Just Passing Through
The Prayer of the Day, also called the Collect, collects the various thoughts of the theme of the day and then makes a petition. The petition for this 10th week after Pentecost is that "we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal." This has been a prayer of the Church since the 600s.
You can see why. We are all just passing through, and not only are we passing through, but we are passing through things that our temporary. It is not just that hours, days, weeks, months, and years fly swiftly by, but the very earth we stand on and the very sun passing overhead is passing away. The lot of all humanity is to be passing through what is passing away like travelers passing through a forest fire. Sometimes we have the illusion that we have roots planted by our kids, through a job, or with our extended family, but the earth turns, the sun rises and sets, and suddenly we find that we have passed through what we thought was so permanent.
Passing through, it is the lot of us all. The disciples in our text were passing through. They had just gotten back from going out two by two throughout Judea on a preaching tour. Mark told us last week that when they got back tired but excited, they found the crowds so pressing around Jesus they couldn't even eat. Jesus took them away to a lonely spot, so they could have time to rest. Always their circumstances were changing. They were going from town to town with Jesus. Then they were going out on their own. Then Jesus was taking them away. Always they were moving; always they were passing through.
So were the crowds that followed Jesus passing through. They were tending to the needs of the sick and the demon possessed that they carried with them. These were people who lived hand to mouth. They always needed to work, to plant, to harvest, to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. They were never standing in one place. They were always on the move. And as they moved, they got older, sicker, and some died because what they were passing through was only temporary.
The "passing through" aspect of our lives too is very prominent. You are always moving to or from something. As soon as one problem is dealt with another one surfaces. You celebrate a birthday and you say, "I can't believe another year has passed." And you say that and say that until a decade has gone, and you wonder, "Where did the time go?" Although you are always moving, you have the illusion of standing still until you look up and realize how much time has passed by. We are like passengers on an airline with the windows closed. As long as we can't see out the window, it seems like we're not moving. But if we open the window and look at the ground, we see how fast things are passing by.
Friends, you can't get around the passing through nature of life. Do your exercises; take your vitamins; put on your face creams, and color your hair, and you won't stop yourself from moving. Forbid your children to grow; say you're going to stop counting birthdays; promise yourself that you're going to live every moment to the fullest. Still one day the window will go on the air plane, and you will be astounded at how much time you have passed through.
Passing through is not a thing that can be avoided or slowed. You can't live in a moment as love songs sing or in suspended animation as science fiction believes. You can only pass through, but remember you aren't passing through what is permanent anyway. Even if you could stand still, everything around you would still age and change. Even if you could live forever, nothing on this earth, not even the earth itself, would. The danger that can be avoided is what we pray about in the Collect: passing through the things of this life in such a way that we lose the things of the next life.
Philip and Andrew were in danger of doing just this. They're out in a wilderness place with Jesus. They're surrounded by upwards of 20,000 people, 5,000 men pulse women and children the other Gospel writers tell us. They have no food. Some of you who are use to preparing food for large numbers sit down and calculate how much food would be needed to feed 20,000 people. If everyone got only 2 slices of bread they would need 1,667 loaves. If everyone got only 4 ounces of fish, they would need 5,000 pounds of fish. This is a big problem!
Philip looks at the situation and concludes that even if they had 8 months wages to buy bread, that would not even be enough for everyone to have a bite. (By the way, the 1,667 loaves of bread and 5,000 pounds of fish would cost 11 months of a working man's wage today.) Andrew too is stymied by the problem. He looks at the crowd and considers what resources he has on hand, 5 small barely loaves and 2 small cooked fish. "But how far will they go among so many?" Andrew concludes.
While Philip and Andrew are passing through life, they see a great earthly need, but no earthly answer. More importantly, the only options they consider are earthly ones. Although the Lord Jesus who taught them to pray, "give us this day our daily bread" stands beside them, they do not even consider a divine answer. Although the Lord Jesus who had wonderfully provided for them without their help on their missionary journey is right there, they do not even consider Him. They are in the midst of passing through earthly things in such a way that they are in danger of losing eternal things.
When earthly things speak louder than eternal things, we are in danger. And this happens all the time, to me at least. I look at the Republican and Democratic conventions, and I conclude there is no hope even though my Lord tells me He is the Ruler of nations not men. I see earthly problems for which I see no earthly answer, and I despair even though my God has told me with Him nothing is impossible. I compare bank accounts to prices, and see no way for the 2 to match even though my Lord tells me that man does not live by bank accounts alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I see the problems of age and illness, and I conclude that since I have nothing to address these with God doesn't either even though He declares Himself to be "a very present help in time of trouble." The earthly problems that I am passing through are in danger of eclipsing the eternal God who never fades.
But this isn't the only danger. The crowd was oblivious to the earthly problem of feeding them in a wilderness place. We know from the other Gospel writers that they were sitting at the feet of Jesus being taught by Him. The earthly problem of food did not make them lose site of the eternal truths Jesus was teaching them. And Jesus didn't disappoint them, did He? He fed them as much as they wanted. Ever been to an all you can eat place? People don't eat just two slices of bread and 4 ounces of fish. Some will eat whole loaves and whole fish, won't they? The text says not just that they had enough but they were satiated. They were like you after Thanksgiving dinner. They didn't stop eating because the food ran out; they stopped because they couldn't eat anymore.
But what happened? They "intended to come and make Jesus king by force." The crowd after seeing the power Jesus had over earthly things, concluded He was nothing but an earthly answer. You'll see this in coming weeks when the crowd bird dogs Jesus across the lake, and Jesus tells them that they didn't seek Him because of the eternal truths He taught but because they got their bellies filled. He will tell them they ought not to be working for the food which perishes, that is temporal, but for the food which endures to eternal life which He Himself will give them. The crowd while passing through has latched on to the eternal Jesus as if He was nothing but an earthly answer. They too were in danger of losing things eternal no less than the disciples who didn't regard the eternal Jesus as an earthly answer.
We face this same danger when we conclude that if we have the eternal Jesus we will be successful on earth. This is nothing but the health and wealth theology that is preached from many pulpits today. Get Jesus, so you can get things. Your family will be happier and healthier if you have Jesus. Jesus wants you to be successful, healthy, and wealthy. But I warn you; those who come to Jesus for earthly gain will lose His eternal treasurers.
Can you see why we pray that "we may pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal?" We pray about it because we cannot do it. We are always falling off on one side or the other. In times of earthly crises, I forget about the eternal Jesus. In times of earthly blessings, I conclude this is all that Jesus is about. In passing through this life, I will most certainly lose eternal things unless God my Protector increase and multiply His mercies on me like we ask Him to in the prayer. To show you how much this all depends on God's mercy, strength, and holiness and not on our's, consider the fact that after Jesus feeds over 5,000, when confronted with a crowd of over 4,000, the disciples once again do not even consider Jesus. Likewise, the crowds on Palm Sunday once more throng around Jesus as an earthly king not an eternal one.
So how does our Lord protect us as we are passing through? For one, He disappoints us when we try to make Him an earthly king. He did this to the crowds by going to the cross and dying a criminal's death. Remember how people cried for Him to come down and save Himself, then they would believe on Him? But He would not do that though He could. Christ still reigns and rules from the cross. He deals with people through weak Water, Words, Bread and Wine. He gives them thorns in the flesh. He keeps them weak, sick and He lets some die, so they might loose their grip on earthly things that are passing away and grab on to that which doesn't pass away.
Our Lord doesn't want to be known as a earthly king, so He disappoints all who try to approach Him that way. But He wants to be known as the king above all earthly things, so He never leaves His children at the mercy of such. It wasn't up to Philip and Andrew to feed the crowds; it was up to Jesus. It's not up to us to keep ourselves alive, healthy, or prosperous; it's up to the Lord who gave us life and possesses all health and wealth. We can cease from fixating on these things that our passing away, and focus on the things that do not: the forgiveness of sins, the life everlasting and the resurrection of the dead. We remind ourselves in the Collect that without God nothing is strong and nothing is holy, so that we might remember that having Him in Baptism, the Word, and Communion, we have all of His strength and all of His holiness and not temporarily but always.
We are just passing through these earthly things. They do try to grab us by making us forget the eternal God or by making us think the eternal God is only good for earthly things. Our Lord protects us from both errors by giving us our daily bread, but He gives it to us under the cross where we may or may not have earthly health and wealth, but where we most certainly have heavenly, eternal treasurer. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost X (8-20-00) John 6: 1-15