"Using The Eyes Of Your Heart"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 26, 2004

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; Luke 16:19-31

     Most of us were exposed to fairy tales when we were children.  If we had a parent who had a flare for the dramatic, we can remember sitting on the sofa with eyes as big as saucers as we waited every new, vivid image that the words of Mom or Dad created.

     I recall telling our two children a story at bedtime that featured a wolf that had gone to grandma’s house and disguised himself in her pajamas.  When Little Red Riding Hood arrived for a visit, she said, “Grandma, what big ears you have!”  And the wolf said, “All the better to hear you with, my dear.”  “Grandma, what big eyes you have!”  “All the better to see you with, my dear.”  “Grandma, what big teeth you have!”

     By that time I realized that there was no going to bed for the children who were so deeply involved in the story, they were trying to warn Little Red Riding Hood that it was the wolf and not her grandmother who she was talking to.  “Get out of there!  It’s the wolf!  It’s the wolf!” they screamed.  These screams brought Lois into the living room.  I handed the book to Lois to finish the story while I went off to a meeting at the church.  Lois was seldom enthusiastic about my dramatizations just prior to their bedtime.

     One of the stories that forever etched itself into my mind was our Gospel lesson this morning.  To this day I can still see the graphically illustrated picture in the storybook from which my mother was reading.  The former rich man was on one side of this great gulf begging Lazarus to come to him.  “Take pity on me, Father Abraham.  Send Lazarus to dip his finger into a bowl of water and cool my tongue, because I am in great pain in this fire.”

     My imagination ran wild since I had gotten caught up in the story.  I wanted Lazarus to help the rich man who was in pain.  He had made a mistake by not helping Lazarus when he was alive.  Even as a child I reasoned that the spirit of Lazarus had become just like that of the rich man.  The two had merely switched places.  Now Lazarus had all the comfort of infinite luxury and the rich man was in pain.

     It is interesting that the “haves” and the “have-nots” still exist beyond our physical reality even within a story reportedly told by Jesus.  It appears as though the former rich man was being punished for being distracted by his worldly existence while the reward of a favorable infinite afterlife was bestowed on a man simply because he had been poor, sick and ignored.

     In this parable, Father Abraham countered every argument used by the rich man as he pleaded for mercy on behalf of himself and his family.  First, the rich man wanted Lazarus to warn his brothers of the consequences of not repenting from their lifestyles. Abraham said, “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets to guide them.  They should listen to them.”  

     Lazarus continued, “If someone were to rise from the dead and warn them, surely they would turn from their sins and listen.”  Abraham ended this exchange with these words, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead.”            

     Here in this very dramatic, picturesque story, the drama of humanity was once again portrayed.  It was a drama that was terrifying to me as a child, particularly when accompanied by the artist’s rendering.  I wanted to empty my piggy bank just to be spared the consequences of the rich man.  Fear can motivate people, even little people who are having a Bible story read to them.  Was Jesus’ purpose for telling this story to change the minds of his listeners by appealing to their instinctive fears?  

     What is this mysterious gulf that appears to be fixed in eternity?  What gulf would be so vast and so deep that even a powerful being like Abraham could not cross it?  Writers both ancient and modern have always employed the use of material symbols as frames of reference as they described spiritual matters.  

     Actually there can be no physical barriers in the eternal levels of consciousness any more than there exists the Gates of Heaven.  Gates are attached to walls and if there are spirit beings in eternity that want to keep others out, maybe they have a lot to learn about what it means to extend their loving energy.

     With that said, however, there are very profound barriers that separate beings.  For example, no matter how powerful Jesus was or is, even he could not penetrate one of these barriers until he humbled himself in order to enter physical existence as an infant.              

     There are other seemingly impenetrable barriers, but these are the invisible kind that we create by how we think and perceive.  For example, a great gulf exists between beings of light, wisdom and understanding and beings that think that to study matters of spirit is utter nonsense. 

     Those who deny the existence of a reality they cannot perceive with their five senses cannot easily embrace anything that defies their logic.  Their minds have dismissed the possibility that there is more here than meets the eye.  BUT, there is more here that is well beyond our senses.  Remember, microbes existed long before the microscope.  One reality often missed by those who rely only on their intellect is the eyes of the heart.           

     Leo Buscaglia once told a story that happened while he was a professor at the University of Southern California.  He had a student who was brilliant and filled with potential.  Joel, however, had lost his meaning and purpose for living.  His Jewish tradition and background did not serve him. God had become a meaningless symbol.  He had no motivation to live another day and no one could convince him otherwise.  On his way to take his life, he stopped by Leo’s office.  Fortunately, the good doctor was in.           

     The student told Leo that he had lots of money, clothes and cars.  He had been accepted at several of the top engineering schools for their masters programs.  He had everything going for him even good looks. Women circled around him like sharks.  Yet he had nothing inside.  There was no fire or passion in his belly.  His five senses were incapable of communicating to his faltering identity anything that might produce goals, vision, joy, laughter, enthusiasm, peace and harmony.  He had created an invisible gulf that no one could cross.           

     Leo said, “Before you take your life, I want you to visit some old people at the Hebrew Home which is adjacent to our campus.”  “What for?” he countered.  Leo said, “You need to understand life through the eyes of your heart.”  “The eyes of my heart?” he asked.  “Yes, you need to experience what it is like to give to those who have lost their connection to a meaningful life.  Go to the desk and ask if there are people there who have not been visited for a long time by anyone. You visit them.”  “And say what?”  “I don’t know,” Leo said, “Tell them anything that will give them hope.”  Notice Leo’s strategy – We get back what we give. When we give away what we have our barriers dissolve.           

     Leo did not see the student for months.  In fact, he had largely forgotten about him.  One day during the fall, he saw him with other students, a bus and a group of seniors, some who were in wheel chairs.  Joel had organized a trip to the baseball game with a group of his new senior friends who had not been to a game in years.  The two chatted for a moment.  Just before parting Joel said, “Thanks for helping me find the ‘eyes of my heart.’”  Leo nodded and smiled.           

     There was an even more dramatic illustration of such eyes of the heart found in the poetry of Mattie Stepanek.  We remember him because he died months ago from a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy.  Imagine what the five senses of this 13-year old were telling him about his reality.    

     The eyes of his heart, however, prevented the formation of any gulf.  His vision inspired him to write poetry that is most expressive and insightful, telling the rest of us of a reality that in our haste we often miss.  What was it that prevented him from developing anger and resentment?  What was it that allowed him to live in such a shriveled body and still radiate from a soul that towered over most of ours?  

     This is what the rich man in our story was still not able to understand.  Abraham was simply waiting for truth to dawn on him.  No one can cross the barriers we create.  We do not want to change and others cannot convince us that we must.  When we experience a greater truth than the one we know, such barriers instantly disappear. 

     One of the reasons Jesus entered the physical world was to teach us about the eyes of the heart.  These eyes give us compassion, empathy, confidence, hope and a sense of charity and generosity.  These eyes help us tear down the barriers of self so we can build community.  These eyes help us draw conclusions that make no sense to human logic, but they enable us to see with greater clarity just the same. Clearly, the guidance from Moses, the prophets and Jesus all pointed to how our perception of creation will change when we use eyes that no ophthalmologist can examine.            

     Two men who we will call Jim and Bob worked in the same division at AT&T Wireless.  Both of these men hold redundant positions that will not be needed when their company merges with Cingular Wireless later in 2005.  When the news reached Jim, he grew very bitter.  He is 54 and immediately began to lament about company politics, uncertainty and how he had given his life and soul to AT&T only to be treated with no respect.  He grew extremely fearful.  He said, “What Company would want to hire a person at my age?”           

     Bob, Jim’s colleague, was 56 and began thinking of possibilities.  He had friends in Human Resources at Verizon and in other smaller companies. He had networked well during his career.  He placed his resume into their hands and carried himself with a hopeful, enthusiastic attitude, believing that this change only represented a blip on his career path.   He knew he had a wealth of experience and an institutional memory that his younger counterparts would not have.           

     Regardless of what anyone believes, there is a barrier that separates these two men.  Bob could not convince Jim that his outlook on life would have no bearing on the decision that had been made by the two merging companies.  Jim’s bitterness did not serve him during subsequent interviews with other companies. His hurt feelings and unhealed spirit would bleed through. The obvious happened.  Bob left his position early and is currently with Verizon and Jim is experiencing a gulf he cannot cross.           

     The eyes of the heart have the power to dissolve every gulf that exists.  The gulf is merely in our minds and is only there because we created it.  Jesus was warning his listeners how wealth can isolate and insulate people from the needs of others.  Even from across the gulf the rich man was still thinking only of himself, his parched tongue, his pain and his brothers.   

    Probably every one of us here today has some issue that has fashioned an impenetrable gulf.  This understanding is universally true because we are all working on what is coming up for us.  Just as the rich man, high salary levels and power will not prevent us from suffering.  Our suffering comes from our wanting life to be different from what it is.  Inner conflict, in spite of how justified it is, cannot survive without our participation.  Only a new understanding is capable of giving us the power to dissolve our gulf.  

     As long as we remain convinced that the only reality is the one our senses have determined, we will be separated by a great gulf that no one can cross.  When we use the eyes of the heart, that gulf disappears. The Apostle Paul reminded us of this truth, “For I am certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  (Romans 8:38)  

     One of the sad elements of life is that from our side of the equation, the gulfs we create are most effective in blocking our awareness of God’s love.   Our hope is that, just like Abraham, God is infinitely patient and waits for us to change how we think.


    We thank you God for the many ways you work to guide our lives.  How often has a prolonged illness reminded us of our limitations?  How many times have new abilities surfaced because we said, “yes” to a new experience?  How many times has failure deepened our sense of humility?  Thank you for growth that has come through our increased generosity.  Thank you for helping us redefine power by living truth rather than by seeking it. Thank you for the peace that comes when we let go of our worries, our unmet needs and our anxieties.  Encourage us to understand, that when we resist change, we are choosing blindness over insight, security over trust and delay over growth.  May we choose faithfulness to you for no other reason than to enhance how we express our love.  Amen.


    It appears, O God, that our prayers for the people in Florida and now for those living along portions of our east coast are becoming cyclical and repetitive.  While we are here, relatively safe from the effects of hurricanes, safe from the stress and turmoil our military personnel face in Iraq, we recognize that uncertainty, loss and frustration can likewise come unannounced into our lives at any moment.   

    Our faith tells us that there will always be a silver lining to our clouds, that pain is never permanent, that vacuums are always filled with unexpected pleasant surprises and that the day will come when these experiences will be nothing more than an ancient memory.  And yet the journey to that day often seems so long and exhausting.  Comfort your people, O God.  May the challenging realities others face help to bring perspective to our lives, when we are tempted to find fault, blame and complain, forgetting how to be grateful for the bounty that we take for granted. 

    Today help us to find healing for our spirits.  May those of us who remained worried and anxious, leave this service feeling reassured by the understanding that your presence surrounds us and all others.  Rather than believing that there is so much more that we will need, inspire us to take what we have and use it to make your Kingdom more visible.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .