A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sermon (July 3) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Let It Go!"

     I have a “Knock-Knock” joke for you. Are you ready? You need to participate or it won’t be funny.
     OK, here we go.
     “Knock, knock.”
     “Who’s there?”
     “Control Freak. Now you say ‘control freak, who?’”
     Ha! Did you get it? Because, I’m a control freak, I didn’t trust that you would say your line of the joke, so I told you what to say, even though you knew what to say. Get it? That shows I’m a control freak. Get it? I’m a control freak just in the way I’m explaining this knock-knock joke with you!
     There is some truth to this silly “knock-knock” joke. It helps us to think about if we might have control freak issues in how we live out our faith.
     Have you noticed that living by faith isn’t always that easy, because it means that there are times when we just need to let go and let God? Have you ever heard of that phrase? Let go and let God.
     I mean, we can recite the Apostle’s Creed, read our bibles, say “The Lord’s Prayer,” and attend church, but we’re not really going to grow in our faith until we let go of control.
     Nobody said that having faith would be easy.
     Maybe you have heard of the name, Charles Blondin. He was a famous tightrope walker. He was the first person to cross Niargara Falls on a tightrope that stretched 1,100 feet long. In 1859 and 1860, he walked across that 3 inch rope which was suspended 160 feet above the river below.
     He did this several times during those two years, each time with a different, daring feat. He did it wearing a sack.  Another time he walked on stilts. He pushed a wheelbarrow of potatoes. He rode a bicycle. One of those times across the Niagara Falls, he even stopped in the middle of that rope and cooked an omelet on a small portable stove.
     Just think if we would have been in the crowd that watched him perform these amazing things, like pushing a wheelbarrow of potatoes across that rope. If he could do that, then what’s to say that he couldn’t have done that with one of us in that wheelbarrow.
     My guess is that if he would have asked one of us to get in that wheelbarrow, we would have said, “no.” Sometimes, we say we believe and trust God, but until we say yes, and let go of our control issues, we’ll never know how deep our faith really is.
     Our Old Testament reading for today is a story about letting go and letting God. Approximately 850 years before the time of Christ, a non-Israelite man named Naaman has the terrible disease of leprosy. He is considered an outsider.  Naaman was from Aram. He served in the Aram army.
     A young Israelite girl who had been captured from a previous battle is serving in Naaman’s house. Knowing that Naaman so desperately wanted to be healed and that there was no doctor in Aram covered by his insurance provider, this servant girl recommends an out of network physician. She tells him that there is a prophet in Israel named, Elisha who would be able to heal him. This prophet was known to heal all sorts of illnesses and conditions. Naaman who desperately wants to be healed agrees to go to Israel and try to set up an appointment.
     The king of Aram agrees to send a letter to the king of Israel to allow for Naaman to enter Israel and seek healing from his leprosy. When the king of Israel received this letter, he thinks the worst.
     He assumes that there is some ulterior motive by the king of Aram. After all, there had been rumors that the king of Aram wanted to expand their territory.  And so, the King of Israel made securing the border a top priority. On top of that national security issue, there also had been a terrible drought and grain was in short supply. The last think the King of Israel wanted was for more mouths to feed.
     To make a long story short, this was no time for some foreign military person to get special treatment, especially when this king had so much on his plate, internationally and domestically. On top of all these worries, the king had to deal with so called protestors who were known to wander from place to place criticizing the king’s policies. You already know the name of one of these protestors. Back then, they called them “prophets.” This prophet/protestor’s name was Elisha.
     The pressure is just too much for this king to take and so he tears his clothes, which is how you threw a tantrum in biblical times. He wants everybody to know that this letter to allow Naaman to come into the country is some sort of trap and he will have none of it.
     The prophet, Elisha gets wind of Naaman’s request to come into the country. Elisha tells the king that he would be more than willing to help this foreign military person who needed to be healed.
     So Naaman arrives in full regalia with his horse and chariot. Elisha instructs for Naaman to take two pills and call him in the morning. Actually, he tells him to wash seven times in the Jordan River and then call him in the morning.
     Naaman is outraged that he had traveled all that way just so that this quack doctor could make him look foolish. As he turns to head back to Aram, some of his own men tell him to at least give it a try, which he does, and miraculously, Naaman gets healed of his leprosy.
     Crazy, crazy story, right? What’s the point of all of this?
     The point is that two of the characters in the story were control freaks. Those two were Naaman who almost didn’t get healed because he wanted to control the way he thought he should be healed. The other one was the King of Israel who didn’t trust anybody and who was relying on his own wisdom in dealing with the many problems facing the people of Israel at the time.
     Naaman and the King of Israel were the control freaks.
     But there were two characters in the story who the author of II Kings wants us to know were willing to let go and let God in that situation. The one was the Israelite servant girl who had been captured and who had told Naaman about the prophet Elisha.
     The other character in the story who understood to let go and let God was the prophet Elisha. He was able to calm the king down and to remind him that everything was going to be all right and that his worst fears were not going to come true.
     This Old Testament story reminds me that for those of us who are control freaks, we need others to remind us that sometimes we need to just let go and let God. And sometimes, God calls us to be a calming influence for those who are anxious and worried about a certain outcome.
     I’ll never forget my first Easter Sunday as a new pastor.  I was so nervous. Even after several hours of preparing the sermon, I kept reworking it over and over again and when it was all said and done, I realized that my first draft was perfectly fine. Instead of worrying so much about the sermon, I could have used that time to enjoy being with my family.
     I was also concerned about the number of bulletins because of the larger crowd we were going to have.  And then I worried about where the Easter lilies were going to be placed around the altar. Our flower volunteer had already set them up and I asked if she could arrange them differently which she graciously did.
     As I looked at the new arrangement from the view of the balcony, I said, “You know, actually, the way you had them before looked nicer.”  I am so glad that this person was nice because anyone else would have made me wear one of those Easter lilies.
     Knowing that I was worrying way too much about my first Easter Sunday as a pastor, she calmly approached me and with a disarming smile, she gently said to me, “Robert, you just need to let go and let God.”  She was so right.  I needed to let go and let God.
     I would imagine that there are more than a few people here today, including this pastor, who needs to be reminded, “you just need to let go and let God.”
     A good friend of mine needed that reminder during a time of transition in her life. She had faithfully served as a food and hospitality coordinator on her church staff for thirty years and decided to retire.
     Peg put her heart into her ministry. She coordinated ministries such as collecting teddy bears and blankets for children at the hospital, providing free weekly church meals for people in the community, overseeing funeral lunches, and assisting with new member classes.
     The church staff took her out to lunch as a way to celebrate her retirement and her many years of faithful service in the life of our congregation. Even though Peg knew that it was time to retire due to health reasons and wanting to spend more time with her husband, she was finding this transition in her life really difficult to accept.
     She was worried that the new person wouldn’t know where things were kept in the church or wouldn’t know which members to call for certain projects. She was worried about all of these things.
     At her retirement party, staff members gave her gifts. The best retirement gift of all came from her husband, Jim. When she opened his gift, she looked confused because it was a piece of jewelry based on the Disney movie, “Frozen.”
     Jim looked at his wife and simply said the popular line from the main song of that movie, “Let it go, Peg. Let it go. Let it go.”
     Everybody had a good laugh including Peg. She just needed someone to say to her, “Let it go. Let it go.”
      Sometimes, we just need to surrender and yield to God. That’s all we need to do.
     When I was in college, I reached a low point in my life.  I was trying to do everything my way and it was only leading from one disappointment to another. My own control and pride were getting in the way of the future that God had in mind for me.
     Without a sense of purpose and feeling really down, I finally decided to surrender all of who I was to God. I fell to my knees and I prayed, “God, forgive me for not allowing you to be first in my life. From this point on, I want to do whatever you want me to do. I want to follow Jesus every day and be his disciple.”
     When I stood up from that prayer, it was like this huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. That’s what it feels like when you finally let go and let God.
     Today, we will be receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It’s a meal that reminds us that God has done everything that is needed so that we can be the people God is calling us to be.
     Jesus died on the cross and offers us hope, new life, direction, forgiveness, purpose, guidance, and salvation. If you think about it, what more do we need? What more do we need?
     (Singing) - Let it go. Let it go. Let it go.     

Let It Go!
Small Group Questions
II Kings 5:1-14
July 3, 2016

In our Old Testament reading, we have the story of the prophet Elisha healing Naaman, a Gentile who had leprosy. This story helps us to see the importance of letting go and trusting in God. This is exemplified by the young Israelite woman who told Naaman that Elisha would be able to heal him and Elisha who was willing to heal a non-Israelite. 

Who are the people in your life who have taught you the importance of "letting go and letting God."

The King of Israel and Naaman are examples of people in the story who did not want to let go and trust the people who were trying to help them. 

List some reasons why we may find it difficult to let go and trust God in situations. What can help us overcome these  challenges to our faith?

This story of the healing of Naaman shows us that we need each other to let go and trust God. This is one of the reasons small groups are so important in our faith journey. How has being in your small group helped you to let go and trust God?

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