The Ability to Really See
Good morning and welcome to Greenbrier Church online. I imagine that most of you watching today are either members of our church family or you that are watching because you’re in quarantine and someone shared our link on their Facebook feed. How ever you got here, I want you to know that I am thankful you are here. Being able to stay in touch virtually and through phone calls has been a huge blessing for me, and I hope for you as well.
Last week here in Alabama Governor Ivey expanded and extended the orders to stay at home until the end of April, which means that churches are empty today for Palm Sunday and will remain empty next week for Easter. But we are resourceful people, and I am thankful that we live in a time where we have the technology to stay in touch with one another.
I am also thankful that our grocery stores have been able to catch up to many of our basic needs. Once again the shelves have paper goods, and stores are continuing to get trucks several times a week. And it is becoming a bit easier to find some peace in the midst of this pandemic that seems to have many of us always living right on the edge of panic.
Several of my friends who are counselors are doing an awful lot of Zoom and FaceTime meeting with people who are constantly dealing with anxiety and panic. All around the world, people who have never felt anxious before are suddenly weighed down with worry and are not sure what to do next.
I think one of the reasons that viral outbreaks are so scary to so many people is that you can’t see the enemy. Germs and bacteria are microscopic, so you never see them coming. If an infected person or surface was distinguishable by a red glow or something like that, we would know who to avoid and what not to touch. But we can’t see microbes like viruses, and that, I think, just escalates people’s fears.
This week I was thinking about what we can see and what we can’t and I was reminded of this great story found in the Old Testament. If you want to read the story it is found in 2 King 6. But let me set the scene of what is happening here.
The Kingdom of Aram has declared war on the Kingdom of Isreal. They set up ambushes and lay traps but it seems that the Kingdom of Israel is always one step ahead of them. The king of Aram was furious and assumes that there must be a traitor in their midst. So he calls his officers together to find out who has been leaking their plans. That’s when one of the men tells the king that Elisha the prophet is living in Dothan and he even knows what you are whispering in your bedroom. If you want to win this war you have to get rid of the Prophet. And that night the Aramean Army surrounded the city.
Let’s pick up the story in verse 15 of chapter 6. When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.
“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.
As the Aramean army advanced toward him, Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please make them blind.” So the Lord struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked.
Then Elisha went out and told them, “You have come the wrong way! This isn’t the right city! Follow me, and I will take you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to the city of Samaria.
As soon as they had entered Samaria, Elisha prayed, “O Lord, now open their eyes and let them see.” So the Lord opened their eyes, and they discovered that they were in the middle of Samaria.
When the king of Israel saw them, he shouted to Elisha, “My father, should I kill them? Should I kill them?”
“Of course not!” Elisha replied. “Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.”
So the king made a great feast for them and then sent them home to their master. After that, the Aramean raiders stayed away from the land of Israel.
This story is one of the reasons that I don’t believe we have spent enough time with the prophet Elisha. It is a story about being able to truly see. But with all of the anxiety and fear in our world right now, I have to ask; are we looking at the things which are seen or the things that are unseen? Because when fear grips our hearts there are a few important things that we tend to lose sight of.
The first thing we lose sight of is God’s presence.
We are like Elisha’s servant who could only see the soldiers, surrounding them on all sides. Immediately panic set in and fear began rising. That’s why Elisha prayed for God to open his eyes. It was only when he was able to see the angel armies surrounding the Aramean Army that he could once again find peace.
One of the ways that God describes Himself is by saying He is omnipresent. While is a big word for simply saying God is everywhere all the time. God is always with us. In Psalm 139 David says, You are all around me—in front of me and behind me. … I cannot escape your presence. (5a, 7b)
But like Elisha’s servant, we have some trouble seeing God, we don’t always recognize His presence. Often, we know that God is there, but He’s blurry and out of focus, obscured by our surroundings and circumstances.
That’s why during this time of uncertainty I believe it would be a good idea every day to take some time and step away from the news reports and social media and spend a few moment focusing on what you have to be thankful for. When David was facing a horrible personal crisis in his life, he would be lead to write: The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. (Psalm 27:4)
David is not being hyper-spiritual and he’s not ignoring the reality of what is happening in his life. Instead, he understands that we can only see life clearly when we look through the lens of what God has already done and continues to do. Spend some time away from all of the information overload and take some time every day give thanks for who God is. Meditate on His holiness. Remember His faithfulness. Praise Him for His righteousness. Thank Him for His patience, His love, mercy, and grace.
Spend some time every day meditating on all the reasons you have to be thankful. Thank God for the people He has placed in your life. Even during this moment of social distancing, you are surrounded by people who know you, who love you, who text, call, or FaceTime you, and who will walk with you.
Thank God that you can go and enjoy your backyard, or take a walk around your neighborhood, or go to the store and find toilet paper. Be thankful for your home where you can be safe.
Spend some time being thankful for the things in your life that help you pass the time like computers, handheld devices, books, movies, music, or toys your family can use for entertainment and leisure? Be thankful for the plates and cups that hold all of those quarantine snacks you keep eating.
When we take some time to look through the lens of faith, spending time being thankful for God’s faithfulness, we start seeing Him more and more clearly.
We need to be careful that we don’t lose sight of God’s providence.
Our text this morning paints a clear picture of God’s providence. While this is a unique story, it’s pretty obvious that God was the one pulling the strings.
Plans are funny things. I remember when I was kid hearing the older folks say things like, we’ll see you Friday, Lord willing. As I grew up, I heard that phrase less and less. Most of the time we make plans like we ave some sort of control over what is going to happen in this world. And then something like this happens and we realize how our plans can be changed or cancelled for us in an instant.
This past week I spent some time cancelling hotel rooms and plane tickets, because we were supposed to be with Rylan watching him play with Adidas. With every cancellation I was reminded that while it is good to make plans, there are so many things that are outside of our control. Just when you think you’ve got life figured out, something happens that throws a monkey wrench into your plans. Suddenly, plans change, and sometimes they totally disappear.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t make plans, it’s important for us to set goals, and to make plans about what we want to accomplish, and where we want to go. But we cannot allow our lives to get so wrapped up in our plans that we lose sight of God and what He is doing. There are times when we become obsessed with serving our own agendas. Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 19:21, “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail”
If God is alive and well, if we believe that God is able to come into this chaos and bring peace, then maybe we need to align our lives with His plans. Instead of trying to fit God into our plans, we need to fit into His.
Right now, you might be feeling like the world has gone crazy. This pandemic certainly wasn’t a part of my plan and we may not be able to see how it fits into God’s plans. But the truth is, regardless of what kind of mess that mankind makes of things, God always has enough love, power, and grace to come into our chaos and bring peace. God’s plans might have to go through someone else, or take a different path, but His plans are never derailed. And while it might be hard to see what God is doing right now, we need to pray that He will open our eyes to what He is going to accomplish in this current chaos.
When Elisha’s servant first looked out the window that morning the only thing he could see was problems which left him petrified and panic-stricken. Maybe you can relate. That’s why today I believe it would be a good use of our time to take a moment as we gather at the table to remember God’s faithfulness.
As we come to the table today, we might need to let the bread and the cup remind us of God’s love. We need to be reminded that God is always working, aways close. Like Elisha’s servant, we need to see God’s presence and God’s providence. Maybe at the table you need to pray O Lord open my eyes and let me see you in all of this chaos. Let’s also take this time to pray for one another, that God may open our eyes and give us comfort, courage and hope for whatever life may throw at us.
I want to close this morning by sharing something my friend John Mark Hicks posted on Facebook: Today, as many of us live stream, Zoom, or worship in small groups at home, remember that though we are separated in body, we are gathered in the Spirit.
The communion of the Holy Spirit binds us together and ushers us as one people into the throne room of God. There we join the angelic chorus. There we “go to church” as the whole body of Christ is present. There we share worship with all the saints who have gone before us, including those we love but can no longer see.
Today, as we love our neighbors through social distancing, we love each other in the Spirt who unites us in communion with God and each other.
We are not alone, brothers and sisters. We are gathered with millions upon millions in the throne room of God by the love of God given to us through the grace of Jesus the Messiah in the communion of the Holy Spirit.