Sunday, February 15, 2009

sermon: finding jesus in what's ordinary

II Kings 5:1-14
Epiphany 6, Year B

I’ve always appreciated fine literature. In fact, my favorite book has always been a classic by the name of - Where’s Waldo? If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a pretty easy read. Probably because it has no words. Because the point of Where’s Waldo is literally to find Waldo – an ordinary, geeky looking dude with glasses, a striped shirt, and a goofy hat. And the author assures us that Waldo is on every page – but as a kid, I didn’t believe it. And to be honest, I still have my doubts. Because finding Waldo was hard. And it was hard because Waldo, to be quite honest, just looked so ordinary. And the author has this knack for hiding Waldo in the very place that you least expect to find him. [1] And because Waldo looks so ordinary, finding him requires patience. And intentionality. And a decision to cling to the author’s promise that Waldo is present on every page. Because finding what’s special in the midst of what’s ordinary is not a skill that we’re born with. It’s something we learn. But if you and I intend to follow Jesus, it’s a skill we need to learn. Because our God, in all of His glory, splendor, and might, hides himself in the midst of what’s ordinary.

Let’s consider the story of Namaan recorded in II Kings. Naaman was a military man. In fact, we’re told he’s a “great man” – a man of means. After all, you don’t become the general of the king’s army by accident. Naaman had distinguished himself. If there was a hill to be taken, a battle to be won, a king to be killed – Naaman knew how to get it done. And Namaan, in the context of tonight’s reading has just defeated the Israelites and killed their king. And so Naaman is at the height of his career – he’s a national hero. Influence, wealth, power – Naaman has it all. Until - one day Namaan wakes up and sees a little patch of discolored skin on his body. And so Naaman approaches the king’s physician and hears his diagnosis. Leprosy. Naaman, we’re told, is a leper.

And so when a young slave-girl tells him that there’s help in the land of Israel, Naaman is desperate and returns to the very land he’s just plundered. It’s hard to emphasize how desperate Namaan is, and so you’d think that he’d be humble knocking on Elisha’s door. But he’s not – because when Elisha sends out an intern that tells him to wash in the Jordan River – Namaan gets furious. Because that’s the last thing Namaan was expecting to hear. Namaan was expecting something loud and flashy and showy. He knows how healing is supposed to work – he watched his fair share of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. And so Namaan’s kind of expecting Elisha to emerge from his home in a white three piece suit and to pray in big southern accident before waving his hands around and dramatically heal his leprosy. But instead, God sends him Elisha’s intern. And so listen to what Namaan says: "I thought that for me the prophet would surely come out himself, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would waive his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!” You see, Namaan was expecting God to do something flashy and loud and showy. But God doesn’t. Because our God, in all of His glory, splendor, and might, hides himself in the midst of what’s ordinary.

And so the question I’d like to ask us this morning is, where do we expect to find God? You see, our God is a God of burning bushes and empty tombs and road to Damascus experiences. But - if we take our Biblical story seriously, more often than not, God hides himself in the midst of what’s ordinary.

You see, this isn’t something Namaan – “great man” that he was – understood. Namaan expected a flashy prophet and a dramatic healing. Are we like Namaan - expecting God to meet us on our terms – whatever those terms may be? Or, are we open to God meeting us on His terms? Where do we expect to find God?

In a matter of moments we will receive ordinary bread and ordinary wine, and yet our faith tells us, in no uncertain terms, “this is the Body of Christ. This is the Blood of Christ.” And when our time of worship ends will be sent into the world of ordinary people. We’ll return to our ordinary families and our ordinary friends. And yet Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, “what you did to the least of these – to the most ordinary of these my brothers and sisters – truly I tell you, you did it to me.” Because more often than not, God hides himself in the midst of what’s ordinary.

I’m not really sure why, but one of my favorite biblical prayers is Isaiah 64:1. It says, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that even the mountains would quake at your presence.” God, would you would tear open the heavens and come down.” The good news of the Christian Gospel is that God did. In other words, that prayer was answered. That’s what Christmas is all about – God tearing open the heavens and coming down in the person of Jesus. That being said, Jesus wasn’t what anyone expected. Because Jesus, to be quite honest, looked so ordinary. To quote the prophet Isaiah, he had no majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

You see, at the heart of our faith is the belief that God did tear open the heavens and come down. But when God did, he was born in a manger and got a job in the construction industry and ran around with peasants. In modern day terms, Jesus was a geeky looking dude with glasses, a striped shirt, and a goofy hat. On the surface, you wouldn’t have known Jesus was special. And that’s probably why no one recognized him as the answer to Isaiah’s prayer. They were all expecting the charismatic preacher in a three piece suit. But what are you expecting. Where do you expect to find God?

Maybe we’re like Namaan and expect something loud and flashy and showy. Or worst, maybe we’ve lost heart and don’t expect anything anymore. Either way, I want you to know that Jesus is alive and that he’s in our midst. And I’m willing to admit, finding Jesus can be really hard work. It requires patience. And intentionality. And a decision to cling to God’s promise that Jesus is present on every page. But he’s here. Jesus is alive. And he’s in our midst.

Because whether you believe it or not, Jesus is right around the corner. Jesus begs for money and smokes cigarettes on the frontage road of I-35. He bags groceries at HEB. He’s a partner at that big defense firm downtown. He’s sitting next to you right now. You see, Jesus has this weird knack for lurking in the very place you least expect to find him. And so if your life feels pretty ordinary – rejoice – because that means it’s a pretty good hiding place for God.

When it comes to your life, Jesus is present on every page. The question is – have we learned to live our life expecting to find him?

[1] I borrow the Waldo / Jesus typology from John Ortberg’s God is Closer than You Think. This particular book was also helpful in my application and understanding of Namaan’s story from II Kings. My application of Ortberg's thought, however, is unique and original.

1 comment:

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