Things Temporal and Eternal
St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Trinity
July 14, 2019
“O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.”
THE PROVERBS say that, where there is no vision, the people perish. Prov 29:18 That is most definitely true. If we can’t perceive our environment and none of our senses register anything around us, even if we are on life support, our bodies will eventually give up and die. Without social interaction, from its youngest of days, a newborn baby will simply wither and cease to live. We need to know where we are, why we are there, and what we are doing there.
The proverb is not speaking literally about eyesight, but the use of this word vision is no accident. Anyone blessed with good vision should be very thankful, for this world is very beautiful to look at. Seeing where you are, and where you’re going, can keep you out of a lot of trouble. Jesus uses human sight in His parable of two people, one with a dust speck in his eye, the other whose eyes are blocked by a huge obstacle, like a 2x4. The more-blinded person may try to help the one slightly bothered, but both men will fall in a ditch, nor can someone who is unseeing ever help anyone at all.
Typical eyesight problems can be myopia, or nearsightedness, where the eyes can only clearly focus up close. Only seeing ourselves, we can’t clearly see others or help them, nor can we see danger at a distance. That doesn’t stop us trying, however.
The word for farsightedness, as an eyesight problem, is hyperopia. While previously blessed with great vision, I developed this, or a related problem of hardened lenses, in my 40s, becoming unable to read a page of type without great strain, and now I need glasses. People who only see far can miss clear signs up close that there are problems with themselves, or with people dear to them.
The last typical reason we need glasses is astigmatism, or warping of the lens. Instead of a uniform spherical shape, our eye gets football shaped and can’t focus on any one point. Warped vision, like pride exaggerates some things and shrinks others, like a fun house mirror.
What we see with our eyes is the visible, physical world. These globes in our heads bring in color, shape, movement, texture, and perspective so that we can move about, drive cars, shake hands, and appreciate our wonderful world. As wonderful as it is, it’s been called secular or temporal as opposed to heavenly and eternal. St. Paul makes plain that the things we see are only for a time, while things eternal are, for us now, invisible. The eternal things are of far greater value and importance, yet to our eyes they are unseen.
The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defined the word temporal from the Latin, temporalis, from tempus, or time.
1. Pertaining to this life or this world or the body only; secular; as temporal concerns; temporal affairs. In this sense, it is opposed to spiritual. Let not temporal affairs or employments divert the mind from spiritual concerns, which are far more important. In this sense also it is opposed to ecclesiastical; as temporal power. Or,
2. Measured or limited by time, or by this life or this state of things; having limited existence; opposed to eternal. Then Webster quotes St. Paul, saying, “The things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18.
So, temporal things last only a short while, and thus are time-related. We make much of temporary things. I remember on the campus of UC Berkeley a group of ugly, ill-kept little aging buildings used for classes that were built in WWII called the T buildings. They weren’t important enough for names we would give other academic buildings. What did T stand for? Temporary. Today they are no longer on the campus map. I guess they really were temporary.
Webster’s also defines eternal, the opposite of temporal. It means having infinite duration, like damnation. Eternity is characterized by a lasting fellowship with God, without breaks or intermissions. But as substantial as is eternity, we can’t see it. We only perceive it with the eyes of our souls and spirits. How is your spiritual vision?
There is no eye chart where you may measure your 20/20 capacity for spiritual things that I know of, except the scriptures. Read a particularly difficult passage and see how it strikes you, what you can make of it. Things breathe out of Bible words that touch us in invisible places and speak to ears that don’t hear the traffic outside. What can we do to improve our spiritual senses?
The physical world is not evil. It is corrupt, of course, because sin and rebellion against the eternal world goes on apace everywhere and, to varying degrees, with everyone. However, the planet is not evil, but may serve as a reflection of eternal things. In many ways, while the temporal may be in opposition to the eternal, the temporal may reflect the realities of eternity and teach us lessons that will last longer than the earth.
How to improve your vision. First, eat healthy for your eyes’ health. Deacon Jackson may object to the reference, but we all know that eating carrots is good for vision, physical vision of course I mean. Vitamin A, carotene, is nutritious for maintaining good sight. So are vitamins C and E, copper and zinc. Antioxidants may protect you from macular degeneration. And fish helps.
Our spiritual sight is also helped by what we ingest. What we watch on TV, what we read, who we talk to and the things we say and hear all have a bearing in our spiritual health and ability to perceive the eternal. We don’t wait for death then heaven before we experience it. We should be having some experience of God, goodness, holy and true things today, or our spirits whither like an unloved child.
Exercise is also good for your eyes, temporal and eternal. Eyes have muscles and we too often keep our eyes fixed on monitors or reading material, one point of focus, lighted screens. We need to look out, move our eyes around, circle them, focus on things near and far.
You don’t build your spiritual sight by neglecting it. Prayer is a spiritual focus where you are talking to someone you don’t see and listening for a voice your ears can’t hear. The practice builds the muscles, and opens channels that will grow in function and assurance as you use them. Use it or lose it.
Eyes are part of a whole body, and we don’t just exercise our eyeballs, but everything so that our entire systems of circulation, elimination, and neural pathways get activated and strong.
Prayer alone is good, but spiritual life extends to doing things for the purpose of doing good. There are many disciplines that enhance our spiritual lives and enrich our senses in the spirit. All of them are good, many of them you could do yourselves and enrich your life. One of them is coming to church and worshiping with others, receiving sacraments, getting counsel, attending classes. We do them all here.
Rest and sleep are also important, and your eyes are no exceptions. People walk down the streets, their eyes fixed on mobile phones, unblinking, living in a 14-square-inch universe. I’m sorry, that is not your friend. We don’t even talk anymore. We text. But close those eyes for a couple minutes an hour, and you do yourself a favor. And get out of that phone. Sufficient sleep is also a key to health and vision. None of us sleep enough. Cultivate the habit, turn off the tube and get some rest.
Rest in the spirit is often called meditation. We pray with intent, for outcomes, saying things and listening for specific answers. But put it in neutral sometime, maybe just reciting or singing the Lord’s Prayer repeatedly, and don’t try to work anything out. Let it simply coast. Being in God’s Presence is enough. You need rest and sleep too, in the spirit as in the body.
Our eyes need environmental control. Pool chlorine is harsh on our eyes, as are computer environments, fluorescent lights, bright or dark spaces. Be good to your eyes.
And spiritually it goes without saying, looking at the wrong things, lustful images, violence, angry political videos, and stupid people acting, well, stupidly can warp our vision worse than astigmatism. Any video marked FAIL falls into this warped universe and would better be avoided.
So, get the beam out of your own eye. While we speak out our critical condemnations of political parties, lifestyles, religions and socio-economic classes, we might take a course in vision, for without it, we perish.
This world is fading, so slowly we probably don’t see it. As I get older, I take a lot of things less seriously. They won’t last. Or they won’t get to their dismal end before I exit this world, some day. Yes, there is so much confusion and foolishness, it’s hard to look at it. But this shall pass. It really will. What will last is you. How are you doing, in all the buffeting and craziness?
St. Paul figures that the sufferings of this present hour are not worthy even to compare with the glory yet to be revealed in us. “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation… itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God… The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Rom 8:18-30
We wait for an adoption, a transformation, a metamorphosis that will turn these aging bodies into new, eternal, healthy, beautiful and glorious human bodies where the spirit is more physical than we see here, and the physical more spiritual than we ever dreamed. It awaits us. It offers itself to us now.
Work with your spiritual senses; feed them wholesome food, reading deep and enriching books, watching what builds your minds and hearts, taking time to be alone with God, letting Him comb through your heartaches and giving you His cure for this world’s sickness.
We are more than what we seem. Without vision, we perish.
O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.