John 6:1-15 ESV
The first week of advent on the church calendar, so Happy New Year to all my brothers and sisters in Christ! Not exactly an advent message today, but maybe a little talk of mountain climbing…
“The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Isaiah 2:1-5 ESV
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”
Hebrews 12:22 ESV
What Isaiah anticipates, the writer of Hebrews announces as gospel, that in Christ we have come to the mountain of god. The great mountain that is the mountain of god. Jesus claims the first ascent, he has led the way, fixed the ropes, established the route, that we might enter into the experience of the living God.
But we still have to climb it.
Mountains are very prominent in bible It’s amazing how many important episodes occur on mountains. There is Noah on Mt. Ararat, Abraham on Mt. Moriah. We have Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. We see Deborah and Barak on Mt. Tabor, Elisha with his sword on Mt. Carmel.
Much of Jesus’ ministry also occurs on mountains. In His story alone we have the mount of temptation, the mountain of transfiguration (also Tabor), the Mount of Beatitudes, the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Ascension. The Bible is seemingly overflowing with mountains.
Mountains in the Bible sometimes represent God Himself, as is very often in the psalms – “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalms 125:2 ESV.
Oftentimes climbing mountain is a picture of entering into a deep experience of god. Think of Moses on Sinai, or Elijah on Mt. Horeb being restored as a prophet.
Most ancient cultures have held certain mountains to be sacred. The Greeks had Mt. Olympus, Japan had Mt. Fuji, Mt. Kanchenjunga in Nepal (3rd highest peak in the world), Mt Vesuvius, Long’s Peak (known as “Nesotaieux” to the Native American’s long before we ever got here). Yes, these and many other peaks have been worshipped by people as sacred for thousands of years. Ancient people could not help but stand in awe and wonder at the majesty of these mountains. But if worshipping the creation instead of the creator is a sin (and it is), then so is the secular idea that nothing is sacred. Because, for example, if it’s idolatry to worship a mountain as God, it’s also idolatrous to destroy a mountain through mountain top removal mining for the idol of greed. Let that one sink in for a minute…
Sometimes when we are in or near the mountains, we just want to stay on the lower slopes. We don’t really want to climb them, we are just as happy to admire them from the comfort and safety of the valley below.
But sometimes, we want to climb that mountain. Sometimes, we feel driven to go higher, to get above the clouds. I feel that way about God. I am still relatively new in Christ (I believe), still in many ways very immature in my faith. But I do not want to stay on the lower slopes of the mountain of God. I am not satisfied with simply telling you that Christ died for my sins, I said a sinners prayer and got baptized and now I’m going to heaven when I die. I don’t know how to express this, but that just feels kind of empty. Of course I want to go to heaven and not hell when I die (whatever that really means), but is that really all there is? Is the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ, his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, his suffering, his teaching, “love your enemies” and the golden rule, all this is just about being “in” or “out”? Pardon me for being so bold to say, I think we are missing something.
So I want to climb that mountain. I want to go above the tree line, get past “in” or “out” theology. I want to go higher on the mountain than just knowing that Jesus died for my sins (as beautiful as that truly is). I want to climb higher on the mountain, get closer to what the apostle John saw when he so daringly told us, not once but twice, that “God is Love!” And I say to all who are reading this, “come with me”. Let’s begin to climb this mountain, the mountain of God, together.
You can do it. It won’t be easy, but you can do it. But you can’t do it alone. Novice mountain climbers who want to go it alone can get lost, go astray, and even perish, even in the mountain of a God.
Mountains, if you approach them from different directions, or different perspectives, can give you many different pictures. Long’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains can appear to be a completely different mountain depending on the direction you approach it from, or even the season you are seeing it in. Again, God is like this. Depending on our perspective (and I’m only talking about Christian perspectives here), we can come to God from different perspectives and different places, and see God, differently.
We can get into trouble if we approach the mountain of God, think that the perspective we have is all there is to see, then declare to the world that “I’ve found God, and God is ____” If we do this, and become convinced that our perspective of God is all there is to see, we can become fundamentalist in our views. Fundamentalism is the belief that one perspective of God (our perspective) is all there is to see of God. But just as some of our great mountains are for too vast to take in from one perspective, so God is far too vast to see and comprehend from just one vantage point.
Now, God is not everything we make him up to be. He has definition. When I’m talking about God, I’m talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I’m talking about the God of Israel. The God and father of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, the true and loving God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But we many different perspectives of our God, do we not? We have the Orthodox perspective, Catholic perspective, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, And Pentecostal perspectives. Each one of them can be fundamentalist. If a Catholic says “Our perspective of God is the only one that’s valid and if you see God from a different angle the you’re a heretic!”, that’s Catholic fundamentalism, and we must rise above that. It doesn’t matter if it’s Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptist, Anglican, we can all go the fundamentalist route. We must rise above that and learn to be contemplative.
Our great mountains are so big and so vast that we cannot see all of them from one perspective. So if we see a mountain like Long’s Peak in Colorado or Mt Fuji in Japan or Mt Rainer in Washington, but come at the The from the north side over and over again, but then come to them from the south instead, we might feel we are seeing a totally different mountain. If we don’t know it’s the same mountain before we see it, we can be completely fooled and not recognize it at all. It doesn’t mean it’s a different mountain, just that we’ve come to it from a different direction this time. We could be fundamentalist about the mountain – “If you don’t see the diamond face on Long’s Peak then it’s not Long’s Peak!” Yes, Long’s Peak has a diamond face if you look at it from the east, but from the West you don’t see it at all. It’s still Long’s Peak, just a different vantage point.
Though we can only see one vantage point at a time, we can go all around the mountain and learn all the different vantage points and get a fuller picture and understanding of the mountain. In the same way, we can learn to be contemplative as we approach the mountain of God, as we respectfully engage with other traditions who over the centuries have learned this angle, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Southern Baptist. We can learn other traditions views of the living God, and get a much clearer, better, more true vision of the nature of God.
So this advent season, as we anticipate the coming of God, let’s understand God is coming. But while we may see his coming in many different ways, it doesn’t mean one is right (mine) and all the rest are wrong. But maybe, just maybe, if we can respectfully engage and contemplate another’s point of view, we might get a fuller picture of the God we love. We have our guides (which we need) on the mountain, maybe this advent season (and beyond) we can open up to another perspective and come to see a different trail, and climb just a little bit higher on the mountain of God.
Today I have a meditation which I may or may not expand upon later.
Part of my morning prayer time includes prayerfully reading the Gospel reading from the common lectionary, which is used by tens of thousands of churches worldwide. This weeks reading is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30.
I’m not really worried today about the multiplying of the talents for the man who was given 5 talents or 2 talents. I’m going to focus on the character in this story who represents most of us, the poor soul who was given one talent to manage.
We’ve all (mostly) known the story. A man going on a long journey gave 3 servants 5 talents (a measurement in those days of something of value, like gold or silver), 2 talents, and 1 talent to manage respectively. The servants given 5 and 2 talents each doubled what they had received, and each one heard from his master ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ A joyous declaration for any master to his servant.
But for the man who had but one talent, the reception was a little different. He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ So this servant had received but one talent, and had done nothing with it. Not only that, but said to his master I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. That’s a gutsy thing to throw at your master when he comes around checking productivity, is it not? But here’s the point of what I’ve been meditating on this passage since Friday, that this, by and large, may be how we view our master in heaven. He reaps where he has not sown, and gathers where he has scattered no seed. And dog-gone it, we are not putting any of our talents, our treasure, or anything else in play to gather in that field, or reap where we don’t believe God has been working.
We are like Peter in the Book of Acts, refusing to eat anything on that sheet being lowered from heaven with all the unclean animals upon it. “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”” Acts 10:14 ESV. Peter refused to eat what God was offering him because the holy scriptures, the Bible, told him not to eat anything that slithers upon the ground, certain birds of prey, meat from animals that don’t part the hoof or chew the cud (this is just a small sample). Peter was doing exactly as his bible told him. Oh yeah, and no shellfish. Yes, God said don’t eat shrimp. Or crabs, whether you have Old Bay or not (sorry for the local Maryland reference!!).
But now, God is pushing the limits in what Peter can comprehend or accept. “And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”” Acts 10:15 ESV. And, just for good measure – God sent Peter immediately to the house of Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman centurion who loved and feared God, and had been commanded in his own vision to send his servants to bring back Peter. So Peter, at the word of the Holy Spirit, does go with, and says this upon entering the house of Cornelius – “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”” Acts 10:28-29 ESV. Peter, who had actually been with Jesus during most of his earthly ministry, had been taught directly by Jesus and had been following Jesus ever since, took a long time to get to this point. This is about 10 years after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Peter has barely left Jerusalem. He still has not gotten the fact that salvation is for all, and still doesn’t associate or eat with Gentiles. Paul had long been eating and associating with the Gentiles, Peter was just a little slower in his understanding for some reason. But once he gets it, he gets it – “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:34-35 ESV
We know what is expected of us (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”Matthew 28:19 ESV), just as this lazy servant in the parable knew what was expected – a return on his investment. We look at the world around us and don’t like what we see. Just as Peter once looked at the Gentiles who were all around him, and he knew he was not to associate with them. The bible told him so. And in his understanding of what the Bible told him, he was correct. Just as we are correct in what the Bible tells us (at least we think we are). But, now as then, God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. We may misunderstand the nature of God, and believe him to be a hard man. We may look at the world around us and see that God has done no sowing or planting. But in truth, it is not God who has done no sowing or scattering, it is we that are called to do the sowing and scattering, then the reaping and gathering. He has given us all we have, the breath in our lungs, the life in our bodies. He’s given us our abilities, our potentials. All he expects is the effort. The effort to participate in the fulfillment of his kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.
Christ will come again. What will be his return on the investment he made in you? When we go before his judgment seat, there will be an accounting, a reckoning. What did you do with what he gave you? Did you invest it in the lives around you? Or did you bury it? Will you give Him a multiplied return on his investment? Or will you give Him excuses and justifications?
“”For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Matthew 25:14-30 ESV
Sent from my iPad
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.
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“?
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
“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
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
In my message a couple days ago about Jesus being “perfect theology”, I asked the question “does God shun sinners?” To which I answer emphatically NO, he welcomes them. There are many “proof texts” I could use, but the one that comes quickest to mind for me is this from Matthew – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This verse will always come quickly to my mind, it’s the verse that changed my life. I had never read through the Bible before, but the suggestion from my sponsor (I was open to suggestions at the time!!), I started to read. Matthew being the first book of the New Testament and all, that’s where I started. So I’m reading along, I don’t remember anything standing out to me. But then I come to that verse in chapter 9, and I just stopped. I literally went and re-read that at least 4 times, not sure if I had read it wrong. After all, it was in red letters! I live in America, I had heard so many different things about what Jesus had taught, but I had never heard that. I had always been told (or at least, understood) that you had to be “good” to go to God, go to heaven. But here’s Jesus plainly saying he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. Sinners like me…
So, back to the present. There was an overdose yesterday. Apparently, there have been 8 this week in Calvert County, Maryland, where I live. They happen every week now, it’s just a part of life in the big city (or small town. Or even where you live). Usually it’s just something we hear about and move along, but sometimes it gets personal. This one was fatal. And it happened to be someone my family and I know very well. It happened in my neighborhood, to a daughter of a very good friend of my wife’s, a girl who had been a part of our in-home day care for 7-8 years as she grew up, a girl who had played with my children, been a daily part of life in my own home. She was not a “bad” person, was not “evil”, I would not say she was “wicked”. But she was troubled, she had struggles, as do all of us. And now her struggles have taken her life.
And now, some of you are wondering, “did she know the Lord?” By which you really are asking, “is she going to heaven or is she going to hell?” Because in our “economy” of salvation, you’re either in or your out. You’re either “saved” or you’re not. You’re either part of “the elect”, or you burn in fires of hell for the next 10 billion years. (Is that really part of a “beautiful gospel”?)
So, my answer to that question “did she know lord?” is simply that I don’t know. But she knows the lord now. But was she in or was she out? I don’t know. But I guess here’s my thought for today – if she’s not “in”, if there is an “in” and there is an “out” as some of us so vociferously believe, does that mean she’s burning in hell for the rest of eternity?
And my own answer to that question is another question, see if you can help me with this – “What would be the point of that?” And seriously, if you have thoughts on this, let me know, what would be the point of that?
Jesus is the friend of sinners. Yet we will all come before the judgment seat of Christ, this I know. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (BTW- this is all you must believe about the after-life to be considered orthodox in your beliefs). But what will that look like? I don’t know, but here are some of the things Jesus himself told us.
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14 ESV. Jesus is the one who judges, right? He’s also the one tells us that it’s not the will of the father that any would be lost.
““But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke 18:13-14 NLT. Why do we so exalt ourselves, thinking “we” are the only ones who might be shown the mercy of Christ?
““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15 NLT. Are we forgiving of sins against us? This will be a measure of our own judgment, does Jesus not tell us?
““Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” Luke 6:35 NLT.
Of course, this from Matthew 25 – ““Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”” Matthew 25:44-46 NLT
In case you don’t know, I don’t think it’s as simple as “in” or “out”. Don’t ask me for clear and easy answers, I don’t have them. But I have one answer – we will all stand before the judgement of Christ. I also know this – there is a mother and a father and a sister who are in hell today, this day, in this life.
I pray that the light of Jesus Christ might wash over them, and their daughter, their families, their friends. I pray the love of Jesus Christ might wash over them and guide them through this dark time. I pray the light of the world will continue to overcome the darkness we see all around. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 ESV. Amen.
“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””
Matthew 9:12-13 ESV
Talking about good news today. Specifically the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is really just about the best news there’s ever been.
This is the end of the sixth chapter of Mark. This chapter is loaded with action from the life of Jesus. It begins with Jesus being rejected at Nazareth, then he sends out the twelve apostles. John the Baptist dies, he feeds the 5000, and walks on water. It’s no wonder we miss this gem which almost thrown in at the end of the chapter.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. One thing we can see for sure, Jesus was not doing his work anonymously. People were talking. These people in Gennesaret, in Galilee of the Gentiles, knew who Jesus was. It says they immediately (that key word for Mark’s gospel) recognized him and ran through their region bring all their tired, their sick, their poor in spirit to Him, wherever they heard he was. If he left one place and went to another, they would find him.
And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. It didn’t matter where Jesus was, gentile marketplaces or Jewish marketplaces, they found him and desperately brought their sick to him. And all they had to do was touch the fringe of his garment to be made well. I told you this was Good News! I mean, read this again!! All they had to do was touch the fringe of his garment and they would be made better. That’s it. I don’t know why these people were doing what they did, maybe they had heard of the woman who had been bleeding for twenty years who got well just by touching his garment. But they brought their sick to Jesus, touched just the fringe of his garment, and were made well.
Jesus had healing power just radiating from him. It was (and is) just a part of who He is. It’s in His very nature. And remember, God is like Jesus. Jesus is the exact ikon of God, no one has ever seen the father except his only begotten son who has made him known.
These people in Genneserat were both Jews and Gentiles. Galilee is not like Judea, where the only gentiles are the occupying Roman forces. Here, there is much more acceptance and mixing of the Jews and the gentiles. Living in such close proximity they’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Jesus is not taking his ministry to the gentiles, that would come later with Peter and Paul. But neither does he purposefully and systematically avoid them like the Pharisees, for fear of being made “unclean”. Jesus never avoided those people on the “fringe” of society, those people whom the people of Yahweh would have nothing to do with for fear of being made “unclean”.
So while Jesus is not here specifically to minister to the Gentiles, he does not avoid contact with them either. They brought their sick from all around, and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. Look at what is happening here. They don’t ask Jesus to pray with them. They don’t ask Jesus to heal them. They don’t ask Jesus to lay hands in them, or touch them. They really don’t even ask for Jesus to even acknowledge them in any way. They just want to touch the fringe of his garment. And just by touching the fringe of his garment, as many as touched it were made well.
These people in Gennesaret were considered to be on the fringe by those in good, religious society. They were Gentiles, not part of “the elect”. Yet these people on the fringe could touch just the fringe of Jesus’ garment and be healed. Yes, they did have faith, enough faith to be drawn near to Him. But they didn’t have to follow a plan of salvation. They didn’t have to say a sinners prayer. They weren’t asked to accept Jesus into their hearts. They weren’t baptized. They didn’t have to make their case for being worthy, didn’t have to take a six week course, sign any papers, take any oaths, or publicly repent of their sins. Jesus doesn’t heal them with the promise or requirement that they might accept him as their Messiah. There is no bait and switch here. Jesus doesn’t heal them so that they might become his followers. He just healed them. They had no, nor promised to make any particular allegiance to Jesus. Yet the Kingdom of God was among them and available to them just by His presence.
People on the “fringe” were made better simply by drawing near and touching the fringe of Jesus garments. And two thousand years later, based on his having passed through our midst, it is like we are still touching the fringe of Jesus garments. People on the fringe, people for whom going to church or submission to Christ are on their list of things not to do, can still receive the benefits of Jesus just because He passes near and they are somehow able to just brush up against Him. After all, the body of Christ is still present, isn’t it? Aren’t we as his church, his people, now the body of Christ?
I guess the question is, is there enough Christ in us that people can be healed simply by drawing near to us? Do we have healing power radiating from us? Or is the power within his church these days more like static electricity, that anyone who happens to brush against it might receive a quick little shock to remind them not to come too close??
I say, we still have the power of healing within us. It still radiates from Christ through the church. His church is always one generation away from dying out, yet 80 generations later, here we are, radiating healing and forgiveness into a world that desperately needs it.
And if his church is not radiating that healing, I know a place that is. It’s the holy-of-holies of the New Covenant, inaugurated by Christ himself the night before he was crucified. There once was a time when only one man, the high priest, could go into the holy-of-holies, once a year. He was not allowed in without having a rope tied to his ankles, lest God should strike him dead while he was in there and there was no way to get his dead body out. But we have a new holy-of-holies, his communion table, that still radiates healing. And nobody, no matter how bad the sin, is struck dead for coming near. It is inclusive, all are invited, never exclusive. Because Jesus is still the friend of sinners.
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” Luke 22:19 ESV
“When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.”
Mark 6:53-56 ESV