2 Kings 5:1-14 | South Presbyterian Church – October 13, 2013 |
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Last week I gave us all an assignment to think about what it is that we value ABOVE ALL ELSE in terms of our faith. What is it that is most important to us out of our belief system.
Anyone want to share what you figured out?
Today we’re going to build on that a little bit.
Y’see, it’s not enough to know what’s most important to US … we have to know how to convey that succinctly, accurately, compellingly… cogently. We have to KEEP IT SIMPLE … and the acronym “KISS” reminds us to “Keep it Simple, Sweetie” or “Keep it SUPER Simple” or “Keep it Simple, Stupid” … you get the idea.
The more we complicate the message, the farther we get from what it was originally. I mean … Jesus’ message was pretty simple: God’s rule is here and now so we need to align ourselves with it.
But there’s something about us humans. We tend to think that more words makes it better … or that complicated vocabulary and fancy language makes it carry more weight.
That is so NOT true, but it’s been the way of the world forever.
Look at Naaman, for instance, in today’s reading.
He was a great man; a great commander. But he had leprosy – which in HIS day was thought to be a curse linked with sin and wrong-doing … a punishment from God. So he was GREAT … but he was flawed.
Anyway, his soldiers find this young Jewish woman among the spoils of war. (I don’t even want to imagine what THAT was like. Let’s not sanitize it. She was captured during war … most likely raped because her people had been conquered and that’s what the conquering troops did – and often still do!) And she ends up saying about this commander with leprosy that if only he’d go back to HER homeland, the priests there could cure him because her God is a generous and loving God.
Here she is in a foreign land and she’s talking about the power of HER GOD to heal. She was probably just quietly commenting to a friend about the power of the prophets in her own land and most likely got overheard by someone who passed the information on up the chain of command.
So Naaman decides to take her up on it … takes a chance and goes to this prophet.
Probably not a small thing given his stature and his POWER as a commander … to go and ask someone else for help.
So he goes to her homeland and the prophet he’s seeking for his cure doesn’t even come out to meet him, himself. Instead he sends instructions out that Naaman is to go to the Jordan River where he’s supposed to wash himself seven times.
“That’s IT?” Naaman says. “That’s IT? Wash myself in the Jordan? I could’ve stayed home and washed myself in the rivers at home. At least THEY’RE clean and I wouldn’t have had to travel.”
And then comes the most important part of this whole story … and it’s said by a SERVANT … an unnamed SERVANT of his … who says, “Sir … if they’d ordered you to do something complicated and given you a HUGE, challenging task, you would’ve done it. This is so SIMPLE … why don’t you just do it?”
I don’t know which is more impressive: that a nameless SERVANT who could have lost his LIFE by displeasing his master had the guts to stand up and say this … or the fact that Naaman listened to him and did it.
But, as the story goes, Naaman DID do what the servant had said and lo-and-behold, he was cleansed and CURED just as the Prophet of Israel had said he would be.
Once again: God spoke through the nameless, not well educated, MARGINALIZED people … the captured girl and Naaman’s SERVANT.
And let’s face it … delusions of grandeur aside … they are US! WE are the captured girls and the nameless servants in the larger scheme of history.
WE are the powerless and the forgotten ones.
And we are the ones who change peoples’ lives when we share the brief, SIMPLE statements of what we know to be true.
How many of you have heard the term “elevator speech” before?
It’s from the world of business and marketing. A person should be able to express what they do or what their company does … or why they should be hired … in three minutes or less because that’s the average length of time of an elevator ride in a corporate headquarters. What you want to convey needs to be able to be synthesized or distilled down to its ESSENCE.
These two unnamed, marginalized people, with EVERYTHING to lose, conveyed the simple messages: I know somebody who can help because my GOD is able to do that, and why make it harder than it is. It’s really pretty simple.
The Friday book group that meets at Mt. Hope Diner, Food for Thought, is reading a book by Thich Nh’ăt Hanh titled Living Buddha, Living Christ. It’s a really GREAT look at Buddhism and Christianity and the COUNTLESS similarities in them.
This week we read:
There is a deep malaise in society. We can send e-mail and faxes anywhere in the world, we have pagers and cellular telephones, and yet in our families and neighborhoods we do not speak to each other. There is a kind of vacuum inside us, and we attempt to fill it by eating, reading, talking, smoking, drinking, watching TV, going to movies, and even overworking. We absorb so much violence and insecurity every day that we are like time bombs ready to explode. We need to find a cure for our illness. Many of our young people are uprooted. They no longer believe in the traditions of their parents and grandparents, and they have not found anything else to replace them. Spiritual leaders need to address this very real issue, but most simply do not know what to do. They have not been able to transmit the deepest values of their traditions, perhaps because they themselves have not fully understood or experienced them.
I have to underscore here that it’s not just spiritual LEADERS who need to address this issue … it is ALL of us. We have NOT been able to transmit the deepest values of our traditions, perhaps because we OURSELVES have not fully understood or experienced them.
As Diana Butler Bass says and we discussed in our Emerging Wisdom … we have been great about talking ABOUT God … learning ABOUT God … but perhaps not as good at EXPERIENCING God … and certainly not about TALKING about our experience of God.
I hear things like, “It’s too personal, Pastor Deb. I don’t want people to think I’m pushing my views on them.”
Where would Naaman have been if the Israelite girl had said nothing?
Where would he be if his own servant had thought … I don’t want him to think I’m pushing my views on him?
Just because we state what WE believe doesn’t mean that we are trying to force OTHERS to believe the same way. But by putting out there what we believe, we are opening up the possibilities that someone else might hear and it might resonate with them.
Putting it out there is OUR job.
Having them connect it to God is the job of the Holy Spirit.
So … what are we putting out there?
Well, sadly, as Christians, we put out COMPLICATED messages. We put out terms like … Atonement … Redemption … Denominationalism … Repentance. These are words, phrases and concepts that Jesus never got bogged down in. You could spend your entire three minute Elevator Speech just DEFINING one of those words.
Einstein was a pretty smart guy. I love his quote that’s on the front of our bulletin: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Many of us have GROWN UP hearing what the message is without really KNOWING or EXPERIENCING it for ourselves.
“Jesus died for our sins.” What does that MEAN? Let me be a Devil’s Advocate for a minute here … I don’t really believe that when babies are born they are born sinful. I think they’re born PURE and maybe hardwired for some challenges, but certainly not SINFUL! How does Jesus’ death affect them? Try explaining THAT in 3 minutes in the elevator. And I think I’m a pretty decent gal … I’ve never intentionally tried to hurt anyone in my life … EVER! What does it mean that he died for MY sins? Again … more than 3 minutes to explain THAT.
Or how about the statement: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” REALLY? What exactly is it that the Bible says? Again, being the Devil’s Advocate, I could probably find some place in the Bible that contradicts almost anything else in the Bible. It’s a complex, contradictory LIBRARY … it’s not a BOOK … it’s a COLLECTION of writings by different people over different centuries.
Do I believe it is the definitive word of God? Yes, in some ways.
Do I believe that each word is inerrant? Maybe … but is that each word in ENGLISH? … or each word in HEBREW? … or each word in GREEK? … or each word in ARAMAIC???? And how do we deal with THAT in three minutes?
Yet these are the kinds of things that people who speak ON BEHALF OF all of Christians want to issue the definitive decrees about, and I, for one, am really sick and tired of it.
No WONDER we’re losing believers among thinking people. Many of us have become intellectual SNOBS believing that if we can make Christianity a “heady,” footnoted kind of entity, we will attract other smart people.
But Jesus didn’t go looking for SMART people … he didn’t say to Peter, “I will make you a fisher of SMART people …. or of WELL-READ people … or of ADADEMIC people.” He said he would make him fishers of men and women … from all backgrounds and all abilities.
Einstein has it … a SIMPLE message. Once we get that down… once we let the simple message really take root … the rest has time to grow and develop.
But in order to be able to make it simple, we have to really, REALLY know what it is we want to say and that’s why it is important to figure out what is THEE MOST IMPORTANT part of our faith because if WE don’t know what it is, how will anyone ELSE be able to figure it out and relate to it?
So here’s THIS WEEK’s CHALLENGE … take that thing that you said was Above All in your faith, and figure out how to say it in 10 words (or 140 characters) or less. I’ve figured mine out… next week I’ll tell you what it is. But you need to figure out your OWN!
And remember: Keep it Simple. Simple words, simple reality.
Keep it simple. Jesus did. And he had a pretty good message! Amen.
 Hanh, Thich Nhat (2007-03-06). Living Buddha, Living Christ 10th Anniversary Edition (Kindle Locations 999-1006). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.