Checking Our Sight Lines

sight line - noun
a hypothetical line from someone's eye to what is seen
Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus. [Hebrews 12:1]

Lent is often a time for individuals to focus on their spiritual life by (re)establishing spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, corporate worship, or generous giving for the poor. Congregational ministries during Lent often support these disciplines through additional worship opportunities, Bible classes, prayer groups, World Hunger coin boxes, and the like. In some ways, such disciplines provide opportunities to check our “sight lines” by asking questions like these:
  •  To what have I been giving most of, or the best of, my attention?
  • Are the people, things, and situations that I have been looking to helpful or hurtful?
  • Does what I look at empower or equip me for serving others or is it just self-serving? Does it move me to give my life away or cause me to hoard it?
  • In other words, do my sight lines point me toward Jesus crucified and risen and beckon me further down the way of the cross? Or do they point me away from Jesus toward someone or something else that distracts or harms, disempowers or disappoints myself or others?
Of course, I am referring here to literal sight lines. It is important that we be discerning about what we look at with our physical eyes. What we look at changes us in powerful ways and influences how we interact with the world.
For the moment, however, I am primarily thinking about our spiritual sight lines. These sight lines also form us and influence how we interact with the world.
      What are we looking to in hope that it will provide meaning or excitement or peace or power or whatever else our heart seeks? As it turns out, many of the things we look to cannot deliver on the promises they make. So many of them, even the best looking ones, lure us down endless, dark, distracting rabbit holes of self-absorption and self-justification.
The scripture and liturgies of Lent call us to reassess our spiritual sight lines. They call us to repent, to allow God’s Spirit to turn our sight lines back toward Jesus, the one who actually delivers on God’s promises and who enlists and empowers us to be means by which those promises cross into the sight lines of others.
But this is not just true for individuals; it’s true for the church as a body as well. I wonder what Lent – and the consequent celebration of Easter – would be like if each congregation and its leaders also spent forty days in a sort of communal recalibration of the congregation’s sight lines. Truth be told, nearly every aspect of congregational life – congregational meetings, committee planning, council agendas, youth events, choir rehearsals, staff meetings, fellowship gatherings – can suffer from sight line drift. We start looking primarily at what we don’t have: not enough money or people or young people. Our sights focus on change for the sake of change, or the next great innovation that promises to get people in the door. Our sight lines are directed toward disagreements and power struggles or inward on ourselves.
If we are not careful, over time we drift away from our core mission to simply be the body of Christ in the world, to shine the light of Jesus, to make Christ known. Without even noticing it we “major in minors” and focus our attention and energy on non-central (even if alluringly important) concerns that simply cannot bring life to us or the world if Jesus crucified and risen is not right smack dab in the center of them.
Just as each baptized person is called to turn away from – to repent of – unhealthy, sinful, or otherwise life-snatching sight lines, so is every congregation. Every gathering of the baptized is called to realign its sight lines in order to participate more fully and faithfully in God’s cross-shaped mission of healing and hope in the world.

This Lent, dear sisters and brothers, may God’s Spirit grant that we, the body of Christ, will turn away from distracting and destructive sight lines “and the sin that clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” [Hebrews 12:1-2]
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Table Scraps by William O. Gafkjen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.