Sunday, 17 May 2020

Resonant Stories - 2 Kings 5

Through the lockdown many are re-learning the art of conversation - with neighbour or the person you meet on the street. That skill of listening well and picking up on what the other person has said is perhaps largely lost, but we are now discovering it again. It gives us all kinds of opportunities to be the witness to Jesus that He calls us to be.

As Christians we can develop our skill of making connections in ordinary conversations to the bigger questions of faith and belief. Developing themes with Christian ideas or stories that resonate with what is being said, pointing towards Jesus. It might be mentioning that there is a parallel in Christian understanding with a point just made, or an opening to tell in passing one of the Bible stories. Or it might simply be telling of your own hope in Jesus.

In the 2 Kings story there is Naaman, the high ranking high success army commander. Yet he has a skin disease, a blight on his life causing affliction and discomfort. Worse it means that people keep their distance - more than 2 metres for sure! Note also he is a foreigner and enemy to Israel.

Also in the story there is a servant girl. She is an Israelite who has been captured in an enemy raid, and forced into slavery as a domestic servant. Note she has no name, she is insignificant, a servant, displaced, a 'no-one'.

Yet this girl makes a connection! She speaks up to her mistress and conveys hope, pointing her master to a man of God and ultimately to God's ability to cure the disease he suffers from. In this one spark, a single sentence, she connects from the daily household reality to the hope in God who saves and restores. The girl sets a pointer to a man and therefore a pointer on to God. She has directed to the prophet Elisha, who was known in Israel for the incredible things God did through him.

For us, we point to Jesus - i.e. straight to the God come down to us. This is something we can do even in lockdown. I have a mantra: "Take people to Jesus, not just to church!". Often we focus on getting someone to a service - that has its merit, but remember first and foremost take people to Jesus. It is Jesus who heals and saves, and He can continue doing that through the lockdown.

From the servant girl's suggestion Naaman takes action, but see that things then go wrong! Naaman goes to his king (of Aram), who sends a note to the king of Israel, which doesn't work out well. Fortunately Elisha hears of it an intervenes. Yet even Naaman's initial visit to Elisha doesn't go smoothly - though eventually he is healed and becomes a believer in the one true God.

My point here is that we do our bit, but then people might spin off in what seems the wrong direction. We have to trust God that somehow it will work out down the line. I cannot guarantee you a smooth outcome - remember that we are often just one link in the chain. People typically need many steps before they truly believe. We have to trust God through that process.

All of us can be like the servant girl, making connections and pointing people to Jesus. Lets learn to do that in the everyday conversations we are having. Maybe a theme emerges in conversation that enables you to say 'that matches what I believe as a Christian' and you expand the point. I admit that to do that does require some skill. You want it to be natural, not lurching the conversation awkwardly, and you have to think quickly on your feet.

It could be that a topic comes up where you can illustrate a point by quickly telling on the hoof one of the stories of Jesus. Note you only have one minute to tell it! Again this does require some skill to bring the story in naturally and efficiently. Note also my practice is to tell the story in a contemporary way and then only at the end say 'that was a story told by Jesus, you can find it in ...'. In other words I let the story do its thing, drawing people in and stirring emotions, before I let on that it is a Jesus thing.

Or it might simply be listening to someone's angst and sensitively saying 'I will happily pray peace for you, for I believe God wants us all to have peace'. In other words you point to the hope you have in Jesus. Now that requires sensitivity, but it doesn't need much skill. It's effectively what the girl in the story did.

In each case you are bringing thought, story or hope that resonates with the thread of conversation.

Now I know what you are now thinking - you are reading this saying 'but I am not Elisha, I don't pray 10 hours everyday and then walk out the door and start seeing miracles at every corner'. Well here's the thing: I'm not asking you to be like Elisha but merely like the humble girl in the story! You are thinking 'but I don't have lots of clever theological knowledge' - but the girl didn't either. She was probably totally uneducated. You will say 'but I don't know the Bible well, I struggle to remember verses' - but the girl quoted no verses. Maybe she hardly knew any. You say 'but I feel out of place' - the girl was out of place too, displaced from her family, forced into an unfriendly environment away from home.

Can we really not share a sentence of hope in Jesus, like the servant girl had the courage to do? Let us be a people who are spiritually prepared, who are listening carefully in conversations, and are ready - learning to make those connections, to bring in the resonant themes of Christian thought, story and hope that the ordinary conversation might trigger.

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