Monday, February 16, 2009

God's Gettin' Messy

Sermon on Internship, February 15, 2009

I love stories. I really do. I especially love stories in which I can find myself; stories with characters with whom I can relate. And I can always relate really well with people who mess up. People who are imperfect and do stupid things. And the Bible is full of stories like this. Naaman and the Jordan is a perfect example.

It is in this story today that we learn that our God works through messy situations. It’s in this messiness that God works. No matter what obstacles or hard-headedness or miscommunication gets in the way, God overcomes them.

And this story is full of obstacles, isn’t it? It’s kind of a messy story.

There’s Naaman, a powerful general, not a Hebrew, has leprosy, and so he travels all the way to the land of Israel – where, by the way, his people had taken and enslaved at least one Hebrew girl, who served him – and then is offended when he’s not treated like a king.

There’s the king of Aram, who mistakenly believes that the king of Israel is the one who can cure his general Naaman, so he sends Naaman with an amazing array of gifts to win over the king.

There’s the king of Israel, who thinks the letter asking for a healing is a call to arms – interesting, since the writer of 2 Kings tells us that it was by the foreign Naaman, not the king of Israel, that the Lord had brought victory to Aram – and is probably mustering up his men for war by the time the message from Elisha arrives.

There’s even Elisha, who, with this powerful army just outside his front door, tells a messenger to tell Naaman to go wash in the Jordan. He can’t come himself – he’s a bit busy.

These are all characters who get in the way, who mess things up – they are obstacles to grace winning out, to a person being healed, to the glory of God being shown before all.

Yet God works in this messiness. God is at work even though people are messing up. And we can see it in the girl from the land of Israel. As fascinating as Naaman is, I think the award for most intriguing character goes to the girl from the land of Israel, the servant of Naaman’s wife. The phrase “girl from the land of Israel” is repeated, maybe to clarify that she is merely a girl; or that she comes all the way from Israel, a place way out there, much farther than U.S. 41 – I mean it’s far away. Or maybe the phrase is repeated because it’s a nameless girl – she doesn’t even have a name worth remembering.

Yet she is a complex, beautiful character in this already fantastic story. She refuses to believe that God’s work is over – even though she was taken captive – we call that ‘slavery’ – she continues the work of God. Forcibly taken from her home, from everything she knows, she continues to believe, to hope…to have faith.

God works in messy situations. Whether we are like the king of Aram, and too often misunderstand the situation, and do something, well, stupid. Or maybe we’re the king of Israel, taking something the wrong way and jumping to dangerous conclusions. We might be Naaman, letting our egos and prejudices get in the way.

It doesn’t really matter, though. Despite our best efforts, we’re going to mess up. We’re going to create obstacles. Maybe that’s why we can relate to well with the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures – they are flawed, imperfect human beings, just like us. Yet God overcomes those obstacles – every time.

It’s more than God working in messy situations, however. Even God starts getting messy, y’all. And it goes everywhere. It’s Grandma God, at the Thanksgiving table, with a huge bowl of grace and mercy and love and forgiveness, and she’s doling it out with a huge ladle, and she’s gettin’ messy.

It’s getting all over our Sunday-best, and there’s no amount of laundry detergent that can get these stains out. It’s staining us and our lives, forever. It’s not coming out.

And when this starts to pour out, when Grandma gets messy with her love and forgiveness, we see normal, everyday things, become holy and amazing. God’s mercy and grace is so messy, it spills out, drenching us and getting us messy, too.

When God starts getting messy, we see incredible things happening.

We see Naaman washing in the Jordan – anyone ever been to the Jordan? It ain’t blue and beautiful…it’s kinda murky and muddy. It’s a messy little river. Not the kind of place you’d pick to take a bath. Yet Naaman steps into it, and is healed. Normal, everyday water turns into a Word of healing.

We see a star in the sky becoming a bearer of the Most High God. We see our words spoken to loved ones who are in the hospital or sick become God’s own words of comfort, spoken to our ancestors, to God’s people throughout the millenia; spoken to us, today.

We see people doing everyday things that become holy and sacred with God’s messy grace getting on them forever. Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat, and her humanity, taking something simple and making it sacred. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks the words of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, D.C., and these words become more than just a hollow pronouncement – “All people are created equal.” They become holy words of a God of justice and equality.

We see ourselves come into this sanctuary, and speak words from a cranberry red book. Yet they are so much more – they are God’s holy words to us. It’s Grandma spilling out into our worship, shaking hands with us during the peace, calling on us to be her people, inviting us to her table.

God’s gettin’ messy, y’all, and it’s a mess I want to get into, too. It’s a word that spills out, a word of overwhelming grace and unending mercy.

And today, we see it everywhere look. Our God works in the messy situations. And when God gets messy, look at what happens: normal, dirty water becomes life-giving. Stars in the sky become bearers of the Most High God. Wine and bread become salvation.

God’s gettin’ messy, y’all.

Amen to that.