At the Water's Edge: General Naaman's Bath

July 16, 2017
Lindsay Small
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.

Renee Krueger
At the Water's Edge: Welcomed to Water

July 9, 2017
Jon Brown
Acts 2

Thank you Lindsay very much. Lindsay and I are friends so there are many things she could have said many of which I’m grateful she didn’t bring up. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work you all do for our city, and am grateful to be partnered with you in it. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for your pastors Lindsay and Nate and have often wondered to myself how did you pull off the coup of getting them both.  It’s like the Reformation, the 2nd Great Awakening and hiring Nate and Lindsay at the same time. Well done Fellowship. I also want you to know there’s a church on the other side of the bridge that thinks really highly of you and is eager to support the ways God intends to accomplish the new through you. 

So when I was asked by the Holland Classis to serve as the supervisor of your congregation while you search for a new Lead Pastor, I said yes immediately. I didn’t even pray about it. I said yes immediately not only because I want to be helpful to this wonderful church in every way I can but also because I feel like we’re already in it together. You’re working the angles on the north side, we’re working the angles on the south side, I think we’re in it together.

Now if you don’t mind I have a question for you. And this will go best if you answer it… to me… out loud… right now. When you think of the Christian faith, what do you think? Shoot me some answers, no wrong answers here. When you think of the Christian faith, what do you think? I’m guessing some of you maybe think, Jesus? Yes? That’d be a great answer. Some of you maybe think church? that’d be good too. Maybe some of you think tradition? That’s fine. Or worship, that’s great. Rules, probably? I’m wondering and I’d like to commend, “Good news.” What if the Christian faith was good news.

This is what the angels were getting at when they showed up in the shepherd shouting “Good news of great joy.”

This what Jesus was doing when he said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.”

This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he said, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

What if the Christian faith was good news.

Good news for you who show up on Sunday morning with a past you can’t change but now opened to a future in which you have been changed.

Good news for you whose nuclear family doesn’t exist and extended family is dysfunctional but have been given a whole new family through baptism called the church.

Good news for you who have been running the hamster wheel of life trying to keep up with the Jones only to realize the Joneses are trying to keep up with the Joneses too and really we’re all just exhausted looking for a tall glass of water and the reminder whats most true is that you belong to Christ.

What if the Christian faith were actually good news. And not just good news for you but good news from you.

Isn’t that what St. John was getting at when he said, “For God do loved the world…”

And Jesus had in mind when he said, “Those who are well don’t need a physician…”

And God was thinking when he showed up to Abram and said, “Through you all the families of the earth will be blessed…”

Wouldn’t it be crazy if you who have experienced the good news were recognized as good news around town. The shopmate or the office colleague or the family member was like, “hey, there goes good news.”

I’m just wondering. You can think about it too.

I want you to listen with me to a story, a true story, it actually happened. You’ve heard it before but first I’ve asked a new friend to help me. This is Marissa. She’s awesome. I just met her this morning and I can already tell the future of Fellowship is in good hands. She’s going to read for you from the Athanasian Creed. Maybe familiar to a few of you most likely totally foreign to most. This is a little statement of faith written in the name of an early church father named Athanasius trying to hammer out the doctrine of the Trinity. How God can be one and three at the same time. Check this out. This is going to blow your mind:

we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
    neither blending their persons
    nor dividing their essence.
        For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
        the person of the Son is another,
        and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
        But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
        their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
    What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
        The Father is uncreated,
        the Son is uncreated,
        the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
        The Father is immeasurable,
        the Son is immeasurable,
        the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
        The Father is eternal,
        the Son is eternal,
        the Holy Spirit is eternal.
            And yet there are not three eternal beings;
            there is but one eternal being.
            So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
            there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.
    Similarly, the Father is almighty,
        the Son is almighty,
        the Holy Spirit is almighty.
            Yet there are not three almighty beings;
            there is but one almighty being.
        Thus the Father is God,
        the Son is God,
        the Holy Spirit is God.
            Yet there are not three gods;
            there is but one God.
        Thus the Father is Lord,
        the Son is Lord,
        the Holy Spirit is Lord.
            Yet there are not three lords;
            there is but one Lord.

That’s just so awesome, I love that, I had to let you hear it for yourself.  Thank you Marissa. Withgood news in your heart and Trinity logic on your mind listen to the second chapter in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

29 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

“He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”

32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”

36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Its Acts 2. You can find it a Bible near you, if it’d be helpful. Here’s how I’d like to organize ourselves for the next few minutes. Life in the spirit guiding us into good news for the world happens on location and shows up in time..

I

Life in the Spirit guiding us into good news for the world happens on location. Check this out. Acts 2 verse 1

When the day of Pentecost had come they were altogether in one place. And Suddenly…

They were all together in one place and suddenly…

They were all together because actually not much had changed. I mean everything had changed, Christ who had died was now alive, resurrection happened, the grave was swallowed, death was defeated everything was different on one level but on a different level nothing had changed. Pontius Pilate was still piloting the region with his Roman Rule. Ceasar was still ceasing every ounce of power he could find. And the pharisees were still running their religious system to the exclusion of anyone who didn’t agree with them on how far to walk on a Sunday stroll and other finer points of sabbath law.  On one level everything had changed the crucified Christ was alive again but on a basic level, a circumstantial level nothing was different. So they were all together in one place, just like they were after the crucifixion on resurrection Sunday. They were all together in one place still participating in the appropriate religious festivals like Pentecost because that's what good Jews would do. Every year, on the year they’d bake their bread, they’d hike from every nook and cranny of Israel up the slight slope to Jerusalem on to the temple mount to celebrate the moment God gave the law to Moses. Christ wasn’t out to establish a new religious system but rather fulfill what God had been doing for ages and ages and so Peter and John and Mark and Thaddeuas and Mary and Salome, they all went up to Jerusalem because that's what you did, that was the faithful act at the time, in the moment.

They were altogether in one place. And suddenly…

And suddenly… that's what I want you to notice, this crazy wild act of the Spirit tongues of fire and the rush of violent wind, and people speaking in Elamite and Mede and Arabic the good news about Jesus, happened on location as they went about the faithful act for the moment, in the day, at the time. And suddenly…  The suddenness of the spirit happens on location as you and I go about our daily acts of faithful living.

The necessary actions of the Christian faith can so quickly feel like they’re something other than the wild, extravagant work of the Spirit. We want the high highs of tongues of fire, we want the great heights of the rush of a violent wind which happen in God’s timing at God’s bidding as we go about our daily acts of regular obedience.

When the day of Pentecost had come they were altogether in one place. And suddenly…

So you’re confronted in the moment when your kind of edgy friend says something that digs a little, cuts a little, hurts a bit and the first impulse you have is to verbally lash out to even the score. But what if, what if as you felt your stomach rise into your chest, you said, “no, no not this time.” Rather than lashing out you opened yourself to another way. And either you say something like, “That didn’t feel so good can we talk more.” In other words you turn the other cheek. A simple act of faithfulness and suddenly there’s a new opportunity to write a different script, to go a different way.

So in this politically charged, racially tense, polarized context in which we find ourselves a colleague says something, says something again that you find frustratingly ludicrous and every instinct you have to run to the opposite side of the conversation and yell. You say to yourself “No, not this time.” Instead you say, “I can see you hold that opinion strongly, I’d love to understand more.” You take a simple act of humble faithfulness, you “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” and are more interested in listening to someone else than speaking at someone and suddenly a new story line develops, a new way of relating takes place.

Or, you’re in the social circle, you’re out at the beach and the cool kids start picking on the other kid because of the color of their bathing suit, or the style of their hair or the whatever else seems so easy to pick on, and the inertia of the social interaction pushes you towards participation by laughing it away, instead, you say to yourself, “No, no not this time.” And you say to your friends, “Hey, that's not cool. She’s made in the image of God too.” Or maybe you don’t put it quite like that but you know what I’m saying. A basic act of faithfulness, “Look to the interest of others” and suddenly someone is honored, someone is dignified, Christ rejoices.

What I’m getting at, what I’m trying to suggest is this wild, wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit takes place in the context of a small group of people doing basic, ordinary faithful things. Its not the faithfulness that gets rewarded by the sudden, its the sudden showing up amidst the faithful. We participate with God in ordinary acts of faithfulness, God accomplishes his purposes for the world amidst our faithfulness.

So maybe, maybe this spirit life guiding us into good news for the world happens on location, isn’t opposed to ordinary but happens in ordinary.

I don’t know if you pay attention to these things but Pillar crafts itself as creative liturgical. The creative part people like Andy Bast compose songs that we sing. People like Cathy Dreyer create sacred dances for our younger ones to dance. People like Daryl Bruischaat make art that we hang on the wall. And on and on the creativity goes.  The liturgical part we try to borrow the basic pattern of Christian worship that has spanned the centuries. When we sing these songs, “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” That's actually a song that has been sung by Christians for hundreds now actually thousands of years. And when we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty…” that's actually a creed people have read in settings like this one for the better part of 1300 years. And when we gather around the table on a Sunday morning, we’re actually doing what Jesus himself did with his disciples. That's the liturgical part and then we map that liturgical life onto the calendar and come up with seasons, not like summer and fall but like Lent and Eastertide and Advent and Christmas tide and you know what season of the liturgical year is the longest, and longest by far? Its called ordinary time, it goes all the way from early June to late November. And there’s even a few ordinary time weeks sprinkled in the other six months of the year too. Ordinary Time. That is to say, just you and me doing our ordinary faithful thing. Nobodies watching, nobodies looking, nobodies noticing, nobodies writing about it in the banner, its not posted in the Holland Sentinel, someone may put it on Facebook but if they did it’d be like that was ordinary. Now whats kind of cool to me, there’s actually a little ecclesial confusion around time. Some traditions in the christian church don’t think of it as ordinary time but call it the season of Pentecost, basically the season of the spirit. Ordinary time or Pentecost. Which is it ordinary time or Pentecost? Yea. Which is it just basic faithful acts of the everyday Christian or the and suddenly realities of God? Yea.

The spirit life guiding us into good news for the world happens on location.

I like the Eugene Peterson puts it, this is a little pointed so if it hurts there might be some accuracy to it:

“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”

Thats from a book titled “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”

II

Alright I better move this thing along.

Life in the spirit guiding us into good news for the world happens on location, shows up in time.  This is why I wanted Marissa to read for you from the Athanasian Creed in hopes that your hearts would be set and your spirits would be prompted to notice the Trinitarian activity of God in Acts 2.

Look at v. 3:

Divided tongues as of fire appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them, all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit… all of them, each of them, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Now notice verse 22:

Jesus of Nazareth a man attested to you by God with signs, wonders and deeds of power that God did through him among you….

So now we’ve gone from Spirit to Jesus to God. And then the trinity logic gets really intense at v. 32:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.

The this, is the tongues of fire resting on each of them and the spirit gift to speak Parthian for all of them. Grammatically speaking its actually hard to know who the “he” is that poured out this that you both see and hear. Is it the Father or is it Jesus that poured it out, or is it the Spirit that poured out this thing that you both see and hear. Its hard to know and people have argued about it. Ask me sometime about the filioque clause. Or forget about the filioque clause and just marvel with me at the activity of the Trinity in Acts 2. Here’s the deal, here’s what I’m trying to get at, we lose our minds trying to articulate just exactly how the Trinity is and fail to notice the activity of the Trinity in our lives.

We can say things like, The trinity is like an egg, you know shell, yoke, white stuff, I can’t remember what that white stuff is called. It might be helpful to an extent but it kind of makes some theological errors too. Or maybe the trinity is like me in relationship, I’m a son, I’m a father, I’m a husband. Ok, maybe but got some issues there too. Or maybe, since I majored in chemistry, I’ve always wondered if the trinity was a little bit like that state of existence where something is neither solid, liquid or gas but all of them at once but none of them completely, but that totally has issues.

Any time we try to speak and define the nature of God we misspeak, that isn’t to suggest we shouldn’t devote ourselves to trying to understand and pursuing a deeper awareness of the complexities of God but it is to acknowledge God is bigger and grander and more glorious than anything words could ever articulate. Which is why Paul says, “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor who has given to him a gift to receive a gift in return for from him and through him and to him are all things to him be glory forever. Or in another place says, “Your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than our thoughts.” So the angels just sing “Holy, holy, holy” in other words, “you’re different, you’re more, you’re better.” Any time we try to speak about the nature of God we fall flat on our faces which is the appropriate posture before the living God.

And people know it so a theological stream developed called apophatic theology. Basically any time you try to say who God is you misspeak so all you really can do is say whats not God. Even the glorious Athanasian Creed says, “There are not three eternal beings but one.” Or “There are not three almighties but one.” You can’t really say what God is without error so you try to say what God isn’t. God’s not quite like an egg but yea three in one.

And what I want now, what I’m hoping you’ll get from this is not “apophatic” nobody wants to be called apophatic but a stunning appreciation for the depths of our God, who is unending in complexity so shows himself in Jesus. Who is inexhaustible in his sophistication so he shows up as an infant child. Who is totally other in his holiness, love and wisdom so he saves through a cross and grave. I want you to marvel at the wonders of our God. I’m less interested in you walking away with the capacity to articulate a pure doctrine of the trinity, though its fun to try, and more eager for you to worship this complex God who shows up for us in the world and in our lives, personally, present, in time, and available.

A tongue rested on each of them all of them began to speak in other languages.

The activity of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, as stunning as the triune one is shows up in history, actively to accomplish the redemption of all things. We can say that for sure. One God, three persons, yes present, personal, available, accomplishing in the world the great salvation we all long to see.

The God who created the world didn’t stop at creation, the God who clothed Adam and Eve from the shame of their nakedness didn’t disregard them because of the fall, the God who covenanted with Abram didn’t stop at covenant, the God who sent his son, Jesus Christ to live among us, die for us and rise to redeem us, didn’t stop at Jesus, the God who sent his Spirit, to inspire and empower us to faithfulness didn’t stop with the church, that same God is on the move in the world now, active and personal and present until that great day when Christ returns, the world is made right, the nations our healed, violence is done for, division is over, peace reigns, justice rules, the Lamb is worshiped and every knee bends and every tongue confesses Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Spirit life guiding us into good news for the world happens on location, shows up in time.

And please don’t miss the assumption. Please don’t miss the consequence all of this is good news, good news for the world.

III

Did you notice how many people were baptized on that day? Anybody remember how many people came to the waters that day. About 3000. Maybe their accountant wasn't so great, maybe there were so many it was hard to count, whatever about 3000 were added that day. Which is really interesting. Because this is Pentecost. Pentecost is that day when the ancient people of faith were celebrating God’s giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. God showed up and gave Moses 10 commandments and when Moses meandered down the mountain he found the people of God worshiping a god made out of gold, formed as a calf. They said, “It just jumped out of the fire.” But Moses didn’t care, Moses didn’t believe them. Moses was mad. And was God was not pleased. And on that day about 3000 died. Died because of disobedience. Died because of idolatry. Died because of the fall.

About three thousand.

And on this Pentecost day, when the spirit descended not like a dove that would have been cozy but on this day like the rush of violent wind and in tongues of fire and through languages people could not previously speak, when the spirit showed up on this day about 3000 were baptized.

This Pentecost story is a redemption story, a restoration story, a reconciliation story. The activity of the Trinity showing up in real time for people who previously weren’t sure, didn’t know, wouldn’t believe now welcomed the messaged and came to the water.

This is good news.

Good news for you whose daughter was out late last night and you didn’t want to argue with her this morning so you just let her sleep.

Good news for you who have received the diagnosis and the prognosis is less than encouraging.

Good news for you who have been places you now wish you hadn’t gone and done thing you now wish you hadn’t done.

And not just good news for you but good news from you for the world.

You have a unique opportunity Fellowship. You have a unique opportunity to show the world the good news of the gospel is not dependent on the Lead Pastor. You can be about good news for the world now. You don’t have to sit and wait and sit and watch and sit and wonder and sit and worry you can be good news now.

I like the way Lesslie Newbigin puts it:

If the gospel is to challenge the public life of society… it will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.

I want you to take away is a deep and abiding assurance, the Father and the Son are active in the world by the Spirit, the Father and the Spirit are drawing up the redemption of all things and the Son is accomplishing it, the Son is achieving restoration and the Father and the Spirit are empowering him towards it. So take courage, be courageous, God is on the move. God is up to something in the world, God will make all things new. That's what I’m getting at.

Though the headlines may leave your head hanging, take heart, be courageous.

So the doctors are giving difficult news and the future is unknown and scary, take heart, be courageous.

So all the evidence is suggesting secularization is accomplishing its purposes and the purpose of the church seem archaic and strange, take heart be courageous. Father, Son, Spirit accomplishing redemption purposes in time for the world.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Renee Krueger
At the Water's Edge: Look for the Helpers

June 18, 2017
Nate Schipper
Exodus 2:1-10

One of my favorite shows growing up was Mister Roger’s neighborhood. You remember the tune, don’t you?

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

What’s even more amazing than the song is the fact that he could sing the song perfectly while taking of his jacket and hanging it in the closet and sitting on the bench to take off his outdoor shoes and putting on his house slippers. It was a magical show in many ways, especially for those of us kids in the 80’s who had to put up with punk haircuts and MC Hammer Pants. Mr Rogers had a nostalgic way about him. He was a reminder of what the moral life looked like. You VBS Kids might know Daniel the Tiger’s neighborhood, but that’s nothing compared to Mr. Rogers.

What you may not know is that Mister Rogers was also a theologian. He was a graduate of Pittsburg Theological and was ordained in our cousin denomination the Presbyterian Church. His witness was not explicit in his television but his words often spoke to the deepest truths of the gospel.

He is remembered for many quotes, many interviews that conveyed these truths to broader public. One of those quotes is not something he said but a reference to a line his mother gave him. In an interview about how he conveys complex situations to simple minded children the interviewer asked him about how he explains crisis or natural disasters to children. Mr. Rogers said, “My mother always taught me, amidst the crisis, the disasters, to look for the helpers, there you will find hope. The news cameras like to focus on the crisis, the victim the cause of the crisis. I wish they would also pan to the helpers, because every time a crisis hits there are helpers who are making the situation better. They are the ones who bring hope.” I want us to take our cue from Mr. Rogers this morning. Amidst the crisis of our story let’s look to the helpers for Hope.

We just heard a fascinating story from the book of Exodus. It’s a story of intrigue, deliverance, irony, and even humor. But it’s also a story of Hope, of hope in the face of crisis and this morning I would like to explore with you some of the “helpers” in the story.

The story takes place in Egypt, in a foreign land to our main characters the Hebrew people. You remember how they got there – Jacob had 12 sons, one whom he favored more than all the others named Joseph who ended up – after being sold into slavery - becoming friends with the Pharoah. His relationship with the Pharaoh made it possible for his father and brothers many years later, amidst a drought in their own land, to relocate to Egypt where their grain bins were full- thanks to Joseph’s prophecy.

Those days are long past though. We are a couple generations after that story and the people of God, the Hebrews, don’t have a relationship with the new Pharaoh in town. Meanwhile, the Hebrew people have fulfilled their creation mandate and are multiplying at a more rapid rate than the native Egyptians. The new pharaoh has a problem, a demographics problem. Their power may soon be threatened by the rise of the Hebrew people. Pharaoh was in tough spot. How would he protect the safety of his people? Faced with threat he has a choice- share power or use power to oppress. He chooses the latter.

In Chapter 1 of Exodus we know that Pharaoh dealt with this demographics problem by enslaving the Hebrew men and trying to control the expanding population by instructing Egyptian midwives to kill all the boys they deliver. When that plan doesn’t work Pharaoh sets forth a decree that all baby Hebrew boys must be thrown into the Nile River.

This is the context of our story - A world where the Hebrew people are enslaved, and all boys are to be put to death, a world of oppression and darkness, pain and subjugation.

In such a situation where do we find hope? Who do we look towards? Let’s take our cue from Mr. Rogers and turn our graze from the main characters of the story and look towards the helpers – those who’s unnoticed work bring hope to the brokenness of a situation.

The main character in our story is a baby boy. A boy who’s deliverance is a foreshadowing of the deliverance he will bring to his people. A boy whose life is at risk and whose life is preserved by the faithful helpers.

TIME OUT - I know that this is Father’s day but this story, while fathers not named because they are likely subject to slave like working environments is about 3 women. SORRY DADS, but we know we are who we are because of the women in our lives. This story is really about 3 women, well 1 woman and likely 2 young girls.

Amidst the threat of death of her son the first helper must be the boy’s mother. Moms deeply love their children, moms will do everything they can to save their children. In her moment of desperation though mom doesn’t just throw her hands up and ask God to save her son, she takes action. She builds an ark, the same word for her contraption is in Genesis 6 – when Noah builds an ark. It is a vessel without a rudder – what it lacks in direction it makes up for in preservation.

Mother places the ark in the reeds of the Nile River. I don’t this isn’t the kind of biblical beachside Pastor Lindsay was talking about last week. I thought we were supposed to be kicking back and relaxing in the biblical narrative – drinking from the well spring of life. This doesn’t seem like relaxing to me. While we know this ARK can float, we have no idea what is going to happen to this baby and neither does she! She places her rudderless vessel in the reeds with no idea what will happen.

TIME OUT – Wait a minute. Last week Pastor Lindsay said we were taking a jaunt through the “Biblical beach-sides.” We were going to soak in the relaxation of the summer and drink from the living water. This situation, this “beach-side” does not feel all that relaxing to me. A mother letting go of her 3 month old son on the banks of the Nile River!? What?

Can you imagine the anxiety she must have felt, the fear, the grief, the sadness? Can you imagine her desperation?

Have you been there before? Have you clung to something, clung to SOMEONE as tightly as you can knowing you will soon have to let it go? Knowing that you too will have to say good bye…

Her presence in the story is short, but the mother’s actions are what distinguish her.
When we look to the mother as helper we see a woman who in her desperation does everything she can to preserve the life of her son. She risks her own life by hiding the son for 3 months, she builds the son an ark, and then finally she orders her daughter to keep an eye on the baby.

Our next helpers in the story are 2 young women, maybe even girls, outside the purview of their parents, on their own at the bank of the Nile River.

We have the daughter of a slave family, whose task it is to do the one thing her mother couldn’t stand to do- keep an eye on her brother. She does what most big sisters do, she’s a babysitter...

We also have a princess so to speak, the daughter of pharaoh, a girl from a family with power, privilege and resources who is simply heading down to the river to bathe.

Two young women, two young girls from opposite family backgrounds who share nothing in common and find themselves here, at the Water’s Edge, on the banks of the Nile River.

Then, IT happens.

The young princess hears the cries of the baby boy and sees the ark floating in the reeds. She calls for her attendants to fetch the basket.

The sister of the child freaks. This isn’t what his supposed to happen, this boy was supposed to survive for just a few more days it wasn’t supposed to be found by the hands of the enemy! I can’t imagine what the sister would be thinking – my one job was to keep an eye on this baby boy and now the enemy found her. What am I going to tell mom? I can’t possibly make this stuff up.

The princess approaches the ark and opens the basket to find a baby, a HEBREW baby crying, and she is moved with Pity. Another word for it is she is moved with compassion. She see’s this vulnerable child, this completely helpless baby, and she is moved with compassion for this foreigner, this stranger, this child her father wants her to throw directly into the Nile. And she hears a voice – a voice of a young girl sheepishly saying… “Shall I find a Hebrew woman, a slave, to nurse this child for you?”

What a RISK this young girl is making. Could she see the compassion on the princess face? Did she know when the princess didn’t throw him directly back into the water that she had a chance? She risked her very life and asked offered a solution to the princess.

The princess took a significant risk, a HUGE risk of her own. How is she going to explain this one to her dad? How will she tell him that she found a baby boy, a HEBREW boy, and decided to adopt him into their home rather than throw him into the Nile? Not only that- how will she justify using her dad’s monetary resources to pay this slave woman to nurse the child!

It is a story that only be credited to the one character in the story who is not once mentioned, God. God’s name is never mentioned, his presence though is not far away. This is divine irony: A slave boy, a boy under the curse of death is sparred from the very river he is supposed to drown in and his poor and oppressed mother gets paid to nurse this child to life. All of this happens because two young women, two helpers in the grand story of Exodus are moved with compassion and risk their lives for the sake of this vulnerable baby boy.

These helpers give the people of God, the Hebrew people Hope. One vulnerable young sister, and another a well-off foreign princess are the ones God chooses to bring hope to a desperate situation.

We live in desperate times. We live in a world where Hope can seem distant where oppression rules, and power is corrupt. Who are the helpers in our world? To whom do the news reels miss in favor of the main characters and the heart of the pain?

I heard of 2 security personnel in Alexandria, VA who when gun shots were fired drew their weapons and stood in between vulnerable congressmen and a crazed gunman.

I saw around 15 volunteers in red shirts showing love to about 25 children of migrant farm workers this week in the intense heat and sunshine for an hour each day.

I witness an army- nearly 100 to be truthful – of other red shirts showing love to the children of our community at VBS this week. Filling small cups with snacks, setting up crafts, playing games, and walking alongside of children.

We remembered the hundreds of volunteers and community leaders in Nicaragua who, with about $50/day serve 160 children a meal 6 days a week.

Exodus 2 is a story of Hope. Yes the little boy whose life was preserved would one day become the man who delivers his people from the oppressive and ruthless rule of Pharaoh. But before he can do that his story is preserved by 3 helpers, three vulnerable women who with courage and faithfulness, with compassion and grit save his life. Their stories, their names are not even mentioned in this story but they are the helpers, they are the ones in whom we find hope. And this is the divine Irony of the story – God uses, God calls the weak, the low, the despised in the world to share with the strong. God continues to use ordinary people, people like you and me, to be his Helpers. To join with Him in redeeming the world.

For Exodus 2 is a great story, it’s a great story of the Helpers who preserved the life of Moses the deliverer of the Israelites. But his story is just the beginning it’s the foreshadowing of the true deliverer. The true deliverer will also be born into oppression. The true deliverer’s life will also be preserved by his mother. The true deliverer whose life is not only preserved but also offered so that all of humanity might be delivered from their pain and brokenness. It is the true deliverer who invites us to be His helpers.

Renee Krueger