American Idol judge Simon Cowell is also the creator of a show called Britain’s Got Talent. He wasn’t having a good day at auditions this past April. “God this is horrible.” He said before the show went to break. When it came back from commercial, Simon was greeted by a middle-aged lady who looked… well, like nothing special. Susan Boyle looked homely and she’s from nowhere special. Simon immediately dismissed her, but since he had to talk to her, he punctuated all his questions with eye rolls, shrugs, and a body-language that said “Oh please.”
How many of you have heard Susan Boyle sing? Was it what you were expecting? [Watch the video here]
Susan sang. The crowd went NUTS for her singing and the judges just stared at the song bird that landed on the stage. Simon… well not just Simon, everyone was expecting failure. It’s the oldest sin in the show-biz book, judging a book by its cover.
In today’s scripture we hear one of Paul’s greatest pieces of wisdom, “We live by faith, not by sight.” Susan Boyle is the embodiment of this phrase. She showed a sexist, ageist, fashion-concerned world what it means to live by faith. In her short 90 second performance, she offered a one woman antidote to all the cynicism that had engulfed the world during this recession. She wasn’t a greedy banker, or corrupt politician. She wasn’t in this for fame or fortune. She had no interest in being another celebrity or raking in piles of cash. She had spent her entire life dreaming of being a professional singer and she had faith that she could do it despite being the full-time care-taker of her mother, despite not looking the way the world expects, despite never going 60 miles from her hometown; Susan had a gift and she had confidence in this gift. She knew it would take her places beyond her wildest dreams. She walks by faith.
We’re steeped in a world that loves what it sees. We are in a world that lives almost exclusively by sight. My college degree was in advertising, so I was set to make my career selling things to you all by sight alone. Doctors Michael Brower and Warren Leon state that “The average American is exposed to about 3000 advertising messages a day, and globally corporations spend over $620 billion each year to make their products seem desirable and to get us to buy them.”
Living by sight means that you have to have the new product, wear the deodorant that gets you the girls, but make sure that you’re wearing the right clothes, driving the right car, and completely defining yourself by appearance. If the world was like advertising would have you believe, then one paper towel can hold a bowling ball. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris. Household cleaning products hold the key to personal fulfillment. Medieval peasants would have perfectly straight teeth. And if you buy this SUV, you can take it off-road, it will never get dirty, and you’ll never drive in traffic, ever.
Living by sight is SO limited because we so often get it wrong. We misunderstand or misinterpret things which are right in front of us and get too concerned with just staying on the surface of what we know. Here are some examples:
In the year 100, Roman engineer Julius Sextus stated “Inventions have long since reached their limit and I see no hope for future developments.”
In 1893 a journalist wrote “Law will be simplified over the next century. Lawyers will have diminished and their fees will have vastly been curtailed.
In 1895, a teacher wrote to a father of one of his students that this student… this Albert Einstein “will never amount to anything.”
In 1949, a computer scientist stated that “It appears we have reached the limits of what is possible to achieve with computer technology.
The head of the patent office in the 1960s wanted to close up shop because everything had already been invented.
I could go on and on. The world is chock full of examples of living by sight.
So how does this concern you? When you pick up your paper or watch the news, it’s easy to fall into despair. Shootings at the holocaust museum, global warming, war, famine, bail outs, company layoffs, the list goes on and on. Paul is seeking to remind us of where we get our purpose and direction from. Sight, Paul argues, is the surface layer; faith is the insight that gets below the surface to goodness, truth, and love.
However, living by faith and sight can be done at the same time. Sight and insight operate together as they do in looking at a painting, where we see not only the forms and colors of the scene but also its beauty. To see beauty, it takes insight. It’s easy to see the beauty in the Hollywood actor or actress, much harder to see it in Susan Boyle or our neighbors. That takes insight. Beauty is something which cannot be measured or completely understood, but we know it when we see it through our insight, through our 6th sense which is our faith.
Walking by faith does not mean that we walk entirely in the dark by a kind of blind trust. It doesn’t mean taking what the bible says, what authorities say, what institutions say literally and unchallenged. A struggle takes place. An interested investigation launched. Remember Doubting Thomas?
There will be times when we have to walk by the light of our faith with only the memory of the insights that were once clear to us. Walking by faith doesn’t mean that once you have an insight, that’s the final and absolute truth… no. We as Christians believe in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit moves and guides and changes and challenges us and provides us with new insights… some of which contradict the old.
Walking by faith is asking questions and questioning the answers. This form of inquiry in many ways resembles the scientific method. But science fails to address such important human concerns as sorrow and joy, suffering and love.
Walking by faith doesn’t mean you’re standing still. Resting on old answers. When we walk by faith we follow the Spirit and Christ. Jesus walked the walk.
He was born out of wedlock. He hung out with the wrong crowd. He was from some backwoods town and couldn’t possibly amount to anything. He was put to death in his culture’s most shameful way and yet here we are 2,000 years later still talking about him, calling him the Son of God.
Walking by faith takes a lot of courage and effort and many just don’t want to do it. But there is power in it. It is a power that the world doesn’t really understand, not really, because there’s no guarantee. In fact, it actually looks like losing. The power of walking by faith is a paradox; it’s power that looks like weakness. More than that, it is not guaranteed to stop all evildoers. It might, of course, touch and soften their hearts. It enables you to recognize God’s power positively at work in the world.
This way of living comes at a price. It can leave us with the sense that we don’t know the answers after all, that we are much further from knowing than we’d ever realized before. This humble way of living shows us that there are many more angles by which to examine life than we ever imagined. As the ancient rabbis said, “Those who say they know are much further away from the answer than those who say that they don’t know.”
Take care to distinguish between externals and internals. Question your snap judgments and check to see if they hold water. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck externally, internally that duck may think it’s a flying tiger or a Tyrannosaurus Rex. That frog maybe a prince in disguise. Just like Susan Boyle who looks as plain as the day is long, but inside has the voice of an angel. Jesus, who looked like a backwoods carpenter well he’s divine. He’s the way, the truth, and the light. AMEN.