For once, I was able to sit in the service at Church this morning rather than zooming off to take the oldest Sunday School group as usual. At the last minute I dashed into Church and slid into the seat next to my Mum (thanks for saving it, Mum), wriggling out of my coat as I did. The scarf stayed on – it wasn’t particularly warm, despite the boiler having been temporarily sorted out, thanks to the still freezing temperatures outside (more on that later).
It felt like a breath of fresh air to be able to sit and listen instead of being the one talking. It was certainly a more relaxed way of waking up on a Sunday morning! The new hymn book gave us a few challenges but it is always refreshing to see new words to encourage worship and none of the tunes were so taxing that we couldn’t pick them up quite quickly. Next time it will be easier still! However, for me, there were two stand-out moments: communion itself and the sermon. Yes, you heard me correctly, I did mention the word: “sermon”.
The main theme was taken from the book of the Bible named: 2 Kings. Unsurprisingly, it is a book about the reign of many different…you guessed it, kings. In chapter 5 we come across a powerful army commander called Naaman who is suffering from a skin condition. One of his servants suggests that he see the prophet, Elisha, and eventually contact is made with him. Naaman is however furious that Elisha only responds to his request for healing by sending a messenger who passes on Elisha’s words rather than Elisha coming to Naaman himself: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed” (v10). He was in fact so angry that he stalked off in a mood. Can you even imagine that someone would treat such an important person as himself in such an offhand manner – unbelievable!
Two key points were raised (that I recall, with apologies for missing out all the other important and interesting details also worthy of sharing which I have since mislaid in the recesses of my mind). One, that Elisha’s role was that of a prophet, of sharing God’s messages to the people. Healing was only a side activity, not Elisha’s main profession, and he needed to spend most of his time (which was extremely valuable, just as our time is to us today) on his main role. Two, it was Naaman himself who stood in the way of God’s healing. Healing isn’t always about physical healing of bodily problems, sometimes what is needed is emotional or spiritual healing (only God knows which we need most and when) nor is His timing always what we might hope for, but He is a God of love and wants to provide the healing touch we need. But God had shared through Elisha what needed to be done and Naaman refused to act on Elisha’s message. Whether through shame, outrage or an inflated sense of his own importance the result was still the same. In the end it was Naaman who suffered from his refusal to accept God’s message of love. In this case, happily, Naaman was persuaded by his servants (don’t you love the way that the only people to change his mind were the very lowest?) to do what Elisha had said and only then, when he gave up his own preconceptions, did he receive the healing touch God longed to provide.
What a challenge to us to consider the ways we may be stopping God from working in our lives and changing our hearts. This is so much wider than physical healing but stretches into emotional and spiritual healing and so much, much more. He will not force His way in but for us to change requires us to put our trust in Him completely knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us. The lessons we may have to walk through before we learn this for ourselves can be hard. I often put the breaks on and try to hold onto everything firmly trying to carry all my own burdens. I don’t know why I try to hold onto painful, heavy loads so firmly when I could be free to truly live as the person He wants me to be, the person He made me to be, if I just let go of my own preconceptions and perceived needs. Like Naaman, I am the one who suffers when I refuse the freedom of God’s great love. My friend, this is something for us to ponder on in the days ahead.
The service moved on to Holy Communion. At our Church this is open to all and most of us will go to the “communion rail” (the wooden railing at the front acting as a sort of table at which we remember the Last Supper between Jesus and his disciples -more on it can be found here: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2014:%2012-26&version=NIV) to share in bread and wine or a blessing. In kneeling at the end of the row, I finally had time and space to shut out the world and rest in God’s presence. I suspect many of you will have no idea what I’m going on about and may, for whatever reason, take the view that I have finally lost my already limited bag of marbles but hear me out before you judge. This was time in which I could focus just on God’s greatness, His majesty, His power and, most of all, His overwhelming and awesome love. Nothing else pushed its way into my thoughts or caused me to “look” away. By creating space to think of nothing but Him I found myself surrounded by His love (that is I had a real sense of His amazing love with me right there and then) and was able to give Him everything troubling me knowing that His love is perfect and able to bear it all.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:29-31 MSG)
The challenge now is whether I can keep this with me as I go into the chaos and unpredictability of the rest of the week. I know that without spending time in His word or in prayer it will not be possible. Whatever happens when I fall down and go off on my own again in a fit of frustration/rage/fear, just as Naaman did, there is one thing I can be sure of: my God will be with me in the midst of it all.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1: 9 NIV)
[MSG – The Message by Eugene H. Peterson; NIV – The New International Version translation of the Holy Bible]