A pious man once was caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.” “No thanks” replied the pious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”
A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.” “No thanks” replied the pious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”
Eventually, a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said,“The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.” “No thanks” replied the pious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”
All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the pious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”
“Yes you did my child” God replied. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat, and a helicopter. But you never got in.” https://storiesforpreaching.com/i-sent-you-a-rowboat/
It’s an old story…but it describes Namaan to a T. He was a strong man, important in his country…and he had leprosy, some sort of skin disease. A young girl who’d been taken as a slave from Israel spoke to her mistress saying, “There’s a prophet back home who could heal him.” The woman tells Namaan, who tells the king, who writes a letter asking the king of Israel to ask the prophet of Israel–Elisha–to heal Namaan.
Namaan travels to Israel and gives his king’s letter to the king of Israel. The king of Israel thinks it’s a ploy, an excuse for the king of Aram to come conquer them. Elisha hears about it and tells the king to send Namaan his way. “Let him know that there’s a prophet in Israel.”
So, Naaman comes with his horses and chariots, and halts at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sends 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 becomes enraged and stomps off, saying, “I thought that for me he surely would come out, and stand and call on the name of his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?”
What a great image. This foreign military leader arriving at the prophet’s house with all his horses and chariots and the people on them, suffering with leprosy, on a wild goose chase to get healed, a goose chase started by a little girl…he’s finally gotten an audience with the man who can heal him, he comes with all his horses, chariots, and people…and the prophet can’t deign to come to the door? He sends a messenger to tell him what to do?
“God, why didn’t you heal my leprosy?” “Ah,” says God. “I sent you a little girl, I sent you to Israel, I sent you to the prophet of Israel’s house. He sent you the instructions on how to be healed. But because the help didn’t come in the precise way you wanted it to come, you became enraged and refused the help.”
Fortunately, Namaan had something the man in the flood story didn’t have–wise people, servants, at his side, basically, to help Namaan get over himself. “If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?” his servants say. “How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So what if the prophet didn’t come to the door himself? It’s such a simple thing. Why not try it?
So, Namaan goes down and immerses 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.
In my newsletter article this week, I suggested that one of the greatest gifts the church has to give to the world is the gift of community. Thankfully, many people across the globe, through activism and service, are acting the world into wellbeing. The difference for us followers of Jesus is that we engage in activism and service from the context of a faith community. Our actions are rooted in prayer; our activism is a spiritual practice. And we have the nurture and support of a community as we engage in that activism and service. In a society that seems intent on splintering, a big gift we followers of Jesus can give is a demonstration of what community, what the common good looks like.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the story of Namaan is that it took a village to get him healed. It took a foreign enslaved child, it took her mistress, it took two kings and a prophet, it took more servants…If Namaan–with all his horses and chariots and power–could have healed himself, he would have. But for all the things he could do, he couldn’t do that. To heal, he needed the community around him.
That’s what’s so vital about what we do here each week. If we are to be strong in our activism, if we are to sustain the action out there that is so needed, we have to nurture our own spirits, we have to nurture our own community. What happens in this community–the internal spiritual work we do, the ways in which we care for each other–is vital to the work of acting the community out there into wellbeing. And–as Namaan’s story suggests–every person in the community plays a role. Had Namaan not listened to the children, the women, the slaves, the servants, the foreigners, he would not have found the healing he so desperately needed.
Do you listen to everyone in the community? Do we as a community listen to everyone? It’s human nature to listen mostly to “PLU”–people like us. PLU get us. They say the things we like to hear in the way we like to hear them. But sometimes, the healing word comes from someone not like us. Sometimes, the healing word comes from someone who’s been there all along, but whom we’ve never really seen. Every person in a community is vital. Every single person, regardless of status or ability or likability, every single person in the community holds a precious piece of this community we’re all a part of.
The cathedral in Winchester, England, is known for its exquisite stained glass windows, particularly the Great West window. In 1642, the anti-King factions that were terrorizing the country came to Winchester. After they had defeated the town, the soldiers–for spite–took their muskets into the cathedral and shot out its beautiful stained glass windows. The townsfolk were devastated.
In their despondence, they did an audacious thing. Quietly, carefully, and without drawing too much attention from the soldiers, the people salvaged what they could from the destruction. Pieces of glass were carefully collected and stored, ready for the day when the fighting would end and peace would return.
For two decades, the Cathedral was an empty shell with holes in the roof and no glass in the windows. Wind and rain blew through adding to the feeling of sadness and desolation. In Parliament the subject of Winchester Cathedral was discussed. Some thought it beyond repair. ‘Knock it down!’ they said. But the people of Winchester loved their Cathedral. Yes, it was damaged, but it was their cathedral! They set out to repair it.
Diamonds of clear glass were cut and fixed into place in the window spaces around the Cathedral, blending in with areas of old glass which had managed to survive. Pieces of glass of all shapes, sizes and colors were collected and fixed together and placed in the frame of the old west window, bringing the Cathedral to life again.
Careful examination of the window would reveal the faces of angels, disciples and kings, all jumbled up with pieces of colored glass. Small fragments of writing in Latin, next to drawings on glass of clothes, hands and feet. Bit by bit the window space was filled in with old glass until the window was completed. A feast for the eyes, and a thing of beauty. https://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-Story-of-the-Great-West-Window-web-version.pdf
Joyce Rhymer’s son visited Winchester Cathedral a few weeks ago. When she shared this story with me a couple of Sundays ago, I immediately thought of today’s sermon. It is a remarkable image. Every member of the community, holding one precious piece of glass, one precious piece of the community. Keeping that piece safe until the time came to gather the pieces together again, to put their church back together again.
The image is so great, in fact, we’re each going to get a piece of colored glass. (Distribute pieces of glass.) May it remind us that each of us holds one precious part of our FCUCC community…and that healing can come from any one of us. May it remind us to care well for our one precious part. May it remind us of the beauty that can be created when we join our bits of glass together. May this tiny piece of glass remind us that we are not alone. And may it remind us that our FCUCC community is among the greatest resources we have for acting the world into wellbeing. May it remind us that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to act the world into wellbeing together.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2019