07/29/18 – Losing Sight


July 29, 2018
2 Samuel 11:1-15; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Elder Alan Willadsen


Last month I spent six days camping and canoeing in northern Minnesota with Doug, Matt, and Steve.  I find going to the Boundary Waters counteracts my time in culture in which I lose sight of who I am.  Paddling a canoe helps me get back in touch with who God has created me to be.  One line from the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” sums up the renewal I experience:  “Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.”  Ineffably sublime.  Ahh. . .

We had spent three nights on Hanson’s Island on Basswood Lake, in sight of Canadian “soil,” which was as close to us there as the stop sign at Moss and Duryea is to us here.  We broke camp Friday morning and headed west with a goal of reaching a campsite about two-and-a-half hours from our cars so we would have a short paddle on Saturday morning.  Steve and Matt were in one canoe, Doug and I in the other.  Steve and I had the maps.  We had come this way on Tuesday and needed just to retrace our strokes.  After we passed through the gap between the first two islands west of camp, we paddled on, basking in silence, stillness, and sunshine.

We were focused on the far shore, the one due west of us.  We followed the land to our left.  As we neared what we thought was the far shore, there was a campsite that clearly had water on the other side.  Did I mention Steve and I had the maps?  All of the campsites on the map were backed by a mile of land. I did not remember having seen that site, neither could I figure out which one it was on the map.  We ended up in a cove, disoriented.

When we figured out where we were, we realized this unexpected detour was because we had lost sight of where we were on the lake.  We had maps, we had been through this part of the lake before, but lost sight of our objective because we should have paid more attention to the islands on our right.  On the plus side, we saw new water, more campsites, and got to paddle an extra half mile or so.

It is so easy to lose sight of where we are, where we need to be, where we need to go and who we are.

In today’s reading from 2 Samuel, we heard about King David and how he lost sight of who he was.  Recall from last week:  Pastor Denise described David as a man who wanted more.  Apparently, the six or seven wives he had before moving to Jerusalem were not enough.  Here, David still wanted more, so he took Bathsheba.  David had lost sight of what it meant to be king.  Remember the first verse Carole read earlier:  “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab . . . but David remained at Jerusalem.”  How could David lose sight of what it meant to be the king that he would not even lead his army into battle?

In wanting more, David, a “man after God’s own heart” according to 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22, lost sight of what God had commanded Israel, the nation David was leading.  Namely these four of the ten words Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai:

1)    Have no other gods before YHWH.

2)    Covet not your neighbor’s wife.

3)    Remain faithful to your own spouse, avoiding adultery.

4)    Choose life rather than take it from another person.

David lost sight of God by setting his sights on himself, seeing himself as immune to the rule of God’s law.  Rather than focus on the kingdom of Israel, his focus was on David.  If the King of Israel can lose sight of God, we can too.  So, too, can the people who traveled with Jesus.

Jesus had just disclosed his relationship with God to the Jewish leaders in the presence of his twelve disciples.  Philip’s response to Jesus’s question betrayed how he had lost sight of who he was with and what Jesus could do.  Later, the disciples, who had just seen the miracle of a multitude eating to their collective satisfaction, were crossing the sea in the dark when they lost sight of God’s provision.  The Light of the World was not with them physically, they were on the water which went from calm to chaotic, and they were afraid.  If Jesus’s closest disciples can lose sight of who He is, who are we to say it doesn’t happen to us?

The crowd followed Jesus “because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”  The crowd focused on Jesus.  They did not lose sight of who He is and what He can do—and they wanted to participate in more life-giving activities.  They chose to follow him and kept (or keep) following Him to this day.

One of the recurring themes of John’s Gospel is how Jesus reveals who He is.  Such ongoing revelation clearly shows He does not lose sight of who He is, namely God Incarnate.

Ever the one to show us what God intends for the world and what we are to do about it, Jesus challenges Philip when he sees the crowd approaching.  It seems to me the purpose of this question, “Where shall we buy bread so that these can eat” is two-fold:  unity with Him and service to others—faith AND works.

1.  Jesus reveals unity with the disciples.  By asking “Where shall we . . .” Jesus says, “we are in this together, Philip.”  Later in John 10:30, Jesus says “I and the Father are one.”  God’s kingdom spreads as people unite in a mission.  Andrew understands this point as he invites another, a young boy, to participate in their ministry.  Don’t lose sight of the fact we participate in ministry with Jesus.

2.  Jesus challenges the disciples to serve and affirm their commitment to Jesus’ mission.  He had just said in the temple “the son cannot do anything by himself unless he sees the father doing it; for what he does the son does likewise.” (John 5:19)  By implication, He says, “You twelve who are closest to me, is to do what I do.  In this case, feed the hungry.”  Nobody questions the idea that Jesus (or Jesus and the disciples) are to feed the assembly.  It is a given.  We will feed these people.  Jesus effectively says, “Do as I do.”  Don’t lose sight of what Jesus does.

Let’s focus our attention on the miracle of the feeding.  Jesus takes what He is given and thanks God for it.  All we have is from God.  Thanks be to God.

Who gets fed in this scene?  EVERYBODY!  Who goes hungry?  NOBODY!  One commentator has suggested barley loaves were the food of the poor.  Whether true or not, Jesus keeps sight of who is present and feeds all who are hungry—all who are there—and there is no division in the group at all.  No background check, no proof of insurance, no ability to pay required.  Immigrant or citizen, Republican, Democrat, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female—all present are fed and no group is singled out.  We cannot—we must not—lose sight of God’s desire that no one goes hungry.  The Psalmist wrote “The lowly will eat and be sated.  Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.”  [22:27, trans. Alter]  Who eats and is satisfied?  [EVERYBODY!]  Who praises God?  [EVERYBODY!]

The crowd was sated.  There were leftovers.  How many baskets are gathered up at the end of the meal?  Yes, twelve.  How many disciples are there?  Twelve.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I think the point here is Jesus does not lose sight of those who serve with Him and knows they also must eat.

The Westminster Catechism says the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  The crowd had sought Jesus.  They were sated.  They were intent on glorifying God and praising the Lord in a populist way:  They turned into a mob intending to crown Him their earthly king.  Perhaps they thought of David, perhaps of someone who could save them from the oppressive Roman rule in which food was scarce.  In spite of being fully human, Jesus did not lose sight of how His divine kingship would differ from an earthly one.  He had seen what being king had done to David.

This story of the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle to appear in all four Gospels.  It is easy to get caught up in and distracted by the minor differences, quibbling about what’s not essential, losing sight of what’s important.  Thoughts like “Did the headcount include women and children?”  “Didn’t the people have food with them and Jesus and the disciples just got them to share?”  “The people weren’t really hungry or were too polite to take from the five loaves and two fish.”  Eugene Peterson said, “This world is no friend to grace.”[1]  We want a logical explanation.

Let me suggest in this story we see grace and there is no logic.  Five small loaves and two fish did feed 5,012 hungry people.  If we don’t believe God can work miracles like that, give sustenance and grace, how can we believe God can overcome death, a death incurred for our sake?  If we don’t believe God can work the miracle of feeding so many people on so little, maybe we have made God too small (to borrow from a J.B. Phillips book title).

The real question is not whether or not God did this—I believe God did—but what are we to do about it?  The answer to that question lies in the trite jewelry and bumper sticker “WWJD” slogan applied to today’s Gospel passage.  What did Jesus do?  He healed and fed.  He gave thanks.  He welcomed all.  He did something.  He provided.  For us, that means we are to

Work with and on behalf of Christ to

Care for all people, knowing

Our needs will be met.

Do not lose sight of our opportunity to serve the world outside these four walls.  Do not lose sight of what Jesus does with and through us.  Do not lose sight of the miracle.

Amen and Amen.

[1] Peterson, Eugene.  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:  Discipleship in an Instant Society, 2nd ed.  Downers Grove:  Intervarsity Press, 2000.  p. 15.


© Elder Alan Willadsen, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
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