Tag Archives: 2 Kings

Josiah’s Reform (Advent I) – November 29, 2015 (NL Week 12)

Sunday’s Reading:
2 Kings 22:1-23:3

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Every so often over the past few years, I have found myself really missing Gettysburg Seminary, where I studied before moving to Falls City in June of 2011. I could talk about a lot of different things that I miss – the amazing friends that I made there, the learning environment, the sense of history, the proximity to places like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore – but one of the things I’ve missed the most, particularly this fall, was the fact that at Gettysburg I lived in rented housing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here too – God has placed me and our family in a wonderful community, and I’m getting to share this amazing ministry with all of you – but truthfully, there are some times that owning a house can be a real pain. You have to keep up with all those little maintenance needs that pop up all over the place, and when you don’t it can cost you a lot of time and energy and money to take care of them. More than that, though, it seems that there’s something about the relationship between the condition of our house and the general feeling we have about our lives that is much more acute than it was when we were renting from the Seminary.

I thought about that relationship quite a bit this week as I reflected on the text before us on this First Sunday of Advent. Today’s Scripture reading begins with King Josiah’s need to catch up with deferred maintenance on the house of the Lord, the temple in Jerusalem built by his predecessor Solomon. The temple had fallen into some disrepair over the centuries, owing in part to the rapid succession of kings who had found the condition of the temple a matter of more or less importance depending on their commitment to the covenant that God had made with their people. In fact, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that the physical state of the temple largely mirrored the spiritual state of the people. That seems to be the case, at least, as the reign of Josiah begins. One of his most recent predecessors, Manasseh, is described by the writer of the Book of Kings as one of the wickedest men ever to rule over Judah, and by all accounts his son Amon wasn’t much better.

By the time Josiah takes over, the house of the Lord is in need of some serious work, and this king is determined to make sure that the needed work is completed so that God’s dwelling might be preserved for the worship and service of God’s people. If I’m right about the state of the temple mirroring the state of the people’s relationship with God, then I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that the “home improvement” project going on at the temple results in the “discovery” of the book of the Law. It seems fitting, in fact, that the renewal of God’s house would lead to the renewal of the people’s covenant with the one who had chosen to dwell among them. While both of these things are obviously important, it’s pretty clear that the writer of Kings sees Josiah’s recommitment to the law to be a much more significant event. After all, the people of Israel and Judah lived in relationship with God long before there was a temple in Jerusalem, and that relationship has continued long after the destruction of the temple centuries later. All of this is possible because of the preservation of the law, this gracious body of instruction that reminds those who read it and submit themselves to it what God desires for their lives. Where that instruction is absent, it is easy to stray from the path that God has set before God’s people; where it is cherished and made a part of the life of individuals and communities, God continues to direct the people to pursue what is good and right.

As Christians, of course, we are part of that people, and the same principle that applied to those who lived in Josiah’s day is also important for us to remember. Where the word of God remains  at the center of our lives, we are gifted with the ability to live the way that God desires; where we depart from it, we make it more difficult to discern God’s power and presence in our lives. What makes our situation different from Josiah’s is that we have a different relationship with the word. During Advent, we focus our minds and hearts on the coming of God’s Word into our world in the person of Jesus. Where Josiah’s life (and the lives of those around him) were changed by the discovery of the scroll that contained the Law, our lives (and the life of our world) has been changed by the advent of the Word-made-flesh, the one who spoke creation into being and then determined that he would become identified with that creation so closely that he would dwell among us in our likeness. Where Josiah’s reform consisted of restoring the instruction of God to the center of community life, our constant reformation as individuals and as a community consists of God’s decision to take up residence among us in the person of Jesus.

It is important to note, of course, that Josiah’s discovery and ours have something in common – neither of them has the effect of eliminating the experience of hardship and struggle. Despite Josiah’s best efforts – and despite the enthusiastic response made by the people at the public reading of the Law – Judah was still subjected to the humiliation of exile, the pain of being separated from the land that they called home. By the same token, the knowledge that Jesus dwells among us and promises to come again does not prevent any of us from experiencing heartache or sadness or suffering. In both cases, the presence of the law – or of the Word – helps us to make our way through times of suffering and loss with confidence in God’s goodness and love for us and for the whole creation.

These are fitting lessons for the beginning of this season of reflection and preparation. In Advent, we are more aware than ever that the world is not the way that God desires it to be, and yet we are also made aware of God’s promise to come again to make all things new and to restore everything to God’s design. As we continue to move through this season, let us pray that God will make us more aware of Christ’s presence in our midst. Let us pray that we might be freed from the stress and strain of life to focus our attention on Christ and the way that Christ calls us to live in relationship with God and with one another. Finally, let us pray that we might be inspired by Josiah to commit ourselves to the Word that forms us to be God’s people in the world, so that we might always be ready to welcome that Word in faith, hope, and love. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Elisha Heals Naaman (All Saints’) – Sunday, November 2, 2014 (NL Week 9)

Sunday’s Readings:
Complementary Text: Matthew 8:2-3
Preaching Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Today’s text is in many respects well-summarized by the title on our lectionary inserts: “Elisha Heals Naaman”. Elisha was the prophet of the Lord, a task he inherited from his teacher, Elijah. He was called to proclaim the word of the Lord to the king of Israel, which was the nation comprised of the northern ten tribes that broke away from the kingdom of Judah after Solomon died in 922 BCE. The text before us today takes place around 100 years after the division of Israel and Judah, and concerns the great healing miracle that Elisha was able to accomplish for Naaman, a well-known and wildly successful general serving the army of Aram, Israel’s neighbor to the north. Naaman, despite his many great victories, was held back by the fact that he suffered from a debilitating skin disease. Our text calls it leprosy, but in reality it could have been one of any number of other diseases of the skin that often led people to ascribe sinfulness or uncleanness to those who suffered from them. After hearing about the healing power of the prophet Elisha from one of his servants, an Israelite girl captured in a raid, Naaman sent money to Jehoram, the king of Israel, in return for the healing that he expected to receive. Jehoram, of course, had no idea how he was going to be able to heal Naaman, and worried that the whole thing was nothing more than a pretext for the king of Aram to declare war on Israel. Elisha heard about his concern, and summoned Naaman to come to him, rather than to the king. When Naaman arrived, Elisha sent a messenger with his instructions, and the general was furious that he was not accorded the respect he felt he deserved. It wasn’t until Naaman’s servants pointed out how ridiculous his anger was that he followed the prophet’s instructions, washed seven times in the Jordan, and was cured of his leprosy.

I mentioned that the title given to this story is in many ways a good summary of the story, but in one very important aspect, it falls short. While most of the action in this story seems to center on the most powerful and influential figures – Naaman, the famous general; Elisha, the renowned prophet; Jehoram, the king of Israel; and Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram – a closer look at the narrative reveals that it is, in fact, the unnamed servants that move the story forward and help make this miracle possible. Consider this: without the Israelite girl who first told Naaman’s wife about the prophet Elisha, he may very well have suffered from leprosy for the rest of his life. Or consider this: Elisha never speaks directly with Naaman; instead, an unnamed messenger delivers the prophet’s message for him. Or, perhaps most importantly, consider this: when Naaman is ready to pack up in disgust and return to Aram without heeding the prophet’s call to go and wash, his servants dare to speak to him in his anger and give him that sage advice: “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’?” (2 Kings 5:13).

I think it’s significant that on this All Saints’ Sunday we hear a story of God’s power being displayed to the nations, and that the most compelling testimony to that power is made, not by the powerful and important, but by those who in most circumstances would be overlooked. I’ve mentioned often that I think we are too quick to use the language of saints for people that we regard as extraordinary, and too slow to use it for ourselves, especially when we regard ourselves as being decidedly ordinary. As we contemplate the power of the gospel this day, and as we call to mind the body of Christ that transcends time and space, I’d like to share with you this reflection on the significance of the communion of saints:

To those who know a little of Christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well-remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of entirely obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves – and sins and temptations and prayers – once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by men [sic]. Yet each of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repented and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the Eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew – just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill-spelled ill-carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor – ‘Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much.’ Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbors who saw all one’s life were sure one must have found Jerusalem! What did the Sunday Eucharist in her village church every week for a life-time mean to the blessed Chione – and to the millions like her then, and every year since? The sheer stupendous quantity of the love of God which this ever repeated action has drawn from the obscure Christian multitudes though the centuries is in itself an overwhelming thought.*

Brothers and sisters, today we hear the story of our God acting powerfully in the life of a complete stranger, bringing healing and wholeness where before there had been suffering and shame. We call to mind our kindred throughout time and space who were joined to Christ and freed for lives of loving service as they heeded the call to “wash and be clean.” We rejoice as eight remarkable young men and women prepare to gather with us and all the saints around the Table of our Lord to receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We delight in the Word that sustains us in our time of need, calms our doubts and fears, and gives us the strength to be Christ’s body in the world each new day. Most of all, we celebrate the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power of his resurrection has won abundant and abiding life for us and for all the saints – past, present, and future. On this all Saints’ Sunday, as we remember those saints who have been so important to us – people who nurtured us and helped us to know and experience the love of God – let us also stand in awe of God’s grace in the lives of all those saints, both known and unknown, who helped the deposit of faith come to us, and let us celebrate the great gift of knowing God’s love through them so that we might pass it on to others. Thanks be to God! Amen.

*Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, Adam and Charles Black (London: 1945), 744-45.