Pastor April's Sermon - Walking into the Mess - 10/28

On a cold and rainy night in September, around 2am, it was closing time here at Summit for our late night pancake breakfast known as Jericho Road.  As the rain turned into a downpour, about 15 college students gathered out in the Narthex trying to figure out how they were going to get home without getting soaked.  Looking at the girls in their skirts and high heels and the boys with no jackets - I loaded them into the Summit van and we started making the rounds around campus taking each of them home. As the van cleared out, the few students remaining started up a conversation about the upcoming election.  And one of the students who was sittin in the driver’s seat - looked at me and said.

“I have a confession to make.”

Now I never quite know what to expect when students begin a sentence this way.

This is not the first time this has happened at Jericho Road.  Something about the lateness of the hour and possibly the presence of other spirits in their body - the presence of a church and a pastor causes some students to need to confess the things that they’ve been carrying around with them.

And so with a very remorseful look on his face – this 19 year old young man looked at me and said.

I’ve been asked almost every day if I am registered to vote.  And every time I am asked – I tell them that I am.

But the truth is – I’m not.

I asked him – why he didn’t want to register to vote.

And his response was this

It’s all such a mess.  Both candidates.  The negativity.  The advertisements.  The people asking me questions about all the issues.  Our country is in a mess and  It’s just too hard.

It’s a mess.  And I just don’t want to walk into it.

Now, let’s be clear – before this honest young man got out of the van – I kindly and gently urged him to get his butt registered to vote.

But my heart understood exactly how he felt – because all of us in various seasons and points in our lives and for different reasons have felt exactly the same –

It’s a mess.  And I just don’t want to walk into it.

Today’s Scripture is one of the great and often undiscovered Old Testament gems.

And our interesting cast of characters – seem to also know something about walking into the mess.

At the center of the story is a man named Naaman – he is the lead and commander of the army for the Arameans, who are the enemy of the Israelites.  He is called a great man and he has found great favor with the King of Aram since he managed a great victory over the Israelites earlier.  And we also learn that Naaman has a problem, one that he hasn’t been able to solve on his own – he has leprosy – a skin disease that results in visible sores on one’s body, and eventually can lead to death.

But even in Aram, even in the land of the enemy, God appears to be present.

Naaman’s wife has a slave girl who was taken captive when they conquered Israel.

And she tells Naaman that there is, in fact, a prophet in Israel who could heal his leprosy.

To Naaman’s credit, he listens to the word of this young girl and he seeks the blessing of the King of Aram to travel to Israelite to seek this prophet and to seek healing.

And so the King of Aram sends him with gold and silver and garments and a letter.

Now the King of Israel is understandably suspicious and afraid of this request from an enemy and thinking it is a possible declaration of war – he tears his clothes.

Even amidst the complex political climate…  God appears to be present.

But the prophet Elisha, a known healer – hears of Naaman’s request and tells the King to send Naaman to him.

When Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house – Elisha doesn’t even come out of the house.  He sends a messenger to Naaman and tells him to go and wash in the river and he will be made clean.  Naaman is insulted and outraged.  He has come all this way and the great prophet won’t even come out and wave his magic

Even amidst a strong ego …  God appears to be present

But again – his servants are the ones who help him to understand.

You would’ve jumped through all the hoops if the prophet had come out and told you to do something complicated, right?  Why not just do what he is telling you – even though it is simple?

Underneath their question is a larger one – Are you really willing to trust – to have the simple faith that God can do this thing?

And so Naaman listens and finds himself healed.

Naaman is transformed.  He returns to Elisha’s house and with gratitude claims that there is no other God than the one in Israel.

He attempts to give Elisha all the gifts that he brought with him, but Elisha refuses.  This gift, this transformation – it is a FREE GIFT that Naaman simply must receive.

But Naaman is already thinking about the future.

He must now go back home.

And while he is convinced of the power of the God of Israel.

He will walk back into the land of Aram.

And so – new in his faith

He asks Elisha to allow him to take the soil of Israel back with him so that he can have a piece of this land and this place – this holy ground – present with him when he returns.

An he asks one more thing –

As the king’s right hand man, he knows that he will still be required to accompany his master into the Temple of Rimmon, the house of the storm God of the Arameans.

And when his master bows, he will be expected to bow as well.

And so he asks for forgiveness.

Because the situation that he walks back into is complicated and messy – but his heart will be focused on God.

And Elisha – in great wisdom and grace says only 3 words to him –

Go in peace.

Go in peace.

It appears that even in the land of Aram, inside the temple of Rimmon…  God will be present.

Go in peace.

The word for peace used here is “shalom” –

It means completeness, wholeness, and safety in the presence of God.

Go in peace – go with the knowledge that you are whole, complete and safe in the presence of God.

Go in peace.

Because where you go, God will be present.

These are the same words that Moses’ father in law said to him on the eve that he left Midian to go back to Egypt to take on the impossible task of freeing his people from Pharaoh.

Go in peace.

They are the same words that Eli spoke to Hannah, the young mother who was desperate for a son after being barren for years.  She poured out her heart to God and promised to devote the son to God’s service.  And Eli said to her…

Go in peace.

They are the words that Jonathan spoke to King David as he was fleeing for his life and seeking to make things right after he had greatly sinned.

Go in peace.

Go in peace, because wherever you go, whatever mess you walk into – God will be present there also.

Every day, we walk into places and spaces in our lives that we aren’t prepared for.

Every day, we walk into places of uncertainty where the answers are not always clear and we do not know what to say or what to do.

Every day, we walk into the mess.

And in every moment, God is present.

The choir sang to us today the heart of the message here – Wade in the Water.

God’s a gonna trouble the water –

There’s a dangerous theology that is often present in this country –

A dangerous theology that tells us that if life gets hard, that God must have abandoned us.

If things get messy, then God must not favor us.

If things get complicated and out of control, then God must be against us.

I don’t know where this theology came from – but I can tell you that it did not come from this book.

Because in every story – when the going gets tough, when life gets complicated, and when God’s people find themselves n the heart of the mess, God is always still present – and our task is not to run from the mess, but to walk into it.  With faith and with trust that we are not alone.

It’s why we can walk into that tough conversation that we’ve been avoiding.

It’s why we can walk into that relationship that we’ve been neglecting and seek to make things right.

It’s why we can walk into the place of humility and ask for help even though it’s the last thing in the world we want to do

And it’s why we will walk into the voting booth in these next 10 days and make sure our voice is heard in this election.

It’s a mess and we might like to avoid it

But God is in the mess.  God is still present, and so we do not have to be afraid.

There are a lot of well-meaning people who, at times like this in our country, will say to the people of faith – religion and politics – they don’t mix.

Our religion has nothing to do with how we vote in elections or what political party we belong to.

And that we ought not to even talk about them on a Sunday morning.

But politics and religion have always been connected.

What happens in our public life has always been connected to our spirituality.

It was true in Jesus’ time and it’s true today.

And we can’t pretend that it’s any other way.

Our faith in Jesus, God’s presence with us goes with us into the messes we face all the time and in the decisions we make to try to address those messes.  That’s how it’s always been –

that’s how the present begins to shape a different future.

it’s how things in our world have often changed for the better -

So

Wade in the water.

Walk into the mess.

And when you do -

Go in peace.

Go with the go with the knowledge that you are whole, complete and safe in the presence of God.

Because where you go, God will also be present.