The Waiting

The Waiting

waiting

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”

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This past Sunday was the first day of Advent.   Advent is the New Years Day of the church calendar.  The church calendar, a Christ formed calendar brought to you by the same people who gave you the Bible!!  The church calendar is a  creative way of subverting secularism by marking time according to the Christian story.  The Hebrew people have been doing this for millennia, marking time according to the feasts, festivals and holy days according to their story of being delivered out of Egypt, the Exodus.   We have our own story centered in Jesus Christ.  We mark the year telling the story of Jesus Christ.  The church year begins first Sunday of advent, so Happy New Year!!!   We are no longer in “ordinary time”, but a special time.  We are in the season of advent.   Advent means “the coming” or the “appearing”.   So in this season of advent, we are patiently waiting for the birth of Christ, but we are also waiting for his coming again.

luke

Looking today at the gospel of Luke, which begins 15 months before birth of Jesus.  Luke was a physician, which in those days meant he was trained in both medicine and philosophy.   Luke was also a Gentile, which is very significant because he is the only Gentile contributor to the holy canon of scripture.  Every other book in our bible was written by a Hebrew writer, but Luke is one of us, a gentile.   He was an associate and traveling companion of the apostle Paul, and wrote both the gospel which bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles.

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The Gospel of Luke was written about AD 70, give or take a couple of years either way.  Luke was very painstaking in his research for his Gospel.  He used the writings of both  Mark, Matthew, and some other sources we don’t know about anymore.

love and the cross metaphor

Luke dedicated both his gospel and its sequel, the book of Acts, to a man named Theophilus, which means “Lover of God” or “God lover”.  He addresses him here as most excellent Theophilusso it’s possible this man was a high Roman official or someone else of some distinction.  But probably Luke here is simply using a literary device.  You could say his Gospel is written to “Mr. Love God”.  Do you love god?  Then This story is for you.

god saves the world

This is the story of how god saves the world.  The story of how god was born as a baby, lived as a man, died as a mortal, and was raised Lord of all.  We tell the story beginning in advent.  The annual re-enactment of  waiting for god to act in history and do what only god can do.  The story begins with a birth.  Not the birth of the savior, but the fore runner.  Not Jesus the Christ but John the Baptist.   We begin with an elderly righteous couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth.

zechariah and elizabeth

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 

king herod

It begins during the time of King Herod, Herod the great.  Cruel,  maniacal, megalomaniac, and a genius architect.  Herod was rewarded for faithful service to the Roman Empire, he was also a military genius and had won many great battles on behalf of Caesar.  He was given the official title “King of the Jews”.   Upon receiving this  title, Herod proceed directly to offer his sacrifice at temple of Mars, the great god of War.

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Herod has been king for about 30 years.  He is 70 years old, coming near the end of his life.  Brutal and barbarous, Herod was most definitely not the king the Jews had been looking for.

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There is a great juxtaposition in Luke’s story – we have brutal, powerful king in Herod on one hand, and a pious, elderly, humble, righteous old couple, a priest and his wife living in hill country on the other hand.   They’ve been faithful to god, had wanted children, prayed for children, waited for children, but have reached a ripe old age and alas, no children.  Advent is about waiting.  Waiting for God to do whatever God will do.  We have our own expectations, our own demands, our own timetable for what we want God to do, Amen!  But Advent is about abandoning  that and saying “God, you will do what you will do when you want to do it.  I trust you.”  But do it soon please…

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That’s advent,  that’s Zachariah and Elizabeth   They had prayed, were pious, righteous, a priest and his wife entering old age childless.    It’s a picture of Israel itself.  Israel has been waiting through a long season of disappointment.   They’ve been for 600 years with no real king.  Wasn’t there a promise?  Wasn’t there a promise that there would always be a son of David upon the throne…yet there hasn’t been a king for 600 years.   Now they have this imposter Herod?  Living that that whole time under gentile domination.  Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now Rome.  They’ve been an oppressed people without the promises of God seeming to come to pass.  How long???   They’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting…how long will they have to wait???

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How long have we been waiting for Christ to come again?   I guess we are coming up on 2000 years now, aren’t we?   How long, O Lord, will we have to wait??   How long before you do something Lord?

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How long have you been waiting?   How long have you waited for Christ to do something in your life?   What are you waiting for, what are you praying for?   Advent is the season of waiting.  We patiently (or not) wait for Christmas morning, for that feast and that celebration and the gifts and the joy and the love.  It always seems to come, doesn’t it?

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But we also wait for Christ to come again.  This we are not so patient for.  This, it seems, may never come.  By never, we mean not in our lifetimes.  This is the hardest wait.  There is no date on the calendar (and no, it’s not next Tuesday.  Or whatever the next date the apocalypse “experts” try to tell us).  We want God to come, we expect Him to come…but we want it to be now.  It should be now.   We want to know, we want to see.  Faith is just so hard.

But wait we must.

John Lewis

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Change The World

change the world

Change the world.   Isn’t that really what we want to do?   Don’t we see so much evil, so much wrong in the world?  There really is so much we would want to change.

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Jesus referred to James and John as the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).   Why?  Because maybe more than any other disciples, these two brothers believed that the way to power, the way for Jesus to overthrow Caesar and establish his throne forever, was through the taking of the sword of Caesar.  They believed, as we still do, that political and military power was true power.

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This is what we see here in Mark chapter 10 as these brothers begin jockeying for position in the new kingdom they believe Jesus is bringing in.   And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”   Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem.   They all expected something great was about to happen.  They expected Jesus to be crowned King (which, indeed, he was).    “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,” Mark 10:32 ESV.   They are headed to Jerusalem, to the coronation of the True King, and his followers are both amazed and afraid.  Amazed that they are about to change history (This is really happening!).   Afraid because they knew that this crown would not be won without a fight.  Some of them might very well lose their lives.  The only one who could not lose his life would be Jesus….

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Jesus was about to come into his glory, and the Sons of Thunder wanted in.  Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.   They have imagined Christ as Caesar, and they want to be vice-Caesar and Secretary of the Treasury.  They see the endgame in sight, they are willing to fight for the revolution, and they expect to enjoy the fruits of the last 3 years of walking with Messiah.  They expected, they wanted, to fight fire with fire.  They expect to fight political power with political power.  They are willing to die for the cause if need be.  They expect their Messiah to overthrow the military might of Rome with the power of God.  Jesus is about to lead the revolution into Jerusalem and finally set things right!!!

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Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”   Only Jesus knew what was coming.  He tried repeatedly to explain it to them, but they just could not hear.   They could not imagine any other way.  They could only understand the world as it was, not as it could be.   But Jesus was doing something new and truly beautiful.  He was not imitating the ways and means of Caesar, but bringing in the Kingdom of God.

not to serve

And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.   Jesus came to change the world.   But he did not, he does not, imitate the ugly ways of Caesar fighting over power and dominance.   Instead, we work in His kingdom by the countercultural means if humility, service, and sacrificial love.  These things are truly beautiful.

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When we follow Christ, we are choosing the path of humility, service and love, not political dominance.  Political dominance is not the way of His kingdom – You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.   We have forgotten, or simply ignored, that Jesus brings in His kingdom by refusing to oppose Caesar on Caesar’s terms.  He did NOT fight political power with political power.   As He was submitting to His state-sponsored execution he tells Pontius Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting…” John 18:36 ESV.  We share a beautiful Gospel.  Part of that beauty is that the Kingdom of God comes not by the sword of political power, but the cross of self-sacrificing love (Take up your cross and follow me).  Jesus didn’t ride the war horse into Jerusalem, he didn’t swing the sword for political power (All who take the sword will perish by the sword), instead he absorbed the blow of the injustice brought upon him, and committed his fate to God.

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In the words of Pastor Brian Zahnd, we cannot fight for the kingdom of Christ in the same manner that the nations of the world fight, for the moment we do, we are no longer the kingdom of Christ but the kingdom of the world!

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We live in a broken world.  But what is most wrong in the world is not our politics or who runs Congress or lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  What is most wrong with the world is the distorted face of humanity brought about by the dehumanizing forces of lust, greed and pride.   We are not called to protest, or campaign for political solutions, but to live an authentic Christian alternative.  We advocate another way.  We do participate in the political process, but we do this mostly as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, teaching and showing the virtues of that Kingdom.  We show what it means to be Christ-like in what is still a Caesar-like world.  But, this requires us to take up our cross, put down our sword, follow Jesus, and trust in God.  It’s not meant to be practical.

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

Mark 10:35-45 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.10.35-45.esv

John Lewis

So, You think you Love God?

So, You think you Love God?

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Happy All Saints day!!   A  message today about coming out of the darkness and into the light.  How do we know it is no longer night, but the new day has finally dawned?  When we can look into the face of any other person, and know that we seeing our own sister or brother…

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Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.   We’ve had this command from the beginning.  What beginning?   The beginning of our being human, the beginning of our living together in civilization, the beginning of our trying to get along with one another and not kill one another.

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At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

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We are to love and care for our brother.  But the question we always have is – who is my brother?   “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”” Genesis 4:9 ESV.   “Am I my brothers keeper?  Isn’t this supposed to be about rugged individualism, God?  Aren’t we supposed to pull our own selves up by our bootstraps?  What is this, some kind of welfare state?  Am I my brothers keeper?”   As a matter of fact Cain, yes you are.

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How do we know if we’ve left the dark night and entered the new day of Christ?  We love our brother.  The light of Christ is love.  Love is the new light.  Love is the Royal Law.  It’s not a sentimental feeling, but compassionate action.  It is very clear in Christ that we are to love our brothers and sisters.

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But our question is always the same – who are our brothers and sisters??   Are we trying to get out of something?   It’s like we are constantly asking this question – “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”” Luke 10:29 ESV.   To which Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  A parable whose question really is “How do you react when you find out your enemy loves you?”   Jesus gives us this parable to deconstruct our walls and our boundaries, to break us free from those chains of “I can love these but not those…“.    We want to put up walls and strengthen our boundaries, Jesus comes in with his sledgehammer and tears them down.

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Some would say that it’s only our Christian brothers and sisters that John is telling us we need to love.  You can make that argument if you want to.  There is a very real , very particular sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among Christian believers.  But to say that we are NOT obligated to love those who are not Christians, that is dangerous territory.   We CAN make that argument.  But do we WANT to make that argument.  SHOULD we make that argument?   Do we want to make the case that any others, non-Christians, aren’t our brothers and sisters?

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Both Paul and John have references in their writings that all of humanity are the children of God.   Because we are.  So, do we really want to say that no one else is our brother?   Do we say that  Jews are not our brothers and sisters?  Muslims – not our brothers?   Hindus, Buddhists, maybe the guy down the block who’s not particularly Christian, all not our brothers?

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St Francis of Assisi, for one, looked at every person as his brother or sister.  He would even refer to the mountains as Brother Mountain, the moon as Sister Moon.  He had a real sense of everything and everyone in creation being connected.  Which we really are.   We even share 1/2 our DNA with the banana you had for breakfast.

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So when we want to ask “Who is our brother?“, the one we should be asking is Jesus.   The moment we entertain the idea that some other group of people does not bear the image of God, are not the children of God, we are opening a very dangerous door.  It’s the door to hate.  It’s the door to racism.  It’s the door to torture, to war, to apartheid, to Hiroshima, to Nagasaki.  It’s the door to genocide, to Auschwitz, to Treblinka.  It’s the door that gets opened when WE say some are not the children of God.   Refusing to acknowledge others as brothers is the deadly door opened by Cain.

cain

Let’s read more of what John said.  “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother…” 1 John 3:11-12 ESV.   Again, who is my brother?   Your brother is the one you should not kill!!    Well, who should we kill?   I’ll let you and Jesus think about that one for a while…

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Meanwhile…“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:20-21 ESV.   He who says he loves God but does not love his brother is a liar.  These are not my words, but the apostle Johns’ words.   The one who does not love his brother is lying mostly to himself.   We all, always, think that we are the ones who love God.  But we are lying to ourselves.  If we don’t love our brother, and by brother I mean the jackass around the corner, the jerk at work, the one who cut you off in traffic this morning, if you don’t love that brother whom you can see, then how can you say you love God whom you can’t see??   John knows that we are always in danger of crafting and following our own invisible God in our own image, who looks and thinks and acts just like me, and that is idolatry.   And it is idolatry which is the root of just about every sin there is…

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So why, exactly, does not loving my brother mean that I don’t love God?  What is John’s logic here?  Of course I love God!!  I’ve never seen him, but I know I love Him!!  So what if I don’t love that guy up the street, he’s a jerk!!  So what if I hate my boss??   What does that have to do with loving God?   BECAUSE YOUR BROTHER, WHOM YOU CAN SEE, WHOM YOU HATE, BEARS THE IMAGE OF GOD.  It may be distorted, it may be marred (just as it is distorted and marred in all of us), it may be hard to recognize.  But understand this – even ISIS believes that they love God.  They believe that all they do is done for the love of God.  But something has gone terribly wrong.  They have lied to themselves because they have failed to recognize the image of God in every person.   You can not wantonly harm other people who bear the image of God and then turn around and say you love God.   We both bear the family resemblance, the image of God, no matter how distorted it is.

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Here is a Jesus truth that will set you free – we do not love God any more than we love our neighbor.  Jesus says the two great commandments are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV.  John further explains this to let us know that it’s the latter that proves the former.  We only know that we love God by our love for our neighbor.

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Of course, Jesus stretches this definition of brother all the way to loving our enemies, extinguishing all doubt.  We ask the question “Who is my neighbor?”   To which Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan, by which he simply makes explicit “Love your enemies.”   We prefer to define our neighbor over loving him.  Jesus says any way we might find to define our neighbor, love your enemy.

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

1 John 2:7-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1jn.2.7-11.esv

John Lewis

What Will You Do??

What Will You Do??

good-samaritan

The parable of the Good Samaritan, a story so powerful the we still us the term “Good Samaritan” to describe someone who goes out of their way to help another, expecting nothing in return.   2000 years later, this story still inspires to us to become better people.

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But, as with so many if Jesus teachings, there is another level, another dimension that is not apparent to us at first glance.  We read this and see it only as a challenge to us to do good to others, regardless of our opinions and thoughts about that person.  We are to do good for others even if we don’t like them.  Even if they are our “enemies”.   But this may be even more challenging than Jesus’ call to “love your enemies“?

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And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”    Of course, it’s a lawyer trying trap Jesus and see how he can tear him down (I know, lawyers are my neighbors too).   But this lawyer defines pretty well for us our own conditions, even to this day.  We know we are supposed to love our neighbor.  But we are much more interested in defining who is our neighbor (or more to our point, who is not our neighbor).  We are far more interested in defining our neighbor than in loving our neighbor.

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Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.    So, to the point, the man going down from Jerusalem would have been a Jew.   Jesus is speaking to Jews here, the lawyer asking the question was a Jew, this man going down from the city of God was meant, clearly, to be a Jew.

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Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.    So we see a Jewish man left bloody, stripped, robbed and near death.  And we see the priest, from the Jewish temple, can’t stop and help the man.  Maybe he feared being made unclean and therefore unable to serve in the temple for a time.  Or maybe not, since he was leaving Jerusalem and the temple, not on the way up to Jerusalem. indicating his temple service may have already been finished.  Maybe he just figured no one was looking and he just didn’t feel like it.  After all, he had just served in the temple, he is good, right?  Either way, we have our command to love our neighbors, but we do also have our priorities…

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 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.   Another prescribed to the service of the Lord.  He loves God.  His neighbor, not so much.  So the two Jews in the story, both closely associated with the service of the Lord in the temple, can’t be bothered to help their fellow Jew, their brother, whom they see possibly dying in the street.  It’s no skin off their backs, is it?

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But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.   The Samaritan, the one who is formally excommunicated from the temple and all worship associated with it, the one hated by all 3 others in the story.  Hated by the priest.  Hated by the Levite.  Hated by the beaten man.  Hated by all Jews.  Remember what John told us about Jews and Samaritans –  “The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” John 4:9 ESV.   Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  But the priest, he would have no dealings with bloodied, beaten brother.  The Levite, he walked by as if his fellow Jew was just another dirty Samaritan.  But this Samaritan, the one hated by all Jews, he had compassion.  He didn’t walk by thinking “It’s not safe for me to stop.  I’ll be beaten too.”   He didn’t give himself the excuse “He’s already too far gone, I can’t do anything for him.”   He didn’t shake his fist and say to himself “He’s a Jew who would have no dealings with me!”   No, he had compassion on the man and wanted to help.

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He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.    He doesn’t just stop to help, he takes personal responsibility for this man’s well being.   He became personally invested in the healing of this beaten, broken man.  You might even say he loved him.

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And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’    Now he’s spending his own money on him!!  He’s promising to the innkeeper he’s willing to go beyond this if need be, just to see this Jew, who would have had no dealings with him, healthy again.   Do you see what Jesus is doing here?   He is speaking to a group of Jews, responding particularly to a “smart” lawyer (smart enough to figure out all kinds of way to get out of loving his neighbor).  His response is a story that does not just show us how we should love our neighbor.  He’s not just showing this man what it means to love his neighbor.  No, Jesus is cutting much deeper into the innermost being of this smart lawyer.  He could have crafted a story showing a good Jew stopping to love a hated Samaritan, but he didn’t.  He gave a story of the one the Jews hated most having compassion on a man most of them would have avoided contact with themselves.

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So here’s how Jesus really turns their world upside down with this parable – What do you do when your enemy, the one you hate the most, loves you?   How will you react when the one you hate, someone you would under no circumstances have dealings with, is the one to step up unmistakably in love to help you or save you when everyone else, including all those you expected to be there for you, crosses the street to get away??   When those you thought were your friends leave you for dead, but that one is the one who has compassion?

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Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.

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What will you do?   “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Matthew 12:7 ESV

guiltless

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-37.esv

John Lewis

What Does This Have to do With Me?

What Does This Have to do With Me?

Backyard-BBQ-Party

Keeping it simple today (I hope). A question I have asked previously is “Does God resent human pleasure?”  Was the pastor/father from the movie Footloose (at least the 80s version) right?  Does all partying and dancing make God the Father angry, and risk hellfire and brimstone crashing upon us?

hellfire
I know where that picture of God comes from, but what I do not know is how those who believe in that angry, hellfire and brimstone God reconcile that with the picture of Christ Jesus in the New Testament. The same Christ of whom the apostle John says “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”John‬ ‭1:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The same Christ of whom the writer of Hebrews says “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Because it is of this same Christ that this same apostle John chose to make his first recorded miracle the turning of the water into wine, which seems to be very deliberate on the part of John, the apostle of love, to blow to bits all of our angry God pictures and ideas.

Wedding at Cana
You know the story. On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.Interesting they invited Jesus to the party. Must have been before Christians came along and gave him a bad name. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” To which I say, EXACTLY!! What in the world does this have to do with Jesus? No one is sick, no one’s life is in danger. There is no healing to be done. There is no sin to be forgiven (unless you are of the opinion that running out of wine is a sin). They are just out of booze. So, why, exactly, is this the miracle John starts with? And seriously, why include this at all?

Mary-wedding-at-cana-4
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.How many people, exactly, were at this party? Six jars at 20-30 gallons each, that is 120-180 gallons of wine. I’m just saying, that sounds like a lot to me. But then again, I don’t drink, so what do I know…

007-wedding-cana
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. So, the water is turned to wine, good wine. This is the miracle Jesus used to get his disciples to believe in Him. This is the first manifestation of his glory, according to John. Not raising anyone from the dead (except for this party, which was apparently about to be dead). Not healing, not giving sight to the blind. Not making the lame walk, or the mute speak. But turning water into wine, just so the wedding party could keep going.

jars
Which is entirely the point. Jesus is the one who turns the water into wine, for no good reason other than to keep the party going, and save the host a major embarrassment. And wherever Jesus goes, the party never stops. No one goes hungry, and no one is thirsty. We may try to kill it, but the celebration goes on.

jesus-and-his-family
Christianity is always one generation away from being extinct. Yet, eighty generations later, the party goes on. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what we do. Either way, we will be condemned. “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”Luke‬ ‭7:33-34‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

footloose_6
So back to my original question – “Does God have a resentment toward human pleasure?” Not the God as revealed in Jesus Christ. He just turns the water into wine, and the party keeps going…

party goes on

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

‭‭John‬ ‭2:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/jhn.2.1-11.esv

John Lewis

Making Clean…

Making Clean…

white as snow

A follow up to my last 2 messages, and also to my previous message regarding theology in the revelation of the Jesus Christ (the only perfect theology as the Word made flesh). If, when we put together our puzzle of who God is and what God is like, we end up with a picture that does not look like Jesus, it’s time to start over, to be born-again (again), because we’ve gone wrong somewhere and we are not seeing the Kingdom of God.

First World War
A question asked in that message was “Does God take our side in our hostilities?” Again, and this one is not an answer many will like, but the answer is “No“. This is the point Jesus makes in showing us the real purpose behind two famous Old Testament stories revealing God’s healing power. These stories, the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow at Zarepath, and the story of Elisha the prophet healing Naaman the Syrian, are great stories of healing in the Old Testament revealing the power of God to intervene in our lives for our good, and the power of faith in being willing to trust in him for our healing. To which the people of God have been singing “Amen” and “Hallelujah” for millennia.

jesus-cross-and-sun
But Jesus, the full revelation of God, the Lamb who is worthy to unlock the scroll, shines His light of revelation on these stories in ways those listening do not always want to hear. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John‬ ‭3:19‬ ‭ESV

loved the darkness

‬‬
When Jesus tells us about the widow at Zarepath – But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. – as I said previously, this one does not cut too deep. After all this woman was a poor widow, even though she was not one of “us”, she was no danger to the people of God, and God always has commanded the care of widows. It may be a little bit of a problem that she was one of “them“, but we can still appreciate the love and care of God in this case.

leper
But the story of Namaan – And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. – this is the story that throws us off center, makes us uncomfortable. This makes us uncomfortable because it cuts right to that most uncomfortable of all the commands of Jesus – the command to love your enemies.

Chinese Soldiers
Naaman was not just a Syrian, not just one of the hated “them“, he was one of “them” who had gone to war and even killed some of “us“. We might be talking about him as a great terrorist, as part of a “rogue nation“, a threat to our “security“. And – if there is anything we know in 21st century America – we must “eliminate” any and all threats to our “security“.   What we really believe is “Do unto them BEFORE they do unto us

nuke
But Jesus, the sinless Son of God, shines his light on our systemic, deeply held conviction (sin) that we must maintain our security at all costs.  He shines his light into our deeply held conviction that it is always us or them, us vs. them, and them are wrong and us is right, and we can prove it because we have more and bigger nuclear weapons with which to blow them to bits.

enemies
Jesus, at the bare minimum, makes it plain that, whether we are right or not, God does not choose sides in our conflicts with other nations. He does not love US more than he loves any other nation. As Jesus tells us, there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.

jesus making the leper clean
We wonder why the world is trying to shut Jesus up. We think it is because of all the things we are against. But, I think, it is much more because of what Jesus is for. Because Jesus commands us to love our enemies.  Because we prefer eye for an eye.  Because Jesus is for our enemies, just like he is for us. Because, for Jesus, there is no “them“, there’s only “us“.

2013030420unknown_northwestern_france_jesus_driven_from_nazareth_koninklijke_bibliotheek_the_hague_c
This throws us off balance, upsets our understanding of the world, upsets our understanding of God. When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. This is why they wanted to throw him off the cliff. It wasn’t just a few, it was all in the synagogue. When you take away our God of vengeance, we tend to get very upset. I mean, somebody’s got to PAY!!! They did me wrong, they hurt US!! You’re telling me God does NOT hate everyone that I hate??

Jesus-Cliff
This is why we would look for a cliff to throw him off. Again. We don’t believe in public crucifixions (thanks to our Christ) anymore, so we wouldn’t specifically do that again, but we do have our enemies, and enemies need to be dealt with as enemies. We have a lot of people and things we are against. We have a lot of things and people we believe God is against. (These are mostly people and groups who, in whatever way, are not like US). Because we may not have crucifixes anymore, but we do like to keep our lepers around.
Just not too close, lest we be made unclean.

unclean
Funny how Jesus was never made unclean, no matter who He came into contact with. But whoever was touched by him, was instantly made clean. White as snow….

Nice_white_snow_over_mountains

“But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:25-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.25-30.esv

 
John Lewis

Loving Enemies

dtloveenemies

Bringing a message that should have come days ago, nearly had this finished Thursday, opened my email on Friday and it was gone, so writing this for the second time now. Maybe I just didn’t have it right the first time, that’s the way it goes sometimes…

Naaman-08-600x600

The story of Naaman the Syrian, as recorded in the Old Testament and referenced by Christ himself, resulting in those listening trying to throw him off a cliff. Just a harmless fairy tale I suppose…

man of valor
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Naaman was a mighty man of valor, a great warrior, victorious in battle and therefore celebrated as a great man by his king and country. Not everything was well with Naaman though, he had contracted the disease of leprosy, so his days of victory and valor were pretty well numbered.

naaman servant girl
Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” One minor detail here – Naaman was a great warrior and mighty man of valor in battle against Israel, against God’s chosen people. If God is for us, who can be against us?? Naaman the Syrian, that’s who!!  Naaman had led Syria in battle against Israel, and one of those captured into servitude happened to be a young girl who was brought back to Naaman’s own household in the service of his wife. This young girl, instead of holding anger toward her captors, has genuine concern for his well being. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy. She thinks she knows how Naaman can be healed, and tells his wife so.

naamna and the king
So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” I love that this says Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel…the writer here has no idea what was said in the meeting, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. He (or she) just knows the result of the meeting. The king of Syria sends a letter to the king of Israel, whom he has been at war with, asking for help in curing his best general. So Naaman takes the king’s letter and a whole lot of cash (ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, think millions) and heads off to the king of Israel.

gold
And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” Can you blame the king for his anxiety? Naaman has been killing his soldiers and capturing his people, now he comes to be cured of his leprosy?? He’s minding his own business, Naaman and the king of Syria won’t leave him be. These guys are asking me to do the impossible to justify another battle with me!!

love your enemies
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Oh king, you of little faith!! If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move this mountain.

naaman at the house of elisha

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. Remember, Naaman is a mighty man of valor, he’s been kicking Israel’s tail all over the desert. In spite of his current position, he commands and demands respect, which is one thing not coming from the prophet Elisha. Elisha can not even be bothered to come out and give him a face to face meeting, he flippantly sends out a servant with an easy cure – wash in the Jordan River, that muddy, nasty, dirty river, seven times, and you will be healed!!

River_Jordan
But rather than joy at the ease of the cure offered, Naaman is insulted that the prophet does not come out himself, and (I am guessing here) that the cure is not more elaborate and sophisticated. Who needs a prophet to wash in the Jordan River?? And why that dirty river – we have much better water right at home!! So, in a rage – Naaman turns back to head home and do things his way.

clean-hands
But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” Seriously boss, wash and be clean!! Leprosy was the great, dreaded disease of ancient times. This is a great word spoken by the prophet, just wash and be clean, be cured of this disease. Naaman came prepared to spend millions of his fortune to be cured, yet he is not willing to give up his pride.

naaman-was-healed-from-leprosy-after-dipping-in-the-jordan-river-7-times
So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. And so we have one of the great miracle stories in the Old Testament, Naaman coming to be washed in the river Jordan in the land of Israel, a land blessed by God. A story of faith, the faith of the prophet Elisha, the king of Syria, and a little girl caught into slavery. Notice here that Naaman (and the king of Israel) was not operating on faith (he was trusting in his fortune to convince the prophet and God), but his servants believed in the prophet. Reminds me of a certain healing story of Jesus where a man was healed due to the faith of his friends – “And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:18-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬. We never know what effects our prayers may have for another, despite even their own attitudes…

elisha
As I said, a great healing story from a great prophet of God. We can leave it right here, we don’t need “the rest of the story” to make this a great story of faith in God and the healing of the sick, but Jesus gives it to us anyway. “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”” Luke‬ ‭4:27‬ ‭ESV‬‬. First, “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:25‬ ‭ESV‬‬. First, the widow, now Jesus goes for Naaman the leper. There were lots of lepers in Israel, but God chose to heal not an Israelite, but a Syrian.

widow
The first story is itself a great example of God caring not just for Israel, but all people. But that one doesn’t really make the point, doesn’t cut to the heart. After all, the woman being helped was a poor widow and her son, we all know God tells us to provide especially for such people, widows have special and specific care and instructions from Yahweh, the God of Israel.  She was no harm to anyone, and the people of God are commanded to give care to widows especially.

matthew_5_44-45_nkjv_wallpaper-750x375
But the story of Naaman the Syrian, that’s a little edgier. As Jesus says, there were plenty of lepers in Israel, but God sent Naaman to Elisha to be cured to his glory. But the problem is, Naaman is no harmless, helpless widow waiting to die. Naaman is the general of the army of the enemy of Israel. He’s been at war with Israel, on the battlefields against God’s chosen people, killing their soldiers, capturing their women and children. Naaman is the problem Israel needs to get rid of. If Naaman has leprosy, that is an act of God against him to the glory of God’s name, Amen! If Naaman has leprosy, it is a just and deserved punishment against an enemy of the God of Israel. We are not to heal our enemies so they can bring more terror against us, if he is sick, we let him die. If he is not sick, we are to bomb him until he be dead, dead, dead.

kim jong un
But that’s not what the God of Israel says, is it? No, the God of Israel sends Naaman the Syrian (aka Usama Bin Laden, aka Kim Jung Un) the the prophet of God to be cured of his leprosy. We think we know who deserves punishment from God, or at least we think we know the punishment of God when we see it. But I am reminded of the words of Jesus here – “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John‬ ‭9:1-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

The four lepers looting the camp of the Syrians
Naaman the Syrian “deserved” his leprosy, didn’t he?? But, that’s not why he contracted his disease. The disease was not because he sinned, but so the works of God could be done through him. His cure, not his sickness, was the work of God. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.

blind-man-healing
The works of God are not just for God’s chosen people. God (Jesus) tells us to love and pray for our enemies, because that is exactly what he does. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:45‬ ‭ESV‬‬. This is the truth of the matter, as revealed to us through Jesus Christ, the true, full revelation of God. But as usual, this is no part of any truth we want to hear. “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Take away our justification of vengeance and hate, the first thing we do is stone the prophet or find a cliff to throw Jesus off of. And he just passes through our midst, and goes away.

jesus passed through their midst

“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭5:1-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/2ki.5.1-14.esv

John Lewis