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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Naaman the Leper 2 Kings 5 Proper 9C Ordinary 14C Pentecost +7

We find in the tale of Naaman the Syrian a masterfully told narrative. Immediately upon reading, we are caught up in the plot, or the problem. There is a great man, honourable man, strong man, but he has contracted a disease. However, the word for leprosy used here is not the worst kind that would separate him from everyone. It may have been something so simple as eczema or psoriasis, but any skin disease was considered suspect because after all it could be leprosy. Then we have a shock: an un-named slave girl suggests the cure. What is even more shocking is that Naaman listens to this unnamed slave girl.
The cure lies in the power of a prophet in Israel. The prophet is unnamed, but we know who it is because we have already been reading about the miracles of Elisha in chapter 4: he causes the widow’s oil lasted longer than it should have, he raises the Shunammite woman’s son, he purifies some poison stew, and he feeds 100 people with very little food, we the readers have no problem believing that Elisha can cure Naaman’s leprosy.
But there is this one little problem. Israel and Syria do not have a good relationship, if you turn over to chapter 6 you find that Syria and Israel are at war. How in the world will a commander of the army of Syria (Aram), march into Israel and ask for healing? He does it with dignity and pomp and circumstance and lots of money, like any VIP would do. Surely the king of Israel won’t turn down a load of money. 10 talents of silver A talent could weigh anything from 50-80 lbs and silver today is worth about $225 a pound. 6,000 shekels of gold would be 150 lbs of gold, gold is worth about $400 a pound today, and 10 changes of clothes in a day when most people wore their clothes until they rotted off of them. But the king of Israel takes it as a trick.
Meanwhile Elisha knows what is going on and sends a servant and says to send Naaman to him that ‘he may learn there is a prophet in Israel’. What does the VIP expect when his chariot and his entourage stops at Elisha’s door? The red carpet? Flashing paparazzi photography? Of course. After all this is the treatment that commanders receive. Instead he gets nothing but a servant, possibly a slave to deliver the healer’s message: go dip in the Jordan river seven times. And he has a righteous fit. I’ve tried to think of a similar situation and what I thought of was Donald Trump with all his money arriving at a tribal shaman’s house asking for a cure. It looks this ridiculous. And then for the healer to send a servant? That is dishonourable. This means the prophet is not even giving him the time of day to see him. This is when you have stage 4 cancer and your oncologist sends a medical assistant to give his or her orders, and you never see the doctor. But his servants see the heart of the problem. It’s just too easy. If it was difficult, would  you have done it? Of course you must give a difficult task to a hero in order to make the story sell. Perhaps he will kill a giant with nothing but a slingshot, or take on  the 12 tasks of Hercules that start with killing a lion, and killing the nine headed dragon… Perhaps he will have to fly a fight plane through a trench and make a precise shot to destroy the death star, or take the one ring and throw it in the fire of mount doom, At very very least he should have to lift a heavy hammer and defeat his evil brother.
 Naaman hoped for such a task, instead he is told to dip in a dirty river. Talk about anticlimactic! For instance: would the so called Oklahoma river-that we know is really the Canadian make you clean? No, it might give you Ecoli. And everyone knows that Syrian’s rivers are much better than Israel’s little stream called the Jordan. His servants persuade him, just as the servant girl persuaded him to try this in the first place. He is clean, he is cured, he rejoices and wants to worship the God of Israel, which shows not only is he physically healed but spiritually as well. Elisha won’t take payment and Naaman wants dirt, probably because he believed that gods were geographically located and if he had Israel’s soil perhaps Israel’s god would give him favour. But there is a subtle message in the fact that he brought with him gold and silver and took back dirt.
In the story of Naaman, God has turned everything upside down. Social conventions, status quo, the responsibility of kings and governments, and in the midst of this we even ask ourselves the question of who has the right to health care? The story is even more topsy turvy for us, because a Syrian is a powerful man and the Syrians we know are now refugees wondering the earth. But this story addresses the issue of the nobody as the Syrians wander the earth. Who had the power in this story? Well God of course, but who has the voice of God, the authority? The servants. God’s cure is given in grace, not with difficult tasks to complete. And God has absolutely no respect for the boundaries, geographical, social, political, and economic that we humans erect.
 Surely, the boundaries that we place around God’s love cannot and will not hold God back.
Jesus refers to this story in Luke 4 when he addresses the synagogue in his hometown
Luke 4
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Is it any wonder they wanted to throw him off the cliff?

Friday, October 30, 2015

If John Wesley and his friends had Twitter

@jwesleyonhishorse      I hate TULIPS.   #freegrace

              I                     @gwhitefield  I’d rather have a TULIP than lose  my way.   #assuranceofsalvation  

@jwesleyonhishorse   I wonder what Grace thinks #shelovesmeshelovesmenot

@cwesleyhymns             It just wasn’t meant to be @mrsbennet  #Shouldhavemovedfaster

@jwesleyonhishorse   I thought she loved me.

@mrsbennet             the ceremony was already planned @cwesleyhymns

@cwesleyhymns       I told you she wasn’t good enough for you #remindsmeofsophy

@gwhitefield             You both could learn to preach #Ifillthosepewsyoudon’t

@jwesleyonhishorse    I married @MollyV today. We should be so happy #hopeforthefuture

@MollyV                   @jwesleyonhishorse better quit texting @annbolton

@jwesleyonhishorse   @MollyV you can’t make me #nanananbooboo

@MollyV                     @jwesleyonhishorse I told you to come home and quit visiting all those women #ifyoudontIllputspywareonyourmacbook

@jwesleyonhishorse    you wouldn’t dare

@MollyV         Watch me #Dontmesswithamadwoman 

@cwesleyhymns      Hark the Herald angels sing let us all get along @MollyV

@MollyV                     shut up @CWesleyhymns or I’ll call @SarahGwynne

@GWhitefield                        Let’s all go out into the field and preach #stopmessingaround

@jwesleyonhishorse             ouch @MollyV pulled my hair  #weneedamarriagecounselorwhoisnotmybrother

@SarahGwynne        There is a reason I told @cwesleyhymns to stop the itinerancy

@MollyV         If @cwesleyhymns can stop traveling than so can @jwesleyonhishorse

@jwesleyonhishorse       There are reasons one would rather sleep with one’s head on a rock than in one’s bed  #Istickwiththeitineracy

@MrsBennet     Obviously I chose the right one @MrBennet #anearmiss

@cwesleyhymns     Last night there were so many preachers in the preaching house at @methodistmeetinghousebristol that we broke the floor and landed on a pile of tobacco

@jwesleyonhishorse       Must be time to build a New Room. #maybeitwillstoppeoplefromthrowingstones

@MollyV                     Are you sure it was all preachers in that room and not women? #IdontrustyouasfarasIcanthrowyou

@jwesleyonhishorse [blocks] @MollyV

@cwesleyhymns       It’s God’s wrath on us for dissenting #weshouldremainloyaltothemotherchurch

@jwesleyonhishorse    Don’t get your knickers in a wad @cwesleyhymns

[Wesley scholars, please excuse the anachronisms)

 Kelly Yates (yes it's original, but feel free to share)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Easter 4B Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; I John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18 Sheep and Shepherds

Today we will look at the lectionary passages for Easter 4B in a sequence. It's not a chronological sequence, but a theological one.

This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” Acts 4:11

Peter and John stand before the Sanhedrin, the very court that wanted to sentence Jesus to death but could not due to Roman law.  With boldness that Peter did not have before the day of Pentecost, he preaches straight into the faces of those who hated Jesus and hated him.  "IT WAS YOU WHO KILLED HIM."  The stone rejected has become the cornerstone. The 'piece of trash' you threw out is now the feast. The man you thought you killed is alive, and nothing you can do can ever change that.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
John 10:11

The cornerstone is the good shepherd. He has laid down his life for the sheep. Sheep need led, and sheep have no natural defense. 

"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me." Psalm 23:4

Because he died he walks with his through this Holy Spirit. Peter could stand in boldness because the shepherd had laid down his life and now walked with him through the evil of the hypocritical religious leaders.

"How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" I John 3:17

All of this leads to one place: How do we live out the resurrection message of Christ? Do we take the chance to stand and preach? Do we help the one in need? Do we offer water to the thirsty, a sandwich to the man on the side of the road? Will we get out of our pews and pray with someone? Will we allow the 'outcast' into our nice clean sanctuaries? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Easter 3B Acts 3:12-19 The sermon after the healing of the lame man at the Temple

Peter welcomes any opportunity to preach. Here he has a crowd with mouths gaping open that he has healed the lame man; the guy everyone walked past every single day. He was just a beggar with a cup, maybe a few people would take pity on him and drop in a few coins. The sermon is classic kerygma, a pattern found throughout the book of Acts.

But today I am not thinking along the lines of classic kergyma commentary. Today I am thinking of opportunities to tell the good news of Jesus Christ that I miss every day. Today I am thinking of the beggars I see every day holding signs up at the stop lights. This seems to be the equivalent of catching people going into the temple. It must work or people wouldn't do it. I hand a dollar or two out my window. I've pushed blankets, jackets, and whatever food I have in the car into shaking hands. There is a well known homeless man that holds up a sign at a busy intersection near I-40 in Oklahoma City that says, 'Tough day? Yell at a bum! 50c an hour!' Now that is creative. I handed him a leftover burrito without yelling at him last time I saw him.

But would I say as Peter did to the beggar, what I have I gladly give? In the name of Jesus Christ stand up and walk? Or In the name of Jesus Christ, be healed of your addiction or bad luck or lack of job skills or mental illness that has caused you to beg for money in any way possible? Or am I afraid to speak to such people? And when I do stop and there are staring eyes, do I take the chance to speak to the curious eyes looking at a person so crazy to do more than hand a bum a dollar?

Then I ask myself, what is it about my culture that allows such people to beg for food? Why do we have so many homeless people in every single city? What is going on in our system? Am I seeking justice for the hungry?

The people of the village noticed that there were babies floating down the river. They kept pulling them out to save their lives. This is charity.
After thousands of babies were pulled out of the river, one person asked, who is throwing these babies out of the river? I will walk up the river until I find out and put a stop to this.
This is social justice.

Both are needed. The babies who have already been thrown in the river need to saved. But more will be saved in the long run if the people throwing the babies in are stopped.

Peter could have put in a coin, if he had one. Instead he healed the man in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easter 2B Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, I John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31 Doubt

Doubt is a part of faith but many evangelical denominations do not want to admit this. Yes, Jesus says blessed are those who do not see and yet believe, but how does he treat Thomas's doubt? He simply asks him to put his hand in the wounds.  There is no shaming, no asking if he remembered the prophecies, only love. 
When someone comes to be doubting their faith, or even doubting God I assure them that God can handle it. 
I find it interested that the Psalm and the Acts passage are about unity. How does this connect to Doubting Thomas? The disciples were gathered together when Jesus first appeared and Thomas was absent. We have never heard where he was. Was he hiding or did he have a legitimate excuse like a stomach virus? We will never know. Did his doubt bring more unity or less or did it affect it at all? 

'We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.' Thomas can say this now, but what about those of us who have not seen and heard and still doubt? Can we proclaim? Isn't that what the essence of faith is?  This song expresses Doubting Thomas better than I ever could: Doubting Thomas Nickle Creek Live/