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From Small Things…

2018-10-29

 

…Big Things One Day Come.

(In case you don’t get the reference)

Self-plagiarism alert: Most of this blog post is adapted from a sermon that I preached at The Community Church of Little Neck in February of 2003.

In so many ways, we have been trained to seek our salvation in big dramatic gestures. But what if God doesn’t work that way? What if the real power is in the things that seem small?

2 Kings 5:1-15a

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. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5And 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. 6He 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.” 7When 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.”8But 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.”

9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11But 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! 12Are 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. 13But 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’?” 14So 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.

15Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”

Naaman the Syrian is BIG man –important, powerful, vain. But in our story for this week, he finds his salvation in something small.

As the Narrative Lectionary continues through the history of Israel, we encounter a new figure this week: the prophet. In this stage of Israel’s history, prophets were oracles of God; truth-tellers who often confronted and called out the injustice of Israel’s rulers. The books of Kings include a lot of stories about the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Sometimes they deal with Israel’s own rules. Other times—as in this story—they deal with people beyond the borders of Israel.

Naaman is commander of the armies of Syria, the biggest and baddest army in the land. Syria was a fierce enemy of Israel, and Syria’s mighty military routed little Israel more times than Naaman could count.  This guy is clearly, an Alpha male, a high achiever, a doer of great deeds, successful and self-made.

 

But the big man has a big problem: Leprosy.  Leprosy was some of the worst news a person could get in those days.  It was a disease of the skin, a disease that marred and disfigured and made ugly.   Since the disease was thought to be highly contagious, lepers were shunned and excluded and banned from polite society.  It had no cure.  One did not get over leprosy; one learned to live with it, learned to live as an ugly and lonely and outcast person.

 

Naaman will not settle for that.  Being an important person and a man of action, Naaman goes looking for a big solution.  In one of his military adventures, he had captured an Israelite girl and brought her home as a slave.  She made mention of a healer, a prophet in Israel who might be able to do something about Naaman’s leprosy.  For so many reasons this is a terrible idea.  Who takes medical advice from people they have captured and enslaved?  Who goes to a foreign nation—an enemy nation—to get help in a time of need?  But Naaman had to do something.  He was desperate.  So he seized on this idea like a drowning person grasping at a life preserver.

 

Naaman assembles a big fortune—sells his house, cashes in his stock options, empties his life savings.  He puts together a big caravan of limousines, complete with police escort.  He pulls up in front of the palace of the king of Israel, and marches in there with a huge entourage of bodyguards and personal assistants.

 

For Naaman, the general, the man of action, here at last was an opportunity to make a full frontal assault on the disease that was wrecking his life.

 

But Naaman’s full frontal assault…fails.  The king of Israel is baffled and more than a little afraid.  Just imagine the poor guy: here is the general of a big, scary, hostile neighboring army saying, “Could you please cure me of my incurable leprosy?”  Of course, he can’t.

 

Disappointed, defeated, Naaman turns toward home, shouldering a big failure on his big, drooping shouldersBut just as the caravan is about to pull out, a messenger taps on the window of his limo.  “I have a message for you from the prophet Elisha.  He says that he might be able to help you.”  So the caravan tears out of there and pulls up in front of the prophet Elisha’s place.

 

Naaman approaches the house, maybe wondering what prophets look like or if they have some sort of uniform or badge or something.  He may have had time to wonder what sort of bizarre or disturbing ritual the prophet would perform to heal him. But he never even makes it to the front porch.  A servant came out of the house and said, “Naaman? Elisha says go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. That should clear it right up.”

 

At that precise moment, Naaman the Syrian throws the mother of all temper tantrums.  It is a big, ugly blow up.  His ears turned red.  The vein on his forehead throbbed.  There is smoke in his nostrils and awful, awful cursing on his lips. “Bathe in the Jordan?  Bathe in the Jordan!?  I came hundreds of miles and assembled all this fortune to take a dip in your stinky, nasty, dirty little river?”  The Hebrew word order at verse 11 suggests that Naaman’s big super-size was sorely bruised: “Surely, for me, he would have come out and wave his hands and maybe dance around and put on a big show.  So make with the razzle dazzle!  I mean, I’m Naaman the Syrian! Doing something as mundane, as pedestrian, as humdrum as bathing in the Jordan River is beneath my dignity.  Give me something dramatic, something that will make tomorrow’s front page.  Give me something…big.”

 

For Naaman the Syrian, only the big will do.  Insulted, disgusted, he turns around to leave.  He opens the door of his limo and almost goes home to live out the rest of his days—and to die—as a leper.

 

But just as Naaman is about to make a tragic mistake, some unnamed servants become the voice of reason.  With great daring, they ask him to reconsider.  They say, “Sir, maybe it’s not our place to say, but if the prophet had asked you to do something difficult, something challenging, something big, you would have done it.  Why not try this small thing?”

 

Sensible folk, those servants.  It’s hard to argue with that.  So Naaman went down to that dirty little river.  Holding his nose, feeling disgusted and stupid, he wades into the water and dunks his head.  He comes back up.  Nothing has changed. The leprosy still clings to his skin.  He shoots his servants an “I told you so” look.  They remind him that the prophet said seven times, not one.  So he goes under again, and again, and again.  The seventh time, he comes up out of the filthy plain old Jordan River a new man.  His flesh is clean.  His leprosy is gone. His body is healed.  Maybe his spirit as well.  Naaman the Syrian is whole.

 

It wasn’t a big thing.  It wasn’t a very big thing at all.  But it did the job just fine.

 

There is power in small things. I will have more to say about that on Sunday.

 

See you in church!

 

 

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Uncategorized

Food Donation Sunday Kicks Off in Church School

2018-10-24

The first church school Food Donation Sunday of the year was a success! Find out how much was raised this Sunday in Waveland Hall!

Categories
Blog News

On the Limits of Wisdom

2018-10-22

 

Wisdom is wonderful! But it will only get you so far.

Just ask Solomon.

I Kings 3:5-9, 16-28

5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

 16Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17The one woman said, “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house.18Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. 19Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.” 22But the other woman said, “No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.” So they argued before the king. 23Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king.25The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.” 26But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—“Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” 27Then the king responded: “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.”28All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.

 

Last week we got a glimpse of David –great king of Israel, a deeply flawed man close to God’s heart. This week we heard about his son. Solomon as renowned for his wisdom, but oversaw the end of the united kingdom of Israel.

Since the Narrative Lectionary is moving so quickly, it might be a good idea to stop and take stock of where we have been and how we have come to this moment.

(Remember, you can always see the schedule of upcoming readings right here)

We started (on September 9) with the story of Noah’s flood –or, rather, the aftermath when God makes a promise to never again destroy the earth, a promise symbolized by the rainbow. Then (on September 16), we heard how the promise came to one particular family. God spoke to Sarai and Abram, promising to bless them and to make them a blessing. The story of Joseph (September 23), great grandson of Sarai and Abram, reminded us that God’s promise can lead to unexpected places. On September 30 we caught up with God’s people as they had become an entire nation, delivered by God at the Red Sea. And we saw how being people of God’s promise calls us to have tender hearts and nerves of steel. On October 7, we heard how God made a covenant with the people and gave them a law to live by, including the Ten Commandments. On October 14, we…had a guest preacher who did not use the Narrative Lectionary. (But he was good!). And On October 21 we saw how, when God’s people were eventually settled in the land God had promised, they had a king. And monarchy was a mixed bag at best.

This brings us to the story of Solomon.

The books of I and II Kings recount the story of first one and then two kingdoms, from the death of David to the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century BCE. Quickly told: Solomon inherits the kingdom from his father David and Solomon’s reign is the high-water mark of Israel’s power, prestige and wealth as a nation. But upon Solomon’s death, a succession struggle led to a civil war and the division of one nation into two: Israel in the north, with its capital at Samaria and Judah in the south, with its capital at Jerusalem. The rest of I and II Kings chronicles the histories of these two kingdoms, portraying the kings who ruled them and the prophets who tried to speak truth to power. Neither nation would endure. Samaria fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE; Judah to the Babylonian Empire in 587 BCE.

And the books of Kings have a clear opinion about these events: God judged Israel and Judah for their disobedience. That is why they fell. And that makes Solomon a critical figure.

He gets off to a great start. I Kings 3 opens with a story of the recently inaugurated king humbly asking God for wisdom commensurate with his new responsibilities. And then we get an anecdote intended to illustrate how wise Solomon was.

But it isn’t enough to celebrate Solomon without remembering how his story ends: a kingdom divided and first step taken on the path that will lead to ruin and exile.

Why did Solomon get it wrong? And if Solomon struggled, what are the prospects for people like me? What are the limits of wisdom?

That is the question I look forward to exploring this weekend. See you in church!

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Announcements

Christmas Special Offering Grants 2018

2018-10-11

Plymouth Church is humbled in gratitude for all that we have freely received from God. We continue to grow in generosity by giving away of our possessions that include food, clothing, furniture and money. We want this monetary abundance to flow out from Plymouth Church and into the hands of deserving organizations for people most in need and striving for social and/or economic justice.

It is in this spirit that the Plymouth Church Board of Benevolences is now accepting applications from Metro Des Moines area nonprofit agencies for its Christmas Special Offering gifts. These are modest gifts, where the amount gifted depends on the total Christmas collection and typically range from $3,000 to $5,000. These are a one-time occurrence and require a report back to Plymouth’s Board of Benevolences upon utilization of the funds, but no later than six months following receipt. This report should include the impact of the awarded gift and quantify persons served.

As a Just Peace Church, the Board of Benevolences seeks grant applications from non-profit organizations with projects that identify a need that will facilitate social justice for clients or an obstacle that restricts clients from obtaining economic stability. Gift applications for Plymouth’s 2018 Christmas Special Offering are due Nov. 2, 2018 and can be downloaded from the Board of Benevolences on the Plymouth Church website, or by clicking here.

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Blog News

25 Years of Open and Affirming at Plymouth Church!

2018-10-08

 

25 years! This weekend, Plymouth Church celebrates 25 years as an Open and Affirming Congregation.

We have a lot to celebrate and a lot to look back on with gratitude. At the Fellowship Forum on Sunday the 14th (10:10 a.m. in Greenwood) we will reflect on the O&A process and the ways our welcome of all has shaped work and witness. It will be a time to give thanks and gain insight into the journey so far.

But this weekend is not only about the past. We will also be looking to the future together, to ask about the challenges and opportunities of the next 25 years at Plymouth.

Dr. Jeffrey McCune will be with us all weekend long-preaching Saturday Night and Sunday morning and leading a workshop on Saturday afternoon.

When invited to work with Plymouth on celebrating 25 years of Open & Affirming and helping us to look towards the future, Dr. McCune created a workshop and preaching experience that will have us all “Minding the Margins”–i.e. thinking critically about how we extend our open and affirming welcome to ALL people–especially those who have been marginalized.

In Dr. McCune’s words, “This experience will attend to non-marginalized populations, interrogating ritual, privilege, and self-interest as obstacles in creating an “open and affirming” environment to all. Most importantly, this experience will begin critical conversations which help generate better practices for attending to issues of wherein folks can engage conversations and commitment to diversity, with greater ease and knowledge.”

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News

Blessing of the Animals 2018 – Photos by Warren Taylor

2018-10-08
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor
Plymouth UCC annual blessing of the animals —
Photos by Warren Taylor