Monday, October 14, 2013

It All Started with a Little Girl

    Greg Anderson, in Living Life on Purpose, tells a story about a man whose wife had left him. He was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God--he found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.

    In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, "Momma, why don't we say our prayers here?" The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, "Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?" And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, "Bow your heads." Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen."

    That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, "We should do that every morning."

    "All of a sudden," said our friend, "my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl's example, I started to thank God for all that I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn't have. I started to be grateful."

    And it all started with a little girl–a little girl who wasn’t afraid to share and live her faith.

    Isn’t it amazing how one such little thing from a little person can change things dramatically.  In our Old Testament lesson from 2 Kings this morning, a little girl had an even bigger impact on a much larger scale.

    The king of Aram had a very good friend and leader in his army, a man named Namaan.  Now, Namaan had the great misfortune of contracting leprosy.  In that day and age, this was a horrible ordeal because not only did you have a disease, but you were literally kicked out of society until you were healed or you died.  Namaan didn’t like facing this reality, and he wanted to be cured.  However, nothing seemed to be working.

    One day, a little girl, who had been captured from the Israelites overheard what was going on with her master.  She made what seemed like an innocent comment, but it was a comment grounded and rooted in the faith she had been raised in.  “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 

    This little girl knew about the Lord.  She knew about the Lord sending prophets.  She knew about the prophet Elisha who was in Samaria, and she knew that the prophets were able to work deeds of power and mercy in the name of the Lord.  And what were the consequences of this little girl’s words?  What was the fallout of her sharing her faith?

    The wheels began to turn.  Namaan told the king about what the Israelite slave girl had said.  The king put together a huge bounty, and sent it along with a letter to the king of Israel.  “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 

    I find this next part terribly interesting.  Remember, a little slave girl, living in captivity says, “If my lord were with the prophet who lives in Samaria, he could be cured of his leprosy.”  And when Namaan is brought before the king of Israel, what does the king say?  How does the king react?  Dare I ask, “Where is the king’s faith?”  For the king of Israel has a very strong reaction.

     7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”  Do you find this as interesting a contrast as I do?  Do you find it intriguing that the little slave girl knows the Lord, knows of the Lord’s prophet, and believes the prophet can heal her master WHILE the leader of Israel doesn’t even think of Elisha, believes he is supposed to cure Namaan, and believes the king of Aram is trying to pick a fight with him?  One of these folks is living by faith and the other is living relying only upon himself.  The powerless one relies on God and believes in the power of God while the other believes only in the power he has and doesn’t even think to turn to God.  I find this most interesting.

    The king of Israel has a freak out session, but word eventually gets to Elisha, and Elisha sends word to the king.  “Send the Aramean to me.  I’ll take care of everything.”

    And he does.  Wielding God’s power, Elisha commands Namaan to go wash in the Jordan river.  After some hemming and hawing, Namaan does what he is told and is cured.   Upon returning to Elisha, Namann says, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”  The commander of the army of the Arameans is brought to belief in the Lord, and it all started with a little girl.

    Now, at this point, you might expect me to invite you to be brave about your faith and be willing to share it, just like those two little girls did in the two stories above.  You are partially correct.  There is no doubt that the mainline church in the U.S. is in decline with some exceptions in some congregations.  There is no doubt that there are more and more people marking the word “none” when it comes to religious affiliation.  And it is the church’s job to reach out to these folks and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.  There is no doubt we who are members of congregations and churches need to find some courage and willingness to share our faith publicly.  In fact, I think many Christians do indeed share their faith publicly.  Many Christians aren’t afraid to say that they believe in God.  But it is not simple belief that made the difference in these two stories–it was belief combined with engagement with those who did not believe.

    Hear that again please, it was belief combined with engagement with those who did not believe.

    You see, it’s easy to share our faith with others who believe in Christ.  It’s easy to bond with a circle of like-minded people who think like us and act like us.  It’s easy to talk about church and share the blessings and woes that frequent every congregation.  It’s easy to engage with others who have a common worldview.  However, it’s not so easy to do such a thing with those who are different.  It’s not so easy to hang with and talk with folks who come from a vastly different perspective.  That’s when things get a little more difficult.

    And there-in lies the risk.  It was a risky thing for that little girl to ask if she could pray in the middle of the restaurant.  It was a risky thing for the waitress to ask everyone to bow their heads.  But a difference was made.  It was a risky thing for that slave girl to engage her master and tell him about the Lord’s prophet.  It was a risky thing for the king of Aram to send money and goods and a letter asking the king of Israel to heal Namaan.  Wading out into unknown waters can do this.  Engaging people who are different can do this.

    Yet, with God’s hand guiding the process, great things can happen.  Lives can be changed.  Love can be felt.  Gratitude can flow.  Others can see “There is no other God except the God of Israel.”  When we seek to live God’s Word daily, it can start with a little girl, a prayer, the knowledge of a prophet; and it can also start with you.  Amen.

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