here. There are cases of this evil leading victims to take their own lives. Thankfully Leslie Jones is still standing strong.

Citing a study of more than 1,200 people, Psychology Today reports that researchers found clear links between trolling and the “Dark Tetrad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. They found such a deep connection “. . . that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists.”[2]

This church gets trolled from time to time, including last week when an anonymous person by the name of “Digger 4 Jesus,” wondered if we have ever read the Bible. Digger asserted that if we had, we would know that women are to remain silent, and we could not possibly allow a lady pastor to serve.

I started to type a response assuring Digger 4 Jesus that I have read the Bible in English, Hebrew, Greek, and some Aramaic. Having done that, I am confident that the Rev. Joann H. Lee is every bit as called by God as I am.

I decided not to give Digger the engagement he or she was seeking.

As the great theologian Taylor Swift once said, “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate . . . Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off

We cannot control the trolls.

How did people get so mean, and what do we do about it?

Today we continue our series on “Love Is/Love Is Not?”

When our younger son attended a public elementary school in the Richmond District, one of his classmates was very aggressive on the playground and disruptive in the classroom. He was bigger than many of the other kids and would pick on them. Naturally, the other kids and parents labeled him a mean kid, a bully. We talked to Zachary about the situation and raised the possibility that Brady had a tough situation at home and was acting out. Zach befriended Brady and over time, the bullying stopped. But in the second half of the year, Brady missed several days of school. When he returned, he had visible bruises. This pattern repeated several times. Something was not right.

We cannot tolerate the behavior of bullies. At the same time, there is almost always more going on beneath the surface.

Over the past few weeks, we have explored the deeper meaning of love in First Corinthians. We have looked to the Bible, C.S. Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn that love is not a passive response—it is love in action. By looking at hooba, the word for love in Jesus’ mother tongue of Aramaic, we have considered that love is initiated by God and is not a warm-fuzzy feeling that we can manufacture for ourselves. Thus, it does not mean that we are magically expected to want to hug and become friends with hateful people. Selfless agape love does call us to seek to understand what is behind the behavior and to see others as God sees them. Jesus modeled this on the cross when he pardoned those who had crucified him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[3]

Today we will focus on 1 Corinthians 13:12 that doesn’t always make the cut at weddings: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Love is not weak. God initiates Love. And Love sees beneath the surface.

The Apostle Paul had founded a church in which people who would not normally be together were joined in community. They were rich, poor, educated and uneducated. Some were devout and others were there to get a free meal. He admonished them to remember that they were called to be one body in Christ and that no one could see the full essence of another.

Why is it so hard to understand our neighbors’ perspectives and tolerate them, much less love them and love strangers?

My friend J.B. shared a resource that helps explain our dilemma.

Social psychologist and NYU Stern School of Business Professor Jonathan Haidt explores the question of “Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” in The Righteous Mind and an excellent TED Talk you may watch online. He says that our righteous minds are set to unite us into teams, divide us against other teams, and blind us to the truth.

Nurture, the environment in which we grow up and the way we are treated, definitely has a major impact; however, Haidt argues that nurture isn’t as all-powerful as thought in the last century.

Drawing from neuroscientist Gary Marcus, Haidt argues that our moral sense developed over millions of years of evolution: “The brain is like a book, the first draft of which is written by the genes during fetal development. No chapters are complete at birth, and some are just rough outlines waiting to be filled in during childhood.”[4]

So if we are hard wired to be self-righteous, how do we get out of our own way? Haidt says that if we want to change other people, we have to understand our own “moral psychology and step outside the moral matrix.”[5] We must operate with the assumption that everyone does think they are right and have a reason for it. Haidt calls us to “moral humility.”

We all have hidden parts of our lives and reasons why we do what we do.

Can we strive to see beneath the surface?

I invite you to picture someone who makes you really angry and seems beyond redemption. No, not him—someone you personally know.

Now imagine something that might be truly terrifying—that person in your version of heaven, forever. For-Ever. I realize that this can be a nightmare inducing exercise. A friend tells me that when she struggles to understand why someone is acting like a complete jerk over a prolonged period of time, she thinks, “They just have not fully realized their glory in the sight of the Lord.”

We are not capable of seeing one another as God sees us in this life.

When Paul employs the dim mirror metaphor, he is not referring to the fancy mirrors we have that didn’t exist yet. If one even had access to a mirror in Paul’s time, it was a piece of polished metal that would provide a distorted image. The “then” he is referring to is the end of time, when we are in God’s presence and can see one another as our Creator does.

Writer and social critic James Baldwin wrote that, “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

My wife’s childhood friend serves as a school principal surrounded by people with whom she fundamentally disagrees. Antonia recently posted, “One thing about working on the Delta has really brought home for me is that you can love people whose politics you don’t agree with. I keep this belief close to my heart so that I can keep doing the work I am in this life to do. My humanity demands it.”

Antonia is not one to back away from matters of justice. She never says that love means tolerating hatred. Antonia does raise the importance of seeking to love and in so doing, reclaiming our humanity.

As many including writer Anne Lamott have said, holding onto anger “is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I invite you to again think about that person you can’t stand.

Now think about how the world has bruised them.

Think about your own wounds, and how you act out, sometimes without even realizing why.

God sees us face to face with all of our baggage.

Jesus greets us with open arms.

May we resist allowing the dim mirrors of this world tell us otherwise. Amen.

 

[1] Amy B. Wang, “Dippin’ Dots to Sean Spicer: ‘We’ve seen your tweets and would like to be friends’” The Washington Post. Jan. 23, 2017.

[2] Jennifer Golbeck PhD, “Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists.” Psychology Today, Sept. 18, 2014.

[3] Luke 23:34, New International Version

[4] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Reprint ed. (New York: Vintage, 2013), 152-53.

[5] Jonathan Haidt, TED Talk, “The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives,” March 2008.

 

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