A tentative question, a surprising answer

So, one final blog on 2 Kings 5. It is a story of healing, grace, unexpected unsung heroes, and a surprising answer to a tricky situation. Check out the story if you haven’t read it yet.

The story so far – Naaman has gone down to the River Jordan, swallowed his pride, (and who knows what else!) and dipped himself seven times. He comes up cleansed from his skin disease, grateful, with a changed heart, acknowledging Elisha’s God ‘that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel’. And of course, it was this exclamation from Naaman that made him realise the difficult and complex situation he was going to have to face when he went back to Aram.

He tentatively and apologetically asks for forgiveness for when he goes back he will have to go with his King to the house of Rimmon and bow down while the King leans on his arm. Poor Naaman, having just experienced and realised the truth about God he finds himself in a place of compromise where he would be outwardly going against his earlier emphatic declaration. Adrian Plass, who writes on this wonderful passage, says, “Well is it OK to do that? Or not? Or what? Have I got to make a stand?”

Elisha’s response is surprising, liberating, and gives hope to all of us faced with on-going difficult times or impossible situations, ‘Go in peace’. Not exactly the response he expected yet what beautiful three words they are! Adrian goes on to say, “that was all Elisha said and it seemed to be all that was needed on that particular occasion. Through a prophet, who is more interested in hearing the authentic whisper of the Holy Spirit than blindly following patterns and pre-conceptions, God was cutting Naaman a little slack, and this new follower of the one true God was probably even more grateful than before, don’t you think? How lovely to be told that you can go in peace when you are expecting a thick ear or a thunderbolt.”

The wonderful truth about these words ‘Go in peace’ is that it gives us opportunity to have a dynamic, life-giving dialogue with God. These three words are not closed but are open and spacious words.

Elisha cut Naaman some slack, and Jesus cuts us slack too. Our community promises has the response – “with the encouragement and guidance of the brothers and sisters who share this pathway, we will try our very best to follow the example of Jesus”. Each night I reflect on my day and sometimes I realise how my relationships or attitudes has not lived up to the promises I have made. I have messed up, and I can’t quite get it right at the moment. Jesus forgives, he says have a good night’s sleep, lets work together on the difficulties, ‘Go in peace’. And he says this with affection and love.

Elisha begins to give us an understanding of God’s compassion and Jesus shows it to us fully. I pray that we will learn to live and move in it.
In the All Age services during SummerFest we sang our Naaman song – words by Bridget and Adrian Plass, sung and produced by Anna Andersson on the attached music file – enjoy! We had three weeks of it!

God of the Humble

I love Summerfest! I love the variety of ages (grandparents, grandchildren, teenagers, parents, singles, babies – in fact I love the lot). I love to see people being able to express how they feel. I love the laughter and silliness. I love the sense of community with Jesus at the heart that grows within a few days. And now we have finished Summerfest 3 and it has been a wonderful time.

Our theme has been Naaman’s story from 2 Kings 5 – check it out it is a good read. It is the story of Naaman’s healing of his skin disease that came in a very unexpected manner, it is a healing, which was far more than skin deep, it was conversion of his heart. It was a radical and life-changing experience.

We read that Naaman arrived outside Elisha’s house with all his soldiers and chariots, and mules laden with gold and silver. Naaman’s identity was bound up in his wealth, his position and his success. He came to Elisha displaying how powerful he was, desperately wanting to buy his healing. You can imagine that Naaman was well put out when Elisha would not come to greet him as he felt his rank deserved and, adding insult to injury, he is told by Elisha’s servant to go down to the murky Jordan and dip himself in it seven times if he wants to be healed. Naaman was besides himself with anger. He was a huffy old Naaman! Yet with the courage and love of his servants he is persuaded to go down and dip himself in the Jordan. Isn’t it good that we too can have friends who are able to speak the truth in love, to save us from messing up?

It is very significant that Naaman ‘went down’ into the Jordan. He had to make himself small. He had to give up his identity that meant so much to him. He went down as a proud and successful general with a serious skin disease and came up with the skin of a young boy, with a childlike heart, declaring, “there is no God in all the world except in Israel”.

It is a story peppered with grace, yet it is grace that could only be received if Naaman was willing to go down. John Stott writes, ’Pride is your greatest enemy, Humility is your greatest gift’. It is true for us all that if we want to discover the grace God has for us we have to make ourselves small, we have to go down. If you are ever privileged enough to go to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity you have to bow down to get through the doorway.

So like Naaman when we go down, bow down or make ourselves small we understand a bit more of who God is, and what He is about. As it says in the Jerusalem Bible, “The fear of Yahweh is a school of wisdom, before there can be glory, there must be humility.” Proverbs 15:33

Mad Hatter's Tea Party at Summerfest with good friends from St Stephen's - great fun!

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Summerfest with good friends from St Stephen’s – great fun!

A Tale of the Unexpected

Summerfest joyfully invades Scargill during August which is our 3 week all age fun-packed arts festival where about 100 guests join the community. Along with the rest of the Community, I love it!

Every year we have a different theme from the Bible and this year we have been looking at the story of Naaman the Aramean General seeking healing for his leprosy. It is a great story – why not check it out in 2 Kings 5.

It is a story full of surprises and unknown heroes, with kings, prophets and servants and it is one of these servants I want to focus on. The story tells of a servant girl captured by an Aramean raiding party. We don’t know her name, or where she came from, but we can only imagine the heartache and trauma she must have felt being literally trafficked from her family to a foreign country and culture into servitude. Yet she does not allow herself to be defined by this part of her history and is gracefully able to offer words of hope into the household she is now serving which just happened to be Naaman’s. She knew from her own country that there was a prophet who would be able to help Naaman in his desperate need. I am not sure that I would be able to offer such words of hope if I had been held captive. I reckon I would be full of resentment.  Sheridan Voysey, a recent speaker at Scargill, commented  ‘the greatest tragedy is not the broken dream but being forever defined by one.’ This gracious attitude was within this slave girl and she truly is the unsung hero in this story of restoration.

What is also remarkable about this story is that Naaman listened. Perhaps there was something in this slave girl that made people listen – people who are grace filled are attractive. St Paul says ‘be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ Colossians 4:5-6. Perhaps this grace filled attitude lived within this young slave girl.

Being channels of grace will at times be costly and may go against our better judgement and yet Jesus would call us to be people of grace in our words and actions. The little slave girl ,who had a conversation with Naaman’s wife, led to restoration in Naaman’s life beyond his wildest dreams.

Martin Luther King said that anybody can be great because anybody can serve. He goes on to say, “You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

A bit of All age Summerfest worship in the Chapel

A bit of All age Summerfest worship in the Chapel