July 7, 2019 Sermon
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
Old Testament Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
New Testament Scripture Reading: Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.
All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.
Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised-only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule-peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Sermon: “Harsh Christianity”
There once was a small church, up in the mountains. This church wasn’t a tall steeple church. It wasn’t an urban church with lots of edgy ministries dealing with social issues like homelessness and drug abuse. It wasn’t a suburban church with lots of money and a multi-pastor staff with programs for every demographic, and a state of the art video and music production facility.
Rather, this church was, in most ways, kind of ordinary. Folks gathered each Sunday to sing hymns, read scripture, talk about scripture, pray, and on potluck Sundays, eat, catch up with each other and go home. The people who came to church didn’t have a lot of money, but they were faithful with what they did have, and they supported their church as best they could.
The church had been part of the fabric of their community for a long time. It was known for its stability and for its quiet, unassuming ministry doing what it could to make the world around it a better place. One wouldn’t call it an exciting church, necessarily, but one wouldn’t describe it as dull, either. It was faithful, it was vibrant in its own way, it was a good, solid church.
One day, the clerk of the church received a letter, inviting the church to sponsor a para-church organization that wanted to do a revival in town. The governing board met and discussed the letter. Some were suspicious, others were curious. Some were skeptical, others thought that maybe the church could use a shot in the arm, so to say.
In the end, the board decided to host the revival. Plans and requirements and suggestions and permissions went back and forth between the church and this other organization, and before long, the revival leaders were in town.
Naturally, this was a big deal in this small community. Fliers had been put up, letters had been mass-mailed, everybody in town had been invited. And lots of folks planned to attend. Who doesn’t like a revival? Great music, great speakers, a fire-and brimstone sermon to get your blood boiling, and your feet moving toward the altar. It’s a party, and worship service, and a concert all in one.
There was quite a ruckus in town as these missionaries from out of town put up their tents, and set up their equipment, and it only added to the excitement. New folks, from the big city, people who looked different, talked different. Who were wise and other-worldly.
And finally, the opening night came. The band started playing, and they rocked. It got hot under the big tent, with all the lights, and the kids sold ice-cold lemonade. The party was picking up steam, and finally the moment arrived, and one of the missionary speakers mounted the platform to preach.
One could tell by looking at the man that he was a religious person. His face was shiny with fervor, his hair was meticulously arranged, his teeth were white, and his voice deep, comforting and seductive. He wore a cross, and there were elaborately stitched holy-looking symbols all over his clothes.
And, oh, could he preach. One moment, you were in heaven with all the saints, the next you were brought back to earth with a crash, bearing the weight of all your sins. And then, back to the skies. It was dizzying, intoxicating. His rhetoric was compelling, his arguments were beyond refuting.
Even the pastor of the small church was caught up in the ecstasy of the moment. Who could blame him? This speaker had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. They followed his every word, holding their breath, on the edge of their seat, waiting anxiously for the next word of revelation.
Now, most of you have been to some form of a revival in your lives. I think that some of what I’ve described might be familiar. But this revival was different. And something happened at this revival that you might not have seen before, at least not in this way
You see, the revival ran for the entire week. And each night was centered around one aspect of exactly how to live the Christian Life. On Monday, the theme was the sabbath. Keep the Sabbath, the preacher man said. That meant no work. Nothing. Don’t go shopping. Don’t cook. Don’t do anything that feels like work. The Sabbath is Holy, so keep it holy.
On Tuesday it was the ritualistic washing of hands before eating. Very important, this ritual. If you had touched something unclean, and then touched food that you put into your mouth, then you were unclean, through and through. Stay clean, the man said. Don’t do unclean things. Don’t hang out with unclean people. It’s the law.
On Wednesday, it was making sure that you observed all of the high Holy Days; on Thursday, it was establishing a Kosher household; and on Friday, the last day of the revival, came the highlight of the week, a passionate and scripture-filled sermon on the importance of circumcision.
The missionary speakers were clear: If the townspeople wanted to be Christians, then there were some laws that needed to be followed. If they wanted to be saved by Jesus, there were some things that they needed to do first. It was simple. Live life according to these rules, and you will be given eternal life.
And if you don’t, the missionary revivalists said, God can’t save you.
And we can imagine the crowd nodding their heads in approval. It’s really so simple, isn’t it? All you have to do, is dot the I’s and cross the T’s and boom, you’re saved. It takes the guesswork out of the whole thing. Because the Ten Commandments are commandments, not suggestions. If you don’t follow them, then look out below. But here’s the good news: if you do follow them, it’s smooth sailing right to the promised land.
Finally, a gospel message that makes sense to us, one that puts us back in charge of our salvation. It’s a welcome message for a town and a church that was looking for something concrete in its theology.
Well, after the week was over, the revival packed up and went on the next city. Town life went back to normal, but at the church, things were not so easily returned to the way they were. There were questions that lingered. Questions that bothered some of the church members.
“Do we have clean ourselves up they way they told us to?” some people asked. “It doesn’t seem like that’s the way we’ve done things before. Have we been doing it wrong all these years?”
“And what about all these special celebration days we’ve never heard of before. Are supposed to be doing something special on those days? It seemed like those revival folks were pretty clear on this. Maybe we should put those holidays in the church calendar.”
And there were many other questions about the information they had heard at the revival.
The church found itself roiled in controversy. There were some who were convinced that they had to follow this new way that had been shown them, that their salvation depended on it.
There were others who were not so sure, but couldn’t find anything in the Bible that specifically said not to. But for some of the church members, it just seemed like the requirements were so strict. Of course, the revival people had said that it would be hard to follow the law. But that’s why it was the law.
And then it started getting ugly. People who used to get along, suddenly couldn’t. You were either on the side of the law, or you were on the side of those people who I guess just don’t care about the law. You had to decide. And if you didn’t wash your hands right, our had some kind of contrary opinion, or weren’t quite ready to buy into the program, then you obviously weren’t a Christian.
Because apparently, being a Christian means that you have to follow the law. And being a Christian means that you have make other people follow the law. And being a Christian means that sometimes it might be necessary to remind people what happens to you if you break the law. It’s important that people know what kind of punishment awaits them if they don’t obey the law. At least, that’s what they said at the revival.
Finally, this conflict in the church grew so extreme, that the person who had first built the church so long ago, a church planter named Paul, got wind of what was going on. And because he had moved to a different country and couldn’t talk with them in person, he wrote a letter.
And we read part of that letter today in worship. Paul is horrified by the fact that his wonderful little church in Galatia had been ripped apart by people who insist that the Gospel is not sufficient, who insist that there is more to salvation than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And I know that there are folks here who have had experiences with people like those false missionaries in Galatia. Maybe some of you have even grown up in traditions that said in so many words, “you have to think, believe, dress, act, talk, in this way in order to be a Christian.
But I also know what Paul says to the Church in Galatia in our scripture today, and if any of you have any doubts about whether you are good enough to be loved by God, or holy enough to accepted by God, or religious enough to be forgiven by God, I would like to paraphrase from Paul’s letter just a little bit.
“Listen, your salvation is not dependent on following the law. It is in the hands of God, and it has been made possible for us through the work of Jesus Christ. There is nothing more that you need to do.
“There is no circumcision, no special rituals, no special prayers, no special holidays. It may be hard sometimes to live a life that is led by the Holy Spirit, and all of us make mistakes at times. We all have said things we regret, we all have done things that hurt others, we all fall short of our ideals. This is a part of being human.
“But, being a part of a Christian Community means finding ways to talk to each other about these things without anger, without malice, without gossip, and without shame or guilt. We talk about these things in order that are friendships can be restored, not in order to assign blame.
“This is the way a Christian community works, and it might seem contrary to what you have heard from other people. It may not seem as pure, as holy, as pious, as other folks would like it to be.
“But it’s important to remember that while we are accountable to each other, ultimately, we are only ultimately accountable to God. We can’t base our relationship with God on how we stack up against other people. And our relationship with God is secured only and eternally by the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, let’s not compare ourselves with other people and their expectations. That will never go well. It leads to either pride or shame, neither of which have a place in the kingdom of God.”
At least, that’s what Paul said.
I know that you will hear or have already heard from those who believe that being a Christian means adopting a particular set of beliefs, or moral code, or way of life as a prerequisite to salvation. You will hear from folks who seek to impose their own experience of their encounter with God onto you, and they will insist that only their way of seeing God is valid.
But like Paul, I want to tell you with all my heart that other people do not, and can not decide for you what your walk with Jesus will, or should, or has to look like. That is a matter between you and God. Trust in the Spirit of God, and the faith of Jesus, and you will know how you need to live.
Thanks be to God. Amen.