Sunday, February 14, 2010
2 Chronicles and Valentine's Day, what a great day to look at wars, killings, treason, and all things not in the romantic section of literature.
Perhaps we should rather be looking at the book Song of Songs. It starts off by saying "let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out… Take me away with you – let us hurry!"
But no, we're in 2 Chronicles. And 2 Chronicles is where we will focus our attention. But since it is Valentine's Day, I have to tell you, I can't help but look at the text through the lens of Love. Well, to be honest, my practice, my habit, my predisposition is to read through the shade of love in every text. I can't help but long for the love story – spelled out through the Scriptures. I am drawn to the stories of God's love for his people; His faithfulness – even as the people continually break covenant. Probably much like you, I find rest in the many stories of Jesus, with his healing, compassion, and transformational message – of Love.
The mega themes of 2 Chronicles are the Temple, Peace, Prayer and Reform. The Temple was a symbol of God's presence. Peace was the result of being unified and loyal to God. Prayer was the process. When people prayed, repented, and called on the Lord, God delivered. Reform flourished out of the prayers. Reform followed on the heels of peace. Hearts were changed, and the kingdom was transformed. Time and time again throughout 2 Chronicles reform, peace, prayer and the construction/destruction of the temple play out on the pages of the text.
If you have your Bible, we'll be looking at a few sections from 2 Chronicles. And the first one is in chapter 7. Perhaps the only passage from the whole book which truly sounds familiar. Do you know what it is? Did you know there's a section which might sound familiar?
We sang a song this morning with a part 2 Chronicles… "He is good, and his love endures forever." But this isn't the part which I was referencing. Although, this should be familiar too… And yes, He is Good!!! But look with me at verse 14. Second Chronicles 7:14 "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." In this verse God is speaking. He is telling the people that they need to pray, they need to change their ways, and if they do – He will forgive them and heal their land.
Some people propose that the purpose of 2 Chronicles is to reunite the Nation around the true worship of God. We can see how it is played out in this verse can't we. God is asking his people to humble themselves – to realize they're living outside of the covenant, to pray, seek Him, and turn around. He wants them to quit their evil acts. And if they will do this, He will hear them. He will see them, he will recognize their change. God will note their hearts, and he will forgive and heal. This is good stuff. This is a powerful verse within the entire chapter.
Let's remember this passage. Put a marker on this verse. Highlight it or something. We'll come back to it in a little bit.
As I mentioned earlier, 2 Chronicles is full of wars, killings, and treason. As you read this book you can see a vicious cycle that the kings of Judah find themselves in. Really, I can't help but wonder if this cycle is still alive today. Are we, in 2010 still seeing evidence of it?
The cycle is this: We have a King and he's good. Let's start with Solomon… and he follows God – does what is right in the eyes of his Lord. Well he dies, and his son becomes king. Well, he's not like his dad and he does evil in the eyes of his God. He splits up the kingdom. It's now Israel and Judah. Well, as kings do, he dies, and his son then becomes king… His son, was alright… not great, not evil, just kind of a mediocre king. Well, he dies and his son Asa takes over. And Asa is good, he follows the ways of Lord. He removed the foreign alters and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles (14:14). He does what is right in God's eyes. Well, he dies. His son succeeds him… and is pretty good – does what's right in God's eyes. He dies and then his son takes over. And his son… it says did "evil in the eyes of the Lord." Well, when he dies, guess what, his son takes over – and he also does evil in the eyes of the Lord. And when he dies, there's this big uproar, killings and secret movements and overthrowing the kingdom… and a new family comes in. And – they set up shop and are doing good in the eyes of God.
But that doesn't last very long, because as soon as that new king dies, his son takes over and, he does bad things, terrible things. He abandons the Lord.
Do you see the cycle? Dad good, son bad, grandson good, great-grandson bad. Good, bad, good, bad, good, good, bad, bad, good, bad. There seems to be a system set up where the people constantly are turning away from God, and then returning, going astray only to return back home a few generations later. They are away as much as they are with, and the cycle goes and goes: Good, Bad, Good, Bad.
And so it is with the kings of 2 Chronicles that the writer wanted to remind the people of how we operate. He wanted to remind the people of their need to reunite around the true worship of God. Because so often, when the king was in the Bad category, he had turned his back on God and was worshiping other gods, and other things.
But the story here isn't just about the good the bad, and the ugly. No, we aren't just hearing about the actions of earthly kings. God is in this book as well. And throughout the fighting and wars, and killing, we find that God does not turn his back on his people. He does not forget his covenant.
Look with me at Chapter 21. Reading from verse 4.
"When Jehoram established himself firmly over his father's kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel. 5 Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. 6 He followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD. 7 Nevertheless, because of the covenant the LORD had made with David, the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever."
What we have here is a story of Love. It's a story of covenant commitment, and passion for people. God did not destroy the people for their treacherous acts. Although I believe at times he wanted to. In chapter 21 he says because of the covenant he had made with David, God was not willing to step outside of his promise and destroy the house of David. God is an upholder of covenant relationships. He longs for them, encourages them, and (at least in 2 Chronicles) rewards his people for their participation in them!
When we read 2 Chronicles, we can see love played out in justice, mercy, and faithfulness; justice, mercy and faithfulness. Love contains Justice, it consists of mercy, and it exhibits faithfulness.
In Chapter 29 we hear of an amazing king. King Hezekiah comes into play and transforms the life of the people. He radically initiates the cleansing and purification of the temple, the Levites and even the people. Hezekiah reinstitutes the celebration of Passover, which somehow had been left out, left behind, it hadn't been practiced. His leadership transformed the kingdom. His story is a powerful expression of the passion and influence a King honoring God is capable of.
Hezekiah was one of the Good kings, He was in the "good" section. But when he died, the kingdom went to his son, Manasseh. His son was messed up! He was one of the worst. I kind of feel bad for him though, he had to follow in his father's steps at age 12. But still. He was messed up!
Let's read, starting in chapter 33, just how messed up Manasseh was.
"Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, "My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever." 5 In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.
But God is God, and he acted as he does. For me, I believe he acted in love. I believe he was somewhat patient. I mean his temple was desecrated; his children were being burned alive. And yet, he, I believe calmly sent prophets, messengers to speak to the king and the people. To encourage them to change their ways, but they paid no attention.
Remember, I said in 2 Chronicles we can see love played out in justice, mercy, and faithfulness; justice, mercy and faithfulness. Love contains Justice, it consists of mercy, and it exhibits faithfulness.
Let's read verse 10-13: "The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 12 In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God."
Once home, with a new found passion and admiration for God, Manasseh rebuilt the outer wall of the City, he got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image and alters he had placed in the temple. He restored the alter of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it. He did such an about face, that he actually instructed Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.
Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness; this is a Love Story. When we who are called by name, will humble ourselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from our wicked ways, then He will hear from heaven, and there will be forgiveness and healing. There will be forgiveness and healing!
When Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, why did he quote to them the Shema? Why was there such power in his reference to Deuteronomy 6?
In Matthew 22 Jesus says: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Why was there such power in this reference? Perhaps because it was written in the scroll. Perhaps it was because they knew it. Like the Pharisees in Mathews Gospel, the Kings of Judah, listed in 2 Chronicles, probably knew it as well. And the writer of 2 Chronicles wants to reunite the nation around the true worship of God.
What's most important? Loving God. What's second? Loving neighbor!
With the history of the kings played out through 2 Chronicles, and Deuteronmy 6 behind us, it makes sense why Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness are Godly attributes of love. It makes sense why we read 2 Chronicles today and hear God's faithfulness and love for his people. It makes sense to us why the kings, generation after generation, were constantly being called back into true worship of God!
We are fickle people. We are prone to wander. We must heed the illustrations set before us. We must rest in the unrest of the day, when sons and daughters along with parents and grandparents, have turned their back – we must rest in the knowledge that God has not turned his back. God is a lover, a fighter, and a covenant provider.
Hear, O church: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. When we who are called by name, will humble ourselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from our wicked ways, then He will hear from heaven, and there will be forgiveness and healing. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but Love your neighbor as yourself."
"And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
We are fickle people. And like 2 Chronicles shows us, we are prone to wander. We must heed the illustrations set before us. We must rest in the unrest of the day, when sons and daughters along with parents and grandparents have turned their back on God – we must rest in the knowledge that God has not turned his back on us. God is a lover, a fighter, and a covenant provider.
As you go, humble yourself, seek God, and experience forgiveness and healing! Go and Love….
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
At a conference I went to back in October, one of the presenters said we need to put skin to stories and situations. The point was being made that when we have skin – people – to associate the story or situation to, we are able to broaden our understanding and relate.
I was recently reading an article in the Seattle Times by columnist Jerry Large where he reference our (as a people) inability to stay focused or be passionate about a large number of people. Large says: "People are short-term thinkers. The headlines from Haiti will recede over time and some other trouble will take the world stage, but whether something lasting and beneficial comes of this crisis depends on our helping Haitians develop politically and economically. That requires structure, discipline and a long-term plan."
We find ourselves now 3 weeks past the Haiti earthquake, and as Large stated, the headlines from Haiti have receded. Updates from the crumbled cities are hard to come by, and we here in the US (and for sure in Seattle) are moving on to other things. We have lost the our ability to put flesh to the massive loss Haiti is experiencing.
Within the article Large wrote of a published author: "He revisits that old Stalin quotation that the death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of millions is a statistic."
In the heartache and confusion – as time passes on, how do we maintain the flesh, the ability to put skin to the stories and the tragic situation(s) before us? How do we refuse to allow those lost in Haiti to simply become a statistic?
We must find ways to see the skin, the flesh, the humanity of those around us! We must allow their story to speak truth into the darkness.
Let’s read 2 Kings Chapter 5 together. If you have your bible follow along, we’ll also have it up on the big screen. Listen, and pick out some of your favorite aspects to this crazy chapter.
Wow, there is a lot of stuff in this chapter. Some crazy things take place don’t they! What are some of the ones that stand out to you? (numbers 1-8 are talking points)
1. Naaman – Just a few notes about Naaman: He was a top commander in the Syrian army who was really appreciated by his boss, King Ben-Hadad. Naaman was a key leader in his king's army and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle when he was not away in battle. He drove the latest chariot and even had several servants at hand. Yet -- you wouldn't envy Naaman, because he was a leper. Although lepers were not seen as outcasts in Syria as they were in Israel, leprosy was still a dreaded and despised disease. It turns out that one of the servant girls in Naaman's household was an Israelite girl who was captured in one of Naaman's raids, and through her suggestion to her mistress, Naaman goes to Israel to be healed of his disease. Then, if he was healed... he would have it all! He would be happy, healthy and wealthy.
2. Elisha – the prophet tells the king "Stop tearing your clothes," "You're not the only one around here, you know. Send the man to me so that he may learn there's a prophet in Israel." We then hear of the mighty warrior with his chariots and horses and gifts of gold and silver heading on over to Elisha's house. And this is a great scene, cuz Elisha doesn't even come out of his house! He stays inside and simply sends his servant out with a message for Naaman. "Go, wash seven times in the Jordan and you will be clean."
3. Angry – Well, Naaman isn't used to being stood up. He's a man with authority. He's accustomed to speaking with kings. He is often in communication with his own king and the kings of other nations. So in his mind, he’s wondering – “Who does Elisha think he is?” Naaman has no intention of washing in the muddy Jordan and says: "Aren’t Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" If Israel's prophet is going to disrespect Naaman by not even coming out to meet him, then Naaman decides he’s going to dis Israel's river. And with that outburst, the mighty warrior turns, enraged, toward home.
4. Reasoning – Naaman's servants are horrified with their master's behavior. One of them sees through his master's ranting and raving and says something like, "Excuse me sir, but if the prophet had told you to climb the highest mountain seven days in a row, or roll a pebble on your hands and knees all the way back to Damascus, you would probably have done it. So why not this simple washing thing?" Basically the servant is smart and knows how to get to his master. Of course Naaman would do something difficult, he was a mighty warrior. He had done many difficult things before. So he's surely brave enough to wash in the muddy Jordan River!
5. Healed – Naaman laid down his pride. He followed Elisha’s directions, and was blessed. It was because of the rationale from his servant, that he turned around, went down to the Jordan, and immersed himself seven times. When he came out of the water that last time, he looked down at his hands and his feet. His flesh was like the flesh of a young boy. He was healed.
6. Payment – for services rendered. Perhaps an important element to the story is that Elisha would not accept anything from Naaman for the healing. Here, Elisha is telling Naaman and everyone else that the blessing of God is not for sale. Elisha is insistent upon not receiving anything from Naaman – essentially so God would get all the glory.
7. Dirt – Naaman asked for two mules full worth of dirt – He was affirming that he would offer sacrifices from there on, only to God. He apparently was so passionate about this that he intended to use the Israelite soil to make a holy place in Syria to worship God. This request reflects the current thought that God must be worshiped at a particular place or on the basis of association with a particular land.
8. Gehazi – Elijah's servant sees an opportunity to skim a bit of Naaman's treasure off for himself. "Hey -- who's to know?" The guy should have known better than to try and pull the wool over a miracle working prophet of God like Elisha! Yet Gehazi thought Naaman got off too easy. His actions were an attempt to lift himself up a bit from his servant status. He thought he could take advantage of an easy situation. So he chases Naaman's caravan down and comes up with a story about how Elisha needs a bit of money and clothing for a couple of students who have just come by. And Naaman, since all along he wanted to give Elisha something anyway, gives the servant more than he’d even asked for. And heading back home he tries to tell Elisha that he had been at home the whole time. Gehezi wanted something from Naaman, and he got it. Elisha tells his servant that since he wanted something of Naaman's, he would have Naaman's leprosy!
2 Kings chapter 5. I think this chapter really paints for us a fantastic picture of what life was like during this time. We see the powerful with their servants, and the tension between two kings. We see the power of healing, and the role wealth plays within the different strata of society.
When we’re honest, this chapter, minus the servants and well - the miraculous healings, is everything we are today. I think it’d be easily for us to see this story as a modern day film, perhaps an adaptation like all the Romeo & Juliet’s, Peter Pan’s, or the different Jane Austen films. If I were a film maker, I’d make it into a movie. I think the only thing it’s missing is some romance.
So, in this chapter we have miraculous healings and expectations unfulfilled. We see greed and the power of wealth. There is transformation and humility. This chapter really speaks to us about the reality of the time; the reality of the time of 2 Kings as well as our own reality.
How does it speak to our own time, our own reality? In this chapter, which character do you resonate with? Whose story are you able to identify with? Is it Elisha? One of the Kings? The Israelite servant girl? How about Naaman, or his servant? Are you able to identify with Gehazi? I believe at different times throughout our lives – we’re probably able to see aspects of each of them in ourselves; each of them in our own story.
Let’s focus on the middle. The middle of the chapter is perhaps where I find myself most often. As I read and reread chapter 5, this is the part of the story that stands out to me. I find myself resonating with Naaman. He’s an easy character to identify with isn’t he. He’s got a problem… he’s got some pride, some power, and he’s at his wits end – ready for some outside help. He’s arrogant. Thinks he’s due certain things, certain privileges or prestige. He has expectations of how society operates. I think this is where I resonate with him, in understanding the functions of our world.
I also find myself resonating with Naamans servant, his officer. Or at least with the simple logic he poses to Naaman. Maybe not resonating with it, but longing for it. I see it as truth! I’m really just drawn to this portion of the story. I love the Servants question to Naaman, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!”
How often do we carry around an arrogant baggage with expectations of how things work? Allowing our pride, arrogance, or ignorance to get us out of doing the simple things the Lord is asking of us? We might say silly things like: I have a college education, I’m not going to apply for that job. I’m a pastor, I shouldn’t have to change this light bulb. I’m above this… someone else should do it! I’ll let someone else, one of the volunteers mop Demitasse, wash the dishes, or pull a shot for this next person. How often do we do this, acting like Naaman, ignoring God’s instructions because of our pride or empirical understanding of order?
The question really is, What is God calling you to do, that you so arrogantly are ignoring because it seems too simple. The penance is not great enough… thinking it must be harder, we should have to do more!
I love that Elisha didn’t even come out to greet Naaman. He didn’t need to. He didn’t need to wave his hands over Naaman’s sores, or pray a big lofty prayer. Yet this is what Naaman expected. He wanted something difficult. He wanted something official. He wanted something great. And Elisha’s instructions seemed too easy.
Did you notice what story Jesus referenced in our Gospel text this morning? It was the healing of Naaman. Maybe you’re like me, but I can’t help but be drawn forward into the Gospels after reading 2 Kings chapter 5. I’m drawn into thinking of what we’re asked to do. It’s not too often that we are called to the impossible, the hard? Throughout the Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testament, we hear things like: Wash 7 times, put mud on your eyes and you’ll be able to see, and follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men! Come, follow, wash, be forgiven.
So often it’s the simple tasks that we’re asked to do. And yet so often it is these simple things which we find too easy to be “of God”.
We think: to be a missionary means we must leave and go across the ocean and live in straw huts. To be a good disciple, we must wake up early and read the scriptures for an hour or more before doing anything else. But perhaps it is much simpler. Perhaps God’s call – and expectation for our lives is not as difficult as we make it out to be. Perhaps we ignore the simplistic tasks required of us because they aren’t difficult enough to motivate us. Perhaps we avoid them because we’re embarrassed, thinking “aren’t the waters back home better than these?”
May we be open to hearing God’s voice when it breaks into our lives and says "Excuse me, if you had been told to climb the highest mountain seven days in a row, or roll a pebble on your hands and knees all the way through downtown, you probably would have done it. So why not this? This which is simple?
Open your ears to hear. Open your heart to feel. And participate in God’s upside down kingdom, where it’s often not the difficult that he asks of us – but simply our obedience.
As you go, be open to the simplistic tasks before you. Go and Love.
(some assitance in the historal talking points came from: http://day1.org/530-what_the_mighty_might_learn & http://www.lectionarysermons.com/feb13&00.html )