Little People, Big God

Little People, Big God                                       Sermon for 7/3/22 by Pastor Teddie McConnell
We all like to think at times that we’re more important than we really are in the grand scheme of things. It’s okay to have a healthy sense of self, but it’s a major source of temptation when we accomplish things using God’s gifts and then allow ourselves to think we’re better or more important than other people. In the Jewish neighborhood where I grew up in New York, that’s called “getting the big head.” Others call it being puffed up or being a blow hard. If we’re not careful, our egos can become inflated to the point where our vision of reality becomes distorted.
I’m going to use some balloons to illustrate my point this morning. If you don’t like loud noises, rest assured that I don’t plan to pop any, at least, not on purpose.
There are several puffed-up people in the story from 2nd Kings. One is Naaman. He’s a powerful man, a celebrated warrior. (Blow air into the balloon.) He’s a five-star general, the equivalent of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the nation of Aram. (Blow.) He’s held in high favor by the king because a God he doesn’t know about has given him a great victory, something he assumed was his own doing. (Blow.) There are members of the royal court bowing and scraping to him, congratulating him and hoping to gain favor by being around him. (Blow.) But he has to admit he has leprosy and no power to cure it. (release some air) He humbles himself enough to listen to a lowly slave girl, someone with no status whatsoever, who knows what God can do and talks about it.
Then there’s the king of Aram, the even-more-powerful ruler of the entire Semitic nation (blow). Even his servants have servants. (blow) He has wealth enough to buy anything he wants. (blow) But he has to admit he doesn’t have the power to cure Naaman and needs help from outside his domain. (release some air) Because of his big ego, he assumes that writing a letter and sending gifts will get him what he wants.
Lastly, we have the king of Israel, probably Joram. Maybe he isn’t named in the passage because the scribe assumes that everyone already knows his name because he’s so important. (blow) He’s the king, which is enough to give anyone a big head. (blow) But King Joram is upset partly because the king of Aram was responsible for his father’s death after God had promised to wipe out Joram’s line. He thinks maybe this is a trick to bring that prophesy to fruition, a political maneuver to start another war. His vision of reality is distorted.
He knows healing can only come from God. But he’s not thinking about Elisha’s presence nearby, not thinking that he could ask God’s messenger what’s going on. His ego is blinding him to the idea the letter could be a straightforward request.
When Elisha hears that the king tore his clothes, he sends the king a message to send Naaman to his house. Notice Elisha didn’t even go see the king in person. Elisha’s power is from God. He doesn’t have to stand on ceremony. When Naaman comes to Elisha’s door with his horses and chariots and expensive gifts, he receives similar treatment, a servant who gives Naaman the message to go dip himself seven times in the river Jordan, then closes the door on him.
Naaman is furious! How dare a mere foreigner, even if he is a prophet, not come out to see such an important visitor? And is such an easy task to be trusted to cure his leprosy? He wants to earn his healing, just as he thinks he earned his high position. There should be a ceremony at least. Dip in a foreign river seven times? What’s the catch? He wants to work for this miracle, not simply receive it. His ego is wounded.
Then his servants, who care enough about him to call him “Father,” convince him to give it a try. Naaman, to his credit, lets enough air out of his ego to allow him to listen to those he normally considers beneath him and try what Elisha said to do. Dipping in the river is a simple act of obedience and a foretaste of baptism. The healing that results brings him to faith in the God of Israel, the big God who loves us all, not just the Israelites. Jesus later refers to this story as proof that God loves the gentiles, too.
If we’re puffed up, we have trouble accepting God’s gifts without wondering what the catch is. Jesus couldn’t really love us enough to die for us without demanding something in return. We want to earn it, more than we want to accept it as a gift. It’s all about us, not about God’s incredible generosity and grace.
A balloon filled with our own hot air becomes larger and less flexible until it’s in danger of popping. We have trouble letting go of offense, forgiving others for real or perceived wounds, or lowering ourselves to apologize. A full balloon can also intrude into other peoples’ space. Or it might get so out of control that it will fly around and end up on the floor somewhere, lost and alone.
On the other hand, a balloon without air in it can stretch and flex and last a long time. But it doesn’t do anything important.
Here’s the key to doing things for God without getting self-important. If we allow our balloon to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, we can be changed and empowered. We can blow that Spirit into other people’s lives and be used by God again and again. We’re capable of more than we expect, because our balloon is being used for its ultimate purpose. It’s peaceful, it’s joyful.
Last week I stopped into a small shop to sell an old piece of jewelry. Before I could say a word, the man warned me that the person he was with would take up to an hour and there was another person after him. My balloon filled right up. How dare he turn me away? Fortunately, I was able to say I would come back another day rather than popping off at him, but I was expecting better treatment and could have made a scene if I hadn’t had some Holy Spirit in my balloon, too.
Next week, we’ll be having our think tank/brainstorming meeting after worship. If we’re going to make a course correction guided by the Spirit, we can’t have any leftover ego or resentment in our balloons. We need to let go of unforgiveness over past interactions with each other and with the larger organization of the church so we can move forward.
What does life look like when you’re a spirit-filled balloon, like Jesus was?
Jesus’ way of victory is not through the power, protection, prosperity or possessions of an earthly king, but by vulnerability and following God, our true leader. Following Jesus’ example means belonging to God’s family and the body of Christ, giving of ourselves in service and our earthly goods despite the potential risks and heartache.
Jesus said, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” You’re vulnerable to danger, to nasty people, even when Jesus sends you. Vulnerability isn’t weakness. Those Jesus calls have great power within them: they have the very Kingdom of God; they have the power to help the sick and a bottomless fountain of peace to offer and receive, one that comes from our very big God.
Hardship, suffering, and rejection are normal—not exceptional—for those who follow Jesus. People often react badly to being helped, being told that there’s a way to be healed. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
“Nevertheless,” said Jesus, “do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Don’t get puffed up because you can do things for God. God’s power is making it possible. It’s all Jesus’ mission we’re doing. The joy is in knowing Jesus loves us and rejoices in our courage and in what we’re doing for others and each other.
When we ask the Holy Spirit to breathe into us, to fill our balloons, we become part of God’s great victory over sin, death, evil and oppression, even if it’s one little step at a time. We become a small but important part of our big God’s huge plan to redeem all things. God invites us to witness and participate in this work as God accomplishes it.
Jesus tells the disciples that even better than the experience of being part of God’s victory is being part of God’s love. Having their names written in the book of life is the best reason to rejoice, the ultimate fulfillment of everything God has planned for us. We need to stay filled with the Holy Spirit while we do God’s will in this world. It's easy to get filled with our own hot air and forget that we are just little balloons, little people that belong to a very big God. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you. You’ll receive more than you can possibly hold. That’s why it has to be shared!
And all God’s people said, Amen.

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