August 13, 2017
August 13, 2017
August 6, 2017
After all these years, there are still times when I am disappointed in myself. Disappointed, not so much with particular things I have done or not done, as with aspects of who I have become.
Some of my disappointment is neurotic. I remain too concerned about what others think of me. I am too dependent upon other's approval. I am motivated by the applause that I hope I might receive from others.
Some of my disappointment runs deeper. I know, for instance, the kind of father and grandfather I want to be. I want to help create wonderful memories for our children and grandchildren. I want them to see me as loving, open, generous, and approachable. I want to laugh with them, and play with them, and just be with them. Still, I know there are times I withdraw and sit back and watch rather than join in.
I also find myself disappointed in my discipleship. I always imagined that by the time Ireached seventy I would be closer to being the person I assumed senior adults were back when I was young. Now I find there is still so far to go. I can't pray very long before my mind wanders—often into the most embarrassing areas. There are even times when I am disappointed that these various dimensions of who I am don't bother me as much as I think they should.
When I am caught up in my disappointment with myself it is natural to assume that God is just as disappointed in me and is ready to give up on me. I am fairly certain that some of what I do causes God pain. God longs for me to become the beautiful work of art God sees me to be in Jesus. When I mar the work God is doing in me there is the pain of a parent who sees a child falling short of her or his great potential.
But, no matter how often I disappoint God, God will never give up on me—or on you. Our baptism is God's promise of an unbreakable bond and an unquenchable love. That commitment is grounded in Jesus' baptism—the story we hear this morning.
You remember how it goes. John the Baptist is standing waist deep in the river, camel-hair coat hitched up around his waist, thundering out a sermon about repentance and the need for a fresh start. He challenges everyone to seal their decision to get ready for the Messiah by being baptized in the Jordan River. A single file line of people reaches from the shore to where he stands. One by one John dunks them, brings them up, and then reaches for another. He is getting them ready for the kingdom of God. John glances up from time to time. Soon Jesus is next in line. John knows who Jesus is. He is uncomfortable. He blurts out, "I should be baptized not you."
Do you know the feeling? I remember one of my earliest Ash Wednesday services, years ago. I stood at the front of the sanctuary and, as people came forward, I marked their foreheads with ashes and said, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Some of the saints of this congregation came forward. I wanted to say to them, "You should be doing this, not me."
That is how John feels. But Jesus answers; "Let it be so for now; for in this way I can fulfill all righteousness." Which is like saying; "You're right John, but do it anyway. If I am going to be who I am called to be, this is where I must start. I need to stand with people in their sin. I need to identify with them."
After Jesus is baptized, the heavens open, the clouds part, and light pours through. A figure that looks like a dove comes straight from the heart of God and settles on Jesus. Then a voice that comes from somewhere other than earth tells Jesus what it means, "You are my Son, my Beloved, with you I am well-pleased."
Why Jesus chose to begin his ministry this way is something of a mystery. It is like the mystery of the incarnation. Why did Jesus become a human being when he could have stayed with God and enjoyed all the glories of heaven? Why was Jesus baptized with us when he could have stayed on the banks and shouted a few words of encouragement to the sinners in the water? Why does Jesus come to us when he could save himself the grief, the pain, the death by insisting that we come to him where he is?
The only answer the Bible gives to any of these questions is that Jesus loves us. He has come to lead us through life and death, success and disappointment, into life eternal. It isn’t Jesus’ style to declare his love for us from the safety of the shore. Jesus comes among us. He joins us in the water—in the mud—in the flesh—to show us that there is no end to his love for us.
If you were privileged to be here two weeks ago when Jon Opgenorth preached, you heard a sermon in which Jon said that there will be times in many of our lives when God calls us to serve beyond our capacity, and accompanies that call with a promise beyond our comprehension. At Jesus’ baptism God reverses that order.
First God makes a promise to Jesus beyond comprehension. When the voice says, “You are my chosen, my beloved,” Psalm 2, a psalm for the coronation of a king, is referenced. In this way God is promising Jesus that no matter what comes, whatever challenges he confronts, in the face of every challenge, God will be with him to empower and sustain him.
Then the Holy Spirit adds, I am well pleased with you.” The reference is to Isaiah 42, one of the “servant songs.” It is a call to Jesus to take on the role of the suffering servant—a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief—the one who will save God’s people from their sin.
Jesus heard a promise beyond comprehension—God loves him with an unconditional, never-ending love—and that promise gave him his identity. The promise was accompanied by a call beyond his capacity—to be the suffering servant that saves God’s people from their sin.
This is significant because this story is not just about the baptism of Jesus; it is about ours as well. The promises made to Jesus in his baptism are also made to us. The call to service that flows out of those promises also comes to us. In our baptism we hear the heavenly voice telling us, "You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son. I am well pleased with you."
I have a colleague who, like many parents, wants to make sure that his children know that nothing they could do would make him stop loving them. When they make a mistake or disobey he assures them he will always love them no matter what. Sometimes he makes it a game. He asks, "What could you do that would make me stop loving you?" “If you made a big mess in your room, would I stop loving you?” “No!” “If you fought with your brother or sister, would that do it?” “No!” “Well what would make us stop loving you?” Of course the answer is, “Nothing!”
In a world filled with voices telling us we are not enough; we hear the only voice that truly matters—the voice that spoke to Jesus—addressing us, "You are my beloved...." I will never stop loving you and I will always be with you. In me, you are enough!
God spoke those words to Jesus before he had proven himself. God speaks them to us as well to tell us we don't need to prove ourselves worthy of God's love. We can't earn it. We don’t deserve it. It is a gift of God's grace.
One of my favorite tasks when I served this congregation as a pastor was to meet with parents and elders for a baptism class offered before parents brought their children for baptism. As part of that class we reviewed five of the key promises that God makes to us and to our children through baptism. I believe that parents are still reminded of these baptismal promises.
- We remember that all of our children’s sins are already forgiven in Jesus Christ
- We acknowledge that our children already share in the gift of eternal life
- We celebrate that our children are full participants in the household of God
- We claim the promise that our children have already received the Holy Spirit
- We are assured that our children are engrafted into Christ—they live in Christ and Christ lives in them
These baptismal promises are beyond our comprehension. God’s love is unfailing! God’s grace is unending! These promises establish our identity as God’s beloved daughter or son.
Among our deepest human needs is the need to be loved and accepted; not because of what we accomplish or achieve—but simply because. Beneath much of our pain and our need to perform is the fear that we will never be enough. We need to know that somewhere there is someone who loves us even when terribly disappointed in us.
In a short story by Flannery O'Connor, "The River," a little boy named Harry, the son of alcoholic parents, is taken to a river by his baby-sitter. A revival service is being held there. The preacher addresses the crowd,
"Listen to what I say people! There ain't but one river, and that's the river of life, made out of Jesus' blood. That's the river you need to lay your pain down in, that's the river you need to lay your disappointments down in: the river of faith, the river of life, the river of love...."
Harry is caught up in what the preacher is saying. Before he knows it he is in the river and the preacher has hold of him. "If I baptize you, you'll be in the Kingdom of Christ. You'll be washed in the river of suffering, the river of life. Do you want that?"
"Yes," Harry answers. So the preacher plunges him under the water and when he brings him back out he says, “You count now, Son, you count now!"
The preacher was right. Baptism gave Harry—gives all of us—an assurance that we count to God. Baptism isn't something we do. Baptism is something that is done to us. In baptism God gives us something we could never earn on our own—our identity as God's beloved child. We are told that we are unique, beloved children of God. God is pleased with us.
Like Jesus, the promises that God makes in baptism are the foundation to a call to serve beyond our capacity. In our baptism classes we tell parents that baptism is everyone’s primary ordination to ministry. There may later ordinations as a deacon, elder, or minister of Word and Sacrament. Those will always be secondary to the ordination that we all receive in baptism to join Jesus in his ministry of restoring creation to God’s desired design and reconciling all people to God.
We to come to worship from a world of “shoulds” and “oughts;” of duty and law—a world in which we constantly feel the pressure to prove ourselves. We tend to hear the call to serve, to do, to perform; before we hear the promises of grace, acceptance and love.
Baptism reverses that order. In baptism we begin with the many promises from God. As those promises take root in our spirit we are filled with energy of gratitude. Our identity, established in baptism through promises beyond our comprehension, empowers us to answer God’s call to serve beyond our human capacity.
In Jesus Christ, God's Son, the heavens have been torn apart. The Spirit has descended and is on the loose. The voice of God has spoken and continues to speak to us, "You are mine. You are unique and special. I am pleased with you." You and I are loved, not because of what we have done, or who we are, but because of who God is.
On this morning, when we remember Christ's baptism—and our own—God asks us, "What could you ever do that would make me stop loving you?" The answer, by God's grace, is, “Nothing!” Even when we resist God’s call or fail in our ministry; could God ever or become disappointed enough in us to stop loving us? The Good News of this story is a resounding, “No!”
Frederick Buechner calls this "A Crazy, Holy Grace" It is crazy because no one could predict such love from God. No one could imagine a God who never gives up on us, and never lets disappointment dictate the divine response to us.
It is holy because these moments of grace are so special, so rich, so unlike anything else in this world, they can only come from God. It is a grace that is capable of transforming our ordinary lives into sacred journeys in which we receive God's grace—and then gladly turn around and offer it to others.
Whether we are carried to baptism in our parents’ arms as helpless babies; or walk into the water on legs of faith, baptism declares that whatever the sin, pain, or disappointment in our lives, we can't make God stop loving us. Baptism is a promise beyond our comprehension.
Out of that promise God calls us to serve beyond our capacity. God calls each of us to join Jesus in ministry—not to earn God’s favor, but because we already are God’s favored ones—God’s chosen, God’s beloved daughter or beloved son—in whom God is well pleased.
It is A Crazy, Holy Grace, meant to sustain us and bless us today and through all our tomorrows until at last we stand together in the presence of the One in whose name we have been baptized and who loves us always and forever
July 30, 2017
Amos 5:6-8; 21-24
Continue in our series “At the Water’s Edge.” Today is our last text in the Old Testament. Rev. Ken Eriks will be preaching next Sunday on the baptism of Jesus…and we’ll be in the NT all the way to Labor Day weekend.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey through these passages that happen where water meets land…I know I have…and I’ve so enjoyed seeing the many pictures that have been submitted for this series. What a gift.
Now I’m just warning you…today’s passage is not as warm and fuzzy as some of the others. You probably won’t find this passage calligraphed at Hobby Lobby or even underlined in your Bible. It is an angry text. The prophet Amos is fed up… because God is fed up. So let’s read, and discover what God is saying to us through his Word:
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them,
and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.
8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the Lord is his name.
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
In June of 2009, Kyle and I moved our family to Michigan. Micah was about to turn two, and Madeline was 7 months old. We left behind a beloved congregation and community…a place we had called home for over 6 years. It being 2009, we also left behind a townhouse that was simply not selling.
And so in the interim we needed to find a place to rent. After looking at 5 houses that were either way too expensive or way too unlivable…we found an old farmhouse just down the street from the church. It was perfect.
Well, it was almost perfect. There were a few ‘imperfections.’ It was an old farmhouse. The basement smelled musty, there were a few cracks that occasionally let in a few critters…of the mouse and bat variety.
But the biggest problem with the house, especially for this weary, homesick, sleep-deprived new mom…was its location 20 feet from an active train track… both Amtrak and freight. The same line that runs through downtown Holland…ran right through our bedroom (at least it seemed like it).
Those early days in the house…I would lay awake at night…wondering when the horn would blow…scaring me half to death.
The first time you would hear the train, you only thought you MIGHT have heard it. It’s was just a faint low hum…it even sounded a little romantic that far off. And then…you would hear it again…a low, long horn…still a little ways away…but by now I knew a train was coming.
And then the rumble started up…like a long semi was making its way towards the house…and the rumble got louder and louder…and louder…and then…the horn was blown again. But this time it was right outside our bedroom window.
And I have to say…the way those conductors blew those horns you would think it was the last horn they would ever blow… They would lay on the horn and let up at about the State Line.
For two years, my sleep deprived self listened for the train, all the while watching Kyle (and our kids!) sleep blissfully through them. To this day, our kids have never woken up from a thunderstorm…and I attribute this solely to those trains.
I would lay there and think…someday…someday…this will make the best sermon illustration ever.
And so this morning…its all worth it!
Because its not too big of leap in the Sermon Gymnastics to say that the book of Amos is a bit like that low rumbling coal train in Sawyer, Michigan.
He begins with a low horn…in chapter one he points out the sins of Israel’s neighbors… Damascus and Gaza…Tyre, Edom and Moab….but then he starts heading towards Israel and the rumbling starts…and the hum grows louder…and finally he blows his horn here in chapter five with as much force as he can muster.
In verse 22, "God will not accept sacrifices. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps." (5:22-23).
Israel is asleep. Snoring away…as the train rumbles closer and closer.
They needed a wake-up call. A ‘freight train horn blasting 20 feet outside your bedroom window’ wake-up call.
And I think we may need one as well.
Just a bit of background, Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, at a time when Israel was enjoying great political and economic power. It was a time when the economy was booming and worship attendance was up. The people thought that if they performed the right sacrifices, it didn't matter how they lived.
There were many people who regularly came to the Temple and offered their sacrifices, but they were living lives that were not consistent with their actions on the Sabbath.
So Amos gently…and then not so gently…points out some examples.
In chapter two: “They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.”
In 3:15, he writes, "I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the LORD.
In 4:1, he says, "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy.”
These were the kinds of evil about which Amos lamented. The nation of Israel had forgotten to take care of its own, and they were oppressing the poor for the sake of their own comfort.
They were squandering their wealth, their power, and everything God had given them. They were reaching new heights on the backs of the oppressed…all the while showing up for worship in their Sunday best.
They tried to worship wealth and God all at the same time…and Amos said God didn’t want anything to do with it.
Worship without compassion…without true sacrifice…without humility…meant nothing.
God didn’t want to hear it. These words were meant to shake them out of their prosperous sleep…their lazy slumber. God didn’t want their meaningless rituals.
But instead…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. That’s what God wants…then and now.
Justice is a tricky word. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is mishphat—and it referred mainly to the neediest in society being cared for.
Injustice mainly refers to the powerful taking advantage of the powerless.
And story after story in scripture reminds us that God is always on the side of the least, the lowly, the lost…
This message of justice is not just an Old Testament message. Jesus was equally concerned about issues of social justice. He talked more about how we treat others, how we spend our money, and our attitudes toward life than anything else.
In Matthew 25:35-36 reads "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
Jesus is uninterested in whether we muttered the right formulas, believed the right doctrines, did what on what day…but he was keenly focused on how we treat others, how we spend our money, and our attitudes toward life.
Jesus life was one HUGE wake-up call…he words are difficult and convicting…often seeming right at home with Amos. And the picture gets colored in a little bit more…God despises our rituals if our heart is not for the oppressed. Our God is a God of justice.
This is a hard topic. For one thing, its ambiguous. The concept of justice is hard to define as one thing.Its like trying to herd cats…just as soon as you’ve managed to wrangle one, another gets away.
And the other thing is that this is hard work: I would rather talk about sunshine and cupcakes. I would rather sit in the sunshine and eat cupcakes. I would rather do just about anything than stare head on at the pain and suffering in the world.
I spend most of my day trying to eliminate pain from my life…why look at it? Why deal with it? And really, I’m just one person. What can I do?
And so we look away. And we craft a Christianity that is comfortable.
But the problem with comfortable Christianity, besides the fact that its not gospel at all…is that it so easily leads to complacent Christianity.
Comfortable leads to complacency which leads to indifference. Its a frightening equation.
A few days ago, Kyle put a book in my hand called, “Just Courage.” It is written by Gary Haugen, founder and president of the International Justice Mission. The book grabbed me from page one.
Haugen starts the book with these words: “Even though I read the words almost 25 years ago, I can still picture them on the page. I was reading John Stuart Mill’s essay, “On Liberty.” Writing in 1859, Mill was trying to explain the process by which words lose their meaning, and he casually offered that the best example of this phenomenon was Christians. Christians, he observed, seem to have the amazing ability to say the most wonderful things without actually believing them.”
What became more disturbing was his list of things that Christians, like me, actually say—like, blessed are the poor and humble, it’s better to give than receive; judge not, lest you be judged; love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—and examining, one by one, how differently I would live my life if I actually believed such things. As Mill concluded, “The sayings of Christ co-exist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect…”
I know why…these words sound good…they even look good once they’ve been calligraphied and sold at Hobby Lobby…but if we would start taking them as truth and living into them…our lives would look different.
We hear these words…and we turn towards the vast inequality in the world…the millions of people who are in slavery, malnourished, underemployed, running from war…the list goes on and on…
And the overwhelming emotion that comes over us is guilt.
But the problem is…guilt points us in all the wrong directions…towards resentfulness, self-punishment, and ultimately, avoidance.
So we look away…its just too much…its just too painful. I feel too guilty. Where’s the sunshine and cupcakes?
And suddenly, without our even realizing it…we find ourselves in a comfortable, complacent Christian cul-de-sac.
And round and round we go…
And we’re so bored and restless we can’t stand it… And then we’re lulled into a deep sleep…
The thing is…trains don’t do cul-de-sacs…but they can jolt us out of them. The horn is sounding this morning…right outside this sanctuary window…
But here is the challenge…what if instead of waking up in a fog of guilt…we woke up to a renewed sense of God’s call to justice in our lives? What if we stared at the injustice in the world with an excitement about what we could do to overturn it?
This time, we are not going to allow guilt to lull us back to sleep. Instead we are going to allow the mighty waters to crash over us and renew us, wake us up… and send us out.
Send us out beyond what we can control…beyond our own strengths and comfort zones…beyond the cul-de-sac.
It is easy to look away. It is easy to say ‘I’m just one person…what can I do?’ Amos isn’t buying it.
We know that response is an excuse. A cop-out…one more circle around the cul- de-sac.
We know that from right here, in this place…we can make a difference.
I first met Tim and Susan deForest three years ago when Micah was providentially placed in Susan’s kindergarten class at Waukazoo Elementary. From the beginning, we knew that she was more….
Tim and Susan run a bike camp every other summer so that they can take their kids on a family mission trip on the opposite summer.
They are on their way home at this very moment from a week at Tent of Nations in Israel/Palestine. The mission of Tent of Nations is to build bridges between people, and between people and the land. They bring different cultures together to develop understanding and promote respect for each other.
Tim said I could share their story as long as I paid him the going rate for mentioning my kid’s name in a sermon: one dollar.
Tim and Susan are making a difference…here in Holland and around the world. Their story is inspiring to me.
Their story wipes out all excuses…all guilt…all cop outs…
Fellowship Church, it would be easy during this season to sit back and wait for justice to happen. To go through the motions…to press pause until we have a new lead pastor.
But I truly believe that is not what God is calling us to do.
He wants us to wake up to the injustice all around us…and do something about it!
So here is my challenge…to all of us…choose ONE THING.
One way to work towards God’s justice.
You could invest in Kiva, an organization that give micro-loans (starting as low as
$25!), to someone with a dream in a developing country.
Support the International Justice Mission, an organization committed to eradicating modern day slavery.
Or a little closer to home, mentor a child through Kids Hope. Volunteer at Meet Up and Eat Up. Join the “Uniting Against Abuse” Team.
Saint Teresa of Avila once said, "Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now."
Let justice roll down like a mighty water -- righteousness flow like an overflowing stream…
This is our wake-up call…out of the cul-de-sac…out into the world…one person at a time.
July 23, 2017
1 Kings 17:1-24
July 16, 2017
2 Kings 5:1-14
Once upon a time there was a brave general…a commander of the Army no less…a great man!
He had orchestrated victories and was in high favor of the King. He was received with honor wherever he went. He was accompanied by servants who always listened to his cunning and wise advice.
Every goal he set was achieved. Every problem he had was solved. Every smolder he gave was swooned over.
They called him Yaaman.
Now, the story of Yaaman is somewhat obscure. You may, perhaps, have confused him with his alter ego Naaman.
“The Adventures of Yaaman” volumes 1, 2, and 3 were actually WRITTEN by Naaman…
And they were meant to be semi-autobiographical.
He wanted to tell the story of a man much like him…a soldier, acclaimed in battle, a great man. A man who also shared the same skin condition, after all, no one is perfect.
But there was one BIG diﬀerence between the author and his subject.
In the story of Yaaman…everything goes right. Everything goes according to plan.
The king of Israel is honored at his presence. Elisha the prophet runs out to help him…he chants a bit, invokes his God for good measure…throws some smoke in there just to heighten the drama…and poof!
Yaaman is healed and he can once again return to saving the world.
And everyone lives happily ever after.
This is the story of Yaaman.
Now of course there are two reasons you've never heard of Yaaman. First of all, it was a self-published work that didn't get great reviews on Amazon.
And the second reason is, of course, that I completely made him up. None of it is true.
Yaa-man is a complete fabrication…born in my twisted imagination.
Among his many titles, Naaman probably would not have included ‘author’ as one of them. He didn’t write the adventures of Yaa-man, parts 1, 2 or 3.
At least not knowingly.
But after reading this passage from 2 Kings 5…you get the feeling that Naaman had a story circling in his mind as he traveled over to see the King of Israel. That he had lots of time to think about how this next chapter would go…
He knew he had to go…he knew he had to do something…
This silly illness was getting him down…it was effecting his soldier mojo… he had an image to uphold…a reputation to live up to.
And ‘skin condition’ did not fit well with ‘war hero.’
And so an unlikely character spoke up…a slave girl from Israel, who attended Naaman’s wife. She was the one who pointed him to Israel.
With the blessing of the King…Naaman set off.
But this was not a solo journey…you get the feeling Naaman was a little high maintenance…and he did not come empty handed…
The passage says he brought silver, gold, 10 sets of garments, and finally…a letter with a simple ask, ”Please cure him of his leprosy.”
With hope in his heart and a battalion of stuff at either side, Naaman set out for Israel. And that’s when Naaman started wondering and writing how about what would happen when he reached Israel…
I wonder how I’ll get cured…when I’ll get cured…I wonder if this prophet will be scared of me…honored to be in my presence.
This is what happens when you don’t have the radio as a distraction…all we have is our thoughts.
And thoughts can turn to hopes…and hopes can turn to expectations…and expectations can turn to entitlements.
Naaman had written the next chapter of Yaa-man the skin condition conquerer…without even knowing it.
And the chapter went like this:
“Once I reach Israel…I’ll be welcomed like a king. Then there’ll be the part where everyone is so grateful for the gifts I brought. Then I’ll be cured… Then I’ll live happily ever after. And I’ll write all about it using the pseudonym “Yaa-man” The End.”
The excitement has built and built…but then reality comes in contact with Naaman's imagination…and we know it didn’t exactly happen like he had planned…
The problem started when he went to the King of Israel…who instead of being grateful…TORE HIS CLOTHES at the sight of Naaman because he was so distraught.
Frankly it seems like a bit of an over-exaggeration to me…but in fact, Naaman’s huge gift did put the king in a bit of a bind.
Roger Nam, a Biblical Studies professor writes, “The King could not refuse the gift, as it would be like a new bride and groom refusing a wedding gift from a guest (“Sorry Uncle Charlie, but we won’t be needing that salad spinner.”) But by accepting the gift and not curing the leprosy, the king would violate the required social responsibility.”
And this put the relationship between the two countries, which was volatile on a good day, at risk.
Hence the tearing of garments and then the exclamation, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me” (verse 7).
The king was in no mood to start a war…but couldn’t accept the gift without indeed curing Naaman. And so he tears his clothes…good thing, by the way, that Naaman has brought him 10 more sets of garments as a part of his gift!
Thankfully, Elisha intervenes and tells the king to send the Naaman to him.
But here’s where the second thing goes wrong…in the story Naaman had written…the prophet would be ready and willing…even eager!…to heal him. It was an honor, after all, to simply be in his presence. So while this odd detour to head over the prophet’s house was a little weird…what happened next was even weirder.
Imagine a military division of horses and chariots parked in the prophet’s driveway. And then, said prophet, would not even come out of his house.
Instead, he sends a servant out to tell Naaman to take a bath. Seven times.
Naaman has traveled many miles to Israel with his affliction. He assembled this vast payment and was diverted from the royal palace to the house of the prophet.
And now, it is not the prophet, but a servant of the prophet who gives a one sentence instruction -- an instruction that is too simple, too mundane, and too humiliating to really work.
This is not the way it is supposed to happen. This is not how this chapter goes…
Don’t they know who I am? A general! A great man…it says it right there in the Bible! The alter-ego to Yaa-man? I am not used to being GIVEN the orders…I give the orders!
Naaman is angry.
And he starts to turn back without even trying.
But Naaman’s servants gently persuade the general. And finally he yields.
He goes down to the Jordan…and washes seven times. And sure enough…”His flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean” (verse 14).”
There was no pomp. No circumstance. No smoke. No poof. There was barely a prophet.
But God was there all along.
Using not the powerful…but the weak to be instruments of truth and wisdom.
Three different times in fact…when the lower and weaker character gives wisdom to the powerful. The servant girl…the servant of Elisha…and the servants of Naaman.
God chooses to speak through the lowly to the lofty.
We can poke at Naaman a little bit…we can even conjure up stories of his alter ego…because the thought of him ringing Elisha’s doorbell with an entourage behind him, and then being told to take a bath in a river…is a little humorous.
But at the same time…I know there have been many Naaman like moments in my own life.
Times when real life events have conflicted with my imagination…and I haven't liked it.
We are all guilty of writing chapters in our life before we’ve actually lived them…
…and since we’re so good at writing them for ourselves, we write them for our children, our parents, our friends.
And the expectations grow and grow…and soon ‘entitlement’, expectations privileged cousin, starts playing a bigger and bigger role.
(And pretty soon, disappointment, entitlements wayward cousin…comes to town)
-And so when the family vacation does not live up to our expectations.
-When we get sick on the worst day possible
-When things don’t go according to plan…
We start thinking…this isn’t how this was supposed to go. And we realize we’ve written a chapter that we haven’t lived yet.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t dream, hope, or even plan for the future…
But I do think we must be ready when the story doesn’t always go the way we planned.
Its the when, then trap…When this happens, THEN this will happen. When I finish school…then life will be good.
When he learns to do this or that…then life will be good. When I make partner…then life will be good.
When the medication kicks in…then life will be good. We ‘when, then’ all the time.
We spend so much time “whening’ the future…that we miss the beauty of the present.
I find this to be terribly true in my life…I’m so quick to think about what is coming next that I don’t enjoy the present.
Naaman fell into the same trap:
When I get to Israel…THEN I will be welcomed and healed on the spot. Except he wasn’t…this chapter needed a bit more nuance.
And our chapters do as well.
When we seek to write every chapter of our life, we risk missing out on the surprises God has for us.
God’s story is so much bigger than our story.
And our story is so much better when its wrapped into God’s story. The Adventures of Yaa-man? Meh. I’ve seen it before.
But the Adventures of Naaman?
A story where the weak speak to the strong…where the easy answer is not given…where the miracle is almost missed…and ultimately where God’s healing shows up…
Now that’s a story worth listening to…
The truth is the future is unknown to all of us.
For some, this is a happy and exhilarating prospect. You stand at the beginning of a new chapter…starting college, a new job, a new relationship.
But for others, an unknown future holds so much pain and fear.
-An increasingly fractured relationship
-The diagnosis you didn’t want to hear
-A financial situation that leaves you wondering if you’ll be able to make it.
These are scary times. And as much I would love to say that everything will be okay…I just can’t.
But I do know this. That God has promised to go with us through every chapter…our future chapters? God is already there. There is no place we can go without him.
And so those burdens…those things on your heart…will you trust God enough to hand them over?
Healing requires us to give up control.
We may be asked to do some expected things…Naaman was not expecting to take a bath. And although reluctant at first…this simple act healed him.
He learned that healing does not come with terms. It’s an open-handed exercise.
And it may require us to walk into a chapter we had not imagined:
But that is when God shows up and shows us once again that he is the author of all that is good and holy and right. And that the future he has for us is better than anything we could have written on our own.
This is the good news. Because Jesus walked into his all-too-known future…because of his death and resurrection…we can walk boldly into our future…knowing that God is already there…writing what C.S. Lewis calls the “Great Story…which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
When he released his terms and entitlements…Naaman found hope and healing at the water’s edge.
God invites us to stop frantically scribbling out our future…and to turn to him…to put our faith and trust in the one who will bring us rest and renewal.
This morning, the invitation extends to all of us. God’s healing presence is here in this place…will we release control long enough to embrace it?
As we close today, there are two invitations for you to receive God’s presence…
If there is a burden that you are carrying…something that you would like to hand over to God and receive a prayer for healing…Pastor JB and I will be on either side of the platform. You can choose to be anointed with oil, as the Apostle James instructed, if you wish.
The other invitation this morning is to come to the Water’s Edge…here in the center aisle is our baptismal font. You are welcome to come forward during the song and simply take some water and touch your forehead as a reminder of your baptism into God's story.
If you would like to remain in your seats, I invite you to simply turn your hand over…as an expression of giving over our burdens to God, and releasing the control we so quickly grasp.
God invites us all to journey with him…to places we never imagined. Just ask Naaman.