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January 2012 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"Words, Words, Words" — January 1
"In Over Our Heads?"
— January 8
"The Courage to Listen"
— January 15
"Turn Around" — January 22
"Short Cuts" — January 29


“Words, Words, Words”
January 1, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 1:1-14

Let me begin by reading a few announcements from real church bulletins and newsletters. I’m happy to tell you that none of these announcements ever appeared in our church bulletin or newsletter! Here they are.

“Applications are being accepted for two-year-old nursery workers.” “The church will host an evening of fine dining, superb entertainment, and gracious hostility.” “Weight Watchers will meet on Wednesdays at seven p.m. at our church. Please use the large double doors at the front entrance.” “Ushers will eat latecomers.” “Remember in prayer the many people who are sick of our church.” “The Reverend spoke briefly, much to the delight of the audience.” “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the church help!” “The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind. They can be seen in the church social room on Saturday.” “Betty C. remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of the Pastor’s sermons.”

Words are constantly misused and so easily confused. It happens all around us. We’re drowning in a sea of words. One study indicated that the average American man speaks 25,000 words a day. The average American woman speaks 30,000 words a day! After I read those statistics earlier this week, I started noticing how long every one of my sentences was! But I think most men talk more than I do.

Words have great power—both to hurt and to heal. Did anyone ever say to you, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me!”? Of course, that’s not true. Words can help or hurt a great deal. They are so important that the Gospel of John uses “the Word” as a name for Jesus Christ. Christ is the Word of life. He is the Word that runs through all things and holds all things together. Jesus was God with skin on. Here’s how the Nicene Creed puts it: Jesus is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,  God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”

I believe these words are the truth. At least, they have been the truth for me, and for Christians for two thousand years. John writes: “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus spoke no words in the stable on the night of His birth. But even without words, He sent a message to the whole world. Lying in the manger, He showed God’s love for the little people. As an adult, He spoke many words about love. But He didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk, loving others, healing the sick, standing with and for the outcasts, and feeding the hungry. He preached and practiced peace.

He gave us other words and wrapped them in deeds. “This is my body which is broken for you. This is my blood which is shed for you. Do this and remember me.” And immediately after He said those words, Jesus went out and died for you and for me.

Jesus taught forgiveness. He even died with forgiveness on His lips: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the person of Christ, the Word, the person and the practice were perfectly united.

We live in a world where talk is cheap. Advertisers try to sell us the new and improved versions of the same old products. Promises aren’t kept, and contracts are tossed aside. Laws and marriage vows are broken. Even the simple and wonderful sentence, “I love you,” is as cheap now as a bumper sticker that says, “I heart” New York, or the Outer Banks, or my poodle, or whatever.

But, words have meaning. Words are important, especially the eternal Word of God. Will you believe in Jesus as God’s Word? Will you allow Jesus to show God to you? Will you try to follow His example and His words?

There are many words, and there is the Word. Jesus is the Word to build our lives on, the Word to live by, and the Word to trust.

 

John 1:1-3.
“Nicene Creed,” The Worshiping Church (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing,1990), 15.
John 1:14.
Luke 23:34.

 


“In Over Our Heads?”
January 8, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Psalm 29
Mark 1: 4-11

I never liked to swim, even as a child. My family had a cottage on a lake when I was growing up, but I never managed to stand up on water-skis. In fact, I didn’t even know how to dog-paddle until the summer after fourth grade. My first ministry was on the New Jersey shore, but during those three and a half years, I never went to the beach to swim! Not once!

Years later, I discovered some theological reasons for being afraid of water. Deep water represented death for the ancient Hebrews. The nomadic people of the Middle East felt at home in the desert, but they were terrified of the ocean. Remember how scared Jonah was to get in a boat. Remember how the disciples almost drowned in the Sea of Galilee, until Jesus walked on the water to save them. There are many Bible stories about the waters of chaos. In fact, they’re the most exciting, and the most frightening, stories in the Old Testament. In Genesis, God creates the world from watery nothingness. The Israelites escape from Pharaoh’s army by crossing the Red Sea. Noah avoids drowning by building the Ark. Meanwhile, thousands of sinners perish in the great flood. Jonah gets shipwrecked, almost drowns, and then gets swallowed by the whale.

By the way, have you noticed how scary the story of Noah’s Ark is? We think of Noah as a happy bearded man, and we see the cute pairs of animals lining up to get on his boat. People carve models of the ark for kids. Hackman’s is full of Noah’s Ark toys, books, wall hangings and puppets. But read that story again! It’s an awful story. The whole world dies in the flood, except for Noah and his passengers. Maybe that’s the story that got me scared of swimming when I was a little kid. When people ask why I don’t swim, I tell them about the ancient Hebrews and their fear of water. Then I mention Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale, and Moses leading the Israelite slaves to freedom and the Egyptians drowning in the sea. They stop asking why I’m afraid of the water.

Psalm 29 may be the oldest psalm in the Bible. Melody read it well. God is in control—that’s the message of this psalm. Humans can’t protect ourselves from fear of the natural world. If you’ve ever driven in a blizzard, or parked under a bridge in a hailstorm, you know this. The pagan culture of the ancient world was big on human control. So is our popular culture. It has many Gods, just like the primitive people did. One of the reasons I don’t watch television very much, is that I see so much worship of social gods----like youth and wealth and sports.

Even as we keep trying to harness nature, God keeps showing us He’s the one in charge. Here’s an example that we older folks can relate to. Madison Avenue creates fear of getting old. Those ads for “curing” wrinkles and for “correcting” baldness affect how we think about ourselves. We get to feeling bad about being senior citizens. Do you remember that billboard on Route 22 advertising the services of a plastic surgeon? It said, “Are you in the class of 1970? You don’t have to look it!” If you are older than the class of 1970, you felt anxious after seeing that ad. Plastic surgeons want us to be afraid of aging, so we’ll get facelifts. There’s something very wrong about that billboard and the attitude it represents. It’s God’s plan for us to get older, as long as we stay alive. Whether we correct our wrinkles and baldness, or we don’t, we’re getting older every day. We’re powerless to stop aging. We are God’s children, and aging is part of the plan.

God’s power is made manifest in His voice, in Psalm 29. The only thing that holds back chaos is that voice. His voice flashes forth flames of fire. His voice thunders over mighty waters. God’s voice makes the great Cedars of Lebanon snap like matchsticks. We get the message! God’s voice isn’t to be trifled with. But look at verse eleven of the psalm. God’s voice isn’t just a destructive voice. It’s a positive force. It created the world, and keeps on creating. God’s voice strengthens His people and blesses them with peace. God’s power is the only power that can really empower us.

You just heard an account of the baptism of Jesus—the first one ever written. In allowing himself to be baptized in "the waters" that symbolize chaos, Jesus freely chose to experience weakness. He was, and is, "God with us.” And when Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened. God’s Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice proclaimed, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." That’s how God the Father confirmed Jesus’ identity. There’s no star of wonder in this gospel. In Mark, there are no shepherds and no wise men from afar. The occasion of Jesus’s baptism is the first time we meet Him in Mark’s gospel.

When He was baptized, Jesus was starting down a rough road that would lead to the cross. He knew that. His heavenly Father was proud of Him, and said so. The encouragement must have meant a lot. We all need encouragement. We need God’s encouragement, too. The world judges Christians harshly. We take the cruel judgments of the world too seriously. Don’t you ever wonder, “Where did my faith go?” This is a bad time of year for faith. We’re in the January blahs. The stores aren’t playing carols any more. For some of us, Christmas didn’t meet our expectations. People are drowning in bills, or getting over pneumonia or the flu. Christmas shopping and long-distance driving are even more exhausting for us as we get older, and the snow plows are just around the corner.

Christmas is over. Now the hard work begins. Our society is more and more pagan, it seems. Almost everybody works or plays sports on Sunday mornings now. Stores are open twenty four hours a day, even on Thanksgiving weekend. Now even Wegman’s never closes. More and more people work in the middle of the night, and those people are less likely to come to church.

We live in a time of moral confusion. On television talk shows, cross dressing couples and prostitutes bragging about how they love their jobs, get applause. Have we lost our capacity for outrage? The Son of God is among us now, and we need Him more than ever. In giving the gift of His only Son to us, God tells us: "You are my children, whom I love."

Wouldn’t we all be thrilled, if the heavens parted and God spoke with a heavenly voice, as our new officers took their vows today? Imagine God announcing to the world how much He loves our church, right here in our sanctuary. Imagine our congregation getting a front page article in the Morning Call. God speaks in Hokendauqua church. We’d attract new members, for sure. But free publicity like that isn’t going to happen.

We aren’t the Son of God, but we are His witnesses. We can only encourage others if we, ourselves, can hear the voice of God and feel the Holy Spirit. We need to be here every Sunday morning.

Today, as seven members of our congregation take office, we should remember that God has chosen all of us to tell the world who Jesus is. This morning, our new officers will affirm their baptismal vows. The vows are similar to the baptismal vows we’ve all taken—or that our parents took for us. God delights in us. God’s power is for us. It’s the only answer for our chaotic world. We are His beloved children.


Let us pray. In our baptism, O God, you raised us out of the waters into the life of your compassion and peace. May the power of your Spirit, that descended upon Jesus two thousand years ago, shape us into prophets. May your voice continue to speak to our hearts as we strive to serve you. AMEN

 


“The Courage to Listen”
January 15, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

1 Samuel 3:1-10

In 1963, when Joseph Biden was twenty-one years old, he drove down from the University of Delaware to visit friends in Washington, D.C.  In those days, you could drive right up to the Capitol building and park at the front entrance.  He noticed there were a lot of people coming out of the Capitol. It turned out that a Saturday session of the Senate had just ended.  Biden decided to go inside. He found himself at the doors leading into the Senate chamber.  Not seeing any “do not enter” signs, he just walked in. The chamber was nearly deserted.  Young Biden walked among the Senators’ desks and took in the atmosphere of the place.  He didn’t realize that he was an area that was normally closed to the public. Only the galleries, up above the Senate floor, were open to visitors.

On an impulse, Biden stepped up onto the platform and sat in the presiding officer’s seat.  Moments later, he felt a hand on his shoulder.  It was a Capitol Police officer.  “What do you think you’re doing?” the officer asked. Biden was scared to death, as anyone would be. Then, after a minute, the officer realized this was just a college kid who meant no harm, so he let him off with just a warning.

I don’t know about you, but I see this story as spiritual.  Who could have known then, that this brash young man, who sat down in the Vice-President’s chair on a whim, would one day occupy that chair as the Vice President of the United States?  Who knows – maybe the hand of the Capitol Police officer wasn’t the only hand Mr. Biden felt on his shoulder, that day in 1963.  You never know which ordinary people may end up being powerful leaders. 

Most of us know we’ll never claim a great place in history. We do our jobs and we get through the week. But there could be extraordinary leaders among us, perhaps a politician who will touch the lives of all Americans, or a great surgeon or a future Olympic gold medal winner. Matt Millen once sat in this sanctuary on Sundays. I had a classmate, years ago in fifth grade, who is now the Chief Executive Officer of Procter and Gamble. Even us older folks could be leaders. Abraham, the Old Testament patriarch, followed the voice of God when he was 75 years old. Look at all that Grandma Moses accomplished at age 80.

Sometimes the call to leadership comes very early. This was the case with Samuel. When he grew up, Samuel became the last of the religious and political leaders of the Hebrew people, called the Judges.  He was also a prophet. Prophets were appointed by God to foretell the future. However, their most important job was to carry bad news to the kings of the Israelites. Not surprisingly, the kings didn’t want to hear it.

Samuel was himself a maker of kings.  In fact, he anointed the first two kings of the Hebrews, Saul and David.  But long before that, Samuel was an altar boy for Eli, the high priest.  And that’s where we find him in this story. He was twelve or thirteen years old. Things were not going well for Israel in those days.  It was a time of decline, and God’s people had fallen away from the habits of worship and holy living.

Eli, the high priest, was long past retirement age. He had lost touch with God and the people. If Eli wasn’t able to perform his duties, God would find a better leader.  The boy Samuel was waiting in the wings, ready to take over.  He just didn’t know it yet.

The Lord began calling to Samuel in the night.  The only problem was, Samuel didn’t realize what was happening.  He heard a voice in the temple, and naturally he assumed it was his boss, Eli.  So, Samuel went and woke up the old man, and said, “Here I am, you called me.”  “It wasn’t me,” said Eli.  “Go back to sleep.” The second time, Eli sent him back to his own bed again.

The third time Samuel woke him up that night, Eli realized there was more going on than the temple altar boy having a nightmare.  Eli said to Samuel, “Pay attention, now, boy: the next time this happens, here’s what you do.  Sit up straight and say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”  The fourth time the Lord spoke, Samuel was ready to listen to the Word of God.

We are living in a time of social upheaval, just as Samuel was.  Christian tradition is in decline. We grieve for the past. But God still speaks to us, in a voice that is beautiful and life-changing. We have to listen and obey. That wasn’t easy for Samuel. It took four times, that night in the temple, before he figured out who was calling to him. It took many more years before he understood what God wanted him to do.

For us to truly hear what God is saying, we need to find a place of reflection and worship.  Sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to trust the silence.  We fill our lives with noisy distractions.  In order to hear the voice of God we need to make a place of silence, and spend time there on a regular basis. Church is that kind of place. Reading the Bible together is important. As we read the scriptures, we are confronted with difficult passages. As we listen to God and to each other, we change for the better. Listening increases our faith and helps us to serve.

We need others to help us sort out God’s words.  That’s the role Eli plays for Samuel.  It’s wise old Eli who leads the boy through the uncharted territory of the spirit. In much the same way, you and I need the wisdom of other believers to interpret what we’re experiencing. It’s important to journey toward God as a faith community. It’s not reliable for us to interpret God’s call on our own. Our personal histories and past experiences get in the way.

Some people insist that God no longer speaks to us.  I don’t buy that.   God is still speaking – and if only we can make for ourselves a place of silence, and if only we can find wise and faithful friends to help us make sense of what we’re experiencing, we can hear God’s voice.  Once we’ve experienced God’s nearness, we typically come back again and again.  Isn’t that what we’re doing, in coming to church? 

What if Samuel had never recognized God's voice? The history of God's people might have been quite different. God calls each one of us by name. Children, parents, grandparents, great grandparents are called by God. Choir members are called by God. You, in the back pews are called by God. Our ushers and the people in the chapel, and the Bible study group are called by God. This church has had many men and women who, like Samuel, have had the courage to answer, “Here I am!”

Sometimes we are like Samuel. We don’t expect to hear God's voice at all. Yet, God is always calling us. Sometimes, we need an Eli, or a trusted friend, to say, "Hey, God is calling you, not me!" Pay attention when someone suggests you might try a task you’ve never done before. It may be God calling you. You are special in God’s eyes. We are called to be faithful and loving, and to be just and merciful. The times are dark. But God still calls.

Let us pray: God who names us, God who calls us, help us to tune our ears to recognize your voice when you speak to our hearts. Keep calling us God, as we work to recognize your always-present voice in our lives. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.

The story about Vice President Joseph Biden and the main idea that inspired this sermon came from “Eli’s Gift,” A sermon preached by Rev. Carlos Wilton, pastor of the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church, on Sunday, January 19, 2009.


“Turn Around”
January 22, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Mark 1:14-20

In this story from the Gospel of Mark, We hear the first sentence Jesus speaks: “I will make you fish for people” (Mk. 1:17). You can be sure that He says this forcefully to those fishermen. He doesn’t say, “Before we leave, I’ll give you a chance to plan a lifestyle change.” I would say that, if it were up to me. I’d be softer and more diplomatic. I’d be afraid to ask them, in fact. But Jesus doesn’t mince words. He says, “I will make you fish for people.” And they go with Him.

You may be asking, do I have a choice? Is it necessary to drop everything, in order to tell the world about Jesus? I am not like these men. They were Galilean fishermen. They were living the way their fathers and grandfathers had lived before them. None of them had ever left the Sea of Galilee. These men were middle class breadwinners with families and good jobs. (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1993), 137.

Some people have trouble believing this gospel story is true. Four men are fishing on an ordinary day, and suddenly they jump into the water and swim to shore when a total stranger calls them. They leave their homes and their boats and their families, with no idea where they’re going. It’s incredible. Do we really have to do that? After all, in our country, who hasn’t heard of Jesus? He’s not a stranger. Aren’t most Americans Christian? Look at all the churches in the Lehigh Valley. There are six or seven Church Streets in Lehigh County alone.

But the world has changed. We are surrounded by people who don’t believe in Jesus. Fifty years ago, if you weren’t a Christian, you were in the minority. But today you’re labeled as odd if you if you are Christian. When I was a librarian in New Jersey, we displayed a big menorah in the county library lobby along with the Christmas tree every December. We made sure the two symbols were exactly the same size so we wouldn’t get complaints from either group. December was very stressful, for everyone on our staff. People called and wrote letters about BOTH the tree and the menorah. In fact, our County administrators stopped displaying the holiday symbols at the main office building, after some prankster built a golden calf and put it on the administration building lawn!

When I was a chaplain in a community hospital in New Jersey, we had a Muslim prayer rug in the chapel along with a cross. We kept the prayer rug pointed toward Mecca, so I had to keep in mind what direction Mecca was. It got used a lot, not only by the medical staff, but by patients and families, too—probably as much as we used the communion table. There are millions of non-Christians out there, and many more people who have no religion at all.

Some people think Jesus is a mythical character. In Brookfield, Ohio, nine or ten years ago, a seventh grade English teacher asked her students to write letters to people who had changed their lives, and to hand these letters in to her for a grade. One boy wrote a letter to Jesus, saying that Jesus was the one who had the greatest influence on his life. But the teacher refused to accept the letter, saying that the student couldn’t write about Jesus because Jesus had never existed. He got a zero on that homework assignment. His family sued the school system, and they won.

One of the fastest growing religious movements on college campuses is the Wiccan religion. Wicca is a pagan religion that centers around nature worship and the use of magic. Some colleges, including Lehigh University, have recognized Wiccan religious holidays on their school calendars for more than a decade, right alongside Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan. New Jersey public schools let Wiccan and Confucian students take their preferred religious holidays days off. These students get teachers to extend deadlines for their term papers, so the work won’t interfere with religious observance. Life is complicated for teachers these days!

Whether we want to face up to it or not, many Americans don’t know Jesus. And yet, we act as if we think that everyone around us is a devout Christian. So we don’t feel compelled to share the gospel with other people. For a long time, I, myself, thought that, if I lived a Christian life, I expressed what it meant to love Jesus. But that’s not enough. Not anymore.

If you really want to understand what Jesus is all about, you need someone who’s willing to say, "Come with me. I’ll show you the way." It all starts with an invitation to go on a journey. That’s the mission of the church. Disciples invite others to head in another direction and follow Jesus.

I heard a true story about a family that had a fire break out in their home in western Pennsylvania. The fire had started in the basement. And when the family discovered it, the fire was small, but it was starting to spread. So they called the local fire department to come. Within ten minutes or so, they could hear sirens blaring as the fire truck pulled up to the house. Thank goodness! , the family thought. Soon the firemen entered the house, wearing their oxygen masks and carrying axes. But when the family saw the firemen, they asked, "Where are your hoses? Where’s the water?" The fireman answered, "The truck we brought didn’t have any water in it." "Well, then," the family asked, "Where are your fire extinguishers?" The firefighters replied, "We don’t have any." The family looked at the firemen in disbelief. They asked, "Then, why are you here?" (From a sermon by Rev. Edward Bowen, Crafton Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, 2003) That’s a good question for us to ask ourselves. Why are we here? When people call on firefighters, they trust that the fire truck will be equipped to offer what’s needed to put out the fire. In the same way, when people look to us as the church, they expect us to be ready to invite them to come and follow Jesus. If we don’t do it, then why are we here?

Do you assume that Jesus is targeting the worst sinners? It’s true, Jesus calls tax collectors and prostitutes to move in better directions. The Greek word for, “repent,” in verse fifteen, means to “change direction.” A change of direction can shake up lives. We find this out every time we are driving, and we have to follow an unmarked detour. We feel lost and annoyed. We lose time. But we learn a short cut, a change of scenery, a new way. Jesus doesn’t suggest that we follow Him. He puts up a detour sign. Don’t go that way. I am the way. His call isn’t an invitation. It’s God’s expectation--- to let Him change our ordinary lives to extraordinary lives.

Almighty God, you are calling us to move in new directions. Your faith in us is amazing. We pray that we are worthy of your call. AMEN



“Short Cuts”
January 29, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

2 Kings 5:1-14
Mark 1: 40-45

My dad hated to waste any of his commuting time. He had a compass on the dashboard of his car, long before GPS or Google maps. Every day when he drove to work, he listened to Citizens Band radio. When truck drivers warned each other about traffic jams ahead, he would hear it, and then turn off onto strange dirt roads. Somehow he knew where he was going most of the time. To avoid gridlock on the New York Thruway, he would find detours like crossing the Rip van Winkle Bridge and taking the Taconic Parkway instead. My father was a scientist and I think he thought of his shortcuts as experiments. How he loved to show off to us when he took us on a short cut!

You’ve been showing me your favorite short cuts, too, and I love it. Thanks to Ruth Thomas and Carol Steigerwalt, I’ve learned how to completely avoid Route 22! I’ve discovered you can stay away from traffic lights on Cedar Crest Boulevard at rush hour, by taking Ott Street instead. I have Dick Bowman to thank for that suggestion. Barb Quigg showed me how to get to Route 145 north, saving ten minutes, by taking Front Street through Cementon. Thanks, Barb!

Saving time is really important to us. When we reach the second half of life, we realize that we don’t have all the time in the world. So we try to save a few minutes, here and there. We do self-checkout at the Giant. We go to the drive-up windows at drugstores, restaurants and banks. We e-mail or text-message people, instead of calling them on the phone or visiting them. We pay bills online. I, for one, would do almost anything to avoid phone tag or long waits in line! Wouldn’t you?

But not all short cuts are good, in my opinion. Many folks have started to send only electronic Christmas cards, or they don’t send any at all. Children write very few thank-you notes anymore. Christians skip church to shop or do errands, not for important reasons. Some short cuts show disrespect for others and a lack of respect for God.

What’s the best way to show respect for another person? One way is to be sure that person isn’t kept waiting. In ancient times, people followed that same unwritten rule about not wasting time, especially when dealing with more powerful people. Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army. His country was at war with Israel. Naaman was one of the king’s trusted advisors. People respected this man and feared wasting his time. Even the king himself didn’t dare to make him wait outside the gate. The courtiers had been instructed to usher him right into the throne room, whenever he came to the castle.

But one day, Naaman contracted leprosy. He would be an outcast as soon as the word got out about his disease, and he knew it. There was a huge social stigma associated with leprosy in Bible times. People believed it was contagious. A person with leprosy was forced to live away from the towns. Everyone thought that God had rejected lepers and anyone they touched became unclean. Leprosy was more shameful than AIDS is today, because it was so visible and there was no medical cure known. For all intents and purposes, a leper was dead. Naaman couldn’t lead soldiers into battle, unless he found a miracle cure for his leprosy. He needed it soon, or people would find out what his problem was, and his life would be over. One of Naaman’s servants had heard of an Israelite prophet named Elisha, who could cure leprosy. The King of Syria sent Naaman to Israel, to meet Elisha and be healed. He loaded a caravan with money and gifts for Israel’s king, as well. This was a big deal from a diplomatic standpoint, since the two nations were at war.

Naaman showed up at Elisha’s tent in Israel, with all his horses and chariots. The commander expected that Elisha would come out, wave his magic wand, and Naaman’s leprosy would be gone. But Elisha didn’t walk out of his tent with a magic wand and say "shazaam." In fact, he didn’t talk to Naaman at all. Instead he sent a servant to meet the commander, and the servant did just as instructed. He told the general to go bathe seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was furious at Elisha’s snub, and even more enraged at this silly-sounding cure—bathing seven times in muddy water, indeed! Forget that! He turned his caravan around and got ready to return to Syria. Can’t you just picture the steam coming from Naaman’s ears? How humiliating, being sent to a dirty little river to take a bath! It was more than the general could stand.

But Naaman had a brave servant who had listened to the words of Elisha. He knew the prophet had spoken the word of God Himself. Naaman’s servant had enough courage to confront his boss with a dangerous question. He asked Naaman, “If the prophet had told you to do something really difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All you have to do is bathe in the Jordan seven times. Why not just do it?" Desperate enough to swallow his pride, Naaman took seven baths in the river, and lo and behold, his leprosy disappeared.

Naaman went back to Elisha’s tent. The prophet came out to meet him. Naaman said to Elisha, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” Naaman gave thanks by proclaiming the good news of God’s power to his Syrian countrymen.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark is a miraculous tale about the healing of a leper, also. Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the leper—a shocking thing for a Jewish rabbi to do. "Be made clean," He says, and immediately, the leper is healed. No bathing in the Jordan this time! The healed beggar has the same reaction Naaman did. He goes out and praises God to everyone who will listen. Jesus is modest at the start of His ministry. For that reason, he asks the leper to keep his healing a secret. But the man doesn’t listen. He makes sure that everyone else hears the Good News. In my opinion, this leper is the best evangelist in the New Testament, other than Jesus, Himself. Naaman is a pretty good Old Testament example of testimony to God’s healing power. Both men, a thousand years apart in the history of faith, praise God out of pure gratitude. What about your own joy in God’s love for you? Has God brought you healing and comfort? Tell it to the world. Two lepers in the Bible did it, and we can too.

We are the church. Because of our faith, our lives have meaning. We study the word of the Lord. We know Jesus loves us. We believe that goodness has no short cuts. We strive for compasssion toward the sick and the poor. Our children are growing up with hope of eternal life. What can we do, in response to God’s love? Give thanks and tell the world. We don’t need magic. We just need to set aside our pride and say, “Thank you, God, for caring about us so much that you came to us in Christ.”

Let us pray. Healing God, you have reached out and restored the lost to wholeness through Christ. Empower us to reach out to those who are in need, to bind up the broken hearted, to restore the alienated to faith and fellowship. Give us the eyes of faith to see you among us, so that we might better serve you. AMEN

 


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