To Be Like Elisha

Good morning!  It was awesome to worship with the wonderful people of RCC this morning.  Here is my sermon!  A little on the short side, because of communion …

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2 Kings 5:1-14

To Be Like Elisha

Sometimes healing is found in the most unexpected of places.

In this morning’s reading from the Old Testament, Naaman, an Aramean man who suffered from leprosy, sent a letter to the King of Israel asking for healing. Naaman, as the story explains, sent the letter to the King of Israel because a young Israelite girl, who had been taken captive by the Aram army and was – at the time – serving Naaman’s wife, said to her new mistress, “If only my Lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Of course, when this young Israelite girl said, “Lord,” people assumed she was speaking of her king from Israel.

But that was not who she was talking about. She was speaking of a different kind of king.

The king of Israel did not cure Naaman. But Elisha – a prophet, a man of God – heard what had happened and sent for Naaman. When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, Elisha sent a messenger out to him, telling Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman was not a believer. But eventually he went to the Jordan and immersed himself in the waters seven times. And when he emerged, he had been healed. It was – in many ways – miraculous.

There are a lot of “Naaman’s” in the world. There are a people who do not believe in God, who allow their actions to be dictated by human beings and structures rather than basic notions of right and wrong. There are people who struggle throughout their journeys without being grounded in a faith that strengthens them. There are people who do not feel God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining grace in their lives. There are people who have never seen the transformative power of prayer. There are people who do not have a community of faith to call their own. There are people who have never felt the support – both tangible and emotional – of church community

We should not be okay with this.

And we do something about it as well.

We cannot stand idly by while people are truly struggling and hurting in the world. The lessons that we learn from Elisha in this story do not really have anything to do with the healing itself of Naaman. They have to do with the way that Elisha sought out Naaman so that he could be healed by God. If you remember, Naaman never asked God to heal him; Elisha was the one who heard that Naaman needed to be healed and then approached him.

We need to be more like Elisha. We need to be willing to go out into our communities and share our faith. We need to listen to the way that God is speaking to us today. We need to pay attention to what is going on around us. We need to live a tangible expression of our Christian faith, both inside AND outside the walls of our church.

I know that this is easier said than done. I led a retreat a few weeks ago with the Board of Deacons and we talked about finding a good balance between welcoming people in our church community and scaring them off by being too pushy. Many members of the Board said that they prefer to air on the side of caution when it comes to welcoming people into the church. They confessed to not wanting to overwhelm visitors with excessive questions and inquiries or ask too much of a new member too soon. The general consensus from the group was that they would rather open doors – but allow people to walk through them when they are ready to do.

And while I understand this sentiment and concern, I also had to push back. Because sometimes people need a little bit of encouragement to walk through those open doors for the first time.

By sharing our faith with the people around us and encouraging them to come into our community, we are not forcing them to believe what we believe or join the church that we belong to. We are simply telling our story and inviting them to be part of it. Christian evangelism has gotten a bad reputation, but it really is a good thing. There are times when people just need that invitation and we – we as Christians and we as members of this church – need to extend it to them.

A few years ago, The United Church of Christ began using the phrase, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I do believe that – in many ways – we live out this phrase at this church. So know that I am when I say we need to “evangelize” I am not suggesting that we start knocking on doors, forcing religion down people’s throats and telling them that they need to believe what we believe. That is not what evangelism is about – it never was. I am, however, suggesting that we not only open doors of opportunity, but that we also step through them as well and see what – and more importantly who – is outside. If Elisha had not done this, Naaman never would have experienced healing in his life.

I am not saying these things because I want to bring in new members, increase our pledges during stewardship and grow our church. Sure, that would be nice (!) – but that is not what this particular scripture is about. This scripture is about a greater call to grow the Church; it reminds us to pay attention, to share our stories, to welcome new people into our midst and to extend an extravagant invitation to them. This scripture calls us to be like Elisha, to create opportunities for other people to feel God’s presence in their lives and to allow them – like Naaman – to find healing in the most unexpected of places.

So let us live out this call in our lives.

Let us be like Elisha and invite people into our midst to experience God’s presence.

Let us not only set a place at the table for guests, but invite them to dinner as well.

God is good and God is still speaking – let’s share that with the world!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Finding Meaning In Mystery

Sorry I disappeared yesterday!  I got caught up in some other stuff (nothing bad) and never actually opened my computer after I got home from church.  I’m trying to not be so tied to technology all the time, so this was probably a good thing. :) But after I post my sermon I do have some “Sunday Musings” to post as well.

Here is this week’s sermon!  Transfiguration Sunday …

Finding Meaning In Mystery

2 Kings 2:1-12
Mark 9:2-9

Growing up, there were certain things that my dad and I did together that could certainly be categorized under “father/daughter bonding”. We share a love of basketball – so we always cleared our schedules when the UCONN women were playing Tennessee and he spent his winter afternoons sitting on gym bleachers watching me play. We share a love of music, especially show tunes. Musical selections for road trips were generally themed with us – when Bruce and I moved to Atlanta my dad listened to nothing but Sondheim on the trip down there – and the phrase “musical season” is a term coined by my family to describe the four months out of the year when my dad spends every waking moment with his students working on their All School Musical. We share a love of photography. We share a love of bad jokes. We share a love of cooking (although, after an incident involving nachos, the broiler and the smoke detectors last year I am not sure that I am allowed to cook in his kitchen ever again).

When Bruce came along, he learned pretty quickly that none of these bonding activities were negotiable. So he learned the UCONN cheers and has begun to grow his own New Milford High School All School Musical t-shirt collection. He tolerates the themed road trips and even laughs at my jokes (sometimes). But there was one bonding activity that he just cannot seem get on board with: Our love of the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I have tried several times to get Bruce to sit down and watch the series with me from the beginning, but he always says the same thing: He just does not get it. It is a mystery to him.

First of all, what’s not to get, anyway? The mayor of the town was a demon who hired a bunch of vampires to distract the Vampire Slayer while he prepared to turn into a big snake during his High School commencement speech and eat everyone in attendance. Where is the mystery in that?

The problem is, when I am watching Buffy, Bruce always walks in at the most inopportune moments. I cannot tell you how many times he has walked in when someone’s head was exploding or they were turning into a fish or being possessed by demonic eggs or something equally disturbing. These moments lead Bruce to question my own sanity when I tell him that I actually do find deep meaning in this ridiculous and mysterious show.

Come to think of it – now that I have said all of this, you all probably are questioning my sanity as well. But humor me for a moment and listen to a couple of quotes from the show:

Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping … waiting … and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir … open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us … guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love … the clarity of hatred … the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.

Bottom line is, even if you see ‘em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what are we? Helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.

The hardest thing in the world is to live in it.

Change is constant, and yet everything remains the same.

See what I mean? Even though the show is a little bit odd, even though the reality that they live in on the show is not the reality that we live in, even though it is hard to relate to a group of people who fight vampires and demons on a regular basis, the lessons that they are learning are still very relevant to the ones that we are learning here, today. There is meaning in the mystery.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the day that we read the Gospel story where Jesus the man was revealed as Jesus the Christ. Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain and he was transformed. His clothes became dazzling white and all of a sudden Elijah and Moses appeared next to Jesus. A cloud came over all of them and God’s voice was heard through the clouds, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And just as suddenly as the transformation came, it was gone. It was Jesus the man on top of the mountain with Peter, James and John. Elijah and Moses were gone; the clouds cleared; and God’s voice was silenced.

I cannot stress enough how absolutely abnormal and unrealistic it was for Peter, James and John to see Elijah and Moses standing next to Jesus. We read this story 2,000 years later and think, “Well, it’s the bible – strange things happen all throughout it.” But put yourself in the shoes of Peter, James and John. Elijah and Moses were prominent men in the Jewish faith, a faith that Jesus shared with Peter, James and John. It would be just as miraculous to have Jesus himself appear in our sanctuary today as it was to have Elijah and Moses appear on that mountain so many years ago.

It is easy to preach on some of the more realistic gospel stories. Jesus fed the poor – okay, let’s feed the poor. Jesus reached out to the sick and marginalized – okay, let’s reach out to the sick and marginalized. Jesus called people into an active ministry – okay, let’s follow him into an active ministry. Jesus taught us the importance of regular prayer, worship and Sabbath – okay, let’s regularly pray, worship and Sabbath. Jesus heals people – okay, let’s heal people. Jesus appeared all in white with prominent religious figures and God’s voice was heard through the clouds – hmmm … well now that’s a mystery. How do we find the meaning in that?

Why, exactly, is the transfiguration important? Well, from a very practical perspective, it signals the beginning of Lent. This Wednesday, we will receive ashes and begin our 40-day Lenten journey to the cross.

But more than that, the transfiguration reminds us of the transforming power of God’s love.

Lent is a time when we prepare ourselves for Easter. After all, we cannot fully experience the power of the resurrection without first experiencing the vulnerability of the crucifixion. Perhaps Jesus is not going to appear today in this sanctuary with Moses and Elijah. But I would argue that the transfiguration is still vitally important in our lives and in the life of our church community. And I would argue that if we listen really closely we might be able to hear God’s voice speaking through our worship today.

Something is coming.

Yes – Ash Wednesday is coming. Lent is coming. Easter is coming. Spring is coming. School vacation is coming. Baseball season is coming!

But something bigger is coming. I can feel it. I can sense it. I can see the beginnings of it happening right here in this church.

Over this past year I have experienced a lot of firsts: My first time presiding over communion, my first baptism, my first funeral, my first time preaching through Holy Week, Easter, Advent and Christmas. As I began thinking about the transfiguration this week I realized that this would not be a first for me. I preached on the transfiguration right here from this pulpit last year. There were a lot of people in the sanctuary that day – and a very important meeting to follow worship. Here is what I said that day:

I think it is really neat that Call Sunday happened to fall on Transfiguration Sunday for us. This is a really exciting time in the life of this church and in the life of my family. It is a time of change, of transition. It is a time of new beginnings, of new friendship. It is a time of hearing stories and learning about the rich histories that exist in this church and in this community. It is a time of great potential and careful nurturing. It is a time to explore new ministries and embrace the old ones. It is a time to celebrate who we are and who we want to become. It is a time when the roads of the past, present and future intersect. It is a time of transformation. It is a time of transfiguration.

So – a year later (or almost a year, Transfiguration Sunday is a little bit earlier this year), what do you think about what I said back then?

I think that our transfiguration started the moment I heard the congregation say ‘aye’ that morning. We have spent the past year getting to know one another, reflecting on the past, making decisions about the present and visioning about the future. We have learned a lot, we have tried new things and re-thought some old things. Has it always been easy? No. Has it been perfect? No. Have I gotten everything right? Absolutely not. But together, we have been humbled in ministry.

We have spent a lot of this past year getting to know one another, working through certain conflicts, healing old wounds and rebuilding. Much of our focus has been on inward nurturing, rather than outward growth because that is what we needed. But in recent weeks, something has changed.

And now – something is coming. I do not know what, I do not know when and I do not know how. But I feel it – something is coming. Through the healing that has happened over the past year we have built more and more momentum and I think we are about to take off. I cannot explain the feeling I have – it is something of a mystery to me – but it is there. And it means something.

I got to thinking this week: Maybe the meaning of the mystery of the transfiguration isn’t that we are witnessing a transformation, but that we are the ones being transformed.

Perhaps we are not going to physically change form the way that Jesus did on the mountain in this morning’s Gospel. But God’s light can shine through each one of us. We can be transformed. And incredible things can – and will – happen as a result.

How and where do you see radical transformation happening in the life of this church?

We are growing. We are healing. We are starting new ministries and reviving old ones. We are trying some new things and learning more about our old traditions. We are getting to know one another on deeper levels. More often than not this sanctuary is full of laughter and smiles. Fellowship Hall is rarely dark. People are excited to be part of this community. People in town know things are good. That is a lot of great momentum. And I know we are about to take off and do something incredible.

I do not think that the transfiguration shows up at this point in the Christian year simply to remind us that Lent is just around the corner. I think it shows up at this point in the Christian year to remind us that we can use Lent as an opportunity to let God transform us. That is the meaning in the mystery of the transfiguration.

May the light of God shine in each and every one of you – and as we are transformed may the miracle of the transfiguration be just as amazing here as it was on the mountain that day. Amen.