Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why Die Here?

Matthew Henry said, God’s….time to appear for his people is when their strength is gone.[1]  The strength of the people of God was gone.  Years of siege by the Arameans had sapped every resource within the city walls.  Starvation was becoming the fate of God’s people in the northern kingdom of Samaria.  Some of them were even resorting to cannibalism. 
In our text, four lepers were sitting at the gate.  They were unable to go into the city because of their disease, and they were unwilling to leave, but living in abject fear as they waited for the enemy to strike; talk about a rock and a hard place!
   Twenty-first century culture (and particularly America) is like that today. We are feeding, cannibalistically on our heritage of righteousness; the backbone of Godliness has been under siege for decades.  Even the church, the bride of Christ is on the list of endangered species.  Turf wars dismantle local congregations one after another.  Like lepers sitting at the gates we await starvation or the enemies’ arrows. 
Let’s take a closer look at this incident in Israel’s history and see if there isn’t some help for us…
The Lepers Needed a Miracle
There is little doubt that the lepers were in the worst possible position.  They didn’t even have the city wall for protection between them and the Arameans.  They needed a miracle!  So did the people inside the city.
A miracle is what happens when the laws of nature are suspended by the Giver of those laws.  Many people would list some requirements for a miracle as:
·  the need for a miracle to exist,
·  faith that God would provide, and
·  a certain type of prayer. 
I suggest to you that the only necessary ingredient for a miracle to take place is God.  For instance, the creation itself was a miracle.  When God said, “let there be light” there were no people, no needs, and, therefore no prayer or faith.  God was all there was in the beginning.  God is all that’s necessary!
The Lepers Got a Miracle
Many people read this story of the lepers taking the faith-initiative; that it was their faith that provoked a miracle.  I say Not so!  The soldiers had fled the night before the lepers got there.  God had already done the miracle; the lepers were simply the first to witness the miracle.  Their courage was a God-given inspiration; they made a decision to do something different.
·  When Jesus changed the water into wine, no one saw the transformation – they only knew it for sure when some wine was poured into the cups and delivered to the master of the feast. 
·  When Jesus, the dead man, got up and out of the tomb, no one witnessed the resurrection.  He was gone before that stone rolled away! 
Miracles are always God’s business…and His alone!
There were actually two miracles on the day the lepers found the empty camp.  The first, certainly, was that the enemy soldiers had run away, literally, over nothing.  They heard things that went “bump” in the night…and there they go…all heels and elbows making for home as fast as feet will go!
The second miracle was the change in the lepers.  After plundering around for a while like a winner on one of those giveaway free shopping sprees in a toy store, the lepers began to think of all the hungry people back over the hill.  These lepers had their hearts genuinely transformed.
Actually, the miracle is that they couldn’t wait to get back to tell the good news.  You might say, not so, preacher; those lepers had gotten such a blessing; they just had to tell everyone.  Folks, I might agree with you, except for the fact that I have known many, many people who have been saved by the good news of the cross, yet are in no hurry to tell anyone.  In fact, many seem rather ashamed. 
Miracles are Not Good News to Everyone
If you recall from the first part of the story, Elisha had prophesied that the famine and siege were going to be over in one day – and the king’s messenger had said, surrrrre……I believe that!  If you recall, Elisha said, you will believe it…but you won’t like it…there will be no place at the table for someone with your unbelief.  When the lepers got back and began to tell about how the siege and the accompanying shortage of food were over, the stampede was on; the people trampled the king’s messenger to death right at the city gate.  The word of God is always completely accurate!
Is not my word like fire, says the LORD,
and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?                                                                                           Jeremiah 23:29 (NRSV)
Now, that is the story – the question is, what do we make of it?  And what do we do with it?  One thing is for certain, if the Bible is not speaking to us today, there is never a time when we ought to listen.  Bible truth never goes out of style. The Lord Himself even proclaimed, I am the Lord, I change not.[2]  He told us to acknowledge Him in all our ways,[3] not just back then…but always. 
Today…Let’s Hear (and do) God’s Word
The “seed” of this story is sown in every church, every family and every community.  From time to time – especially in hard times, economic frenzy, times of crisis – the seed of unbelief blossoms into a full-blown crop of strife.  This strife is the kind of contentiousness that nourishes division in the church and communities.  That, in turn, always keeps God’s people from their mission.
In many ways we are as the lepers and the city people of Samaria.  Hard-heartedness and individualism can lay siege to the church and wall us in like prisoners.  Anger and accusation can cannibalize a congregation; we wind-up fighting anyone and anything but the enemy.  You have, perhaps, watched a movie or read a book with this story line.  A team faces a formidable opponent.  Then, division happens, tempers flare – that team is defeated before the game begins!  It can be that way – and often is – in the church!
Enter God’s Miracle:  the Least of These
The lepers are often seen as the least-powerful of society.  Yet here they represent those among us who have managed to stumble across the truth that the enemy is really powerless to defeat us, if we will but come out from behind the walls and go loot the camp.  In the case of the Samaritans and Elisha, it took some trust to believe the enemy really was defeated.  They sent out a few chariots and drivers to check it out first.  Eventually all came to believe and enjoy the victory…except the unbeliever who got trampled in the stampede of faith. 
Here are the choices I believe this miracle lays open to us:  just two, Reconciliation or Death!  The real enemies of any church or community are anger and pride.  Spiritually-speaking, anger and pride are products of unbelief, and the father of that is Satan who revels in that atmosphere; but God is grieved whenever His children are at war with each other. 
Anger is like the enemy camped at our gates; it will hang around as long as there is no belief in a miracle called reconciliation.  As long as we have no trust in the table of reconciliation, we will be imprisoned with the cannibals.  We will devour each other until the doors eventually close. 
Will Rogers was a comedian who understood this need for reconciliation.  Once he was talking on stage about people having constant squabbles – he compared them to two snakes he saw once as he was walking along.  They each had bitten down on the other’s tail end – they formed a perfect circle.  He said it was an odd sight, but odder still was the fact that in just a second, sure enough they had swallowed each other.  And that’s what anger and pride do!

By the way…Will Rogers wasn’t THAT smart, he got his image from Paul:
15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.                 Galatians 5:15 (NRSV)

We are still only three weeks into this New Year.  (Perhaps some of your resolutions are still surviving?)  It’s not too late to add some peace resolutions to the list.  Here are three related “leper-at-the-wall” decisions that can help plunder the enemy’s camp in your life…

Get over your past….Learn to forgive 

There is not a single person here today who doesn’t have some hurts, unmet expectations or disappointments.  Things which have happened cannot be undone…but ruminating on them like a cow chewing the cud, makes it worse.  
It is so easy to become an expert complainer.  One man complained about the breakfast his wife cooked every morning.  If the eggs were scrambled, he complained he wanted fried; if they were fried, he wanted scrambled.  His wife finally got frustrated and brought him one scrambled and one fried.  His complaint was, “you fried the wrong egg”.  Forgive what’s been done to you.
Get over your anger…Learn to let God help you forget 
Too often Christian folks allow others to rob their joy.  Whether it be the Interstate joy-robbers…the ones who cut you off, or some other insignificant irritant in life, we need to get a hold on what is truly important. 
A good question I use for judging whether something needs to be put in the sea of forgetfulness is this:  Is what’s bothering me going to matter in 100 years?  In another church I once served there was a lady who was a McCoy.  She was a genuine descendant of the West Virginia McCoys; you might recall they had a slight falling out with the Hatfields?  She married into our family, became my step mother-in-law.  I asked Nanny once what the feud was all about.  She told me, I don’t think anybody remembers.  And it’s been over a hundred years!
Learn to forgive, AND forget, and then…

Get on with your mission…be God’s instrument of peace 

This may be the most important piece of the puzzle…just getting busy for God!  Without joy and a sense of forgiveness, it will not make a difference how right you are, or how diligently you work; God works through people who are ready to hear and follow His Spirit’s leading.  You can’t do that when all your energy is taken up with fighting fights that don’t matter.
Getting on with the mission requires that most critical step in a journey of a thousand miles – the first one.  My daughter Carrie and her husband have two small prophets at their house –Jonah, who is 2, and Micah, age 6.  After church last week they went to a Japanese steak house.  You know what the cooks do there, knife-juggling, vegetable throwing...it’s as much a show as it is a meal. 
Their chef was a master, flipping things up into his chef’s hat, blowing flames all over the grill, all the while engaging everyone around the seating area with chatter and jokes.  About 15 minutes into this delightful experience there was a slight pause, and in the dead silence, the kind that a 6 year-old is good at picking, Micah spoke for the crowd, would you just cook?  I’m starving!
The lepers outside the city gates knew their time was limited…and so is ours.  Don’t waste a moment on past anger…just get on with the mission!  It’s better than dying at the gate!
Father, the past and all it holds is in your hands. 
People and actions which have disappointed us are also yours to judge.  What you have placed in front of each of us is the mission…to step into it, live with it….and know that we are called to it. 
Thank you for the opportunity, the high privilege of walking with you and serving You by serving all peoples here and now. 
Grant us success in putting away the past which robs our joy, and putting away anger which would corrupt our present and destroy our future.  Lead us ever in the pathway of reconciliation with all people; both those like us, and those so different from us we cannot imagine how You’ll do it.
We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Quickverse Electronic Ed, Parson’s Technology.
[2] Malachi 3:6
[3] Proverbs 3:6

1 comment:

  1. Consider that the lepers rose at "twilight," precisely the time God moved over the camp.
    It seems God does do the miraculous, but not without our action.
    Is there a miracle that did not involve man?
    Thanks for writing this.