Matthew 5:14-16 The Message (MSG)14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Isaiah 36 1-3 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria made war on all the fortress cities of Judah and took them. Then the king of Assyria sent his general, the “Rabshekah,” accompanied by a huge army, from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah.
The general stopped at the aqueduct where it empties into the upper pool on the road to the public laundry.
Three men went out to meet him: Eliakim son of Hilkiah, in charge of the palace; Shebna the secretary; and Joah son of Asaph, the official historian.
Isaiah 36:13-20 The Message (MSG)
13-15 Then the Rabshekah stood up and called out loudly in Hebrew, the common language, “Listen to the message of the great king, the king of Assyria! Don’t listen to Hezekiah’s lies. He can’t save you. And don’t pay any attention to Hezekiah’s pious sermons telling you to lean on God, telling you ‘God will save us, depend on it. God won’t let this city fall to the king of Assyria.’
16-20 “Don’t listen to Hezekiah. Listen to the king of Assyria’s offer: ‘Make peace with me. Come and join me. Everyone will end up with a good life, with plenty of land and water, and eventually something far better. I’ll turn you loose in wide open spaces, with more than enough fertile and productive land for everyone.’ Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you with his lies, ‘God will save us.’ Has that ever happened? Has any god in history ever gotten the best of the king of Assyria? Look around you. Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? The gods of Sepharvaim? Did the gods do anything for Samaria? Name one god that has ever saved its countries from me. So what makes you think that God could save Jerusalem from me?’”
Isaiah 37:1-7 The Message (MSG)
37 1-2 When King Hezekiah heard the report, he also tore his clothes and dressed in rough, penitential burlap gunnysacks, and went into the sanctuary of God. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, all of them also dressed in penitential burlap, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.
3-4 They said to him, “Hezekiah says, ‘This is a black day. We’re in crisis. We’re like pregnant women without even the strength to have a baby! Do you think your God heard what the Rabshekah said, sent by his master the king of Assyria to mock the living God? And do you think your God will do anything about it? Pray for us, Isaiah. Pray for those of us left here holding the fort!’”
5-7 Then King Hezekiah’s servants came to Isaiah. Isaiah said, “Tell your master this, ‘God’s Message: Don’t be upset by what you’ve heard, all those words the servants of the Assyrian king have used to mock me. I personally will take care of him. I’ll arrange it so that he’ll get a rumor of bad news back home and rush home to take care of it. And he’ll die there. Killed—a violent death.’”
Isaiah 2:1-5 The Message (MSG)
2 1-5 The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:
There’s a day coming when the mountain of God’s House Will be The Mountain— solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come, let’s climb God’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob.
He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation.
God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.
If you read newspapers or listen to the news on radio or television, you’ve heard the term “fake news.” It’s an interesting term, almost an oxymoron. If it’s news, how can it be fake? If it’s fake, how can it be news?
But beyond this simple word puzzle is a troubling question: what can we believe?
Fake news is not a new idea. We have a great example in today’s Scripture. The Rabshekah, or commander, delivers a shining example of fake news to the people of Judah. He has a message from his boss, the King of Assyria, for the king of Judah, Hezekiah.
Essentially, the message is “give up.” The message probably seemed like a good idea, as the Rabshekah was accompanied by a huge army. He was ready to make siege on the city of Jerusalem, ready to wear down the citizens and the soldiers until they gave up and surrendered.
King Hezekiah was one of the best kings Judah ever had and his wisdom is shown in his response to the Rabshekah. He does not surrender to the inevitable. Instead, he turned to God.
He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, all of them also dressed in penitential burlap, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.
Hezekiah did not act out of cowardice or fear, nor was he in denial. His messengers told the prophet, Isaiah:
“Hezekiah says, ‘This is a black day. We’re in crisis. We’re like pregnant women without even the strength to have a baby! Pray for us, Isaiah. Pray for those of us left here holding the fort!’”
Isaiah had an answer:
“Tell your master this, ‘God’s Message: Don’t be upset by what you’ve heard, all those words the servants of the Assyrian king have used to mock me. I personally will take care of him. I’ll arrange it so that he’ll get a rumor of bad news back home and rush home to take care of it. And he’ll die there. Killed—a violent death.’”
Let’s take a look at the fake news delivered to the people. if there is such a thing as fake news, and according to my research, there is, why did the Rabshekah think he would get them to surrender?
How does fake news work? First of all, there must be a specific audience. In this case, it was the citizens standing and sitting on the wall.
Also, notice that the Rabshekah was speaking in Hebrew, which everybody understood, instead of diplomatic language which only Hezekiah’s staff would understand.
The next requirement for fake news is to know what the listener is angry about or afraid of.
The citizens of Jerusalem were afraid of two things: the army and God’s faithfulness.
We all know that there are times when God seems far away and disinterested. We worry if God will come through for us in the hard times.
Once the audience’s fears are known, the fake news writer delivers “news” that sounds like what the listener is hoping for. It doesn’t have to be true; it just has to sound better than the current situation:
16-20 “Don’t listen to Hezekiah. Listen to the king of Assyria’s offer: ‘Make peace with me. Come and join me. Everyone will end up with a good life, with plenty of land and water, and eventually something far better. I’ll turn you loose in wide open spaces, with more than enough fertile and productive land for everyone.’
Who could resist that offer? A good life. Plenty of land and water. Something far better. Turn you loose —that is you won’t be slaves. Wide open spaces. Fertile land for everyone.
Who could resist that offer?
If you believe that offer, then why would you resist it?
Hezekiah does not believe it. He does not trust the Rabeskah or the King of Assyria.
He turns to God.
I attended a continuing education class on Thursday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moline. It was a class for pastors to remind us how we should behave. It might seem easy for a pastor to do everything right, because that’s the expectation of the job. I’ve had people apologize to me for saying “damn” when they’re talking to me. I suppose I should be apologizing to someone every time I say “damn.” Anyhow, because we work with and love people who have problems once in a while, we can get into some sticky situations. The presenter told this story:
A woman had a specific job in a company. One day, she got instructions to change the way she did her job. The more she followed these instructions, the more stressed out she got, because she saw how these new procedures were hurting people. She actually got sick and had to see a doctor. When she realized that her job was making her sick, with the encouragement of her doctor, she went to her bosses and told them that she could not longer do her job because of the harm she was causing. Her bosses were flabbergasted. They immediately started discussing how they could change the practices that they had required.
This anecdote is not about fake news. It is about doing the right thing, which is what Hezekiah did. The obvious thing was to surrender. The right thing was to turn to God.
How often it is easier to follow our bosses instead of our instinct to trust God. Sometimes it is at work. Sometimes it is with family members.
Another thing about fake news—other people believe it, but I don’t. Ha. Ha. I “know” the truth.
No one has an exclusive claim to fake news. Sometimes we tell ourselves fake news. “It won’t matter.” “I’m not the only one.” “If so-and-so can do it, so can I.” “Nobody will notice.”
And then I have to ask myself, where do I put God in this equation?
Sure, I pray for my kids, my husband, my friends, my family, our leaders. I thank God for sunny days and warm rains and pretty snow. But do I pray when I am afraid? I have to say, No. I just stew and worry. We all have our worries. Mine are education, climate change, the survival of Christianity, the loss of good jobs. You might say I’ve believed my own fake news that my grandchildren are doomed to a life of starvation and conflict.
Thankfully, there are people who pray about these worries of mine. They do turn to God for guidance. For every issue I mentioned, there is an organization that is faith-based.
The last piece of our Scripture today seems to be tacked on after all the miserable events of the first three pieces. The first three portions are from Chapters 36 & 37. The last portion is from Chapter 2. It is fairly well known. In fact, I posted on our Facebook page yesterday an article that was inspired by this passage from Chapter 2:
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.
Perhaps the NRSV is the version you’ve heard before:
2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
The article I posted was about a statue created by Esther Augsburger,
Esther wrote: ‘Guns into Plowshares is a large sculpture of steel, in the sculptural shape of a plowshare, with 3000 hand guns welded onto it. The guns were collected from several Metropolitan Police Department turn-in programs in which (the American boxer) Riddik Bowe donated $100 per hand-gun turned in to them. In turn the Chief of Police negotiated with me to build the sculpture, expressing that we can turn our weapons of destruction into that which will cultivate peace – a plow – a symbol of providing for the bread of peace. The theme was taken from Isaiah 2:4, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
Now, what I find ironic, is that turning guns into plowshares, or instruments used for the good of people, is less believable than fake news.
If you were told that you and your family were in jeopardy, would you turn your gun into a shovel and go plant flowers?
It makes a great story, but what does it have to do with real life?
It is hard to follow God. I am guilty of running after God, rather than following God. I run after God when an emergency pops up. The rest of the time, I try to use my own wisdom and strength. This is a sad thing to hear from your pastor, but I am a poor example as a Christian when I think I can depend on what the world offers, especially when the promise is a good life, plenty of land and water, peace on earth, plenty of job, good health care, cheap electricity.
We can work for those things. But my problem is that I don’t think beyond myself. I want all that for my family, but do I really want all that for the whole world? If I beat my sword into a plowshare, won’t I be attacked by someone who still has a sword? If everybody has enough to eat, will I have less to eat? If everybody has safe shelter, does that mean I have to share my house with someone?
Maybe I don’t talk to God about this because I’m afraid of the answer. I have everything I need, more than I need. My own fake news tells me that my own efforts will never be enough, that we will always have famine and war and evil leaders. What is my response? Fear. What should be my response?
Jesus tells us in Matthew:
Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
So, our marching orders are to be generous with our lives. If we are open to God, we will inspire others to be open to God. More God, less fear. More God, more peace.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
God of deliverance, you promised prosperity and peace to the exiles of Jerusalem. Grant us to prosper, not for riches, but for faith, so that our lives may be a blessing to all. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
World Peace Prayer Marty Haugen
Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth;
lead me from despair to hope,
from fear to trust;
lead me from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart,
our world, our universe.
2 Kings 5:1-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 When the king 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.”
8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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 cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached 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’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”
One time I saw a couple sisters walking into the florist. I knew their father had been quite ill. I assumed that he had died and that they were meeting with the florist to plan funeral flowers. I went home and told Bim what I saw. He went up town and mentioned my observation. It turns out their father was very much alive and they were just shopping. I jumped to conclusions.
During my teaching years I had many students who shared a last name. In my early years I assumed they were all cut from the same cloth. Once I had a Burke or a Green or a Donahue or a McDonnell, I expected a similar version of the next sibling to sit in my classroom to resemble the elder brother or sister. So if I had a student who was quiet and well-behaved, I expected the younger sibling to also be quiet and well-behaved. That meant that any younger siblings or cousins who came into my classroom began the semester with an extra burden of being stereotyped to fit my first impression. I jumped to conclusions.
In our story today, jumping to conclusions nearly caused a war and nearly prevented a healing.
King Jehoram is king of Israel. Naaman is a military commander for the King of Aram. With such credentials, you would think they would be blessed not only with power, but with wisdom.
And they probably were, to have achieved such positions as king and commander. But they also had their weaknesses, and they jumped to conclusions.
The king of Israel, when presented with ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments, assumed that the king of Aram was trying to trick him into war.
7 When the king 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.”
Jehoram reacted out of fear. When he read that the king of Aram expected to have Naaman cured, Jehoram jumped to the conclusion that he personally was supposed to cure Naaman. The only thing he could deduce is that the king of Aram was setting him up for failure so that Aram could invade Israel. If Jehoram couldn’t personally cure Naaman, he was going to have to get his soldiers ready for war. To us, that seems like a pretty wild assumption, but if Jehoram is already feeling threatened by the possibility, then it seems logical to jump to that conclusion.
We know that it is not Jehoram who can cure Naaman. It is Elisha, the prophet. Elisha is important to the people because he is the one who speaks for God to the people. God works through Elisha to help the Israelites maintain their faith in God.
Elisha has worked miracles before. Apparently this is common knowledge among the people. Why else would a young woman, a prisoner of war, know about him? As a prisoner of war, she was given to a prominent citizen of Aram. Naaman was that citizen and he gives the young woman to his wife.
Despite his status in the kingdom of Aram, Naaman’s life is not perfect. The writer of 2 Kings tells us he has leprosy. It may not have been the kind of leprosy we know as Hansen’s disease. It may have been another form of dermatitis , such as psoriasis or eczema. Nonetheless, it is troublesome. Naaman’s wife evidently frets about this disease in front of the young woman and the young woman, tired of hearing about it, suggests to Naaman’s wife that a cure is available in Israel. Naaman’s wife tells Naaman, and Naaman tells the king of Aram.
Evidently Naaman and the king are not only professional colleagues, but also close friends. The king arranges for Naaman to go to Israel for the cure. He is so hopeful that Naaman will be cured that he sends generous gifts as a thank you to Israel. Evidently the king has also jumped to the conclusion that the King Jehoram is the miracle maker.
When Naaman arrives at Elisha’s doorstep, Elisha doesn’t even get up off his seat.
10 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.”
Naaman is insulted. First, he expects Elisha himself to administer the cure. Second, the cure is so simple that it can’t possibly work. Naaman was expecting a lot of hocus-pocus, mysterious ceremonies, and possibly some difficult challenges to effect his cure. But, no! Go wash in the river. Naaman could have done that with having to travel all this way. What a joke! Naaman jumped to the conclusion that his cure had to be complicated.
If it weren’t for his servants who convinced him that he had nothing to lose, he would not have bathed seven times and he wold not have gone home with clear skin.
How often do we jump to conclusions?
We are almost finished with this year’s political season. Day after tomorrow marks the end of campaigning and the end of all those commercials and advertisements we despise. The writers of those ads are counting on your jumping to conclusions. Each ad tells us just enough to send our brains in a certain direction and we come to the conclusion that we are in danger and can only be saved by the candidate’s plans fo us—or we can only be saved by voting against another candidate. The political workers expect us to jump to conclusions. They don’t expect us to do our own research, to find out what is really going to happen.
My daughter, Miriam, spoke at a candidate rally last night. One of the examples she gave described how a bill supporting mental health care was signed into law that would have helped her and people like her. The person signing the bill was surrounded by people who would benefit from that bill. They did not know that the bill would not be funded and they did not know that existing funds were being cut. They jumped to the conclusion that they were being helped.
On a lighter note, my son, at about four years of age, saw a can of peanuts sitting on the counter. He leaped across the room, plunging his hand into the can of “peanuts.” It was my grease can. Imagine his shock. And imagine my laughter. He turned on me and shouted, “Mom, you hurted my feelings!!!!”
Jumping to conclusions can hurt people. Fortunately, King Jehoram and Naaman both came to their senses. There was no intent of war and Naaman was cured. In fact, read the rest of the story. Naaman became a worshiper of God, the same God we worship.
This week I had to write a paper for one of my classes about how we carry on the work of a church that is 2,000 years old. One of my comments was that it is hard to be optimistic about our situation when our numbers are small. Sometimes we jump to conclusions about why people don’t join us here on Sunday mornings.
I think that everyone who is not here has a valid reason, a logical reason for not being here. Friends of mine had a daughter die when she was twelve. The father never went back to church. Perhaps he blamed God. More likely is that he knew that he could not get through a service without breaking down in tears and sobbing his heart out in front of the whole congregation. He was a tough, gruff man; he would not make a spectacle of himself in front of those who though they knew him.
Another thing that disturbs me is that I have finally realized that if you don’t read well, a typical worship service can be pure torture. What percentage of your time is spent reading, either liturgy or words to a hymn? I had jumped to the conclusion that our service is pretty user-friendly. I design our services just for us; I don’t use “the book.” But my services still depend on you being able to read—and to read pretty fast.
So, let us, when we judge, not jump to conclusions. Let us not be like Naaman and King Jehoram, measuring people by our own expectations.
One of my classroom tricks, acquired after years of practice—and after realizing that not all cousins are cut from the same cloth—was to look at each student, individually, as a child of God. That changes everything. Each of us is a child of God, redeemed by a God who sent his Son to walk among us, to save us from our own recklessness, our own prejudices. Praise be to a God whose final conclusion is eternal life. Amen.