St. Luke’s UMC
June 28, 2020
Faith Don’t Fail Me Now
When You’re Under Siege
2 Kings 7:3-20
Today we complete our series Faith Don’t Fail Me Now. Let me just say I have lived with a fair amount of consternation about whether we should have stuck with this series in light of the death of George Floyd. Clearly a movement has arisen in America, and several weeks ago I felt we should abandon our plans and address how the church should deal with racism. I didn’t do that, and I’m glad. These stories convey a message of hope that is very relevant to what we are going through. Perhaps more so than we knew at the time we chose them. Who knows, maybe God had something to do with that.
But I’m also glad because we would have had no way of speaking more fully to the ways we are going to respond as a church. The last thing I wanted to do was give a lot of passionate talk about dismantling racism only to see us lapse back to life as usual without looking at how we can be more engaged and different. Its important to me that we don’t just sound good and look good on this topic, but that we be good in what we say and do. So next month Pastor Jevon is going to be our lead preacher sharing a series in July called Unscripted: The Blessing in the Unexpected. It is going to be so inspirational your Uncle Harry who can’t stand church will thank you for inviting him to watch. Scouts honor!
Then, in August we are going to come back and do a series on biblical justice and what it means to be a church that actively resists racism. That will allow us to prepare more ways to be involved and engaged in this effort and therefore make it a much better, richer series.
Now the question on everyone’s mind is, “So will we be back in church by then?” And today I am excited to make the following announcement. It is this: stay tuned for an important announcement coming Monday July 12. We have a plan for reopening church. But we are watching trends in virus spread and want to make sure we are as safe as we can be. So we are going to watch for two more weeks and then make our announcement. So tune in July 12.
Now, back to today’s story. We have been looking at events in the lives of the prophets Elijah and his successor Elisha. Our last story today is a strange one to be sure. It actually begins much earlier than where the reading started today. The chapter before we learn that the King of Aram has laid siege to Samaria which was the capitol of Israel at the time. The city is surrounded and the siege goes on for so long that resources become scarce. Listen to the way its described: “famine in Samaria became so great that a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.”(2 Kings 6:25)
Now I don’t know what was the going rate of a donkey’s head or dove’s dung. In fact, I don’t know why people were buying donkey heads or dove dung, but these must have been popular commodities, almost like a gallon of milk or pound of hamburger, something many people would recognize what normal costs should be. Obviously these prices were exorbitant. This was like saying the Dow Jones dropped 20%. That’s how we know it was bad.
But then things get described in human terms. A woman sees the king walking on the top of the wall and she yells out to him for help, because that is what you would expect, the king to be helpful in a crisis.
But the king says, “I can’t help you. What can I do? Call on the Lord to help.” But then he asks what her complaint is. I shared this part of the story several weeks ago. She said to him, “This woman made a pact with me that if we eat my son today, we will eat her son tomorrow.” So we cooked my son. But the next day when I said, ‘Now, let’s cook your son.” She hid him and betrayed me.”
You see what the Bible did? It took a problem that people at first just measured in terms of economic loss as if that was the most important. What we own, what we can buy, our security has been shaken. But then the Bible reveals the deeper problem, that people are willing to turn on each other and devour one another. That is the real problem.
So the king says, “So may God do to me and more, if the head of Elisha stays on his shoulders.” (6:31) Why is the king getting mad at the prophet? Because the king doesn’t want to be blamed. Everyone is looking to the king for help, and he’s feeling helpless, so he points at Elisha as if to say, “If he were doing a better job as prophet, none of this would have happened!”
So the king sends someone to hunt down Elisha. When he finds him, Elisha declares, “Hear the word of the LORD: thus says the LORD, Tomorrow about this time a measure of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” (7:1) In other words, the stock market is going to explode by this time tomorrow.
So it continues: Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “Even if the LORD were to make windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?” But h(Elisha) said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it.” (7:2)
In other words, if you aren’t willing to hope, you miss out on where hope can lead.
Now, all of that has just been prelude. That’s just the introduction. I know some of you are worried you’ll miss lunch but hang on, you won’t miss it!
The story takes a major turn. It focuses now on four lepers inside the city. Four nobodies. Four people everyone else avoided. They say to each other. They are starving. They know they can’t last long. They say, “Why should we sit here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there; but if we sit here, we shall also die.” Pause there for a moment. Notice they talk about the city as if they are outside of it. That’s because they are. Lepers could not come inside the city gates. They were diseased. They had the virus. So they were quarantined. They had to live off the scraps people would give them. Now, there are no scraps coming. So they are starving to death and think about going into the city, but they will just starve to death there. So they say, “Therefore, let us desert to the Aramean camp; if they spare our lives, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.” (7:3-5)
I love these guys. They say, “All the enemy can do is kill us.” There’s death here. There’s death in the city. The worst it could be there is death. “Here a death, there a death, everywhere a death, death.” Why should we sit here until we die. We cannot do nothing.
I don’t know who I’m talking to do today, but I believe someone watching knows what its like to sit where those lepers sat. You know what its like to get defeated. You know what its like to face conditions that make you give up, that wear you out, that defeat your spirit and your morale. That make you look at everything you do and see emptiness, as if there is no use trying. But you know, that there is no hope in that. You know that the only way out of where you are is to do something.
Its easy to allow the conditions you see make you quit. But we need to remember that it’s the conditions we can’t see that are greater. The conditions we can’t see are always greater than what we can’t see because that is where God resides. God resides in the unseen. God resides in what can be. I don’t know what the future holds but I know the One who holds the future. And only as we step toward hope do we open ourselves to better conditions than the ones we face right.
Some years ago I heard Bob Russell speak. He had been the longtime senior pastor of Southeastern Church in Louisville, one of the largest congregations in America. He told about the fundraising campaign they did when they moved to their current location. It was the largest goal he’d ever tried to raise. The economy hit a recession and they were struggling to meet the goal. He started to become anxious. They doubled down on making sure the mission of the campaign was communicated throughout the church. Even children’s Sunday School classes talked about doing whatever they could to help make room for others and welcome people into the church.
A single mom in the congregation had two children. They came home from church one Sunday and said, “Mom, what are we going to give to the church?” She knew they couldn’t afford to give anything. They were barely making ends meet. She started to get mad at the church. She almost called the children’s director to say, “Quit brainwashing my children!” She at least wanted to call Bob Russell and say get of this campaign thing.
But she paused. She thought, “Wait a minute. My kids are excited about church. That’s what I’ve always wanted.” So she chose a different tact. She would use this as an opportunity to teach kids about finances and budgeting. She even prepared with scripture and how the Bible says God doesn’t expect us to give beyond our means. What she wasn’t ready for is the lesson her kids would give.
As she explained this all, her children persisted. After listening to all the reasons, they said, “But mom, we can’t just do nothing?” Is there something we can go without? She said, “Well, if you can find it, I’ll support it. We have to pay rent. We have to pay for our water and electric. We have to buy food and gas for the car.” Then one of the said, “What about TV? Do we have to pay for that?” The mother wondered what was going on. Most parents can’t get their kids to stop watching television and here her kids are volunteering to do this for the church.” They asked, “What if we stop paying our cable bill and use that to give?”
A few days later she saw the pastor at the church and told him this story. He teared up and thanked her. He remembered that this was the real goal of the church. Not raising money, but what God does in people’s hearts. He asked her to share that story on Sunday morning. After she did, he explained his own anxiety and how he was able to let that go. This single mom and her kids, reminded him of the power of faith and what God can do.
Now watch this. Following that service the pastor started getting contacts from the heavy hitters in the church, CEO’s, bank owners, wealthy members. They said, “Bob, you got me today! Here’s my pledge of a million dollars. Others said, “Here’s my pledge of 5 million.” The church surpassed their goal.
Bob Russell says he could have never done that. No matter how much he preached. What did it was a single mom and her two children. If you go to that church today you will find a massive, sprawling campus that looks almost like a college. Bob Russell would say its there because of a single mom whose kids said, “We can’t just do nothing.”
God used four lepers to spare a whole city; people at the bottom end of a society that measured its greatness in terms of economics; people no one would have considered significant. God used them because they said, “We can’t just do nothing. Let’s go to the enemy camp. The worst they can do is kill us. We are going to die if we don’t.” So they went. And discovered what they didn’t know at the time. During the night God caused the Aramean army to hear the sound of chariots and horses. Believing they were going to be attacked, they fled and went back to Aram leaving everything behind.”
So these lepers arrive in their camp, and they see food that was left cooking on grills, and fresh clothes to wear, and water jugs and wine. And they start celebrating. I mean they are trying on garments and stuffing their face and saying, “We won the lottery!” And suddenly, one of them says, “Stop! This isn’t right. People back in Samaria are dying while we’re partying. They need to be told. This is a day of good news. We have to tell them.”
Now, this isn’t in the story, but I can imagine one of them saying, “Why? Those people don’t care about us. We’ve always been second class citizens to them. They throw us scraps to eat. Let them die.” But they don’t say that. They race back to declare what God has done, and Samaria was spared.
Over the years of my ministry I have experienced many occasions when people in the church see a human need that troubles them. They see people who are hurting or suffering in some way, and often it’s a situation others aren’t noticing. Sometimes its an issue of justice. There is a wrong happening in society, but it seems so big, but they can’t let go of this feeling that something ought to be done. It’s just that they feel too inadequate or insignificant. They aren’t rich or powerful. So they say, “Somebody ought to do something about…whatever the issue is that’s burdening them.” And whenever I hear that, I feel like God would say, “Wait a minute, ‘You’re somebody. You’re somebody I can use. I don’t have to have rich people to accomplish my purpose. I don’t have to have powerful people or people in charge because the world gave them a title.” No, all God needs is someone who says, “I can’t just do nothing.”
That’s all God needs. Read throughout the Bible how God saves communities, cities, nations. It’s usually through insignificant people. People who could easily be discounted by the world’s standards, but people who get burdened with the thought, “I can’t just stay here.”
How did God deliver the Israelites out of slavery? Because a slave woman couldn’t just do nothing when Pharaoh threatened to kill her child. She put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile where he was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter who named him Moses.
How did David become king of Israel? Because he watched Goliath making fun of the Israelite army and their God and said, “Isn’t somebody going to do something? I can’t just sit here and do nothing, and with just a slingshot he won a battle.”
A lot of people were hungry one day and a little boy offered his lunch, and with that Jesus fed 5,000 people!
God doesn’t need a lot of money. God doesn’t need high ranking officials. God just needs individuals no matter who they are to say, “I can’t just do nothing.” And with whatever they’ve got God will change lives and change the world.
What does that mean for you today? Maybe you are dealing with a debilitating habit. Its killing you, and you know that you can’t just stay there. You have to do something. Just pick up the phone, call a doctor. Call a friend. It doesn’t guarantee everything will instantly be alright, but it does mean you are stepping in the direction of possibility.
--Are you out of work and finding it hard to seek new employment? You can’t just stay there. Step toward possibility.
--Have you experienced loss and you just want to give up? You can’t stay there. Step toward possibility.
--Are you overwhelmed by the losses of others? The toll of this virus? The impact of racism? And do you quickly shrink back because you think, “what can I do?” But you know that just doing nothing is not an option. Don’t focus on the enormity of the problems. Just focus on what you can do. The little things you can say, the ways you can serve, the places where you’re just showing up says you care. Never underestimate how God can use you.
God can do anything with someone who says, “I cannot do nothing.”
The first time I really paid attention to this story was many years ago when I was an associate pastor. We had a retired pastor who filled in one year as an interim senior minister. Christmas fell on Sunday that year and he preached this story about four lepers who were about to die and go into the enemy camp to see if they might survive.
I sat there with my mouth open like, “What are you doing? Preach the Christmas story! This guy has taken leave of his senses!!” But then he came to the statement the lepers made when they discovered the enemy was gone and left all their belongings behind. They were enjoying it when suddenly they recalled all the people in the city who were starving and dying, and they said, “This is a day of Good News! But we must not keep it to ourselves. We must tell them.” And that’s when he turned the story…