2 Kings 6:8-23 July 25, 2010
Before we were pastors, I used to try to imagine what leading a church might be like. I always knew there would be highs and lows; that church life would cycle between the two and you’d have to just find the right rhythm, to ride that wave from crest to valley, up and down, week after week like a roller coaster.
…But a couple of months into pastoring, we learned not to look at church life like that.
Rather than cycling between the happy and the sad, more often we experience the highs and lows at the same time.
For example, we can have a week that’s packed full with Bible school fun and excitement every evening and a huge garage sale to cap it all off, but then during that same week we grieve with Bruce and Helen, and Kathy and Craig.
We grieve the tremendous loss of Eleanor Ruth; a life that was cut painfully short for no reason anyone can understand.
It’s an impossible tension to understand, these highs and lows at the same time.
When one of us grieves, we all grieve and when one of us celebrates, we all celebrate too–so to be honest, at the end of a week like this I don’t really know how to feel or how to act.
I end up a little miffed (is that a word you Ohioans are familiar with?). It means I end up mostly angry, sad, and indignant in spite of the reasons I have to celebrate.
I don’t know whether to cry, pout, or just turn my back and give up on faith.
We’ve come through a week during which life just stopped making sense.
It seems like we can’t trust in anything or anybody…so why not scrap the whole thing? The whole idea of faith in a God who loves us?
“Why don’t we just…let…go?”
I think it’s during times like these when we’re most vulnerable, you know?
And so I think it’s important during these times to be with people who know how to speak of God, to hear what they have to say.
In times of tragedy it’s important to be with people who are unafraid to live deep in the mystery–deep in that tension that faith provides, for there is wisdom there, and security.
For example, Mother Teresa was asked one time how she kept her faith in spite of all the suffering and misery she witnessed every day while working in Calcutta.
In the face of so much evil that she saw having its way in the world, why didn’t Mother Teresa just turn her back and give up on God?
She replied as only Mother Teresa could: She said, “He’s going to have a lot of explaining to do”.
She wasn’t satisfied with easy answers to the pain and the suffering that she encountered, but neither did she jump to the conclusion that faith must be a sham.
Instead, she lived her life in a way that confronted the reality of evil with the best ‘good’ she could muster. She was unapologetic about living in the mystery of a God who embraces deep pain alongside great joy.
“He’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
**May we seek to build that same kind of faith here in this place.*
This is the fourth sermon in a series of six about things that make for peace. And I’m finding that the more I preach about peace, the less sure I am that I understand it.
See, the longer I live, the more I am starting to think Peace is just another word for ‘Life’…complete with all it’s tension between the good and the bad.
the longer I live, the more I wonder if just maybe this whole big ball of creation that God set in motion–maybe it’s just some kind of stage for a cosmic dance between life and death…or hope and fear….or good and evil.
-Maybe all of this that we experience on the surface every day is really some kind of deeper conspiracy that we can’t understand…but we must experience…and we can only experience it by faith.
-Maybe the real actors in God’s creation story that is still unfolding–maybe the real actors are unseen.
All around us these actors are in position; but the plot of the story is beyond our grasp; and so we must confront the mystery or be overwhelmed by it.
At least that’s how it seemed to be in the scripture for this morning; for Elisha, and his servant, and the whole army of the king of Aram.
They had their roles to play in this cosmic drama, but only with eyes opened by faith was the true reality of the situation revealed.
There are three parts of this story that I want to emphasize this morning.
First, there is the reality of evil in the world. Israel and Aram were engaged in war. And I’m not going to suggest that one side was good and one side was evil–it’s never that simple.
But the act of warfare is itself an expression of evil.
So they were engaged in war, and it’s like I was saying–on the surface we experience one set of circumstances. We act and reflect and respond according to the best information we have available to us.
But on a deeper level there’s a dance going on that we can’t see with our physical eyes.
But just because we can’t see the deeper reality doesn’t mean it isn’t there!
There is a deep evil in the world. But there is also a God who intervenes through the faithful actions of His servants!
Elisha spoke what God had given him to speak. He was as faithful as he could be with the information God had given to him. It was a hopeful and sincere response to the revelation God had given him–a response that helped Israel avoid the ambushes, a response that helped save lives on both sides of the war.
God had given him words to speak–words that brought hope to God’s people even as the traps were laid.
But keep in mind that Elisha’s message was not crafted in some ivory tower that gave him a special kind of perspective. Instead, it was given to him in the trenches, as he lived in the same reality of war that the rest of the people were facing.
Be careful, then, when you choose to confront evil by speaking of God.
If you find yourself tempted to jump to easy answers without experiencing the pain, the best thing for you to do might be to just shut up and pray!
Elisha had been there; he spoke of God from the trenches.
And the content of his message says a lot. He didn’t try to explain away the war. He didn’t go to the king of Israel and say “Oh, well, God must have wanted you to get ambushed, but don’t worry I’m sure you’ll win the next battle!”. Neither did he pronounce gloom and doom on the whole enterprise.
Instead he just said what he had to say–helpful information that helped avoid further catastrophe.
He spoke of God and by his speech God intervened.
May it be so with us.
The second thing I wanted to lift out of this passage is that the unseen actors always guide the plot.
This is an easy one to lose track of in a world where we’ve convinced ourselves that the only things that matter are things we can see and measure and disect.
In fact, I’m more inclined to suggest the only things that truly matter are impossible to see or measure or disect.
They are the invisibles–things like love, and fear, and hope, and faith. These are the things that matter. These are the unseen actors that guide the plots we are entwined in.
These invisibles surround us on every side, yet like Elisha’s servant, we need our eyes opened to them. Otherwise we despair because of what we see on the surface.
God is working, especially in our hour of need. But how He works, what He’s doing, and why–more often than not, it’s just invisible.
There’s a reason I think this passage has a lot to do with sight–sight being taken, sight being given; and what’s going on behind it all.
It’s because those unseen actors always guide the plot, and vision or lack thereof can be seen as a gift from God.
See, when those unseen actors blinded the Arameans, that lack of sight kept them from killing Elisha and the Israelites. And in the end, when they could see their captors giving them food and water and sending them home in peace–that restored sense of vision brought about the end of the war!
The world is a broken place; full of good and riddled with evil. But still God intervenes through the actions of his people.
That brings me to the last thing I wanted to lift up from this passage.
The surest and most successful way to truly defeat our enemies is to feed them.
I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said that the only way to truly defeat your enemy is to make them your friend. But before Lincoln ever thought of that, this story taught God’s people that the only way to truly defeat evil is by sending your enemies home with full stomachs and a sense of good will.
The truth is that we have very little control over evil. Nothing we do is going to make evil go away completely.
But at the same time there is no darkness so black that a mere candle flame will not overcome it.
There are and always will be shadows of evil as long as we live in this world and in this life. But we are given the task to live in the mystery of those shadows, shining our light and speaking of God Peace by Peace.
So, to re-cap…God intervenes by the faithful actions of his servants. The unseen actors always guide the plot; and the surest way to defeat our enemies is to feed them.
These aren’t maybe the most hands-on tools I could have thought of to talk about this morning. They’re more like principles to take with you this week, as you go one step deeper into the mystery of God, accepting your gift of sight or lack thereof.