“He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
The photo above depicts the interior of a temple in Na Trang, Vietnam. The cone-shaped objects hanging from the ceiling are spirals of incense. The haze in the picture is not the result of poor exposure settings on the camera but smoke from the burning incense. There were many more of these than the picture captured, several hundred I would guess.
As Linda and I stood there, engulfed in the aromatic atmosphere, I could not help but reflect on how each one of these cones of incense represented someone’s hopes and dreams. Some were no doubt prayers for dead ancestors, others for health, happiness, love and success, however defined. Some offered in gratitude. I was reminded of Christian traditions who also use incense as a symbol of their hopes and dreams offered in prayer. What’s the difference?
In one very basic sense, there is little difference. Christians, like all people, look for fulfillment, meaning, value and redemption. You do not need to be a Christian to need these things. Some Christian people could afford to be far more charitable than they are toward their non-Christian neighbors who share the same hurts, hopes and longings.
Martin Luther once said that a Christian is a beggar who knows where the bread line is. That’s about right. Who are we to look down our noses at non-Christians as if we did not share with them the same frail, needy humanity? If Christ Jesus, by His sheer grace and mercy, has opened your heart to see in Him the Father, it is not because of anything you have done. It is by His grace alone. if you have found the bread line, you are still a beggar.
So, as I stood there that day amidst the incense I felt a kinship with those who were sending their hopes heavenward. And if I could I would tell each and every one of them that the crucified and risen Jesus is the face of the One who hears their prayers. I would invite them into the bread line. This is what we want to say to those who share our need for God.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”