Sunday’s sermon: Avoiding Baggage Fees

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  • Story of anniversary trip to North Carolina
    • Long trip –> (describe different places we stayed) –> We brought clothes, books, our laptop, various food items, camping equipment, things to pass the time both in the car and during our stops. –> never know what you’re going to need –>difference between size of my bag and size of Peter’s bag
      • Traveling not-so-light
    • We schlepped all that stuff 1200 miles there and 1200 miles home again. Did I wear everything that I packed into that bag? Did we use everything we brought along? Of course not! The only purpose a lot of that stuff ended up serving was to make our lives more difficult.
      • Made packing and unpacking the car at every stop more complicated than it needed to be
      • Made finding things mid-trip more complicated than it needed to be
      • Made unpacking when we got home monstrously difficult
      • You know, it’s a good thing we weren’t flying! Nowadays, when you fly, you generally pay for a bag one way or the other. But adding all that extra, unnecessary stuff to your baggage – like we (mostly I) did for North Carolina – only ends up costing you a ridiculous amount of money in baggage fees.
        • One of those situations where we have no one but ourselves to blame
    • And I think it’s safe to say that our luggage isn’t the only place in our lives where we cultivate unnecessary complications.
      • Relationships
      • Projects at work and at home
      • Faith – Sometimes, we have this tendency to make faith so much more complicated than it needs to be.
  • Scripture passages today = stories of people making things complicated and stories that illustrate the simplicity of God’s message
    • In NT passage, Jesus instructs followers not to “load up” before they headed out –> We can imagine what made them want to “load up” in the first place:
      • Worry
      • Fear
      • Mistrust
      • Does that sound familiar? How often do we catch ourselves hung up on these same issues? We “load up” – over-complicate things – just in case God doesn’t come through for us. –> Scholar calls this “trust without reservation”: With a more robust understanding of God’s gracious providence, we are better able to discern how to make the most of God’s providential action in our lives, regardless of what external pressures we encounter.[1]
        • External pressures like …
          • Worry and fear
          • Other people’s opinions
          • Our own doubt
      • In Scripture, we are told time and again that God will provide for us. “Leap, and the net will appear” as the saying goes. But like the followers being sent out, we are reluctant.
        • See reluctance in Gr. “sent” = connotations of unwillingness or hesitancy on the part of those being sent à like followers being sent out, our response: “It can’t be that simple. We don’t feel ready.” But what if it really is that simple?
    • OT story = also a story full of over-complication due to mistrust and reservations
      • See first in king of Israel – reaction to Syrian king’s request for Elisha’s help: When the kind 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.”[2] –> The king of Israel’s brain jumps straight to the catastrophic – the assumption that the king of Syria has devised this elaborate plot to topple the nation of Israel based on their king’s inability to perform this miraculous healing himself. I know, right … sounds crazy, right? Sounds convoluted?
        • Proverbial mountain out of a molehill à go from simple request – BAM! – to perceived national disaster
        • In the Bible, we read about the things God wants us to do – love your neighbor, pray for one another, and care for those less fortunate – and for whatever reason, we feel like we’ve been set up for failure, like we can’t do those things. Our own short-comings loom large before our eyes, so when God presents us with a simple opportunity to serve, our initial response is negative:
          • Can’t be that easy to help my neighbor
          • Can’t be that easy to spread God’s message
          • Can’t be that easy to live in that love
          • It can’t be that simple. I’m not equipped … But what if it really is just that simple?
      • OT – Also see faith becoming over-complicated in Naaman’s reaction to Elisha’s response – text: Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and sure the leprosy!” –> Naaman expected some sort of elaborate healing ritual. He was an important man back in Syria, so of course this prophet in Israel was supposed to make a spectacle of him. If his leprosy was going to be healed, it had to be a grand and theatrical endeavor because he was kind of a big deal, you know?
        • Not at all the response Naaman expects
          • Doesn’t even get Elisha himself to come out –> speaks to one of Elisha’s servants
          • Simply told to go wash in the Jordan seven times
            • Not grand
            • Not theatrical
            • Far from pomp and circumstance Naaman is used to
            • In fact, he’s actually insulted by how easy this solution is. Not only is the gesture underwhelming – just wash? – but the river Elisha instructs him to wash in is deemed inferior as well. The Jordan is a mere Israelite river which obviously doesn’t compare to the rivers that run through Syria. So Naaman stalks off in a huff. –> Naaman’s basic response: “It can’t be that simple. I’m too important.”
            • And how often do we respond to God that way? “No way, God. I can’t do that. I’m too good. I’m too smart. I’ve worked too hard. What you’re asking just can’t be that simple.” We get caught up in our own ideas of grandeur. And when we hear God’s simple words – love, peace, wash and be clean – we cannot believe it’s that simple. But what if it is? What if it’s just that simple?
  • Fortunately, Naaman had his servants, and the followers in the New Testament had Jesus to introduce an essential element of simplicity: humility.
    • Naaman
      • Young servant-girl directed him to Elisha in the first place
      • Another servant convinced Naaman to follow Elisha’s direction – text: But his servant approached him and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”[3] –> And these words are able to stop Naaman in his tracks – to open his eyes and his heart to the work that God wanted to do in him and through him. Only when he was able to simply trust without reservation was Naaman humble enough to be healed.
        • Scholar: This is the way God cleanses people of their afflictions, it seems – not through the dramatic performance of a human healer, but through a simple act of obedience. Salvation comes mysteriously when we submit to God’s script and not our own.[4]
        • Continuation of Naaman’s story = his conversion
    • NT – find simple humility in Jesus’ advice: Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”[5] –> Jesus is encouraging his followers to focus on the task at hand, to keep their mission simple. It’s all about the message. Don’t get caught up in the small details of the day – who you’re staying with or the food that is being served to you. Simply do the task that’s been given to you – cure the sick and deliver the message of God’s coming kingdom. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
  • So why do we make it so complicated? Why do we insist on over-packing, over-extending, and overwhelming our lives and our faith? Let me ask you this way: Isn’t life complicated enough? With all of our obligations that we have to different people, different organizations, and different roles that we have in our day-to-day lives, aren’t we desperate for something simple? This is what God gives us in our faith.
    • Wash, and be clean.
    • Peace to this house.
    • Love one another as I have loved you.
    • I think we’ve proven that we can make these messages more complicated – more than proven it! But what if it truly is just that simple? Amen.


[1] Carrie N. Mitchell. “Proper 9 (Sunday between July 3 and July 9 Inclusive): 2 Kings 5:1-14 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 200.

[2] 2 Kgs 5:7.

[3] 2 Kgs 5:13.

[4] Choon-Leong Seow. “The First and Second Book of Kings: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 3. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 198.

[5] Lk 10:8-9.

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