Keeping it Simple

A simple message: God gives simply and gives simplicity, based on 2 Kings 5.

Scripture

Weve just heard a great story of the Old Testament.  The purpose of the story is to hear a powerful and feared man, a “godless foreigner”, say: there is a real prophet in Israel.

It is also a comedy, a folktale, for poor folk, that pokes fun at the rich and powerful.  There are two Kings and a great general, Naaman, but they don’t achieve much and look foolish.  Even God’s prophet doesn’t do much.  It’s the three servants, unnamed, simple people, one a child, who make things happen.

This story contains so much but we will focus on only one idea.

A Simple Task

The formula, or presciption, was simple. A child could understand it. “Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan and you will be made clean.” But the person given this simple task was not a simple man.  His power and reputation mean nothing, and his great riches are useless.  He drives off in a huff, like an angry teenager!

Yet when he does as he is told he is completely healed physically, and he realises the truth about God.  Verse 15: “Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel’.”  

Application

Today, we are rich and powerful, like Naaman.  Also, like him, we got our wealth and power by conquering and taking from others.  God will punish the rich for their sins and exalt the poor.

We can all be saved by confessing our sins to Jesus Christ and surrendering to him.  Many people will be too clever, too rich or too proud to do this.  This should not be a surprise to us – it has always been this way!

We however, can give thanks that we are not clever or sophisticated, we have few possessions and we have to depend on others to look after us.  In our simple lives we have few things to get in the way of accepting God’s simple grace.

Conclusion

We can take pride in the cross of Christ – we don’t have to be clever or great to be healed (saved) from sin/mortality, in fact in helps if we are not!

In Desperate Need

A story of endurance and faith in desperate times, based on 1 Kings 17:8-24.

The Story

Elijah the prophet has told Ahab the wicked King that there will be no rain or dew in Israel, because “Ahab … did more to arouse the anger of the Lord … than did all the kings of Israel before him.”  That’s quite an achievement, if you look at the four chapters of murder, idol worship, etc., that his predecessors had been guilty of!

God tells Elijah to go to a foreign (godless) land to lodge with a widow, i.e. a woman with no means of support!  Does Elijah need to learn some humility? or to depend on God?  Elijah finds her and begs (with a stunning lack of sensitivity) for water and bread from her – she replies that she is in a desperate state (v12).

Note that God does not promise a miraculous end to the drought, or even a miraculous but isolated plenty in the place where Elijah is going.  God promises only enough for today, and then the next day, and so on; Elijah and his adopted family can see no way out, they have no security other than God’s promise in the midst of catastrophe.  

However, the situation grows even worse.  The widow’s only son dies and, with him, her only hope of survival after Elijah has gone and into her old age dies too.  Naturally, she is heartbroken and angry with the man of God.  Tragically, she assumes that she is to blame, and that the presence of the man of God has only brought God’s attention to her sins, and divine retribution for them.  Elijah cries out to God in genuine need – at last he has learned to identify and empathize with the plight of the ordinary people, rather than just himself.

Application

The rich, the powerful, the leaders who should be doing God’s will, have led the whole nation into sin.  Big issues are being worked out here, with big consequences. Unfortunately, even God’s prophet, and the innocent, must suffer the consequences. 

Today, we understand natural cause and effect (as opposed to early Old Testament (mis)understanding that God does everything directly).

A Christian Perspective

Jesus’ approach is to draw people to him, not to condemn their sin, but to bring them healing and to know the presence of God.  In Jesus presence we are saved from our sins, no matter how desperate the situation around us. We will be liberated from the consequences of sin in the world around us, as we look ahead, eagerly, to God’s Kingdom on Earth and the next life in heaven, whichever comes first for us.

The Healing of Naaman

A sermon about Epiphany and Baptism, based on the healing of Naaman by Elisha in 2Kings 5.

Introduction: ‘Whistle Blowing’

Someone in church has asked for a sermon on ‘whistle blowing’.  A whistleblower is a person who raises a concern about wrongdoing occurring in an organization or body of people.  I am interested in talking about ‘whistle blowing’, because I had occasion to do it about 4 years’ ago, and my career in the Royal Air Force was effectively finished by doing so.  However, what happened to me is unlikely to be relevant to many others. 

When we were discussing the idea of this sermon the case of a Christian district nurse was in the news.  She worked in Weston Super Mare and she was investigated by her employer for offering to pray for a patient.  She was suspended without pay, but, thankfully, reinstated without any action being taken against her.  She was supported by the Christian Legal Centre, and I wonder whether action would have been taken against her, if not for that fact and all the publicity surrounding the case.  Sadly, her case is not unique.  What should we do if we feel called to ‘blow the whistle’ because of our Christian principles, or even to share Christ with a potentially hostile world?

Sermon

(The aim of the original story is to get to the confession in verse 15: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”  But there is much more to be learned from this passage…)

Naaman 

Naaman is a powerful general, well regarded and of high personal qualities – but he has a problem.  The point is though that he knows he has a problem – how many have problems but won’t admit them even to themselves?  Then again, Naaman’s problem is obvious to others, so he can’t delude himself.

That’s like so many people today, isn’t it?  Most people around us have a vague belief in God, but don’t know Him personally.  Nevertheless, they can apparently get along quite nicely without God, so they don’t realise that they have a problem.  It’s not until they face something that they can’t solve with own resources, or understand in their own wisdom, that they realise they lack something they need.  Even then some refuse to see the truth.

Elisha

Elisha is the “man of God”, and he is not impressed or awed by Naaman’s earthly power, regard or qualities.  He also chides the King for his fear and lack of faith.  Some would see Elisha’s behaviour as arrogant, but let’s not forget that Elisha has got something that Naaman needs – the General hasn’t come to call out of friendship. 

We are in a similar position to Elisha.  Because we know God personally we have something that is beyond mere worldly power and prestige – we also have a God-given authority and freedom.  In these days of diversity, tolerance and “my rights”, it’s not fashionable to say that we have The Truth, of The Faith, but we do.  We are very blessed and fortunate people and we don’t have to apologise for that; we are free to tell others about our relationship with God.  Elisha wasn’t interested in being popular or fitting in – he had a God-given job to do.  So do we.      

The King of Israel

In the story, the King symbolises a lack of faith, but perhaps this is unfair.  We know that Israel has suffered at the hands of Aram, so perhaps the King’s suspicion is justified; perhaps we need to be sensitive to others because we don’t know what they have experienced in the past.  Also, you can see the King’s horror at the prospect of war and the thought that, even if Israel wins, he will be responsible for leading some of his men to their death.  Perhaps we should try to understand over-zealous officials who don’t want religious controversies disturbing the peace. 

The Girl Servant of Naaman’s Wife

The girl has been captured and taken away from her people by Aram, a nation who do not know the true God.  You would think that the girl would have no love for her master, but she tells his wife that the prophet in Samaria can cure him.  What faith and courage in witness!  Perhaps also the girl can see good in her master, even though he is author of her misfortune and the enemy of her people.  

Naaman’s Servants

Naaman’s servants also chose to take a risk to help their master who was in a rage.  Let’s not forget that Naaman could have killed any one of them if he so chose.  Remember, that there was nothing in it for them – they didn’t know that the cure would work!  Once again it is the courage and love of the servants – who are not even significant enough to be named in the story – that enables God’s miracle to happen.  Without them there would be no story and no conclusion:  “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

Conclusion

We are surrounded by people who do not really know God and choose to ignore Him.  Some of these people have authority over us.  Our way of life is not popular or well understood.  Nevertheless, our God has the final victory and we will have the last laugh.  God’s victory over His enemies gives us the opportunity to pray for them, tell them the good news and serve them.  Let’s pray now…