Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunday Sermon-February 12, 2006

Second Kings 5:1-17
Mark 1:40-45

“Mr. Sanders' Opus”
2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-45
February 12, 2006
Community of Grace Christian Church
New Brighton, MN

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm not one that sheds tears easily. I know friends who can watch a movie start bawling, while I remain dry. It's not that I'm not moved by movies, but I just don't cry a whole lot.

There have a been a few movies that do produce a little of the water works. One of those was a movie that came out a decade ago called “Mr. Holland's Opus.” It was the story of a young composer who is writing an opus and ends up treaching music at a California high school in the 1960s in order to pay the bills. The movie goes through 30 years of his life, as he teaches countless young people music and about life in general. At the end of the movie, Mr. Holland finds out that his job has been eliminated. He is lead into the gym where a huge crowd has gathered, many of them his students from the past three decades. Among the guests was the Governor of California, who was one his former students. Because of Mr. Holland, she pushed herself and got to where she was.

Mr. Holland may have thought that he wasted the past 30 years teaching in a West Coast high school, but the crowd of people around him in that final scene reminded him that he had made a difference in many people's lives.

Do you think you can make a difference in people's lives? There are days that I wonder. There are times when I think that I'm not that smart or organized or rich, or what have you to affect the course of history. I would have to guess that there are times that you all might feel the same way. Small, insignificant, flawed.

I can't speak for other cultures, but we Americans like things big. We drive big SUVs, live in big houses and eat big meals. All any of us has to do is drive down the road a bit to the Mall of America which basically your regular but on steriods.

This desire to be big makes itself known in the church as well. Mainline Protestants are constantly reminded of their declining memberships, and look with some jealousy at the mega churches that pack them in by the thousands and sometimes tens of thousands.

The contrary is that we think anything that is small is insignificant. People disdain small cars, believing them to be unsafe. We don't like small houses and tend to think small sizes of food are more suited for children than for an adult.

The thing is, the Bible tends to remind us that big isn't always better, that small isn't always week. It is sometimes the small things that do mighty works for God and make a difference in the world.

Our Old Testament text for today deals with Naaman. Now Naaman was the generalissimo or the kingdom of Aram. He had the ear of the king and was a masterful warroir. But this powerful man was hampered by a skin disease. He had probably went to all the doctors in Aram to see what they could do and they couldn't help him. Now in his household was a little Israelite girl who had been captured in a raid. She made a slave to serve Naaman's wife. You have to imagine one day Naaman is sitting in living room dejected, when the little girl walks into the room probably singing a song to herself. She looks at Naaman who is sitting there moping and says, “if only my lord were with the prophet in Samaria. He would cure him of his leperosy. Naaman could have told the slave girl to shut up since she was just that-a slave. It wasn't her place to talk with such boldness to her master. But Naaman didn't do that. Instead, he tells the king of this man in Israel. The king then sent a message to the king of Israel about Naaman and that the king needs to cure him.

Interesting, you'd think the King would have sent the letter to Elisha the prophet, instead of the king of Israel. Anyway, Elisha finds out, and tells the king to bring Naaman to him. “Let him come to me, so that he knows there is a prophet in Israel.” Elisha wasn't trying to make himself important, on the contrary, he was saying that Naaman was going to find out that the God of Israel is the God of all, including Naaman.

Naaman arrives at Elisha's house full of “bling” as they say. He was a man of means and wanted to pay Elisha handsomely. He probably expected Elisha to come out and bow since Naaman was such an imporant man. However, Elisha didn't even bother to come out and greet Naaman. He sends his servant to tell Naaman that he is to bathe in the Jordan river seven times and then he will be made clean.

Naaman got angry. It was bad enough that this Elisha person didn't bother coming out and greeting him, but then he tells him to bathe in less than welcoming river. Naaman was ready to take his entourage back to Aram.

It is the slave girl again that steps in and asks if Elisha had asked Naaman to do something hard, he would have done it, so why not try it. Again, Naaman could have ignored her, but he didn't. He went and bathed and was healed.

In Mark, we meet a man who also have leperosy. He is begging to be healed. Unlike Naaman, he was probably a poor person, and one that according to Jewish law had to be separated from the rest of society because of his condition. Jesus was filled with compassion (or anger as some translations say) and healed the man. Jesus had told him not tell anyone but to go show himself to the preist. But he goes and tells people anyway. How could he not? He had been healed, brought back into community.

The decisive characters in both stories are people who by the world's standards were considered unimportant. The slave girl was a nobody and yet it was her prodding that allowed Naaman to be cleansed. The leper in Mark was also a nobody and yet he shared his story of healing with others and they came to Jesus seeking healing.

These passages are important for us to remember here at Community of Grace. I don't know about you, but there are times I fret that we aren't big enough and wallow in doubt about how small we are. Pastors do that at times, at least this pastor. However, God reminds us that even though we are small in number, we have made a difference in the world. This church is the first congregation in the Upper Midwest Region of the Christian Church that openly welcomes gays and lesbians into the community of faith. I've heard the stories from many of you that were estranged from the church and are now back worshipping God with others. We raised over $1000 for the Minnesota AIDS Project, given clothes to the Hallie Q. Brown Foodshelf, sent towels to those affected by Hurricane Katrina and many other acts of kindness. There are larger churches with bigger budgets that don't do nearly as much as we do. Mission is supposed to be at the heart of the big c Church and we certainly try to live that out.

There is much to do. We not only need to do acts of justice outside the walls of this church, but we also need to tell and live lives that witness to the Christ who heals. Like the man healed of leprosy, we need to go out and tell others that Christ has healed us from sin and that God loves us all with no exceptions. The United Church of Christ pastor and writer, Anthony Robinson says that mainline Protestants tend to follow Jesus command not to tell anyone about what difference God has made in our lives. This is one time when we might have permission to “disobey.” There are people out there who have been shut out of the church for one reason or another, thinking that God hates them. I am reminded of the pastor who once told me a member of the congregation was mad at him for not telling her son who was gay that he was hellbound. Who will tell this young man the good news that God loves him and so do we?

We are called to be healers just as Jesus was a healer. Jesus calls imperfect people to do this mighty task. You might say we are what the late Catholic writer Henri Nouwen called the “wounded healers.” We aren't called to be perfect or to have all the answers, just to be present and bring healing in the world.

Now, you might think that all this talk of God using the small and insignificant is just the stuff of nice Bible stories and has nothing to do with real life. Oh, really? Remember that it was a seamstress by the name of Rosa Parks who sparked the modern civil rights movement for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. It was a young pastor named Martin Luther King who became on the movements leaders. Raoul Wallenberg was just a Swedish diplomat in World War II and yet he saved many Jews from the death camps as did Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist. It was the common everyday people in Eastern Europe who took to the streets and brought down the Iron Curtain. It was an Anglican bishop by the name of Desmond Tutu who put a face on the anti-aparthied movement in South Africa that lead to aparthied's demise. One person can make a difference.

Mr. Holland thought he had wasted his life as a teacher when he could have been a great composer. But he found out that he had more impact as a teacher than he ever imagined.

I want to see Community of Grace grow in numbers. I want to see us have more people in worship. But I want God to constantly remind me that it isn't simply numbers that matter, but our impact, that's what matters.

The tagline for “Mr. Holland's Opus” goes, “It's not about the direction you take. It's about the direction you give.”

This church is about living Christ's message of welcoming every one, no matter where they are in life. That is the direction we give, even with only 8 members.

That is our opus. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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