Shane Claiborne & Naaman's Economic Recovery Plan
There are a lot of good things about being the pastor of an historic, mainline church with actual budgets and structures. I get dental insurance, which is good considering my kid needs braces, and I get several weeks of paid vacation, and I get to go on paid study leave for two weeks a year. I also get to wear a neat black robe and colorful stoles, which is just a bonus really. I'd wear those things without getting paid. They make me happy.
In the midst of attending seminars, listening to preaching and jaunting around San Diego with my wife, I find that I have neglected to follow up on something that needs to be done before I go back to work on Sunday morning. By "something," I mean my sermon, which over 300 people will be waiting to hear round about 10 of the clock this coming Sunday morning.
(Qualifier: I am not placing the number of folks that attend our only worship service in this blog as a means to brag, merely as a means to convey the amount of people who are counting on me to deliver the goods.... did I mention that six months ago before I arrived there were only 150 in worship? Bad form? Sorry. Check us out at www.fpceuestis.com. Especially if you don't have a church home, or are angry at someone---like the pastor---at your current church. I was kidding about that last thing. But seriously...check us out.)
No worries, though. I am preaching on the lectionary, and chose the passage from 2 Kings where Elisha heals Naaman, the great general who has leprosy, making him bathe in the muddy waters of the Jordan River. I've preached on that passage before, you see. True, my notes are all back at my office, but still... Oh, and the recording I made of that sermon from a couple of years ago was lost some time ago and is no longer on my computer like EVERY OTHER SERMON THAT YEAR!
So seriously, I was praying and thinking about the sermon earlier this week, and my prayer went something like this. "God... this one is all on you, man. Amen." A peace washed over me at that moment and I smiled, knowing that it would be all right in the end. Admittedly, the peace that washed over me was completely artificial and fueled by my desire to not think about what I needed to do in favor of what I wanted to do---but it was peace nonetheless. What happened next affirms a saying that I have often floated, "God watches over fools and children, and I am no child." It also demonstrates that sometimes God answers our prayers in spite of our motivations, and with other people in mind.
Shane Claiborne spoke earlier in the week at one of the General Sessions. Shane is a preacher, author and activist who is part of the Simple Way www.thesimpleway.org an intentional community, living in solidarity with the poor of Philadelphia. I thought this was a huge coup for the folks at the National Pastors Convention, to be honest. Last year Shane was relegated to a lesser room at the NPC and was not on the main stage. The year before that, he wasn't here at all. Shane's interpretation of Scripture and the meaning of discipleship he draws from those interpretations have not exactly been congruent with the political worldview of the vast majority of conservative evangelical Christians.
He's also compelling, charming, sincere... and right.
As I sat and listened to Shane's response to the economic downturn I noticed that he was almost entirely without anxiety when he talked about it. He was one of several speakers I heard earlier in the week that said something like this...
So many people are wanting to know when the economy is going to recover, when things are going to go back to the way they were before all of this happened... Well, part of recovery means that you have to admit you have an addiction, and need to be free from that addiction.
The story of Naaman from 2 Kings is fairly amazing. Here is this rich, powerful, military giant who has made his bones from exploiting weaker people. He's not a bad guy, really. Just following orders, and benefiting from the victories that he is afforded as a result. The Bible even asserts that God allowed, even ordained that Naaman would be victorious over God's people, subjugating them, enslaving them, submitting them to financial and spiritual hardship. He was given free rein to do as he pleased for a very long time.
Until he got sick.
The Bible refers to Naaman's sickness as leprosy, which is a word that stood for a number of things in ancient Hebrew. Whatever he had, it was bad enough that he felt cursed, and he wasn't the only one in his country who would have thought such a thing. Ironically it was the kindness of a young slave girl, who he had stolen from her Hebrew family, that gave Naaman a glimmer of hope. She told him of a prophet in Israel, Elisha, who could heal him of his sickness. So naturally Naaman went to find Elisha, and he took along with him what he thought was necessary to secure such a healing.
Money. Lots and lots of money. The amount of money (silver, shekels, clothes, etc) that Naaman took with him would have been the equivalent of 3/4 of a BILLION dollars in todays economy. This fortune was what Naaman believed would bring him recovery. This vast wealth was what Naaman hoped would return things to the way they had been before his sickness. He was willing to do whatever it took to gain healing.
As long as it was on his terms and it cost a lot.
Funny. Healing came for Naaman when he engaged in the simple act of cleansing himself by bathing in the muddy water of the Jordan River. Healing came for Naaman when he humbled himself in front of God...in front of everyone.