Preparing for Exile

Inspired by Jeremiah 1:4-10, 7:1-11

For the sake of any visitors we might have, this Fall we have been journeying through the great stories of the Bible, and we started with Genesis at the beginning of September and now find ourselves in Jeremiah. It has been a fascinating trip, seeing God travel with God’s people over the centuries, through the many ups and downs that life had thrown at them. And at this point in the arc of their story together, they find themselves on the brink of yet another disaster.

And it’s been that way for a while now, at least the last three Sundays worth of stories. Last week we were at the point where the kingdom of Judah, the last remaining kingdom of God’s people, had been all but overrun by the Assyrian empire. Only the capital city of Jerusalem remained untouched. But, with a little help from God, the city remained intact and was not taken by Assyrian forces. But the threat that Assyria would return, with an even bigger army, was ever present.

"Jeremiah", by Michelangelo, from the Sistine Chapel
However, some time has passed, not a long time, but enough that God’s people have become comfortable again—which brings us to the prophet Jeremiah. In today’s reading, we actually get two stories, one from the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, and one from a little later in the book. The first story is the call of Jeremiah to be a prophet for Jerusalem. It’s a conversation between him and God that immediately endears the reader to both of them. At times the conversation is reminiscent of one between a parent and a child, at other times between a student and mentor, and still others as between an employer and employee.

Regardless, it’s a very relational conversation, to say the least, very personal, very intimate. It really is a gift for us to get a glimpse of it. God begins with words that I think every child would love to hear, “Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart.” Who wouldn’t want to hear that from a parent? The idea of knowing a child before they were born is something that Sara and I can relate to. Having endured many miscarriages before our girls were born, when they finally did come to us, they were, and are, literal living, breathing, dreams fulfilled.

God continues, “I made you a prophet to the nations.” That’s quite a job to be tasked with! And so, Jeremiah responds like so many others had before him, and probably the way you and I would respond, “Who me?” Most people would probably come up with the best reason as to why this is a bad idea! And for Jeremiah, it was his age and inexperience. He goes so far as to call himself a child, someone who doesn’t even know how to speak properly! God’s not buying it.

Because God knows something that Jeremiah had not yet discovered. That not only will God provide words for Jeremiah, not only will God provide legitimacy for Jeremiah, but God will be by his side, every step of the way, as God had been, even before he was born. This is something that God needs Jeremiah to understand, before he begins his work as a prophet, in order for his message to God’s people to be effective. And this will be clear in a minute.

So, Jeremiah begins the hard work of being a prophet. And if I think being a pastor is hard, there’s no way I’d want his job! Although, there are quite a few similarities between a prophet and a pastor. A prophet is called to be a truth-teller, and so is a pastor, even when the truth is difficult. A prophet is called to be a voice for God, and so is a pastor, even when that voice speaks difficult words. A prophet is called to love people, and so is a pastor, even when that comes in the form of tough love. But we are also very different employees of God’s.

A prophet is called when there is no hope left. As I’ve mentioned before, when a prophet is called to the scene, it’s already too late. And so, a prophet’s message is usually filled with doom and gloom, especially in Jeremiah’s case. Now, for some pastors, like myself, who have walked with a congregation to its closing, I can relate to this kind of work too but most pastors, thankfully, are not called to that kind of work.

Therefore, Jeremiah goes to God’s people in Jerusalem, in the temple to be exact, with a reality check that can only come from a prophet. He tells them that this is God’s temple, not there’s. And as such, God sees everything that goes on there! And what God was seeing, God wasn’t liking! They had become so comfortable, in spite of Assyria breathing down their neck, that not only were they taking advantage of immigrants, taking advantage of orphans, taking advantage of widows, not only were they committing murder in the temple, committing adultery in the temple, committing perjury in the temple, but now they were sacrificing to other gods in God’s temple!

And that last sin, at least for the author, was the last straw. And so, God tells them, this level of comfort that you have in this place, this level of presumed safety that you have in this place, is false! Especially because, it isn’t going to last.

You see, God knew something else that they didn’t. God knew that the temple would soon be destroyed, that the entire kingdom would soon fall into enemy hands, including the capital city of Jerusalem, the city that has somehow escaped tragedy for a long time. And it isn’t even going to be the Assyrians that do it! The Babylonians are going to take over the Assyrian empire and they are the ones that will soon take this little kingdom, or what’s left of it, for their own.

But that’s beside the point, the point is, everything that they have found comfort in, is about to go away. More than that, they are not only going to lose their temple, not only are they going to lose their country, they are going to lose their land, as the Babylonians will exile them by systematically relocating them by force. Since we started this journey back in September I have been hinting that some terrible times are in store for God’s people in this narrative, and though they’ve been through a lot already, the worst is about to happen.

And so, they will have to relearn what it means to be God’s people—without the comfort of the temple, without the safety of a nation, even without their own land beneath their feet. But I don’t want us to get too ahead of ourselves. I see these stories from Jeremiah, as one more attempt by God to prepare them for what is to come. And yes, it comes in the form of some tough love. And I’m sure many of us have been the recipient of tough love by those who raised us and know that it’s not much fun but also know just how necessary it is sometimes.

Because God knows what’s ahead for them God needs them to learn this hard lesson because when they are ultimately exiled, they will need to know, right down to the marrow of their bones, that God is still with them! That God is not tied to a temple, not tied to a kingdom, not tied to the land, but is tied to their very hearts! Which is why it was so crucial that God convinced Jeremiah of this, way back when God first called him.

And so it is with us. A major part of our faith lives is preparing us for exile, preparing us for those times in our lives when nothing seems to go right, those times in our lives when God seems farthest away, those times in our lives when comfort seems like a dream, when safety seems like a fantasy, those times in our lives when we feel taken by an enemy of some kind. It is in those times that the message of God through Jeremiah is so crucial—that it is God’s will to dwell with you, to be with you, to walk with you—in spite of where life takes, in spite of what you’ve done or left undone, in spite of your losses—God’s wants to be with you. And I think it’s safe to say, God gets what God wants. Thanks be to God. Amen.


The War of the Words

Inspired by Isaiah 36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7; 2:1-4

Today’s story from Isaiah comes from the same time period as last week’s story from Micah. In fact, the prophet Isaiah was a contemporary of the prophet Micah. The big difference between the two is that Micah was a prophet from a little town out in the boondocks of the kingdom, and Isaiah was a prophet in the capital city of Jerusalem where our story takes place. In Micah, the Assyrian empire was at the doorstep of the kingdom of Judah, ready to pounce on them like a lioness after her prey.

Assyrian palace relief at the British Museum
And in today’s story, the lioness has pounced. The Assyrian army has taken every city in the kingdom but one, Jerusalem. This story of Assyria’s conquest of Judah was widely recorded. Not only does it appear here in scripture but also in Assyrian documents, and even in these huge Assyrian palace reliefs, part of which you can see here. So apparently, this was a huge story back in Isaiah’s day, this was breaking news, major headlines.

So, the Assyrian king has taken every part of the kingdom of Judah except its capital city Jerusalem. His army is at the gate of the city. And his commander, from the city limits, begins to taunt the people of Jerusalem, in what may possibly be, the first recorded incident of “fake news.” Think about it, this commander tells them, Don’t listen to your king Jerusalem! He’s a liar! He won’t save you! Just surrender now and no one has to die! I’ll tell you what, if you give up now, I’ll let you stay in your own homes, and you’ll be able to eat from your own gardens and drink from your own vines. Well, until we come and take you all to a new land, but that’s beside the point.

And then, the commander makes a pretty compelling case as to why they should surrender. He says, you can wait for your God to save you if you want to, but look around you. Did any of the gods of all the other nations save them from me? And then he lists them one by one! Did their God save them? Did their God save them? Did theirs? Did theirs? Nobody had to answer that question. Everybody knew. It’s all that’d been on the news! The answer was, no. Their gods didn’t save them. In fact, our God didn’t save our siblings to the north in the kingdom of Israel. And then the commander goes for the jugular and asks, “Will the Lord save Jerusalem from my power?” Like I said, it was a pretty compelling case. How could they argue against that?

And so Judah’s king is so saddened by these words he rips his clothes. Ripping your clothes to express sadness or anger was a thing back then. Don’t question it, just go with it. So he seeks the advice of the prophet Isaiah. He’s probably thinking, maybe this is it! Maybe this is the end. Maybe the best I can do for my people is surrender. But he’s not lost all hope, and so he asks the prophet to offer up a prayer on behalf of the city. Isaiah does him one better! He says, “Don’t be afraid of the words you heard.” I’m going to spread a rumor (more fake news), a rumor that will make the Assyrian king go home. And that’s exactly what happens. And Jerusalem remains intact to see another day.

Now, if you take a step back, or take a birds-eye view of this story, what we really have here between the Assyrian king and Jerusalem is a cold war, “a state of political hostility characterized by threats, propaganda, and other measures short of open warfare.” In other words, no pun intended, it’s a war of words. Now hold that thought for just a moment.

Because the last thing we read was a vision that Isaiah had, a vision of a future Jerusalem, a future filled with God’s people being taught God’s ways as God walked by their side, a future filled with hope, a future filled with peace. Here’s how that vision ended, “Then they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.” And that’s when I heard that familiar phrase of beating swords into plows in a way I never had before.

You see, usually, when we think of that phrase, beating swords into plows, we think big, we think of nations, we think of armies, ceasing to use their weapons, sometimes weapons of mass destruction even. And although I’m usually pushing you to think big, I want you to think small in this instance. I want you to think of the weapons that we everyday folk use most often. And no I’m not talking about handguns or assault rifles, don’t get me started on those! I’m talking about words.

I connected that phrase, beating swords into plows, with this war of words that those two kings were having with each other, and that made me think of the war of words that is plaguing our great nation today. Now, I’m no sociologist, but I don’t think our current use of words as weapons began with the internet. However, I do think the internet has given us a vehicle, which we can commit hit and runs with, like never before!

Maybe we’ve always been like this and the internet, particularly social media, has just shed a light on it, exposed it! But the words we hear today, and by “words” I don’t mean foul language, I mean the way we communicate with each other, and not just on social media, but the way that politicians use words, the way our newscasters use words, the way our media uses words: as weapons; just seems out of control!—the personal attacks, the name-calling, the lies, the deceptions, the lack of empathy, the lack of respect, the lack of humanity.

Where will it end? Is there an end? Or are we just on a road to a place where anything goes? I was talking to somebody the other day, about a particular politician, and he said, “I just can’t think of anything positive to say about him.” My response was, “So then don’t say anything!” When did saying nothing become a non-option? I mean, isn’t that what Thumper’s mom taught him in the movie Bambi? “If you can’t say someth’n nice, don’t say noth’n at all.”

Now, I want you to hear me clearly. I’m not talking about criticizing a policy. I’m not talking about criticizing someone’s behavior even! I’m talking about saying downright evil things about someone’s personhood, especially when we don’t even personally know the person! And where does that even get us anyway? What does it accomplish? I was watching a video that was recently released from a protest outside of a Confederate monument somewhere in the South. A guy pulls his truck over and just starts yelling at the top of his lungs at these protesters, and from the sound of it, I think there was just a couple of them, we’re not talking about a lot of people. And he’s yelling obscenities at them and tells them that Jesus hates them and that Jesus wants them to go to hell.

And these protestors remained calm throughout. I probably would not have, I was practically yelling at my computer screen while I watched the video! And at one point in the video, one of the protestors, asked the screaming fella, in a very calm voice, “Do you feel better?” And at least the guy was honest because he yelled back, “No! I don’t feel better!” It would have been comical if it hadn’t been so ugly—but back to swords and plows.

Statue by E. Vuchetich at U.N. Headquarters, NYC
I believe that Isaiah’s vision of the future, a vision of people beating their swords into plows, beating their weapons of war into farm tools, into tools of growth, into tools of nurture, into tools of life, I believe that vision included us, today, you and I, here and now. And I believe, that one of those weapons that we are called to beat into plows, is our words. How else are we to expect a change to happen, in the way that the world communicates with each other, if we don’t expect that change to happen right here? And if you’re one of those people that had a parent like Thumper’s mom, and this comes natural to you, then great! This sermon’s probably not for you. It’s for the rest of us, including myself!

I’m reminded of an old African-American spiritual called Down by the Riverside. It’s a pre-Civil War song that found renewal by those protesting the Vietnam War. The lyrics are simple but quite powerful. Here’s a sampling: “Gonna lay down my sword and shield. Down by the riverside. Gonna lay down my sleepy head. Down by the riverside. Gonna lay down my burden. Down by the riverside. Gonna try on my long white robe. Down by the riverside. Gonna stick my sword in the golden sand. Down by the riverside. I ain’t gonna study war no more. Ain’t gonna study war no more.”

The “riverside” is a reference to the transforming work of baptism, where God calls us into something new, into a way of life that is different than what the world has known. Where we find warfare, we are called to peace. Where we find hate, we are called to love. Where we find cruelty, we are called to kindness. Where we find weapons, we are called to plows. Where we find hurtful words, we are called to use life-giving words. So let us put that into action today, you and I, here and now, by this seemingly simple act, in writing these cards to the victims of fire, to our neighbors to the north, in Paradise—with our words of care, not harm; with our words of life, not death; with our words hope, not despair, with our words of love, not hate. Thanks be to God. Amen.


God's BIG Picture

Inspired by Micah 1:3-5, 5:2-5a, 6:6-8

As I mentioned last week, at this point of the story of God’s people, as we journey through the great stories of the Hebrew scriptures this Fall, the once unified kingdom of Israel has split in two, each with its own king. And they have gone through many kings now, as this story is about a hundred years after last week’s story of the healing of Naaman. This week’s story comes from the southern kingdom of Judah, but it’s really not much of a story, as it is a sampling of the prophet Micah’s reaction to what the kingdom was going through.

These are uneasy days for the southern kingdom. There is a tension in the air that can be felt by all. There are news reports of some very troubling things happening all around them, as well as within their borders. Troubling times indeed. First off, they heard that the northern kingdom had fallen and their capital city Samaria was under siege. They are also hearing reports that the Assyrian empire was growing like wildfire, able to consume the mightiest of nations, and they were at their doorstep.

And there was the little kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as her capital, in the midst of all this chaos, with kingdoms literally crumbling all around them. So many questions were probably swirling around their heads. What can we do? Should we fight? Will God come to our rescue even though God didn’t rescue the northern kingdom? Should we just give up and count our losses? Not to mention questions like, why is this happening to us? Why are there so many threats all around us?

What did we do wrong? And that’s where the prophet Micah steps in. Because according to Micah, they knew darn well what they did wrong. But part of a prophet’s job is being a truth teller, and so that’s what he does. Way back when the kingdoms were still united as one, under King Solomon’s reign, they were warned not to worship other God’s. Stick with me, was God’s plea. I’ll remain faithful to you, God said.

But what do they do? Worshiped other gods. I mean, when your own king is doing it, why not? If the top dog can get away with it, why can’t we? And so they did, for hundreds of years. And now the prophet Micah steps in to remind them, that this was never the way it was supposed to be. So, this book starts out full of judgment on them. The whole book, by the way, is very short, you could read the whole thing easily in one sitting. But Micah is full of surprises. Which makes sense because Micah’s God is full of surprises.

Micah does not remain in judgment over them. Would he be justified if he had? Absolutely! They broke the first commandment! Have no other gods! They broke that over and over again! Forget the other nine, they couldn’t even get past number one! Now God, through Micah, could have easily said, I’m done with ya’ll. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me…for hundreds of years, well, shame on me! I’m out! And what could be their defense? There was none. But like we all know, God is full of surprises.

Micah pairs his judgment with hope. Which probably sounded crazy! Here they are, in the midst of chaos, kingdoms crumbling around them, an enemy empire breathing down their neck ready to consume them, and Micah has a word of hope? Huh? But, let’s keep moving through our reading. From where are they supposed to look for hope? From where is it supposed to come from? Bethlehem, Micah says. Bethlehem? Even Micah has to add that this is the least significant place in the kingdom! Talk about surprises! I mean, this would be like if California was in the midst of a statewide crisis and the governor asks me—because, you know, prophet, pastor, we’re all the same—asks me, where will relief come from Pastor Ron, and I say, Penryn. Even the governor might say, Penryn? Where’s that?

That’s how ridiculous this idea of hope from Bethlehem was! It’s only claim to fame was that it was where King David was born. That’s it! Other than that it was barely a speck on a map. And you know, when the chips are down, when you’re in a tight spot, when the enemies are circling round you, and you ask for help, you’re expecting a better answer than Bethlehem or Penryn! Right? By the way, my apologies to the great people of Penryn…all 831 of them. I feel bad for making them the butt of a joke. It had to be somebody though!

Anyway, there was very little hope that could be gleaned from this news. But Micah continues, a ruler is gonna come from Bethlehem, whose origin is from remote times, from ancient days. Ok, at this point I’m wondering what Micah is smoking. But he continues, things are going to get worse before they get better, and by better he means a baby of peace. A baby? We don’t need no baby Micah! And we surely don’t need peace right now! We need a warrior Micah. Someone to put the Assyrians back in their place, once and for all! But Micah doesn’t budge. And how can he? His message of hope is from God!

And so there they are, on the edge of despair, with this cryptic message of hope, wondering what to do. You don’t have to read too many headlines these days before despair begins to flirt with you. Just the other day there was a tragedy that hit too close to home for many of us. As I’m sure most of you have heard, late Wednesday night a lone gunman opened fire in a Thousand Oaks bar and grill that was hosting a college night event. Many students from California Lutheran University were in attendance.

Twelve were killed, including an officer, before the gunman took his own life. CalLu is where we took a van load of our youth to attend the Western States Youth Gathering two summers ago, becoming a place very special to us all. Tragedies like these, the political climate of our nation, global warming, nations at war, terrorism, our mental health crisis, there is a lot going on in our world that could easily lead us to despair. What are we to do? How can we make things better? If we’ve done something wrong, how can we make it right?

That’s the question that the people of Judah ask Micah at the end of our reading. With what should we come to God with, they ask. With our generous offerings? Do we have to offer our children? In other words, you name it Micah and we’ll do it! Micah looks them dead in the eye, probably shaking his head, and says, you already know what to do—and you’ve known for a long time now—but sure, I can remind you again, “do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” So what if the world looks like it’s about to crumble around you! You still got work to do! So go do it! And let me worry about the rest, says the Lord!

Because of course I still need you to work for justice because you live in an unjust world, says the Lord! Of course I still need you to embrace faithful love because you live in a world filled with so much hate, says the Lord! Of course I still need you to walk humbly with me because you live in a world that values pride and egomaniacs, says the Lord! I need you, says the Lord, to deliver hope to a hopeless world, even when, especially when, you have none for yourselves, because maybe, just maybe, in delivering hope, when you are hopeless, you will find some for yourselves in the process!

You see, we can’t see the big picture. God can, but we can’t. In this message of hope from Micah, God is saying, let me take care of the big picture. I got you. I got you. You just take care of the small stuff, says the Lord. God isn’t asking us to solve the world’s problems. But we can help out right here, can’t we? Do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. Leave the big picture to God. Because back in Micah’s day, the center of God’s big picture was the little town of Bethlehem. The Penryn of the southern kingdom.

And yet, God had big plans for that little town, right? As we sing this next hymn, try your hardest to not think of Christmas, I know, that’s going to be hard. But what I want to do, is think of God’s big picture, the big picture that we cannot see. And think of that big picture as your source of hope when you can’t find it anywhere else. And know, that nothing will stop God’s big picture—nothing. Thanks be to God. Amen.


An Unlikely Healing

Inspired by 1 Kings 3:4-28

Since last week’s story of King Solomon and the two women, to today’s story of the healing of Naaman, God’s people have had some tumultuous times. To be fair, there were some high points too. Solomon builds the first temple for the worship of God in Jerusalem. It was a marvel of riches and architecture. He had an interesting encounter with the Queen of Sheba in his pursuit of international relations, but that’s about where the highlights of his reign end. He had many wives and many concubines. However, his greatest of sins was that he eventually turned away from God and began worshipping other Gods.

By the time of his death, the kingdom just couldn’t stay together and it split in two, a Northern and a Southern kingdom, Israel and Judah, each with their own king. They go through many kings, and along the way God sends them prophets, to help guide them and/or correct their misbehavior. Although, as one of my seminary professors put it, once a prophet was called onto the scene, it was usually already too late. These prophet’s stories and messages will be the focal point of our readings from now through Advent, before we finally get to our Gospel readings.

Today’s story from the book of 2 Kings comes from this time of God’s people where they find themselves in the midst of these many kings, one after another. This particular story comes from the Northern kingdom of Israel. It’s an interesting little tale, the significance of might be easy to overlook. So, the prophet Elisha, not to be confused with his predecessor Elijah, hears about a neighboring king’s army general, Naaman, who is in need of healing.

But how that finally gets to Elisha is quite interesting. Now keep in mind, all these nations are in constant friction, wars and battles and raiding parties are constantly breaking out. And so, a young Jewish girl finds herself captured in one of these skirmishes, and is sold as a slave into the house of this powerful army general, Naaman. She hears of her master’s ailment, and what does she do, she immediately thinks of a prophet in her homeland that can heal her.

She does not think, “Oh good, maybe this will kill him and I can get free!” She does not think, “I’m just going to keep my mouth shut because drawing any attention to myself might cause me harm.” She does not think, “It’s not my place as a slave to think I know better than my captors.” To be fair, she may have had all those thoughts but did she act on them? No. She goes out on a limb, at personal risk to herself, and speaks up, for the benefit of her slave master.

Now, we could assume she did this hoping to get a reward, but those thoughts come from our privilege of having never spent a night in captivity, let alone slavery. So why did she do this? The simple answer is that she was practicing the tenets of her faith—lessons like the golden rule; like caring for the less fortunate, like loving your enemies. She did not see her captor, her slave master, no, she saw a person in need, and she knew how to help, and so she did.

The next stop for that message was Naaman’s wife, because the slave girl couldn’t go directly to Naaman of course. And again, I wonder what the possible implications might have been for his wife to bring this idea to him. Though she had more freedom, as she was not a slave, she was a woman, and in that day and age that meant that she didn’t have much of a voice, not to mention she was thought of as the property of her husband. But like the young slave girl who worked in her home, that did not stop her from taking the risk, from taking a leap of faith, and speaking up for the benefit of her husband. And maybe her faith ancestors taught her that too, though of a different religion. And so she shares this message with her husband.

The next stop for this message of healing is to the king himself. And if you think there was no risk to Naaman here, think again. He has to go to his king and ask him if he can go to another king, an opposing king, for help. Think about what’s being said between the lines here: You O king are not powerful enough to help me. Our gods are not faithful enough. Our religious leaders are not capable enough. So, can I go and ask your rival on the other side of the border for help? His king could have easily drawn his sword and killed him for treason were he stood and no one would have batted an eye. But instead, the king simply says, Sure, I’ll even write a letter for you. And so this message of healing moves on to the next person. The king of Israel.

Only this time, the message comes into the hands of an unwilling recipient. The king of Israel is not too happy to get this message. He immediately assumes that this is some kind of game that his rival is playing, that this is some kind of trick, or just trying to get a reaction out of him! Why, well, because this king had trouble thinking of others needs before his own. It was all about him. Isn’t it odd that most of the people from another religion in this story were the ones acting more merciful than this king?

Now, the message could have died right then and there with Israel’s king, ending in war between these two nations. But somehow, it does not. The prophet Elisha hears about it, and sets the king straight. He sees this as not only a teachable moment but as an evangelistic moment as well. How else are people going to know about our merciful God if we don’t show mercy? And so, after Elisha calms the king down, they invite Naaman to Elisha’s house.

Now this could be a trap but Naaman is probably desperate at this point, so he goes to Elisha’s house, in search of healing. And then he gets another surprise! Elisha doesn’t even come out and greet him when he gets there! No hello, no howdoyado; Elisha sends his messenger to give him instructions. And the instructions are simple, go wash in the Jordan River seven times. That’s it! Naaman takes issue with this. Not just because he feels like he’s being snubbed by this supposedly all-powerful healer, but because if washing in a river is all he had to do then why couldn’t he have done that at home!

And here’s another detail, the Jordan River, as one scholar put it, is more of a glorified creek!—as you can see here. So, not only do these instructions seem ridiculous, but they’re also a bit insulting. However, the slaves that Naaman had brought with him, calm him down, and in their own divine wisdom, convince him to follow the instructions given to him. And so he does, and finally he is healed. That message of healing that started all the way back with that young Jewish slave girl, finally did its work.

So, from all of that, this is what really stood out to me. That message of healing, had to pass through many hands. It had many opportunities to fail along the way. But it did not. It succeeded, thanks to many unlikely hands, from some very surprising places: the young Jewish slave girl, the wife of Naaman, Naaman himself, two rival kings, and Naaman’s slaves.

All of these people had to carry that message of healing in some form, whether they knew it or not, in order for Naaman to be healed, sometimes at great risk, none of whom are likely candidates to help out in a healing, and yet they did. All Saints Sunday is an opportunity for us to not only remember loved ones who have died, but also an opportunity to acknowledge those in our lives who have carried the message of God’s healing love for us, the many hands that the message was carried by, especially those hands that no one would have suspected.

Maybe they’re a relative that wasn’t necessarily a big churchgoer, and yet, God still chose them to communicate God’s healing love through. Maybe they’re a childhood neighbor who everyone else thought was kinda cranky but you knew better, which allowed God to communicate God’s healing love to you. Maybe they’re a child, maybe your own child, someone the world would say that you as an adult should be teaching, and yet, they have been chosen to communicate God’s healing love to you.

Maybe a stranger, maybe a pet, maybe a song, maybe a cool Autumn breeze at sunset. God’s healing love can come from anyone and anywhere—all we have to do is be open to it, especially when it comes from the most unlikely of places. During this next hymn, please come to any of the tables and light a candle in remembrance of our loved ones who have died before us, and also in acknowledgment of God’s healing love from the most unlikely of places sometimes. Thanks be to God. Amen.