Sermon Seeds: Grow, Grow Together
Sunday, August 1, 2021
After Pentecost Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)
2 Samuel 11:26–12:13a and Psalm 51:1–12
Exodus 16:2–4, 9–15 and Psalm 78:23–29
Grow, Grow Together
By Cheryl Lindsay
The crowd was persistent. In this week’s passage, we continue the story. The crowd that Jesus taught and fed realized that Jesus has moved on. They seek him until they find him, even securing boats and traveling to a new community. Many of our conversations about church growth center on how we attract people to our gathered communities, but the ministry of Jesus demonstrates what attracts the crowd. Initially, the crowd began to build because word spread of Jesus healing the sick. When that crowd showed up, Jesus shared truth with them and met their needs. And, the crowd couldn’t get enough of that
Jesus doesn’t leave them until the crowd tries to make him king. When they find him, the crowd expresses surprise that he reached Capernaum. Jesus responds with what seems to be a rebuke of their motivation. The crowd that formed because of the signs of healing and restoration Jesus performed morphed into a search committee for the next political leader. Jesus’ avoidance of any attempts at a human coronation reminds us of the reluctant permission God gave to an earlier people who wanted a human king to counter the political rulers of the day.
Jesus insists they have missed the point. The feeding of the five thousand from a meager portion of loaves and fishes pales in comparison to the fullness of his ministry:
“Seek, and you will find,” Jesus said in two other Gospels (Mt 7:7; Lk 11:9), and the crowd “seeking” Jesus now “found” him, just as his first disciples had done (1:41, 45). He had crossed the lake, just as they thought, but how he had done so remained a mystery. “Rabbi, when did you get here?” they asked him. The title “Rabbi,” echoing Jesus’ first disciples (1:38, 49; 4:31), exhibits their persistent desire to “follow” him (see v. 2), but like Nicodemus (3:2) they will turn out to be only potential, not actual disciples. “When [πότε] did you get here?” was their spoken question, but the unspoken one, perhaps one they dared not ask (see 4:27; 16:5; 21:12), was “How?” (Michael J. Ramsey)
Underlying the pursuit and the questioning is an impulse to control Jesus. To Ramsey’s point, this does not seem to be an idle question or a point of curiosity. The personified actions and discourse of the crowd betray a belief that Jesus was accountable to those who desired to place their crown on him rather than recognize his sovereignty. This interaction further suggests an aggressive attempt to make Jesus king rather than an open willingness to follow Jesus on a journey with an undisclosed outcome.
The crowd pursued Jesus, but they wanted him to follow them:
They “followed” (v. 2) or “looked for” him (v. 24) because of his impressive healings and (especially) because he fed them. As “the Prophet who is coming into the world” (v. 14), he would teach them the truth (see Deut 18:15–18; Jn 4:25), but a king would ensure their material well-being. In wanting to make him king, Jesus is saying, they were thinking only of themselves. (Michael J. Ramsey)
Jesus has a ministry that is bigger than responding or catering to a crowd. As Adele Reinhartz notes, John’s narratives presents the Jesus who came to a particular time, place, and community within a larger lens:
This historical tale, however, is embedded in a larger cosmological story, about God’s Son who existed with God before creation, came to dwell among humankind, and returned to God. In contrast to the historical tale, this cosmological tale is not bound in space and time but has the cosmos as its location and eternity as its time frame. The two tales intersect at the incarnation (1:14) and the passion. The discourses draw the readers into the meanings of Jesus’ signs within the cosmological tale. Indeed, the purpose of the Gospel is to help readers discern Jesus’ cosmic significance within and through the signs “written in this book” (20:30–31).
Those signs do present an invitation to enter into the kindom of God, which is enduring and eternal. Jesus begins to teach the crowd again. Presumably, this is a smaller group than the 5000 plus who experienced the sign. Not everyone had access to a boat or the luxury of time to put aside their responsibilities to continue to pursue Jesus in this way. Jesus, who responded to the need of the larger group has no patience for the agenda of this relentless faction.
What drives our pursuit of Jesus?
Do we follow Jesus to get what we want from Jesus or are we following Jesus in order to participate in and witness to the miraculous work of God?
The crowd recognized Jesus’ power but wanted to harness it for their own benefit. They may have had plans to overcome the Roman Empire, not to break the world from the grip of empire and the inequities that arise from hoarding and coalescing political and economic resources for personal gain, but to capture that power for themselves. They failed to ask Jesus what he wanted or intended because Jesus was instrumental to achieving their goals and desires. There is a vast difference between being attracted to the ministry of Jesus and being enticed by the might of Jesus.
There are those sports fans who only root for winning teams. There are voters who leave pundits perplexed because they don’t vote on the issues, but they get caught up in the furor of the crowd and vote for the person who they think will win. Most of us are familiar with so-called fair-weathered friends, people who will hang with you in good times but cannot be found when times get challenging.
Some people approach faith in the same way. They want to be on the winning team. They love the frenzy of the crowd and being attached to the popular. Many of our faith communities bemoan the loss of Christendom, what they consider the height of Christianity. Sanctuaries were full and the question was in which church did a person or family hold their membership. Financial resources were plentiful and buildings were sources of pride rather than consternation. The world, as they experienced it, revolved around the Christian calendar. Sundays were for worship and the rest of the world stopped.
But I’m wondering…did Jesus cross the water from that church? That church that reserved worship for Sundays and sanctuaries, but acquiesced to the ways, manners, means, and values of the culture it was called to impact. That church that focused so much within that it failed (or refused) to acknowledge the fullness of diversity in God’s humanity. That church that treated membership in the body of Christ like belonging to a social organization with dues rather than a way of being and a call to participate in the kindom of God.
Did Jesus reject efforts to force a name-only allegiance to a rule and reign designed by human hands for selfish and self-serving ends? Jesus, who entered into the human condition with all its messiness, pain, and complexity, surely didn’t need the incarnation to secure a throne. Rather, Christ came to bring the good news to a world shrouded by evil and far removed from the abundance, liberty, and life crafted in the garden at creation. The incarnation and the passion of Jesus are cataclysmic events of breaking into systems of this world and upending them so that it might be on earth as it is in heaven. The feeding of the five thousand was a demonstration of the kindom of God, but too many of the crowd saw it only as a demonstration of power they schemed to harness for themselves. That is not the will nor the work of God.
The church that sees itself in decline because of decreasing numbers fails to recognize the decreasing numbers resulted from a decline in pursuing the work of God. So many of us are trying to get back to a memory of prominence when God is calling us back to a movement. When Jesus healed the sick, the sick knew they had a healer. When Jesus forgave sins, those who lived in shame understood that they were beloved of God and not condemned. When Jesus listened to children, widows, outsiders, and ostracized members of society, he gave them voice.
Jesus did not come to win over crowds, Jesus came to repair, to redeem, and to restore a broken creation.
In gardening, there are plants that help each other grow. When planted in pairs or other groupings, they share nutrients, they enhance the soil for the other, and they help their companion plant to flourish. They grow on their own, but the ideal situation is for them to grow together. Their relationship to one another makes them better individually and collectively. You may enjoy tomato-basil sauce on your pasta, but those two not only pair well on your palette, they function well in the soil. The basil repels insects and encourages the tomato plant to yield fruit more plentiful and more nourishing.
The kindom of God also benefits from companionship that resists threats to flourishing and enables fruitfulness. Jesus invites us to a relationship in which we follow the example he provides and the leading of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t take a crowd, it only requires those who will come together and grow, grow together.
For further reflection:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anaïs Nin
“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering. … The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life. … Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one. ” — Goldie Hawn
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” — Nelson Mandela
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation into a conversation about power. Reflect on how it is used within your faith community to help or hinder discipleship.
Michaels, J. Ramsey. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010.
Reinhartz, Adele. “John.” Gale A. Yee, Ed. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
2 Samuel 11:26–12:13a and Psalm 51:1–12
Exodus 16:2–4, 9–15 and Psalm 78:23–29
2 Samuel 11:26–12:13a
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, 12 1 and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Exodus 16:2–4, 9–15
2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’ ”
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above,
and opened the doors of heaven;
24 he rained down on them manna to eat,
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained flesh upon them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall within their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.