I love a good story, I love to hear one, I love to tell one. As you all know, there are many different ways to tell a story. When we tell a story, often we tell it in a way that is congruent to the story itself. For example, if we were telling a scary story, we would use our hands, our voice and our face, to convey the scariness of our tale. If we were a movie producer, we would use sound effects and music to heighten the fear of our audience. If we were telling a happy, romantic tale, we might incorporate song and dance. We’d write lyrics and music that portray the joy and happiness of our story. If we were telling an epic tale of war and pestilence we would use lots of people riding big horses and carrying huge swords. If we were telling a story about the meaning and purpose of life, about the truth of God in our world, we would use symbol and metaphor. Good storytelling is as much symbol as it is words.
The story we heard from Kings this morning, and the accompanying story from Mark are stories of the last type. They are miracle stories whose characters are holy people. Their purpose is to show authority and power from God, who is the main character. As I was sorting through these stories this week I was imagining them on the big screen... Kings and servants, prophets, and a man with a horrible disease that is highly contagious. Hmmm, sounds just like the stuff of a crime scene investigation drama. Some of the characters seem like the super doctors that we see in the doctor dramas on television.
But the point of these stories is quite the opposite. In the story from Kings, Naaman reminds us quite Even the commander of the army finally says “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” But, it took him a while to get there. Naaman was a bit put off that the prophet Elisha did not himself come out to heal him. Naaman asks why Elisha did not put on a big show, make a big deal out of healing him of his leprosy. It seems to me, that Naaman might have agreed to go see Elisha as much for the production it would cause as for the healing.
You see, it wasn’t about the healing really, in this story about Naaman, or in the story in the gospel of Mark about the nameless leper. The stories are about God. The stories are about God’s power and authority; the stories are about God’s amazing and abundant love. The people who told these stories wanted their family and friends to know that God works in the world. That God is present with us, and that it is God and God alone who is worthy of our worship and praise.
See, we are so tempted to worship other things, idols we call them. There is no God in all the earth, except the God of Israel, the God of all creation, the God who parted the sea so that Moses could lead the people through, the God who promised Noah always to be there, the God who loves us so much as to give up all power to be in our world as one of us, to be human.
And yet we are so tempted to worship other gods. The greed and consumer god. The I deserve that kind of return on my money god. The 15 minutes of fame god. The I have to be the very best at something god. The bigger, faster, cable, HDTV, blackberry, cell phone god. The immediate information god. The our country is better than your country god.
I’m not saying these things are bad, I am saying that when these things demand all of our time and attention, they become idols, and we cannot worship God and idols too.
The good news in the Old Testament story happens in the washing in the Jordan River. This story prefigures the baptism by water in the New Testament stories. “Wash and be clean” was the command by the prophet Elisha. In the New Testament there are stories of baptism. The baptism of repentence by John in the Jordan. The baptism by water and the spirit by Jesus. That is why we are baptized with water. The drama of baptism is a powerful story. We use powerful symbols. Symbols that give us the opportunity to engage and participate in the story of God being in relationship with us, with humanity. Those symbols that convey such powerful meaning are water, and oil, fire and light, and people. We can’t forget the people, it is the people who pledge to raise us and teach us about being in relationship with God.
The leper in Mark’s story kneels before Jesus and says, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And Jesus does. A leper in Jesus’ community is an outcast, unclean and thrown away. By healing him Jesus restores him to the community, and he goes to the priest to make that restoration obvious and clear to everyone else. He must participate in the ritual of cleansing so that everyone can see that he is no longer unclean, no longer impure. It is a testimony to God’s power and authority, compassion and love.
Each one of us at our baptism is washed clean. And it’s not that we will never worship idols, our human nature is that way, we long for that which we cannot have, and we obsess about those things, in effect, we spend our lives being seduced by idols, worshiping idols, and resisting the worship of idols. We spend our lives doing battle with our demons. That is why baptism is so powerful. Baptism conveys God’s amazing grace and each time we encounter those powerful symbols we are reminded of who we are and whose we are. Each time we encounter water and oil and fire and light, and the people who tell us the stories, we remember that we belong to God. And that it is in God and God alone that we are made whole, washed clean and restored to right relationship with God and with one another. We don’t have to give in to the seduction of the money, or fame, or the speed or the power, because ultimately it is our relationship with God and with others that holds meaning and purpose for our lives.
It is God’s power of love in Jesus Christ that creates us and restores us. It is Jesus’ compassionate touch confired through you and this community of faith that can heal broken people in this fragmented world. Remember your baptism.
And now a good story.
A six-year old girl had been shopping with her mother. She was red-haired, freckle-faced, full of innocence. It was pouring rain outside. We waited for the rain to slow. Rainfall mesmerizes me. I got lost in the sound & sight of the Heavens washing away the world’s dirt. Memories of running, splashing carefree as a child came pouring in as a welcome reprieve from the worries of my day.
The little voice was so sweet as it broke the silence. ‘Mom, let’s run through the rain,’ she said. ‘No, honey. We’ll wait until it slows a bit.’ After a minute, the child repeated, ‘Mom, let’s run through the rain.’
‘We’ll get soaked,’ mom said. ‘No we won’t. That’s not what you said this morning.’ Perplexed, Mom said, ‘this morning? When did I say we could run through rain and not get wet?’ ‘Don’t you remember? When you were talking to daddy about his cancer, you said, ‘if God can get us through this, He can get us through anything!’
The entire crowd went silent. You couldn’t hear anything but the rain. Mom thought for a moment. This was a moment of affirmation in a young child’s life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.
‘Honey, you are right. Let’s run through the rain. If God lets us get wet, maybe we just need washing.’ Off they ran, We watched, smiled, & laughed through puddles with their shopping bags over their heads. They got soaked. We followed, screaming & laughing all the way to our cars. I ran. I got wet. I needed washing. (This is not my story, it has floated around emails for quite some time.)
The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him.
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