Summary: WE need to look between the trees in order to perceive the presence of Christ in our midst.

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9th Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 14) August 10, 2003 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen

Let us pray: Loving God, it is often easier for us to trust our minds than our hearts. Sometimes we believe only what our eyes let us see. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts to see Jesus – not merely as an historical person, the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter turned teacher and prophet. Let us see him as the Christ, the Son of God, the bread of life who alone can feed our soul’s hunger for forgiveness and renewed relationship with you, the author and giver of life. Amen.

Shortly after Josie and I began dating, I became aware that when we were together with her family, the discussion with the guys would inevitably turn to hunting. It was a passion shared by her father and brothers, and it wasn’t long before I was invited to join them on a hunt. Oh, I had hunted a little when I was in high school, but I never really got into the sport, like they were.

Of course, I didn’t have any hunting clothes. I didn’t even own a rifle. But that was not a problem. They had plenty of rifles, so they lent me one. They had plenty of hunting clothes, so they fitted me up with the essentials. Then they took me to a range to see if I knew how to shoot, where I think I more than held my own.

Then came the day of the hunt. Josie’s brother took me into the woods, and posted me an hour before daybreak, where I sat until three in the afternoon. I was frozen stiff, and the only creatures I saw all day were some squirrels and chipmunks that seemed to be toying with me. I fact, I was beginning to think that Josie’s Dad and brother were toying with me.

But then Bud came up to me without his rifle, his buck already in the car, and suggested that if I wanted to see some deer, I should follow him. I was just so happy to be able to move, that I quickly accepted his offer.

I don’t think we went more than 500 yards from that spot in this new environment that I had memorized, when Bud turned to me, put his finger across his lips to signal silence, and whispered, “There’s four deer sneaking through that thicket. Do you see them?”

I looked at where he pointed, shook my head, and responded in frustration, “No, I don’t see any deer.” Bud then put his hand on my shoulder, pushing me to kneel, and again asked, “Do you see them now?” I stared in the direction that he had pointed, for what seemed to be a minute, until I saw the legs of the deer sneaking through the brush.

“Now I see them,” I whispered back to Bud, in a tone that caused the deer to pick up their pace, in a direction dead away from us. I stood up, looked at Bud, and said, “You must have x-ray eyes. How in the world did you ever see those deer?"

Bud looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Ron, you might be a good shot, but you’re not going to be a good hunter until you see the deer. I’m going to give you a tip that my dad gave me a long time ago. When you’re hunting, you have to change your focus. It’s natural for our eyes and minds to focus on the trees. But when you hunt, you have to stop looking at the trees, and focus on the space between them. That’s where you’ll see the deer.”

In all honesty, Bud’s statement may seem obvious, but as most hunters know, it is not as easy as it seems. Now, when I come in from hunting, I’m not just cold and physically exhausted, I often experience eyestrain. Yet Bud’s words that day enabled me to look beyond what my mind wanted to focus on, to see that for which I was hunting.

In this series of Gospel lessons from the sixth chapter of John, which began with Jesus miraculously feeding 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus has been trying to get the people to see beyond the obvious, to gain a new focus, to look between the trees. As the crowds followed him, he challenged them, saying, “You seek me, not because you saw signs of God’s presence at work among you, but because you got your tummies full. Seek the bread that lasts forever.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Yet again, the people didn’t get it. Their focus was fixed, they couldn’t see between the trees. They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

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