Friday, July 29, 2016

Barn Envy

Luke 12:13-21
Today’s gospel lesson is hard to read, and I promise even harder to preach on! It’s a story about a man wanting his far share in life, and wanting Jesus’ help to get that fair share. Yet it quickly turns into what can be seen as an attack on wealth and saving of any kind. That’s the path I have heard preachers take before. The other path I’ve heard is that Jesus wasn’t condemning the wealthy man for being wealthy, just for being greedy. Something about that doesn’t set right with me either.
Let’s look closer at this passage together.
Read Luke 12:13-21
There is a video going around on Facebook of a sculpture made from wire. When you look at it head on it looks like two Giraffes. But as the camera moves around it the image changes and becomes a bull elephant. The sculpture is not what it seems to be. It is more than meets the eye.
What if this parable isn’t really about what it seems to be about? What if instead of being a parable about money or even wealth, it’s about something else entirely?
Jesus in his previous teachings in Luke has spoken about love of neighbor, learning to pray for and participate in the kingdom of God. He has denounced the leaders of religion and faith because their rules and regulations have kept people from forming relationships with God. Jesus has just given the speech saying that even the hairs of your heard are all counted by God, don’t be afraid, you have value and worth. These are life giving lessons. And then someone interrupts.
A man says “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” More than likely this is a younger brother whose older brother is not sharing as is expected. In those days the eldest son received 2/3 of the estate and the younger brother received 1/3. Two things could be going on, one, he didn’t get is 1/3 or 2, he wants more than his 1/3.
Because of Jesus’ words on greed I tend to think it is the latter.
Jesus refuses to get involved in this family fight. It must have been far more complicated than that of Martha and Mary a couple of chapters ago. Instead Jesus tells a story.
This story of a rich man and his barn. Basically this is a guy who knows how to get stuff done. He has multiple fields and is wealthy. He has a good crop, actually a bumper crop, and he sets about deciding what to do with it. After weighing his options, he decides to tear down the old barns and build bigger barns to keep it all in savings.
I’ve got to tell you that doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. Food is a necessity, and when you have a good crop you do all you can to protect it. In fact, didn’t God tell Joseph to build barns and save 7 years’ worth of crops for the land of Egypt? That was a good thing, a very good thing. How is this any different?
Let’s look closely at the pronouns used in this text. I, My, I, My. Hmmm and perhaps we’ve just come to the real heart of the parable.
The man is speaking to himself, about himself and making choices for himself. What is missing in that chain of events? Others. Community. The rich man has become so isolated, so consumed with his own life and providing for that life, that he fails to see his neighbors.
That can be a hard thing for us to hear. We live in a society that is constantly trying to convince us to accumulate more stuff for ourselves. We have so many industries that exist to deal with all of the stuff we have and don’t want, can’t use, but don’t want someone else to have! No room in the house? Put it in the garage. No room there? But it in an outbuilding. No room there? Rent a storage unit. Out of room there? Get a bigger, climate controlled one!
This idea, this way of life, really this sin, keeps us from engaging with our neighbor in need. The rich man in this parable is cut off from those around him. He isn’t even interested in selling his excess goods. He wants them all for himself.
He feels good about himself and invites himself to rejoice. But God calls him a fool.
Yes, a fool. Rough word from the lips of God, but a truth that cannot be denied. This very day your life is demanded of you. And the things you’ve prepared, whose will they be?
He has no one to leave his goods to after he dies. All of his hard work will amount to nothing because he failed to share what he had. Because he failed to share in community with others.
I’ve been reading a book called “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker. In it there is a chapter called “On calling and Haitian Moms.” In it she says “It’s taken me 40 years to assess the difference between the gospel and the American evangelical version of the gospel. … There is a biblical benchmark I now use. We will refer to this criterion for every hard question, big idea, topic, assessment of our own obedience, every “should” or “should not” and “will” or “will not” we ascribe to God, every theological sound bite. Here it is: If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true. . . . Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. This helps us untangle from the American God Narrative and sets God free to be God instead of the My-God-In-My-Pocket I carried for so long.”
The man in the parable today had probably bought into the cultural idea that being rich was a blessing from God. That’s a thought commonly espoused today. But if that’s true, then God is a narrow minded God who only blesses richest of the rich despite the millions of sincere believers worldwide that live in abject poverty.
He had bought into the idea of being independent so much that he didn’t even thank God for the harvest.  When we become so internally focused we lose sight of not only those around us, but of God and God’s activity as well.
When we fall into this trap then we are susceptible to so many others. Not the least of which is the trap of fear. When we isolate ourselves from the other then we begin to fear the other. David Lose says “there is right now, a profound and increasingly shared message out and about that we should not and cannot trust each other, that the world is increasingly dangerous and we should therefore be increasingly afraid. That kind of fear will not lead us forward. . . The Bible warns us against fear because it’s really hard to take care of your neighbor and create community when you are afraid.”
Building community, living playing working worshiping together, is what discipleship is all about. Those things describe the church at its beginnings, the family of God, the body of Christ together. To be rich towards God is to be rich towards neighbor, other, widow, orphan, needy. These are the lessons Jesus gives us time and time again in the gospel of Luke. I think the farmer, wealthy in things, but starved in relationships never heard the truth found in the good news.
He sought to relax, eat drink and be merry, but never got to experience any of those things. When we live in community, when we live as disciples together we eat the bread and drink the cup together. We rejoice with each other, and we cry with each other. We can enjoy the love of God together because we are together.

The rich man was all about building, and we as Christians should be too. But instead of building barns to hold things for ourselves, we should be building relationships that bridge the gaps the world places between us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Living the Lord's Prayer

Luke 11:1-13
We live in the age of “How to” and DIY. A quick search on Google comes up with 6,230,000,000 responses to the prompt How to. That’s almost 1 per person on the earth! If you narrow it down a bit and ask “How to Pray” you get a much more manageable 141,000,000 responses. And add Christian into the search parameters and you get narrowed down to 13,300,000. That’s roughly 1 for every 18 and a half self-identified Christians in America.
Apparently how to pray is as big a deal now as it was in Jesus’ day! In our scripture lesson this morning the disciples, we will say the 12 though it might have been the 72, are gathered around listening to his teaching. One of them is bold enough to ask “How should we pray?” It’s a question many of us have asked before or had asked of us.
I remember asking my mother how to pray when I was small. Her response was to teach me the “Now I lay me down to sleep.” You know that one right?
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I’ll confess to having a VERY hard time sleeping that night! When I taught this prayer to our kids I changed the last words to God keep me safe through the night, and wake me with the morning light. Still a bit cheesy, but hopefully less scaring.
This disciple wants to know how to pray. Jesus and the disciples have been in synagogues in this gospel so presumably they have been in worship services and heard the priests and Rabbis pray and teach. They may even have parts of scripture memorized to pray such as “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” From Deuteronomy 6:4
 But they want to know how Jesus, their rabbi wants them to pray. John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray, so why wouldn’t Jesus do the same thing.
I wonder if the disciples expected Jesus to give them something to memorize, perhaps some magical incantation of words that would allow them to be heard better than the next poor sap. I wonder if this disciple wanted to be sure he was doing things right, decently in order, perhaps even the first Presbyterian found in the bible!
But Jesus’ response in Luke is far from any of those things. Jesus responds by giving more than just words.
This prayer in Luke is different from the one we find in Matthew, the one we usually pray every Sunday morning. This prayer is short, to the point, and one might even say pointed. This prayer is not a formula, it’s not a set of magic words, it’s not even a how to guide really. It’s a way of life!
Jesus begins by making an amazing request to God. He says, when you pray begin with Father, hallowed be your name. I’ve always been told that this phrase is a descriptive phrase, reminding God that you know God is holy. But I no longer think that is the case. I think it is a request. God, make your name hallowed here on earth! Make your name Holy by bringing about your kingdom. That’s the request of this prayer. God, make this world your own.
How will we know that this prayer is being answered, listened to, affective? We, and all others, will be given our daily bread. Enough for now, just like the manna in the wilderness. Just enough to sustain us for the day, no extra. What happened when people stored up the excess? It rotted. It was no good. God’s kingdom allows for food for today, each time a new day begins.
The next part gets even trickier. Forgive us our sins, Okay that I can ask for. I need my sins to be forgiven, and surely a holy God would do that. But the next part can make you stumble. “For we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” No that’s a tall order.
But that’s what it takes to live the Lord’s Prayer, to be a part of Your Kingdom come. We must be willing to and then actually forgive everyone indebted to us.
I read several stories of forgiveness, some that shocked me, some that brought me to tears, some that honestly made me angry. I’ll share just one with you this morning.
In Iran, it is standard practice for families of murder victims to oversee the execution of murderer of their family member. They are also given the choice to pardon the offender. Such was the fate of a young man who had already served seven years for killing 17-year-old Abdollah Alinejad in a street fight, according to The Associated Press.
In May 2014, Samereh Alinejad watched as a noose was slipped around the neck of Bilal Gheisari, her son's killer. This was her chance to have the vengeance she'd waited seven years to have. Instead, she and her husband stepped forward at the last minute and removed the noose from his neck. Gheisari's death sentence was commuted and he will finish serving a 12-year prison sentence instead.
As WM Paul Young says in his book the shack ““Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person's throat......Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.........Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation.........Forgiveness does not excuse anything.........You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness......” 
When we acknowledge God’s Holy Name, when we accept our daily bread, when we ask for forgiveness, as we have already offered that forgiveness to others then we ask to not be brought to the time of trial.
That’s a whole lot to digest isn’t it? Living the Lord’s prayer allows us to live lives that free not only ourselves, but others as well! That’s what spreading the kingdom of God on this earth is capable of doing.  And when the kingdom comes, when God’s kingdom comes, our boldness, our shamelessness will pay off.
Jesus says that a neighbor will give you something essentially to shut you up! When you bring a request to God, bring it like someone raising attention to a need. Create a disturbance until those in power bring you what you need, otherwise no one will get any rest!
As Jill Duffield says “Be as in your face, uncivilized, uncouth, socially embarrassing as these two. This is no “Excuse me sir, do you have any Grey Poupon?”
Have you ever prayed like that? Boldly, fiercely, and perhaps embarrassingly?
Perhaps you should. Perhaps we all should. Crying out to God with our needs is not a shameful act, the scripture today talks about praying boldly, but a better translation is with shamelessness. Pour out you needs before the Lord and I promise things will happen.
Ultimately God can’t keep from giving compassion to creation, even as messed up as we are. God gave us Christ, the ultimate example of compassion. On the strength of God’s love our petitions are heard.
But prayer is not just a laundry list of wants and needs. It is part of a fuller and complete relationship with our creator. Prayer is not designed to bend the will of God. Prayer is meant to bend us to the will of the creator. By coming into a closer relationship with God we begin to follow God’s will in not only our actions, but our requests as well.
So what does it look like to live where a people live the Lord’s prayer? I’d say we look no farther than the Psalm for this morning. Psalm 85.
85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah

85:3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

85:4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.

85:5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

85:6 Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?

85:7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.

85:8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.

85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

85:11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

85:12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

85:13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

May it be so my friends. May our living of the Lord’s prayer help make it so.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Better Part

Luke 10:38-42
Yesterday was our one day VBS. So let me begin by saying thank you. Thank you to each one of you who helped out with this event, from planning, to cooking, from watching kids, to cleaning up, from ordering Pizza to playing games, from crafting to horsing around you all made VBS a wonderful, if exhausting day.
I noticed somethings yesterday that made me think of the scripture I just read. I noticed that some people were really big on relationships. People crawled around on the floor with the kids, even when it wasn’t what was “called for” I also noticed people hoovering around like worker bees, quick to clear off tables and throw away trash. The balance of these two was evident. Things went fairly smoothly, as smoothly as anything does when children are involved!
People were using their gifts and talents to accomplish a common goal. It was fantastic and I am grateful. Everyone did their job and encouraged one another, so good on you.
But as we see in today’s Gospel lesson, this is not always the case in the church or in the Christian community.
Jesus and his disciples are traveling, something they do a lot in the Gospels, and they come to Bethany, the home of Martha. Every time I’ve read this scripture I instantly get the image of Jesus and twelve other uninvited guests popping up at Martha’s door asking for food, shelter and company. However, I looked at it again this week and I realized something. It might not have been Jesus and the 12. In fact, it was more than likely not that group. Just a few short verses earlier we are told that Jesus is talking with the 72 about their successful mission out into the world. Nowhere does it say that Jesus dismissed those other 60 disciples before heading to Martha’s. It is very likely that instead of a group of 13 Martha opened her door to 73 or more!
And now I begin to understand a little bit more of Martha’s anxiety. She is a woman of hospitality. She has been doing the service and table service in her community. The word used to describe her service is the same word used elsewhere to speak of the angels ministering to Jesus during his time in the wilderness. She’s been doing ministry, faithfully. And now she is called upon to bring hospitality to this multitude.
After having had a day of hospitality for 11 kids, that was expected and anticipated, I have a greater respect and admiration for Martha than ever before!
She pulls herself together and begins preparations. But something is bothering her.
I wonder if it’s just a little nagging feeling at first, you know, one of those whispers from the devil on her shoulder. “Why isn’t Mary helping me out?” Perhaps Martha even dismisses it for a little while, after all Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, the words used to describe a disciple, so Martha must understand that Mary would be focused on Jesus. But over time the little pain of unfairness begins to grow. Why am I slaving away and she does nothing? Doesn’t she remember what it’s like around here? Why won’t she get off her duff and do something?
Eventually Martha can’t take it anymore and throws her kitchen towel down on the counter and marches into the living room to give Mary and good talking to.  But the first person to meet her eyes is not Mary. It is Jesus. Martha takes a deep breath and decides to talk with him about everything.
At this point the human development/counseling student in me wants to shake her. “Martha,” I want to say “Don’t do it! If you are having a problem with Mary, go to Mary directly, don’t use a go between. That’s triangulating, and its supremely unhealthy!” That’s never the best way to handle conflict I yell at the page. But despite my protesting, Martha always goes on with her next words. “Jesus, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Martha, Martha, Martha. You Jan Brady of the Bible. Jesus turns to her and says “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be take away from her.”
Often after hearing these words I think of Mary sitting there smiling that younger sibling smile. Those of you with younger sibling know the smile I’m talking about.  That “ha ha, you got in trouble” smile. But more study of this text has helped me view Jesus’ response in a different light.
Jesus isn’t saying “Martha, you are a failure, Mary is the good sister.” Jesus is not pitting these two women against each other. That’s 2,000 years of church history pressing down upon Martha and Mary’s relationship.
Jesus says you are worried and distracted by many things. What things? Its not the ministry, after all she’s done this. Yes, 73 visitors is a lot, but when hospitality is your gift, it’s just what you do. No, Martha is not distracted by her tasks or by her ministry. She is distracted by her sister. Specifically, by what her sister is not doing.
We see this far too often in the Christian community. We have a tendancey to judge one another by our own callings or standanrds. One church may have a calling to minister to youth and have a thriving youth and young adult program. But what will we hear about that congregation? That they are all flash and enetertainment, no substance. Or that they only care about the young people and do nothing for their third agers.
Another church may have a calling to a certain forgein mission field that they support faithfully sending short and long term mission groups and supporting schools and clean water initiatives. What do we hear about that congregation? Why don’t they help with those in need in their own back yards? Why do they send all of their money and prayers overseas when there are Americans who could use it?
Yet another church may be heavly involved in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, spending time, energy and resources to make sure that the issue of racial inequality is not sweapt under the rug. What do we hear about that congregation? Don’t they know all lives matter? What makes them any more special? Why can’t the church stay out of politics and stick to caring for their own?
My friends, we are far too often distracted by what others do, or don’t do, and by doing so we, like Martha, miss out on the better part.
What is that better part? One commentator says “Mary and Martha cannot be about the better thing that means who is better, who acts better, who can be better.
The better thing is the invitation to believe that you are who God sees you to be.
And that is precisely our problem. An inherent, systemic, omnipresent, ingrained, intrinsic, dysfunctional, disturbing belief that not all are worthy of God’s regard and love. The conviction, as Paul Farmer says, “That all are not equal in God’s eyes. That all are not made in the image of God.”
This untruth, this vicious lie is what keeps us at odds with each other. This keeps us distracted rather than really looking at the world the way Jesus ask us to look. Think about it. The world said let women be silent. Jesus appeared first to the women and then to the twelve. The world says get even, or better, ahead. Jesus says turn the other cheek. The world says take care of number one. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself.
The better part, my friends, is embracing the “present and not yet” kingdom of God. It is opening our hearts, our doors, our arms to those in need of hospitality. It is listening to the voice of Christ in their voices as they lament their suffering or celebrate their healing. The better part is seeing the child of God, not only in the mirror, but in every face we see.
When we can choose the better part, when our hearts are concerned not about what others do, but about what God calls us to do, we become the hands and feet of Christ. We become the living embodiment of the Holy Spirit. We become the family of God.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Good Samaritain

Luke 10 The “Good Samaritan”
I will start this morning with two confessions. 1, I didn’t write this sermon until late Saturday night, because I couldn’t figure out just what I wanted to say vs what God wanted me to say, and that place is a scary place to be for any preacher. 2, I was tempted to hang a sign on the door this morning that said “No services today. Go to Church Street, or any other church, and BE the church, loving on neighbors in unexpected ways.”
However, with a session meeting today, I thought that might be a bad idea, especially without session approval, so instead, I went this morning to the 8 am Church Street Service and this is what I learned.
We all are hurt and grieving, this week, it’s just louder than normal. We all are at a loss of words, not knowing what to do to make the violence that besets our nation god away. We say love is the answer, but what is love, and how do we show it?
We are all tiered, weak and worn. And this is not a new thing. This pain, this separation, this discomfort and alienation are not new. They’ve been going on for millennia
The issues we face today, the issues of racism, of hate, of murder and violence, they are nothing new. We are still walking on the same road to Jericho, the same path filled with thieves and murderers, but now we’ve gotten so used to it that doing anything other than keeping our heads down and passing by is out of the question.
As I’ve look at this passage and remembered back to all of the sermons I’ve preached and heard preached on it, I realized that the focus has almost entirely been given to the Samaritan. We are told to be like the Samaritan, providing aid when needed. It brings us to a safe reading of the text, a helped that guy with a flat tire? You’re a good Samaritan. Bought someone a bottle of water, you’re a good Samaritan. This really oversimplifies what’s going on and leads us to see the text as a do good deeds text, instead of the life changing story it really should be.
Today I want us to look at this text from a different angle. Today, don’t picture yourself as the good Samaritan. Today imagine you are the wounded person on the side of the road.
You have been traveling a dangerous path one known for its thieves, its murders, its dark side. You have the car doors locked and you are trying desperately to make it through. But you get stopped by a red light. Someone pulls up next to you and before you even know what’s going on they have dragged you from your safe car, taken everything you had, beat you and left you for dead.
You hear footsteps and look up. Through your blurry vision you see a politician. Here is someone who knows the laws of the land, has prided themselves on taking care of the less fortunate. But one glimpse of you and the politician crosses the street.
You swoon and when you recover see someone else approaching. A teacher, a Sunday School teacher in fact. Surly this good person will show you kindness, after all they have taught many people the rules of faith. But they too walk on by you without an offer of help.
You hear footsteps one more time, and this time you don’t even raise your head, what’s the point really? The suddenly the footsteps stop. A hand touches your neck, searching for a pulse. A rag begins to wipe up some of the blood from your face. A call is made to 911.
You look up into the face of your savior. And standing before you is the person you least want to help you. The last person on earth you even want to touch you. For some that would be an HIV positive gay man, for some a member of Al-Qaeda, for others a tattoo covered chain smoking biker, or perhaps a convicted felon, or a child molester. That one person, who the thought of them makes you ill, is the only one willing to offer you mercy.
Now then, when we are at the point of death a lot of our prejudices go by the wayside. This week in a county west of Dallas Texas an officer was watching a group of inmates in the county courthouse. They were behind a locked door; he was in the hallway facing them. He slumped to the ground and the inmates realized something was wrong. They began yelling and screaming. They kicked open the locked door and managed to get to the officer. The officer, who by the way had keys to their shackles and a pistol on his hip. They laid him on the floor and made so much noise that other officers who were upstairs in court building came running. The inmates could have been shot, they could have been in a ton of trouble, they could have escaped. But instead they acted to save this officers life.
It's a good story. It’s a moment where things could have gone wrong, but didn’t. It’s also important to note that the first thing the jail did was to reinforce the cell door that the inmates broke to make sure it couldn’t happen again.
When the lawyer in our scripture asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” I don’t think he would have put these inmates in that category. But I’m sure Jesus would.
Friends, when I’m really honest with myself, I see the church in all of the characters in this parable. I see us walking through the dangerous Road to Jericho every day, wondering waiting for the thieves to strike. I see us walking past the wounded, maybe pausing long enough to pray, but not much more. I see us wounded ourselves, hoping that someone else will come along and ease our suffering. There are times, glorious times when we come together and really do the hard and honest work of loving our neighbor. And there are times when someone else is the neighbor, but they bring the wounded to us, the church as an innkeeper, to bind up, to care for to nurse back to health.
In my heart of hearts, my broken hear this week, I see our country as the wounded bloody mass on the side of the road. We are beaten, tiered, torn. What will the church do to be a neighbor to this wounded nation? What will we, the people of God do while blood is running in the streets?

How will we respond? Will we pause to pray, but not to get our hands dirty? Will we walk past thinking “Thank God it isn’t me or mine” or will we begin the difficult painful process of acknowledging the problems and really dedicating our times, talents, whole selves to the healing process?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hard Things

2 Kings 5:1-14
Life is hard. It’s a phrase we hear often, or at least various versions of those words. “My life is hard.” “Adulting is hard.” “Being a kid is hard.” “being a parent is hard.” “breathing is hard today.” When I get overwhelmed by the whole life being hard thing, I remember a sign that my 4th grade teacher had in her room. It read “We can do hard things.”
We can do hard things. Each and every day we stumble, struggle and pull our way through hard things. I think some of that fight is what keeps me motivated. It’s hard, but once it’s done I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, I’ll know I’ve “made something of myself.”
In today’s scripture lesson there are some people who do some hard stuff. But they are not the ones we tend to focus on. This story is remembered as the time Naaman took a bath, at least by those of us who learned it as small children. The message to me was always “Be clean, be pure, be obedient.” Funny how as an adult those are not the truths I find in this passage at all.
In fact, the more time I’ve spent looking at the scripture the more I realize that it’s not really so much about Naaman, as it is about those around him.
Scripture tells us Naaman is a “big man on campus” sort of fellow. He is a warrior for the king of Aram, enemies of the Israelites, by the way. He is the right hand man of the king and things are going well for him, except for one small problem. He has leprosy.
Leprosy is the name given in biblical times to all sorts of skin diseases, from eczema to flaky skin to rashes to the disease as it is known today. According to the Israelite tradition, Naaman would have been exiled from the community until he was healed. But remember, he’s not an Israelite! These same rules don’t apply. He’s continued about his work, but he is getting fed up with this issue.
The more he complains and suffers, the more his household becomes unnerved, to the point where a young slave girl, one from Israel, gets the nerve to speak up and offer a new plan of action.
What a brave, hard thing she did! She spoke up for the prophet of her God. She gave voice to the healing powers her homeland proclaimed. She spoke the Lord’s words in a foreign land.
How often do we let words of comfort, encouragement, even healing or salvation die on our tongues because we are afraid of the reaction? How often do we know that healing is available, but don’t offer it out of fear or rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of retribution? It’s hard!  But this girl knew she could do hard things.
After meeting with the king Naaman goes, not to the prophet, but to the King of Israel! That’s how we know Naaman was a big deal, and knew he was a big deal. It’s like approaching the president for an appointment with the presidential dermatologist! It’s over kill. To us it seems hard, but to Naaman it was how things were done. The king had authority in his country, surely this king had the same control over his healers.
After the kings own existential crisis, he sends Naaman on to Elisha for healing. And Elisha refuses to play into this power play. He sends out a servant and says, wash in the river Jordan 7 times, and you will be healed.
No pomp, no circumstance, just a simple bath in a muddy river. It’s a simple thing to do. But Naaman is insulted. Naaman is a big man, and he expects his healing to be a big deal. This simple washing bit is too simple, too beneath him. It’s not the show he’s brought all these goods to pay for!
While life is hard, and can be hard, its often the simple things that trip us up. The simple things like saying thank you when someone holds open a door, or the simple act of passing that kindness onto another. A simple smile or greeting can change a person’s morning, but we too often think of it as wasted energy. The simple acts of a cup of cold water on a hot day, or a meal to eat, even if it’s just a burrito, these are life changing, life giving healing acts. They are simple, and perhaps that’s why we have a hard time doing them.
Naaman does not want to do the simple because it seems like not enough. But God does not turn his back on Naaman, and god does not turn God’s back on us.
God does not leave us bereft of support when tragedy does strike; rather, God employs ordinary people to act in extraordinary ways.
In this cases Naaman’s servants stretch out an olive branch to him. They say “If it had been hard to do you would have done it. What keeps you from trying something so simple?” Naaman realizes he really has nothing to lose, and goes and bathes as instructed. And he is healed.
When Naaman was able to trust, to accept the simple instruction “wash and be clean” he was healed.
He was healed.
He returns giving thanks and praise. He returns asking more about this God who has changed him. He returns to offer thanks and praise. He returns completely healed, a new man, with skin like a young boy.
The slave girl, Elisha, the river Jordan are all set apart, not because they are intrinsically unique, but because God is at work through them, in all their particularity, for the good of Naaman.  For the good of an enemy of Israel.
That’s an oddity. God’s grace extending beyond the chosen people? But it did, and it does. Grace is offered to all. It’s a simple thing really, but we try to make it so hard. God loves the world, not just certain segments of that world. Not just North America, not just the Middle-east, but the world!
So we too are called to love the world. To reach out with these simple gestures of hope, kindness, faith and generosity. Reaching out a helping hand to a member of a different race, culture or religion does not require that one check one’s traditions or faith at the door in the interest of meeting that person on so called “neutral ground.” The slave girl and Elisha are able to help Naaman by drawing on the resources their religion and culture provide, not by setting them aside or kicking them away.
We are called to acts of justice and mercy in response to the grace we have received from God through Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

Is it hard? It can sure seem that way. And we can do hard things. But sometimes its as simple as a cup and some bread. Sometimes its as simple as a shared meal. Sometimes its as simple as open arms. And we can do simple things too!

Friday Five: Celebrations

From 3dogmom@ Revgalblogpals: It’s the time of year when celebrations abound: graduations (the end of that season), weddings, anniversaries, family reunions, and more. I’ve just officiated the blessing of my sister-in-law’s recent marriage, an event that incorporated a variety of celebrations within the celebration. Fun stuff, all around!
The season notwithstanding, causes to celebrate can be found in our daily/weekly/monthly lives, too. For today’s FF, share with us five things you are celebrating these days!
Celebrating is a hard thing for me to do in general. I guess its that idea of letting "the world" know what you value and putting it a risk publicly. You know, the whole counting the chickens before they hatch kind of mindset. I'm trying to get over that by keeping a daily log of gratitude, but making it public still causes some anxiety.
Here goes!
1) My wonderful husband who keeps me from wallowing too much!
2) My parents, who love me and my family with a fierceness that I aspire towards

3. My precious son, who loves to play with his sisters, even if that means being "pretty princess wy-wy"

4) The family worship space at our GA this year! It was amazing! My three loved it, and it enhanced our worship experience.

5) My middle child, who just turned 8. She is pure Joy and excitement all of the time!

Bonus* My eldest child (on the left) who is making 11 look so grown up! I celebrate her amazing ability to make people feel listened to and appreciated for who they are!