Little Miracles

II Kings 5.1-14 is a story filled with powerful figures. Naaman, the commander of an army has leprosy. Naaman tells his king that he believes there is a cure for his leprosy in Israel. The king sends Naaman with a letter to the king of Israel, asking for a cure. The king of Israel thinks it is a trap, “I cannot cure this guy! When I fail, the king will just use that as an excuse to invade Israel. What can I do?”

So the prophet Elisha says, “Send Naaman to me.” The king is so desperate that he sends the army commander to the prophet, hoping the prophet can cure Naaman of his leprosy.

When Naaman arrives at the house of Elisha, the prophet does not come out to meet him. Instead, Elisha sends his servant to tell the army commander to go and wash himself in the River Jordan.

Naaman is furious. The Jordan river is not a very strong, powerful river. Yes, it is important in the Bible, since it forms part of the boundary of the promised land and is the main water source for the country. But the Jordan river is not one of the major waterways of the world. In fact, Naaman is from a land of larger and more impressive rivers. “Why could I not wash at home?” he asks. “What is so special about this river? It is little more than a muddy creek.”

This is a great point to notice that while this seems like a story about impressive and powerful leaders, it is really a story about how God often works through some little, almost unnoticed means. Some of the most important people in this story are not even named.

It is a young slave girl who sets all this action into motion. On one of his raiding parties into Israel, Naaman has captured a young Israelite girl. She becomes a slave in Naaman’s house, working for his wife. She is the one who first says that she wishes Naaman could go to Israel and be cured.

When Naaman goes to the house of Elisha, he is greeted by Elisha’s unnamed servant with the instructions to go wash in the Jordan.

Naaman does not think the River Jordan is as important as the rivers of Damascus, so why should he bother washing there?

Finally, it is the servants of Naaman who convince him to try the prophet’s prescription of washing in the Jordan.

Like Naaman, I often only expect God to act in the extraordinary and powerful ways. I look for God to speak through the powerful and well-known figures. I wonder how many miracles I miss because I do not expect God to work through the tiny rivers, the nameless servants or the tasks that I think are just too easy for God to be involved in?

At the end of the day, Naaman  did not care that his miracle came from the tiny waters of the River Jordan, or through the suggestion of a young servant girl, or that the instructions were delivered by the prophet’s messenger and not the prophet himself; Naaman knew he was cured. How it happened and who gave the instructions did not diminish the miracle.

This week I have been at camp with some 300+ elementary and middle school kids and their counselors. I have watched kids who have never spent a night out under the stars hike off to an overnight camp and rush to tell me the next morning about  how they survived. I listened as a group of kids encouraged a teammate who was not sure she could climb to the top of a tower. I had a group of kids cheer me on as I got my harness on and rode the zip-line. I watched kids practice compassion, empathy and forgiveness. Miracles encouraged by counselors, staff and camp directors. Miracles no less important or less impressive than an Aramean general being cleansed of leprosy by dipping seven times in a muddy creek called the Jordan. What miracles are taking place before you today?

Advertisements

Picking Up The Mantle

II Kings 2.1-14 tells the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven, and his disciple, Elisha, taking up the mantle of Elijah to continue the prophetic ministry. Our use of the phrase, “Passing of the Mantle” to describe transitions in leadership comes from this story. The story is filled with dramatic transitions: Elijah is taken from earth in a fiery chariot, Elisha becomes the new prophet and he will engage in a new style of ministry. Elijah is a prophet best known for what he brings about through the power of the spoken word. Elisha is a prophet best known for miracles and acts of wonder. But the two prophets are united by the mantle that passes between them.

We are first introduced to the mantle of Elijah in I Kings 19, where Elijah has his encounter with God on Mount Horeb (Sinai). When Elijah hears the silence, he steps out of the cave and covers his face with his mantle. What Elijah hears from God in the silence is a message of change, there will be a change in prophets and changes in kings. Elijah is to be a part of this change by preparing Elisha to succeed him and anointing new kings. Elijah’s role is to prepare for the change and to bless it.

When Elijah first encounters Elisha, he covers him with his mantle. After pausing to offer a sacrifice and say goodbye to his parents, Elisha follows Elijah as a disciple. In II Kings 2, as Elijah is preparing to depart, he keeps telling Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha is unrelenting in promising to stay with Elijah to the very end.

In their journeys, the two prophets reach the River Jordan and Elijah strikes the river with his mantle. The waters part, and they are able to walk across to the other side. There Elijah is taken up in a fiery chariot, but as he ascends his mantle falls to the ground. Elisha rushes over and picks up the mantle.

As he begins his journey back to Israel, Elisha comes to the Jordan again. He stands by the banks of th river unable to cross. Suddenly Elisha takes the mantle and hits the water. Just as it happened for Elijah, the waters part and Elisha is able to cross the Jordan.

I wonder how often I have left myself stranded on the banks of the river, because I have looked upon the mantles that others have passed on merely as relics and not anything that applies to the current situation? What I mean is, it seems entirely possible to me that Elisha could have stayed there on the banks of the river, lamenting to God to send Elijah back to part the waters, letting Elisha cross and make his way back home. Thankfully, Elisha picks up the mantle and does what he had seen Elijah do. Elisha discovers that there is a power in what has been passed on to him.

Elisha will be a very different prophet than Elijah. He will learn to use this power in different ways. But there is this connection here at the transition of one ministry to the next, and Elisha learns that he can carry forward the ministry that he has learned from Elijah. He takes up the mantle and learns to use it in his own way.

I have a stole that I often wear for weddings. It originally belonged to my father. When I wear it, I often think of how different ministry is today from when I, as a boy, saw my father wearing this same stole. I think about ways our style of ministry are similar and different, but I also am reminded of how they are fed from a common source in God’s Spirit and are aimed towards a common goal of working for God’s reign.

All of us, laity or clergy, have been entrusted with powerful resources to carry that same ministry forward. We have resources that those who have gone before us have placed at our disposal. But we also learn to use them in our different times and different ways. So the ministry of Christ goes forward. Thanks be to God!

 

O God, you have built your church

upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.
Save the community of your people
from cowardly surrender to the world,
from rendering to Caesar what belongs to you,
and from forgetting the eternal gospel
amid the temporal pressures of our troubled days.
For the unity of the church we pray,
and for fellowship across the embittered lines
of race and nation;
to growth in grace, building in love, enlargement in service
increase in wisdom, faith, charity, and power,
we dedicate our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
by Harry Emerson Fosdick, The United Methodist Book of Worship, #506

Between the Mountains

This week the Old Testament lectionary text is from I Kings 19:1-15. As the story begins, Elijah is between two mountains. He has left Mount Carmel, the mountain where he had his dramatic showdown with the prophets of Baal. With his adrenaline flowing, Elijah runs down the mountian through the valley of Jezreel, faster than King Ahab can travel in his chariot.

With his blood still pumping and thinking surely things are gonna get better now, Elijah receives the threatening news from Queen Jezebel that, just as Elijah has called for the slaughtering of the prophets of Baal, she is planning for his death.

So Elijah starts running again. This time he is not running in ecstatic celebration. This time he is running in fear. He is running for his life.

Elijah runs out of the valley of Jezreel. He runs out of the kingdom of Israel. He runs to the southern kingdom of Judah. He runs as far south as he can. He runs to Beersheba, ditches his servant there and runs into the desert to die.

Then Elijah gets a call to eat and drink and run a little further, cheered on by the news that the journey is still gonna be difficult.

Eventually, Elijah winds up at another mountain. This mountain is the same mountian where Moses and Israel encounter God during the Exodus. Here Moses goes up to meet with God and we are told the mountian was shrouded in a cloud, thunder and lightning split the heavens, the mountian shook as if there was an earthquake. The Israelites assumed Moses was dead, because who could survive all that?

Elijah’s experience on this mountain is different. He too encounters God, but not in the wind or an earthquake or even fire. Elijah encounters God in the silence. When he  hears the silence, Elijah cries out to God about the injustice he sees, the evil that is let loose and the fear that he has for his own life. Elijah laments. With tears washing his face and his voice growing hoarse, Elijah hears God in the silence.

This is a story that I not only needed to hear again this week, but that I am trying to live into at this time. It reminds me that in our spiritual journey there is more than one mountain. Often I think only of the mountain of the ecstatic experience where I leave feeling energized and ready to run for God for miles and days. But there is another mountain where we do not encounter God in the wind, not this time; a mountain where God does not come to us in the earth shattering experience, not this time; a mountain where God may not speak to us out of the fire, at least not this time. On this mountain, I am reminded that I can stand before God and give voice to the cries of my heart, that I can call out the injustice and pain that I feel and God is not gonna pat me on the head or tell me how I just do not understand. God will let me lament. And, if I am brave enough to wrap my face and step into the silence, I will leave having yet another experience of God, even in the silence. Thanks be to God.