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!

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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!

The Tale of Two Good Friends

This last week Di and I have been in London and Canterbury, where we have experienced a cocktail of emotions.

On Wednesday we were in Canterbury where it was a privilege and an honour to be at the consecration of two women bishops, one of them being a good friend Rachel Treweek. It was very moving and a truly joyful occasion.

On Friday, we were at the funeral of a close friend, Malcolm, and I was given the privilege of giving the address. Malcolm and his wife Caroline had been great friends of ours while I was vicar of their church in London, and since we have been at Scargill. The service was a celebration of a life well lived, with grief at the loss of someone we loved dearly.

You may ask, “What does a consecration and a funeral have in common?” Unsurprisingly, yet joyfully, we caught up with old friends and had time to share laughter and tears, but most importantly the tale of these two friends is a tale of hope.

Rachel is now the Bishop of Gloucester – the first woman Diocesan Bishop in the Church of England! It has been a long struggle with a great deal of patience and perseverance, often much heartache, which has now culminated in this most joyful celebration – and it is full of hope. Having worked with Rachel, when she was our archdeacon in London, it is wonderful to see that her gifts, and the person she is, can be experienced within the Episcopate. There is hope for the Church as Rachel and other gifted women are called by the Holy Spirit to become bishops. It will be so life giving for the Church!

Malcolm, who was 60, struggled with cancer over the last eighteen months, and through his illness was such a person of hope. Malcolm lived in the knowledge that he was deeply loved by God, and however dimly or partially he saw it, he believed that he would know it fully. Malcolm died in this hope, being literally “sung into heaven” by those he loves, and those who love him.

And the hope in which Rachel lives, and Malcolm died in, is the hope that is gifted in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul’s words to Timothy (1 Tim 1 v1) ring with truth for whatever lies before us, “Christ Jesus our hope”. Shawshank Redemption (a must see film!) is full of great hope quotes – “hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” So the Risen Lord Jesus is our hope, that we live, move and have our being in, and it is this Hope that longs to make his home in our hearts for eternity.