7/28/2013 Sermon: “What’s in Your Barn?”

Barn at a poultry farm near Mt. Joy, PA. CN - 2013
Barn at a poultry farm near Mt. Joy, PA. CN – 2013

Luke 12:13-21.  13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?”18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

Stone foot-warmerDoes anyone know what this is?  [8” x 10” piece of soapstone with a metal handle on one end]  It’s a relic from our family barn in Ohio, where stuff collected for most of the 1900’s.  It’s a foot-warmer – you put on (or maybe in) a stove, then on the floor of your buggy or Model T.  Keeps your feet toasty warm in the winter.  Maybe just one foot!

For me, this stone is a little reminder of that barn, which I thought was a kind of magical place when I was growing up.  When I hear the word “barn,” I get all nostalgic.  The loft area of that barn was full of useless things from another time.

Once upon a time (1978), I went looking for the small village in rural Wisconsin where my grandfather grew up.  Romance, Wisconsin (population 705 in 2000).  He knew I was going and asked me to get a picture of the small Methodist church building down the road from the family farm.  He attended that church as a boy, in the days of the horse and buggy, and wanted to see how it looked after 70-plus years.  I found the place after a couple of visits: a very small wooden building.  The front door was nailed shut; there was hay coming out of the Gothic window over the door.  It was now a barn.

That’s not a really a bad image if you need a metaphor.  The earliest New England churches were really nothing more than barns with windows.  To work in a little symbolism, a barn is a place where the flock (or the herd) finds shelter and food!  The Lord is my shepherd; this is the Lord’s barn!

In the 17-1800’s, there was very often a fenced-in area right next to the church building where people would put stray farm animals.  Unless you lived in a city, almost everybody had a barn until about a century ago – now we’ve got garages, unless you live in a city.

When you’re looking for a new house, you pay attention to the storage space.  Maybe you’re thinking of what you’ve already got in storage. What do you keep in your barn these days?  How far back do the clothes go? I think we could all confess to at least a little bit of a hoarding instinct.

Somebody said, “Jesus – help me get my share of the family estate!”  Jesus – you seem to have the ability to make people do the right thing or feel enormous guilt.  Help me get what I want!

There is an African proverb that goes, “Where there is a will, there will be family.”  Families can fall apart over issues like this.  Maybe someone here is thinking of a time when the settlement of a will didn’t go as planned and it affected a relationship.

But Jesus wants his disciples to keep first things first – loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself – so he goes on to tell a story about a rich farmer and his barns.

In Palestine, having a barn in the time of Jesus would have been a pretty big deal.  There has never been much lumber for things like that; storage buildings were made mostly of stone (there are a lot of rocks in Palestine).  This farmer already has barns.  He tears them down to build bigger ones.

In my bible, the title of that reading from Luke is “The Rich Fool.”  But is he really so foolish?  By the standards of our society he is doing pretty well.  He has money and makes a good living. He’s not a criminal; he’s not breaking the law.  He’s invested wisely and deserves a life of comfort.  He tells himself so; in fact, he is the only person in the story he talks to.  He doesn’t talk to God; he doesn’t talk to his neighbors, he talks to himself, which might be the first obvious problem of foolishness.  And in a time and place where many people need what he’s producing – mainly food, he’s keeping it for himself.  He isn’t even trying to sell it.

During the times that I’ve traveled to places like the Dominican Republic, I’ve tried to get a handle on how the economy works there.  Unemployment is very high (if employment means I have a job that the government can keep track of), but behind the scenes, people have a way of taking care of each other.  I have some cows; I’ll give you some milk if you give me some of the cheese you make.  You can sell the rest, or trade for something you need.  The economy isn’t totally like that, but you get the idea.

If you build barns to store up food, that makes a statement to the community.  Why would you hoard the stuff that everybody needs?  On this last trip, I met a dairy farmer with a barn, but other than that, I’ve never met anyone in the Dominican Republic who even had a storage shed.

What are you keeping in your barn?  What do you have in your house or garage that is totally useless, but hard to let go of?  Could selling these useless things provide help for someone else?  You might be thinking, well, nobody needs that prom dress from 1971, or your ties from 1961, but to make a connection with the rich guy in the story…. the United States stores more food and throws away more food than everyone else on the planet.  So this tendency toward hoarding might be a sin we own as a culture.

When his hoard didn’t help that farmer when he needed it most, Jesus says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (v. 21)

Jesus talks about the rich and the poor – as much or more – than any other topic in Luke.  He actually seems obsessed with the wealth he sees compared with the poverty he sees.  Now, does Jesus simply mean that we should get our priorities straightened out?  Or are we actually supposed to share what we have with the poor?  This is why it seems to me that Jesus is dangerous.  He messes up the status quo.  You know, my family and friends work hard for what they have, to build up a good “quality of life.”  We all work hard to create a safe place to live and work.  Why should it bother me that some folks in some of our neighborhood around here (or Lancaster or Philly) don’t have the family support structure I do?  If they work hard they can have it too.  God, do I really need to worry about them?

The problem we have with Jesus is that we understand what he does – healing, dying for us, living again and giving us new life – but we have a lot of trouble understanding and doing what he says.  We just don’t want to.

How are our kids being trained to use things?  What kind of exposure do they get to people who are not like them, especially those with fewer things and less money?  A few years ago, there was a survey that found out that the life goal of most college freshmen is to make lots of money.  This is why mission experiences for our kids are so important: they teach the kids that they are not alone in the world, and that God counts on them to express their faith in meaningful ways.  We teach them that our lifestyle can have an indirect effect on the way other people live.  There are people who can use a hand – down the street and in places like Biloxi or Appalachia or the Dominican Republic.  It’s not easy to teach this because it’s not what they are learning in their real world.

Later on in chapter 12 of Luke, Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  (12:33-34)

Did Jesus mean that literally?  Sell your possessions, and give alms (give to the poor)?  Do the things that make for treasure in God’s kingdom.  Do the things that are priceless?  What does that look like?

What are you keeping in your barn?  God’s kingdom is all about relationships, between each of us and God, between each other.  Loving God and loving the neighbor, especially if the neighbor is not like you, especially if the neighbor has needs, that is the investment plan in God’s kingdom.  Find ways to do those things and you are well on your way toward untold wealth.

Take a break from building your barn and help someone build a life.  What does that look like?

As a church, what are we keeping in our barn?  For us, Jesus has something to say about our lifestyles and our lifestyle together.  What are we storing up for ourselves?  What do we have that everybody needs? Let’s give it away so we can be rich.  What exactly is it that we can be doing to “make a difference through the love of Christ?”

Being a successful church of Jesus Christ has very little to do with a balanced budget, or new paint on the walls, or how many people are attending worship.  Our success is directly related to the things we are doing to make a difference through the love of Christ.   What are those things?  That’s the question we need to be able to answer, because that’s what will make us a successful church.

Prayer

O God, clear our minds and our hearts of the clutter and the junk that keeps us from seeing you and seeing each other.  Teach us about possessions and treasures.  Help us love you with a deeper love, and through your Spirit, help us understand who and what is important  to you.

We thank you for your care for us, especially for the treasures that come from our faith in you – a church family that cares, and a growing sense of purpose in following you.  Help us live out our prayers in real ways; make us living expressions of your love for our world.  Amen.

7/21/2013 Sermon: “Good Samaritans Among Us”

Luke 10:25-37.  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 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 neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

The path near Jericho, on the way to Jerusalem.  2011 - CN.
The path near Jericho, on the way to Jerusalem. 2011 – CN.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, 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 while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Good Samaritans.  Whenever I read the story of the Good Samaritan, my mind translates it to the place where I am living.  A traveler is going along one of the back roads through the farms between Manheim and Mt. Joy and their car breaks down.  They are stranded.  It could be one of us.  No, they are the victim of a hit and run – injured and left for dead.  A United Church of Christ pastor (one of us) goes by.  A pastor from a Mennonite church or one of the large independent churches goes by.  Now, the next person has to be totally different.  The person who helps can’t be like one of us, generally speaking.  Non-white?  An immigrant?  Maybe a Mexican?  I know that there is a Mexican population in this part of Lancaster County.  How about a Hispanic Jehovah’s Witness?

A lot of people think they don’t know much about the Bible, but they know what a Good Samaritan is.  The Good Samaritan story isn’t just about helping people you don’t know; it’s about overcoming prejudice.  When Jesus tells you this story, he’s inviting you to think about a group of people you have very little in common with – and maybe some good reasons to stay away from.  It’s a reality that we all have at least a little nervousness about certain types of people, and most of that nervousness we learned somewhere.

Can you see those people?  This isn’t about whether we agree with them theologically or culturally.  Is it possible for you to overcome your prejudice to be a neighbor to them?  Can you imagine them being a neighbor to you?  Can you imagine making yourself vulnerable to that sort of a person?  Can you imagine allowing them to bandage your wounds?  Can you imagine caring deeply for someone who is very different from you?  It’s still a great question – who is your neighbor?

I think most folks know that if Samaria is mentioned in the Bible, it must be a place in the Middle East, and it is: a county-sized area in the middle of Israel/Palestine.  Most of it is in a place we now call the West Bank.  But when we hear the word “Samaritan,” we usually think of a person who does good deeds for someone they don’t know and don’t assume they come from Samaria.  That’s the influence of this passage from Luke.

We associate Samaritans with good deeds done in response to a bad situation – a person who helps a stranger at their own risk.  Helping someone you don’t know makes you a Good Samaritan.  I’ve seen orphanages, hospitals (lots of hospitals), and even animal shelters named after the Good Samaritan. There are organizations named after the Good Samaritan.  I think that volunteer ambulance companies could have “Good Samaritan” printed on the side of their vehicles. They help anybody in trouble.  They get a call and they go; doesn’t matter who it is.

On the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal there is a sign that says, “Feeling desperate?  Call the Samaritans.”  (This is a high place people might try to jump from.)  I don’t know who these Samaritans are, but they have a “hot line.”

The Samaritans Jesus was talking about have lived in this place we call the West Bank of Palestine for most of 3,000 years; there is still a small population who identify themselves ethnically as Samaritans – about 750 people.

The chief priest of the Samaritans explains the Samaritan scriptures.  Mt. Gerizim, 2011 - CN.
The chief priest of the Samaritans explains the Samaritan scriptures. Mt. Gerizim, Palestine. 2011 – CN.

After Israel was conquered by Assyria in the 8th century B.C., Assyrian settlers moved in, and many of the Jewish people were exiled.  Only a few Jewish peasants were left and they eventually intermarried with the Assyrians, which “diluted” their Jewish-ness.  From then on, Samaritans were seen as a “mixed race” by people in the southern part of Israel – the kingdom of Judah.  They were spiritually and racially impure.  About 100 years before the time of Christ, the Judean king destroyed the Samaritans’ temple. These were the main reasons for the hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans, and the main reasons the Bible always assumes this undercurrent of hostility when stories mention Samaria or Samaritans.  These are people who have no reason to be friendly to Jews and vice-versa.

And that’s what creates the punch line of the story: from a Jewish point of view, the one who does the will of God is an outsider, an untouchable.  Jesus tells this story as his side of an argument with a Jewish lawyer and everybody is waiting for the come-back or the put-down.  Get the lawyer!  But the hero of Jesus’ story is a Samaritan, a person nobody likes, and somebody who has no reason to know the Jewish laws the lawyer knows – the laws about loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.  So, there’s a “hidden” meaning here: the lawyer is only doing enough to get by, following the rules of society, but who really cares for his neighbor?  The one who doesn’t even know this is a commandment – the Samaritan.

Who Is Your Neighbor?  The lawyer asks the questions: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?  And who is my neighbor?”  These are trick questions, which is why, even though it may not sound like it, this is an argument.  The lawyer wants to prove that he deserves eternal life because he does the minimum requirements of the Jewish law.  But the shocker to everybody is this Samaritan.  Could Jesus be saying that even Samaritans are acceptable to God?  Maybe.  Salvation is up to God, not us.  But the story isn’t about salvation; it’s about loving your neighbor.  It’s about loving your world the same way God loves the world.  God needs us to love the world, unconditionally.

The wounded man in the story is Jewish, which means the priest and the Levite (priest’s assistant) should have stopped to help because they knew better, but they didn’t.  And it also means that if this man were not wounded, he probably would have walked on the other side of the road to avoid this same Samaritan who is giving him first-aid.  And stopping was a risk for the Samaritan too, who was traveling with a pack animal and money – easy pickings for the same bandits who attacked the Jewish man.  On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, he is not in Samaria, and actually, he’s in more danger than the wounded man, and he has just as many reasons to let his hatred of Jews get in the way of helping.  He was taking a risk.

For a number of years, there has been a lot of discussion in some places about Good Samaritan laws.  I read a recent story about a school police officer who was suspended when he pulled a bully off of another student and the bully’s parents filed a complaint.  Do you remember Princess Diana’s accident almost 14 years ago?  The French photographers were in trouble because they didn’t help after her car crashed; they took pictures instead.  Depending on what the local laws are, you could be in trouble if you don’t help someone in need, but there’s another kind of risk if you do.  What do you think Jesus is saying to us?  We see a need; what do we do?  We help.

When you think about the Good Samaritan story, who are you?  Think about the different characters; if this were a movie, which one would you play?  The bandits come along thinking, “What’s yours is mine” and they attack.  The religious leaders come along thinking, “What’s mine is mine,” afraid to get involved; too much risk.  The Samaritan walks by and says “what’s mine is yours,” and gives what he has.  Or maybe you’re the wounded guy who needs help.  I think that a lot of us are that wounded traveler on the side of the road. Christ is God’s EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) sent for each of us.   He picks us up off the side of the road and tends our wounds.  He forgives us, he makes us whole, he heals us, and then this is what we do for others.

DSC_0888
The village of Cambiaso, Dominican Republic. 2013 – CN.

But it’s possible that we can’t give or care the way God wants us to until we let go of our fears, our bigotry, our mistrust, our anger and attitudes, and our yes, our hatreds.  We can’t care until we let go of our personal agendas.  This is an age when it’s easy to tailgate slow people on Rt. 72 (if we don’t know them) – and drop bombs on people we don’t know.

It’s easy to ignore people from other places that might be only a short plane-ride away.  People in places like the Dominican Republic have an economy that depends on us buying the stuff they make for next to nothing.  Maybe they have a cheaper culture than ours, and that’s okay, but do we ignore their basic health needs when we have more than enough to share?

At the end of the movie “Schinder’s List,” the Jewish refugees give Oskar Schindler a gold ring (made of the gold fillings taken from some of their teeth), which has an inscription:  “He who saves one life, saves the world entire.”

“He who saves one life, saves the world entire.”

Who are our neighbors?  As we pray, ask God to show you their faces.

Prayer

O God, we see neighbors everywhere.  We see them in the Dominican Republic, we see them in Lancaster; we see them in Manheim.  In our own daily lives, we see people lying by the side of the road every day, wounded and helpless.  We are frightened because we know that with a slight change in the circumstances, it could be us.  Forgive us for slipping into denial and walking by.

Give us the wisdom and the foresight to know when our own needs have been met so that we are free to take care of somebody else.  Help us understand how much we need you and how much we need each other.  Help us know in our deepest places that we can’t afford to play it safe and not get involved. Through your Spirit, teach us how to take care of each other.  Through the power of your love, show us how to love through Christ, whom you sent to save us and in whose name we pray.  Amen.

7/7/2013 Sermon: “Being Fruit-growers”

GrapesThe scripture I’ll use today is part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Galatia was not a city; it was a large area in what is now central Turkey.  The major cities were all Roman colonies and they were all settled by Europeans, so it was extremely diverse; a big international crossroads.

Paul’s preaching about the resurrection of Jesus, his preaching about the living Jesus, had started many of these churches.  He moved on to preach in other places and stays in touch through letters.  His letter to the Galatians was meant to circulate around these churches, and the main point Paul was trying to make is: Galatians! No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, don’t be imprisoned by religious laws, like Jewish circumcision. Galatians!  Faith in Christ is what binds us all together and sets us free.  Religiosity, following the rules of religion, will not help you! Don’t be imprisoned!  Only faith will set you free!  The Spirit of God living in you through faith will make you into the kind of person you should be.  Then he has many challenging things to say, and I’ll comment along the way…

GAL 5:1  For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  

GAL 5:13  For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”   [God’s love is always outward looking.  God’s Spirit living in us, gives us a supernatural ability to see others with God’s eyes, and focus God’s love toward them.]

15  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16  Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  [The flesh is the temporary, consumable self. That part of us that gazes at our navel and can only ask, “What about me?”  It’s that part of ourselves that is convinced that if we can find a way to  feel better right now, grab a little piece of happiness, of feeling good, then I’ll be okay. But you’re always left empty, and tomorrow, you start over.]

17  For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.  [Not what God needs you to be doing.]  18  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

19  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication [pornea = root word of pornography, that is, sexual addiction, etc.], impurity, licentiousness, 20  idolatry, sorcery [pharmakea = root word of pharmacy – mood-altering substances?], enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, [It’s interesting that these emotional flaws are listed in the same way as sex and drugs; they can be just as debilitating and addictive.] 21  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

[The kingdom of God is the presence of God in your life through faith in Christ.  So, that does not mean, if  you do these things, you won’t go to heaven, as much as it means, if you worship these urges, and put them at the center of your life, by default, you won’t be able to experience the natural high God wants to give you through the Spirit.  This is not about making a choice to avoid bad things as much as it’s a choice to say to God, “I believe in you; Jesus, you are Lord of my life, live in me.  I choose your kingdom.”  Faith has a natural consequence:]

22  By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. We are not imprisoned by those things either.

25  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

6:1  My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2  Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

When you read scripture, one of the questions you always need to ask is, “Why is this here?  Why is this writer saying these things?” What is Paul seeing/imagining as he writes to these friends of his in Galatia?

I don’t know if you could tell, but as Paul is describing it, there is a conflict going on.  Life is either of the “flesh,” or it’s of the Spirit.  Black and white, or maybe you could say, before and after.  Before you came to faith in Jesus, this is what the focus of life was for you (strife, jealousy, anger…).  You were slaves to things that only hurt you.  But now, you are slaves to the Spirit of God, children of God, followers of the Jesus who gave his life for you, and this is what life looks like (love, joy, peace).

You’d think that it’s a logical choice.  We’ve got pain and suffering and evil and war behind door number one.  We’ve got happiness, fulfillment and health and community behind door number two.  And the doors are labeled; it’s not a guess.

From scripture, you can learn that evil and warfare is a choice that all of us make at some point, in some way (then Jesus comes to save us from that).  Jesus comes to point us in another direction.

Have you ever been amazed at the happy trust of a child?  There comes a time when we learn the strife, jealousy, anger.  I don’t believe it’s in us naturally.  We learn warfare, which represents lack of faith and trust in God.  This is why Jesus needs to say,

Matthew 18: 3‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

So, faith in Christ is the antidote to the inner choice we have made toward warfare – with each other and with God.  We are in a place where we can hear the invitation of Christ to the love, joy, and peace that God offers.

Much of the world is not in that place.  Much of the world is addicted to the adrenalin of warfare.  The absurdity of killing.  The white-hot fuel of hatred.  I believe Satan loves it when that spills over into the church.  The strife, jealousy, and anger that represents rebellion against God, and the opposite of the community God invites us to.  Those things make us irrelevant in a world addicted to warfare and hungry for love.

We don’t have to be pointing guns at each other to do damage, but many people around here would know what that looks like historically.  We are just past the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, where there were almost 50,000 casualties in 3 days.  Maybe time has washed away the pain of the losses, but most of us whose families have lived in this country for a long time can trace back to a point when we were hurt deeply.  Somebody left to go fight and never came back or came back as a different person (my family lost an uncle who died as a confederate prisoner of war, and there was a great-great grandfather whose family had to live for 25 years with the Civil War wounds he never recovered from).

Whenever you are visiting some historic battlefield, you need to try to remember that these were members of families who fell.  Sons, brothers…

What I’m taking about isn’t some quaint piece of history.  Warfare is always present somewhere (look at the news) and is always evil.  It has always caused the same damage. to individuals and families.

A few years ago, the author Sebastian Junger (Perfect Storm) wrote a book about the war in Afghanistan from a soldier’s perspective.  It’s called War.  The issue he was wrestling with was, how is it that people who are great soldiers can come back home from war, and be dangerous citizens?  So he spent about a year living on the front lines, embedded with the Army.  Then he spent another year interviewing soldiers after their return home.

In any fighting force, especially among those who are in the most danger, there is a deep knowledge that each soldier must watch out for everyone else – to have their back. It’s not out of some deep spiritual love (although it is possible to think of it that way), it’s for survival.  Instinctive reflex care for others.  (I’ve never served in the military – I’m doing the best I can to reflect what Junger said) In a foxhole moment, you stop caring about what sort of person that is next to you, or any disagreement you may have.  You need them, and they need you.  You will protect them.  If you get wounded, they will drag you to safety.

In that place, a soldier has a purpose, you know what your job is, and everyone depends on you to do it.  This is why so many soldiers have trouble with the transition back to civilian life.  It’s more than just an addiction to adrenalin; the platoon needs you and back here, nobody needs you; you don’t have a purpose; you’re just somebody with issues.  So these soldiers long to go back.  To the place where they are needed, where they have purpose.

 …through love become slaves to one another.  14  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

DSCN0537It strikes me that life, for many of us, is a kind of a war.  The enemy in Manheim is subtle, lots of times not so subtle, and deeply committed to destroying us.  And we don’t spend enough time watching each others’ backs.  There are a lot of wounded who are not being dragged to safety.

I don’t think I’m using a metaphor right now.  It’s a war, and I believe God has an answer.  A solution, an alternative.  There is no substitute for a relationship with the living Christ at the center of life, and getting our minds off of ourselves.  This is not about religion; it’s about simply saying yes to God, saying God, I’m yours.  Real Spirit-filled Christian fellowship happens when believers see how necessary they are to each other, when they start to become slaves to one another (“How can I serve you today?”).

Those of you who give yourselves to a mission in the church know firsthand the spiritual high that comes from this.  Mission project veterans know this in a big way.  In Manheim, we can all be involved with the Called to Care Ministry that Bev Liebold leads.  We all are called to open the doors and reach out to the community.  God calls all of us to be a part of offering healing and redemption to those who have fallen, to drag them to safety.  To be an outpost for the peace, love and joy of Christ.

It’s a war.  People are dying.  They are lost. And we are called to care.  We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves to have each other’s backs, to drag them to safety.  It is appropriate that our church’s building served as a hospital during the revolution.  Our mission is to save, not to fight.  To declare peace and to live out peace through our complete trust in Jesus.  There is some way that each of us can make a difference in the life of someone else, even if its nothing more than to invite them to church so they can hear about Jesus.

Knowing none of us is perfect, as Paul said, all those years ago:  “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…”

 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 Prayer

God, in our weakness, make us strong.  Through your Spirit, help us rely on you and watch out for each other.  We give ourselves to the One who died for us, so that we can live.  Amen.

6/30/2013 Sermon: “A Search for Healing”

Healing 92 Kings 5:1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

2  Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3  She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

4  So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5  And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.

6  He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7  When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

8  But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

9  So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10  Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

11  But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

12  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?” He turned and went away in a rage.  13  But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  

14  So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was made clean.

There are many ways to find healing and many, many ways to spend money on healing.  On the Internet you find places that sell healing stones, healing crystals, healing herbs.  You’d find topics like Reiki and Tao healing (healing practices from Asia), celestial healing, faith healing, natural healing, spiritual healing, sexual healing, and healing humor.  At the top of the computer screen, after a search on healing, the book seller Amazon will sell you books on healing.  And my screen invites me to “find products and comparison shop for healing” in 3,500 different places on the Internet.

Healthcare has been a major national issue for many years.  We wrestle with it as a country.  What are we entitled to? Are we responsible for everyone’s health?  However we may feel about else, I know that when it comes to our family and ourselves, we want the best available care now.

There probably isn’t a person in this room that hasn’t prayed for healing at one time or another – for yourself or some one else.  The prayer time of our service nearly always includes the names of people who need healing: families who are overcoming a loss, those who have been hospitalized.  Pastors know that if a list like that were to be truly accurate, we would be using a lot of time in the service each week.  I look across the room and I see wonderful people who have had a close relationship with pain.  And God knows.

In the presence of God, we talk about those who are ill.  Talking about those who are ill in church may seem like a natural thing to you, or, you may have wondered how healing (and illness) has a place here.  The first hospitals were started as annexes to monasteries and church buildings.  Medical facilities began to separate around 200 years ago, but healing is still a spiritual thing for many of us.  You know that your most spiritual moments come when you need healing.  And in the church, we’re also following the first command Jesus gave to his disciples in the gospel of Luke:

“…Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:1-2; note: Mark leaves out the word “heal”)

Healing 12The concern for healing – and the search for healing has been with us since God created us.  From the moment we begin to breathe, we have a survival instinct that craves healing.  As I say these words, you know someone who needs healing right now.  That someone may be you.

So, what does healing mean for Christians?  What does it mean for people who come into contact with Jesus?  What does it mean for you?  What needs healing in your life?  I want to encourage you to let God be a partner in your healing.  The healing you experience may not be the healing you ask for or expect.  The healing you experience as a Christian is not about me and it’s not about you; it’s about God.

So many people have come into a deeper relationship with God because of something in their life that needed healing.  If this is the method God has used in your life to get closer to you, you know that this is not an easy path to walk; it’s not for the faint of heart.  When we think of healing, we think of miracles, and God is in that business.  If you became closer to God because of an illness, you may or may not have thought of it this way, but it was a miracle, whether you were cured or not.

In the story from 2 Kings, a man called Namaan goes down to a river to wash, he needs healing.  I love that story about Naaman.  It must have been a well-known story even 2,000 years ago, because Jesus talked about Namaan, even though Naaman lived 800 years before he did.

You’ll have to forgive Jesus when he says the things he does.  Jesus was not good at being politically correct!  It was his comment about Naaman the Syrian that caused some anger.  With all the nice Jewish men and women seated in rows, dressed in their best, enjoying the Sabbath worship, in the Gospel of Luke he says, “There were plenty of lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha the prophet, but none of them were healed — only Naaman the Syrian.”  (Luke 4:27)

Not only was Naaman the army general of a foreign country, his boss the King (Ben-Haddad of Syria) laid siege against Jerusalem, and the famine afterward was so terrible, the story goes that some people cannibalized their families.  So, Israel isn’t exactly obligated to do any favors for anyone from Syria.

Naaman was a hot-headed guy with a terminal case of arrogance – at least when he first came to Elisha the prophet.  But Naaman learned some important things.  The world wasn’t about Naaman.  Life wasn’t about Naaman.  The healing wasn’t even about Naaman.  Naaman learned it’s not about Naaman; it’s about God.

The time and culture in that story may be far removed from us, but some of the things Naaman learned about his healing are just as important today. There was a constant conflict between Israel and Syria in those days – that sounds familiar.  Naaman had it made, so to speak.  He was rich and powerful.  He drove the latest chariot (cupholders and GPS; DVD player in the back seat) and had all the remote-control servants he needed. But, you wouldn’t exactly envy Naaman, because he was a leper.  He could have had any number of chronic skin diseases.  In Israel, in that time and place, leprosy was an outward sign that you were not in favor with God.  But Naaman is Syrian, and leprosy is less of a problem in Syria and it doesn’t keep him from being an army general there.

But his leprosy is not a good thing and he comes to Israel looking for healing on the advice of his Hebrew servant girl.  This enemy, Naaman – this rich person – who would be begging on the streets if he were from Israel.  And God brings this arrogant, rich, sick person comes to the last place on earth where he wants to be. Listen to the things God wants to teach us in that story:

1. God is in charge.  It’s all about God.  God will do what God wants to do.  It sounds like a simple thing to understand, but we like to make God out to be the Cosmic power that gives good things to the people whom we think deserve good things.  We think that if we are good we deserve a reward.  But God isn’t a local miracle store where we barter for the things God gives us, and God doesn’t care what our impressions of other people are.  God does not always share our opinions.  God cares for people we may want to throw away, like Naaman, or other people who make us feel uncomfortable.

Naaman’s healing started with somebody who was willing to talk about her own faith.  His Hebrew servant girl had every right to hate him – she’d been kidnapped, but she gave honor to God by talking about what God could do if Naaman believed.  In the midst of her own problem, she found a way to put herself aside.  What would happen to Naaman was up to God, not her.  Would she, on her own, have shown have been willing to do anything good for Naaman?  Probably not, but you see, it’s not about the servant girl, it’s not about Naaman.  It’s about God.

2.  God’s favor is for anyone who believes.  No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.  God doesn’t care where you are from.  Syria or Israel.  In Jesus’ time it was Jews or Greeks.  God will choose to heal Naaman the outsider.

In fact, I believe that when we live with the attitude that God’s blessing is limited to those who are “like us” – we wind up cutting ourselves off from God.  We should never put ourselves in the place of limiting God’s blessings to ourselves.  It’s not about us, it’s not about people from Manheim; it’s about God.

3.  Humility is the doorway to God.  Naaman started down the road to Israel – and healing – with an attitude.   He brings a huge gift from his King to buy the healing.  You can’t exactly blame the guy.  It wasn’t as though everyone in Israel had welcome mats out for Syrian generals!  He had to be ready to pay.

But Naaman eventually had to lay down his pride.  Follow the directions, do the simple thing he was told to do.  And when he did that, Naaman discovered something.  It’s not about Naaman.  It’s about God.  At some point in your healing, you have to put aside your pride to let God touch you.  It’s not about you, it’s about God.

4.  The last thing Naaman learned might be the most important thing for us to learn in this story:  God Uses Ordinary People.  All the really important things in this story happened through servants!  The good news of a healer comes through a kidnapped servant girl.  A servant of the prophet Elisha gives the directions for healing to Naaman.  And when Naaman almost storms out of the country – with his leprosy still all over him – it’s a servant who brings Naaman to his senses.

And that’s what you and I are: the servants who bring good news of healing to the people in our lives.  As members of the Body of Christ, you have opportunities all the time to let people know that somebody cares.  Let people know that they don’t have to give up hope.  You don’t have to be professional clergy to ask someone how they are doing – and then just listen!  You don’t have to be ordained to let somebody know that they will be prayed for.  After all, it’s not about us, it’s about God.

The church is all about healing.  It starts with each of us.  Each of us knows something in our lives that need healing before we can be healers.  Picture the thing that needs healing.  As we pray, give it to God, that God might use it to bring you into a deeper relationship with him, and you will know healing.  And as we close the service, pray that God gives you the opportunity to bring healing to someone else.  The healing I’ve been talking about this morning is all about God, so let’s pray.

Prayer

There is pain in us, Lord, and sickness. It comes in many forms … but the anguish is the same. Some of us are battling disease and injury. Maybe not even our closest friends know how really serious it is, but you know.  Some of us live with pain like an old friend.  We want you to take the hurt away; but if it must be, give us the stamina and grace to handle it with patience and the power to keep from taking it out on those around us.

Some of us outwardly are the picture of health, but inside our heart of hearts where you know us best, something is wrong, something that keeps us from experiencing the full life you want for us. It might come from an old tragedy, maybe a recent heartbreak, maybe it’s conflict in our family, maybe it’s loneliness, maybe it’s a nagging doubt. Touch us, Lord. Heal our memories; free us from the past.

Others of us are thinking of those closest to us. Often there is very little we can do directly, even though we might gladly change places with that person if we could. Be near to those we are praying for in our hearts, be with them in the loneliness of their struggle, help them battle their pain, lift their spirits, restore their joy.

Knowing that unfairness surrounds us, in many ways and many forms, use us as instruments of your healing in the world around us. Motivate us to become alert and informed. Do not let us hide our hearts and minds from that which is too terrible for us to think about. Make us free us to do our part, knowing that you can and do bear the burden of our world.  It’s not about us; it’s about you.  Amen.