For Sabbath, April 22, 1017
Texts: 2 Kings 5 and Matthew 14, Mark 6, John 6, and Matthew 18
Two stories. Two of my favorite stories.
The girl was a maid-in-waiting for a wealthy woman in Damascus. I don’t know her name, so I’ll call her Deborah. I’m going to guess she was twelve years old. What is that—sixth grade? Already she was working full time. Her job was to be instantly responsive to every wish of the Lady of the House. Fetch her slippers. Serve her tea. Scratch her back. Comb her hair. Remember where she left stuff. Day and night, seven days a week. That was the life of a domestic slave. At twelve years old Deborah was already doing what she would do for the rest of her life.
Maybe sometimes she dreamed of her old life, the life before slavery. Back when she lived with her parents and her brothers and sisters on a farm in Israel. But that seemed like ancient history now. Even if she could escape and find her way back to the town where she grew up, it’s possible there would have been no home to go to. Her parents may well have been killed when the Syrian army invaded and captured a bunch of people as slaves.
But here’s the crazy thing. In this story, Deborah is not a victim. She is the hero. She changed her world.
Her mistress’ husband was the chief general of the army of Syria, one of the most powerful men in the nation. He was very successful. Under his leadership, the army had won many victories. But he was doomed. He had leprosy.
Leprosy was a slow disease, but it was crippling. And there was no treatment. Naaman was going to lose his ability to function. The nation was going to lose his service, his expertise and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
If we turned this story into a movie, we would see the king and Naaman talking. The king asking, “What are we going to do? I don’t know how we are going to manage without you. Do you have anyone in the army who can take your place? How long can you hang on?”
We would watch scenes where his wife is crying, asking, “What’s going to happen to us?”
Then the scene would change. Mrs. Naaman is in her bedroom. Deborah is helping her undress and get into her night clothes. Mrs. Naaman sits on a stool while Deborah massages her shoulders. Mrs. Naaman is talking, as usual. “What am I going to do? What is going to happen to us? Why did this happen? What made the gods angry with us?”
Deborah continues kneading her shoulders and listening. Finally, Mrs. Naaman runs out of words, and Deborah speaks.
“You know what I wish? I wish Mr. Naaman could go see the prophet in Israel. Elisha is the most amazing prophet in the whole world. You would not believe the miracles he has performed. If Mr. Naaman could see the prophet, the prophet would heal him. I’m sure of it.”
“You really believe that?”
“For sure. Once, one of our neighbors couldn’t get pregnant. Elisha blessed her and they had a son. Then a few years later when the boy had a sun stroke and died, Elisha raised him back to life.”
“For real. That boy was a friend of my older brother.”
Mrs. Naaman told her husband about the conversation. Naaman did some discrete investigation, and sure enough, there were credible stories of amazing miracles. This prophet, Elisha, was truly amazing.
Naaman talked to his king. The king of Damascus wrote a letter to the king in Samaria and sent Naaman south.
There was lots of drama. But in the end, Naaman was healed of his leprosy and came back to Damascus a devotee of the God of Elisha. For the rest of his life, the commander of the army of Syria knew that his life was a gift from the God of Israel and his wife’s maid.
The second story.
Jesus and his disciples headed out of town for a bit of rest and recuperation. They were way out in the country, miles from anywhere. They thought they would be able to camp in peace. Enjoy a little down time. But they couldn’t keep themselves a secret. People found out where they were and crowds began gathering. Jesus didn’t have the heart to tell them he was on vacation. The crowd was there, so he went to work. He spent the entire day healing and teaching. And all the time more people were arriving.
Late in the afternoon, Jesus told his disciples. “These people must be getting hungry. It’s time to serve supper.”
“Serve supper?” the disciples protested. Even if you authorized us to spend all the money we have, there’s nowhere to buy food for this many. There is no Costco, no Safeway. How on earth are we going to serve supper without any food?”
“Well,” Jesus said, “just how much food do you have?”
“Five loaves and two fish. That’s it. To feed this crowd???? No way.”
“Nevertheless, bring it here,” Jesus said.
This is the way the story is told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The gospel of John adds one more fact. When Jesus asked how much food do you have, it was the disciple Andrew who announced the five loaves and two fish. More specifically, Andrew said, “There is a boy here with a lunch. His lunch is five loaves and two fish.”
So, when Jesus says “bring it here,” the “it” is a boy’s lunch. Jesus takes the boy’s lunch, blesses it and begins pulling fish and bread out of the basket.
Fish, fish, fish, fish. Bread, bread, bread, bread, bread. Jesus pulled fish and bread out of the boy’s basket and dropped them into other baskets which the disciples used for distribution.
It was a miracle! A fantastic miracle. Built on the generosity of that boy. He could tell his friends for the rest of his life about the afternoon when his lunch fed 5000 people. Wow! How cool is that.
In that culture children did not count for much. In both of these stories the men in the story are named. Naaman the general and Elisha the prophet. Jesus, Philip, Peter, and Andrew are named. But the girl and the boy—no names. They did not count to the historians. But they counted to God. God accomplished his great miracle through the faithfulness and goodness of a nameless girl and a nameless boy.
Kids matter. Kids mattered back in Bible times and they still matter. Jesus showed a decided preference for kids.
About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.
But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:1-6
Who is great? We can start a good argument. Money maker? Because money is the foundation of the systems we depend on—health care, transportation, environmental protection, social services, grocery stores, gas stations, electricity—every one of these systems depends on a steady flow of money. So, maybe the greatest people are those who generate the most wealth.
But then we could argue teachers are the most important. If you’re going to generate wealth it is very helpful to be able to read and count.
No, no, no, someone else protests. The most important people are farmers and fishing crews. Money is useless if there is no food to buy. Your kids can’t learn if they are hungry. So surely, farmers are the most important.
Who is the greatest? Who is most important, most significant, most worthy of honor? Jesus said, children.
Kids we need you. God needs you. Thanks for being here.
Since it’s earth day, I found a couple of examples of young people who are making a difference in the world in connection with the environment.
In 1997, a sailing captain, Charles Moore, discovered a vast swath of ocean littered with plastic junk. Lots of it. Subsequent research mapped the garbage. It covered tens of thousands of square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean. One estimate I saw, said there was 100 million tons of trash in this Pacific Garbage Patch or Vortex. When I first read about it, I was very discouraged. We are ruining the ocean and the problem is so huge there is nothing that can be done about it.
Then two or three years ago, I read about a Dutch teenager, Boyan Slat. He was working on a plan to begin cleaning up some of the hundred million tons of plastic trash. My first reaction was skepticism. How could a 19-year old clean up the oceans? But he paid no attention to all the people who said it couldn’t be done. He developed a system to collect the plastic. He created a foundation and raised money. He has already tested a prototype in the North Sea and hopes to deploy the first pilot project in the Pacific this year.
Not bad for a kid. All the adults, the experienced engineers and environmentalists thought the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was so impossibly huge there was no point in even thinking about it. Now, a kid is well on his way to doing something about it.
Deepika Kurup, was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, but her family was from India. She remembers their summer visits to India when she was a kid. She saw children drink water that was so dirty she would not have even touched it. Back home in the US she read about water problems all over the world. 760 million people lack access to clean water. When she was in 8th grade she began working on a solution. Current water treatment processes were slow and expensive or required large infrastructures.
She invented a process that harnessed solar energy to remove bacteria, organics, and other classes of contaminants from drinking water.
Kurup’s initial idea that won her the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist in 2012 is based on using a photo catalytic compound for water purification. This project involved a photo catalytic composite made up of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, hollow glass microspheres, and Portland cement. In 2012 Kurup’s photo catalytic composite was able to reduce the amount of total coliform from 8000 colony-forming units to 50. In addition, it oxidized Methylene blue at a faster rate than standard solar disinfection methods.
She improved her method and after 3 years developed a pervious photo catalytic composite using sand, TiO2, Portland cement and silver nitrate. This photo catalytic pervious composite showed 98% reduction in total coliform bacteria immediately after filtration. Exposure of the filtered water to sunlight with a photo catalytic composite disc resulted in 100% inactivation of total coliform bacteria in just 15 minutes. This project won her the 2014 United States Stockholm Junior Water Prize. She also is the National Geographic winner in the 2015 Google Science Fair. –Wikipedia
She has created a nonprofit aimed at deploying the technology in the real world where people are dying for clean water.
Way to go, Deepika!
Kids, the world needs you. It needs your brains, your hands, your heart, your character. God is calling you to great things. We, the church, pledge ourselves to do all we can to support you in responding to the call of God and the great need of the world.
You are the greatest citizens of the kingdom of heaven.