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Seeing things clearly

People of faith often use metaphors related to eyesight. We’ve seen the light. We get the gift of new eyes. We see visions. We’re good Sunday school pupils. Oh, wait. Never mind that one. 

These phrases are helpful but they flutter away to wispiness when compared with what the results of cataract surgery can be.

I’ve worn glasses since fifth grade because of deteriorating nearsightedness. In recent years, each time I’ve shown up for my annual eye exam, my doctor has told me I’ll eventually need cataract-removal surgery but I’m not there yet. This year I crossed the finish line — and with something of an impressive final sprint, too.

So I went to a member of my congregation, John Hunkeler, one of the best eye surgeons anywhere, and let him work his magic. First the left eye on one Wednesday morning and then the right eye a week later.

The in-between week was rather astonishing in that when I’d close my bum right eye and look just through the newly implanted lens in my left eye, the world became remarkably brighter and clearer. Things in my house were colors I never imagined them to be.

When I then closed my good left eye and looked through my right one, the old fuzziness and blandness came rushing back. What was bright white in my left eye was off-tan in my right.

This change of clarity in vision is, metaphorically, what each of us Sunday worshippers hopes for from the service — and, in our Reformed Tradition, particularly from the sermon.

We arrive after a week when most of our ups were downs and many of our checks were bills. We’re tired, distressed by something we’ve experienced, or maybe even full of a lightness and joy we can’t quite explain.

It’s in this distorted condition that we open ourselves up to what the Second Helvetic Confession calls having the word of God “properly preached” to us. And it is that very word that we yearn to have slice into our blurred or faint vision of God’s will for our lives and show us a clearer way forward. As one of our hymns says, “When we blur your gracious image, Focus us and make us whole.”

We long for God’s word because even though it’s true that we read Scripture, the reality is that Scripture also reads us. And as it does, its exposition can remove our metaphorical cataracts and implant in our hearts new visions of the people we’re called to be and what we’re called to do.

The preaching task, thus, is of profound importance, for as that same Helvetic confession says, “The preaching of the word of God is the word of God.” It’s why I inevitably feel a singular burden whenever I’m asked to preach.

Columns are not the word of God. (Sometimes they’re quite the opposite.) Same with after-dinner speeches. But sermons properly preached are an incisive instrument that, like John Hunkeler’s careful hands and the new lenses he implants, can give us vital new sight.

Our preachers need to remember that each time they enter the pulpit.


Bill TammeusBILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book.  E-mail him at