Turning Power Upside-Down
July 07, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
2 Kings 5:1-14 Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 Galatians 6:1-16
Have you ever seen a pyramid? Most of us haven’t seen one in real life, but almost everyone has probably seen pictures of one.
What I’m thinking about is just the general shape of a pyramid. Do you have that image in your mind? That shape, the shape of a pyramid, is often used to describe the way that human beings generally run things whether it’s clubs, or unions, corporations, or governments. There’s a big base that is filled with ordinary people, laborers and worker bees, and above them are the foremen, then managers, then supervisors, then directors, then vice-presidents, presidents, and at the top is the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO. In governments there are similar structures and at the top is the mayor, or governor, president, or prime minister. We see this same style of organization in many of our churches, with lay people, pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and in some denominations, archbishops and popes.
But as common as this structure is, we are making a mistake when we assume that this is the way that God runs things. While I have seen several business gurus preach that it’s important to “flatten” the pyramid and operate with a simpler, less management intensive, hierarchy, God’s system of administration and government has a way of turning the entire pyramid upside-down. In 2 Kings 5:1-14, we hear the story of the great military commander Naaman, a powerful man who was second only to the king of Aram, but one who contracted a repulsive and incurable disease.
5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So, Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So, he turned and went off in a rage.13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
It didn’t matter how powerful Naaman was, if word got out that he had leprosy, he was ruined. People were afraid of lepers. Leprosy was ultimately fatal, no one knew how it was contracted, and there was no cure. Lepers lived their lives by begging and were prohibited from being around healthy people. Certainly, no one would want to be under his command so his ability to lead would be destroyed. His power was of no use to him against this enemy. But hope come to him in the strangest way. Hope comes not from power, or authority, not from the king, but from a slave girl who knows that the prophet of Israel’s God could cure him. And so, based on the advice of a slave, this powerful man travels to Israel for a cure and then to the door of Elisha’s house. But here, Naaman’s ego is offended because Elisha doesn’t even come outside to see him and Naaman is told that he should go to the Jordan River, wash seven times, and be cleansed. And again, his ego is offended because his home country has plenty of rivers, so why should he wash in Israel’s river?
But he is rescued a second time, by one of his servants who reminds him that he would have gladly undertaken a great quest, or an impossible task, if Elisha had demanded it, so why not swallow his pride and ego and do something simple?
And he is healed.
In God’s calculation, Naaman’s power and authority are useless, it doesn’t matter that he sits near the pinnacle of the pyramid of power. Instead, his humility and willingness to listen to his servants, and to hear the command of God, however simple, are the things that bring about his healing.
Similarly, even when God gives power to his followers, we are cautioned in how we use it. In Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples plus seventy-two others, and sends them out to teach and to minister to the people. And, when they return, they marvel at the power that God has given them, but Jesus refocuses their understanding in an entirely different way.
10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Jesus sends out seventy-two of his followers as missionaries to the communities along the route that he would soon visit. And when they return, they are thrilled to report that the sick were healed, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and even the demons obey their commands. But Jesus cautions them all to remember humility. They aren’t great because they have power. Jesus tells them that he watched as Satan, the most powerful of God’s angels, was cast out of heaven. The cause for rejoicing, Jesus says, is not that they have power, but that God has rescued them from sin and death.
Humility is one of the hallmarks of living a Christian life throughout scripture. We saw in in the story of Elisha and Naaman, we saw it in the story of Jesus and the seventy-two, and we see it as a central message of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16) where we hear these words:
6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. 6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.
Paul’s tone in this passage speaks to us in the twenty-first century as piercingly and compellingly as it did in the first century. If someone is caught in sin, don’t gloat, and don’t parade them through the streets or through the media to bathe them in shame, but instead restore them… gently. Instead of watching the people around you so that you can pounce on them the moment that they screw up, keep an eye on yourself so that you won’t be tempted and become the person that screwed up. Instead of piling guilt and shame on people who make mistakes, or instead of watching the people around you struggle with doubt, struggle with divorce, struggle with poverty, struggle with single parenthood, struggle with being a widow, struggle with losing a parent or for caring for an elderly parent, instead of watching each other struggle, carry each other’s burdens. Help the people around you who are struggling, share their burden, so that all of us can walk this journey a little easier. Don’t you dare think that you are all that important, especially when you are not. Test yourself. Take a hard look at your actions and see if you are acting the way that Jesus acted, or if you are just acting like a selfish jerk.
Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of yourself, but don’t compare yourself to others. It’s okay to be proud of what you have accomplished or what you have overcome, but it’s not okay to say that you are better or worse than someone else because of it. And if you are lucky enough to have been able to study scripture, and to have good teachers to teach you about the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ, then don’t be afraid to show your appreciation to the people who taught you, and, in my understanding, don’t be afraid to share what you have learned with others. Those who have been taught today become the teachers of tomorrow.
I’m not sure what all was going on in that church in Galatia, but Paul is really fired up. He continues by reminding everyone that we harvest the same things that we plant. If we plant the things of the flesh, then we will harvest destruction, but if we plant the things of the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life. Don’t get tired of doing good. Don’t give up. Whenever you can, do good to all the people around you, especially to those who surround you in your community of faith because, hopefully, those are the same people that are walking with you and sharing your burdens.
Both in the first century and in the twenty-first centuries, the church was, and is, dealing with people who are using the things of the flesh, things like money, power, sex, drugs, pleasure, and influence to impress one another. Knowing that, Paul points out that there are people who are trying to use those same tools to impress people and persuade them to come around to their way of thinking, and the only reason that they are doing so, is so that they can avoid being persecuted or discriminated against for being Christian. While these influential people were far from perfect themselves, they wanted to persuade others to follow them so that they could brag about how many they persuaded. To them, the followers of Jesus Christ were only being used as poker chips to keep score.
Instead, Paul insists that the only thing that we, as Christians, ought to brag about is the cross of Jesus. None of the things that the world uses to brag about, and impress people are worth anything today, nor will they be worth anything on the day of judgement. The only thing that is worth anything, is the work that Jesus is doing in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
At the end of the day, the spiritual world doesn’t look anything at all like a pyramid. Power and influence aren’t important. Money, and pleasure aren’t worth bragging about. They pyramid isn’t just turned upside down by Jesus Christ, it’s completely flattened. There’s Jesus… and then there’s us. And we aren’t under him, because at the moment we put our faith in him, we were adopted by God as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
The only thing we have to impress people… is Jesus.
The only thing we have to brag about… is Jesus.
The goal isn’t to become rich, and powerful, to climb to the top of the pyramid, and live a life that is full of pleasure and influence.
The goal is to discover humility. The goal is to live, and to love,…
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