A crown's no cure for a headache.”
-African proverb, Kpelle Tribe.
2 Kings 5: Story of Namaan
The great Namaan has a personal problem. It’s embarrassing, but there it is.
Namaan has military power, success, recognition and wealth, but he is ill, un-whole,
at a fundamental level helpless to help himself.
The nameless girl, however, has the power of knowledge:
She has “holy know-how.” She has faith.
There are other more conventionally powerful people in this story.
The king of Aram, Namaan’s supreme commander, has power to release Namaan and power to influence others on his behalf. (thus the letter).
The king of Israel, in a communication snafu, and facing something he cannot do,
is feeling far from powerful about Namaan’s request.
Enter Elisha, “man of God,” who CAN change what needs to be changed
but …..who could evidently care less about using the proper diplomatic channels to do so. Instead, another child carries the message of healing.
Namaan, confused by the impropriety, is offended.
He’s gone through the proper channels, played the power game properly.
He’s brought the right gifts,
Presented himself in full dress uniform,
He’s ready to pay whatever the treatment’s worth.
He’s backed by the winning king.
So where do these Israelites get off sending a child as though Namman were some back yard neighbor being called for a casual supper in the barn?
As we listen in, we can’t help but wonder,
What do you really want changed, Namaan?
What’s most important to you?
Is it people’s attitude toward you or is it your actual condition?
We’re really asking Namaan what defines him,
his wellbeing or the way people treat him.
Can he tolerate this disordering of one for the reordering, the healing, of the other?
At the pinnacle of his power Namaan feels the peril of revealing his weakness.
He has so much power, so much to loose, that healing is obscured by the complications of power that he’s come to expect.
Do you remember who started the ball moving in this story?
It was the simple young girl of faith,
the most apparently powerless character in the story.
She was young in a time that valued the wisdom of age;
….enslaved in a culture that valued freedom,;
….female in a world ruled by male power.
What empowers the powerless to speak up? Faith.
What message does faith give? Come and be made well.
Back in 2002, the world noticed other young people raising their voices for the well being of others when their movement was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, the first time children had ever been nominated.
The movement’s founder, Gerson Andres Florez Perez was 11 when he heard of first one, then another child being killed by land mines in the eastern part of his country, Columbia. And so in 1998, during his school holidays, Gerson wrote a proposal for peace. entitled “Children For Peace”. 2,700,000 children from all over Colombia voted in a referendum and insisted that their basic and essential rights be respected. This act was named the “Children’s Movement for Peace”. As Gerson expected, the children’s voice had a huge effect. Soon after this vote, 10,000,000 adults also voted and demanded peace in Colombia.
How simple can becoming well be?
But how terribly, horribly, complicated we make it.
We crave attention as we already are instead of than well being as God knows we can be. (Which, if you think about it, is idolatry, my image, not yours, God.)
We do at the simplest level in our own lives.
What do you ususally say when someone asks, How are you?
What would happen if I answered honestly when I"m having a bad day? Are we afraid of what revealing our truth might provoke?
Honestly, wouldn't most of us rather be in the power position of praying for others rather than having others pray for us?
What might happen if each of us were willing to expose our woundedness?
But we want to give the world a strong face, we are imperiled by our power.
Gerson saw what the power of attention did to adults working with his movement. At age 16 he wrote, “Unfortunately the [peace prize nomination] made some of the adults who coordinated our activities to indulge in a passion to win the Prize ,forgetting to act with humanity towards the children. … At my young age and with my innocence,
I understood that for many adults peace is as good of a business as war, and that only when it is born from our interior will we be able to bring peace to our fellow human beings. I understood that true peace is provided by God, and that it is our duty to maintain it for the well-being of all humanity.
Power brings peril:
But humble yearning for the well-being God intends for the world is the most powerful force in our lives and in our world.
Psalm 30 (©2001 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net)
I pleaded for help, LORD God, and you stepped in and healed me. They were nearly ready to pronounce me dead
but your brought me back, LORD;
you put me back on my feet when I was about to be carried to the morgue. So I’m singing your praises, and I’m encouraging everyone to do the same; to name you with joyful thanks.
I was guilty of taking your goodness for granted;
I thought I had it made.
You had put me on top of the world but I got all too full of myself.
You stepped aside — made me stand alone —
and I turned to jelly!
I realised how much I needed you, LORD,
and in my panic I begged you for mercy.
…..Give me another chance, LORD.
Please, LORD, bail me out one more time.”
And sure enough, you did, LORD.
You turned my tears to laughter;
you set my dragging feet dancing; .
…So now I’m singing your praises ........
from the bottom of my heart, ................and no one can shut me up! You are my God, LORD, ........and I’m eternally grateful.
 Written by Reinhold Niebuhr while at Heath Union Church, Berkshires, 1943.
7-28-13 “Choose Your Fork”
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
(8:30) Hosea 1:2-10
The baseball great Yogi Berra  was know for sayings that seemed to make no sense yet feel like they’re hovering tantalizingly close to deep truth.
The future ain’t what it used to be.
"Never answer an anonymous letter"
" It's deja vu all over again"
My favorite: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
What is it about that statement that makes me stop, not just to ask "hunh?" but to also thank, "hmmmm."
We have other sayings about forks.
Remember “He speaks with a forked tongue?”
According to one 1859 account, the native proverb that the "white man spoke with a forked tongue" originated as a result of the French tactic of the 1690s, in their war with the Iroquois, of inviting their enemies to attend a Peace Conference, only to be slaughtered or captured
When I hear that someone “speaks with fork-ed tongue,” I can’t help but think of the serpent in the garden of Eden, instigator of the first bad human choice.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, Jesus said.
Our scripture readings this morning have some tough stuff in them.
Did you flinch a little when you heard Jesus say to us, If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" I don't ususally thik of myself as evil. At least not the way villians in movies are evil. But I know that I don't always make the choices God wants me to make. I know that sometimes being led into temptation looks, well, pretty tempting. Oh God, how bad can it be if I'm mean just this once? If I ignore that person just this once. If I turn my back and ignore what I know God wants for me, just this once...
When you come to a fork in the road take it. Pick it up. Look at it. Think about it. Pray about it?
What can you do with a real fork (wind chimes and other crafts projects aside)?
Have you ever watched a little kid try to figure that out? First they try to stab whatever's in front of them. It doesn't matter whether its solid, mushy or liquid. Eventually they figure out that they can stab other things too, like their borther or sister. Eventually they start to get the hang of the utensil and actually move food into their mouth. What an accomplishment! What joy overflowing! They want to share. They try to feed you with this wonderous implement they've discovered
Stab or feed. That's our choice pretty much every day.
Remember Noah’s story? In response, God’s plan A seemed to be to indict, to judge, to punish, and finally to forgive.
But in one of the little prophetic books, something extraordinary happens. God comes into the story in a new way.
Hosea first sees an impulse kicking in “eye for an eye, pain for pain,”
It sounds like God is scape-goating him, doesn’t it? Like God is taking the pain of a dishonored husband and stabbing another, take that! (And maybe I’ll feel better.) A time honored tradition that we still use today, even to explain the cross. But God doesn’t stay there.
In this book, for the first time, humanity sees God responding differently. God takes the fork that began to stab and offers to feed with it instead. What Hosea learns, and what he models, is how God behaves with those who have dishonored him.
Each story, … of Hosea, … of Jesus, presses the limits of human imagination and understanding while drawing us deeper into God’s embrace than we’ve ever been before, even though we’ve been unfaithful. It can be my story and yours too.
Men and women speak with forked tongues, that’s a fact,
And yet even the snake is later redeemed by God in the desert with Moses, and spoken of as a sign of God’s redeeming power by early Christians. The snake becomes a symbol of healing and wisdom among medical practitioners.
So what are some actualy forks in the road? Where are places we see God's plan continuing to respond and emerge?
One example is gambling in Maine. For years Methodist led the charge against leagalized gambling, knowing that it is not God's intention to leave our shared or household economies to chance. But as the public was worn down by relentless press of the industry, Methodist have become silent on the subject in the past few years. What now? A new effort has begun to pay attention to those who are most vulnerable to problem gambling and addiction. Executives from the gambling industry are supporting the creation of a network of self-exclusion by which people who recognize their problem can be kept from the casinos. Professional standards are being created for counselors who work with addiction to gambling. We Methodist can be silent in the face of defeat, or we can rise to the opportunity to be partners with former foes.
Another example comes from our past. As I was working with some old Methodist Disciplines (our polity guidebooks) I was astonished to find a 1952 prohibition on divorced ministers. What a painful period of change that must have been for our church as the culture all around began to embrace divorce. What was God doing in that time? Did we discover that we were wrong about what God's will was? Or did we find that God's will responded to the needs of God's people?
Last October we prayed for an Afghani school girl who has become a global ambassador for women's education, Malala Yousatzai. The shot from a taliban fighter meant to silence her went through her brain and lodged in her shoulder. Today she is once again active as an advocate for educational equility. What makes someone choose to feed rather than stab? Where does the wisdom, the strength, the courage come from?
He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."
When we are not able to forgive, we end up stabbing either someone else by passing on the pain, or ourselves by holding it in.
When we are able to forgive, we are fed and able to feed.
Relentless Love written by John van de Laar
Though we run hot and cold,
fickle and changing in our faith,
your love remains certain and constant;
Though we grow tired and disillusioned,
bored and distracted far too easily,
your love stays true to the end;
Though we allow our grief and anger,
to turn us away from grace and mercy,
your love refuses to let go;
We praise and thank you, O God,
for your relentless love,
for it’s abundant availability,
and for so flooding our lives with love,
that some must, inevitably overflow
and warm others with its touch.
Benediction from Colossians: As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Topic: The Bible assumes that we are responsible for our choices, both what we choose to do and what we choose to think. Our choices matter.
Intro: When our son was in High School, he had a two-part proverb in bumper sticker form posted on the door to his room.
Part One: The early bird gets the worm.
What assumptions do you recognize in that old saying?
(If you want to win the stuff you’ve got to get out ahead of everyone else)
Part Two: But! The second mouse gets the cheese.
Assuming that if……..then………..
(If you keep your eyes open you can benefit from the mistakes of those who go before you)
Assumptions are tricky. We walk into each other’s assumptions all the time, so we know they’re there. They’re just hard to see, like invisible walls or walkways, (depending)! If I offend you then chances are I’ve banged up against one of your assumptions.
But it can be even harder to see our own. That requires getting out of our own heads, which is impossible to do on our own, an oxymoron. One of the things that an honest relationship with the bible is really good at is helping us see things from another perspective.
The proverbs are a record of assumptions acquired by Yahweh followers thousands of years ago, snippets of lessons learned sometimes at grandparent’s knees and sometimes the hard way. The Proverbs of Solomon are a set attributed to King Solomon’s court.
Here’s one: Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so are the lazy to their employers, makes sense when you think about the vast building projects Solomon accomplished: Palaces for his hundreds of politically connected wives, walls to guard the city, the temple that located God safely in the center of the city.
Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, says one proverb, but those who gather little by little will increase it. (13:11). In the French version, feather by feather the goose is plucked.
Not too long ago, the American economic system, in a period of sustained economic stability, assumed it was clear sailing toward a horizon of progressive prosperity. So investors, financial firms, and regulators assumed it was safe to take risks. In fact, it became necessary to take increasingly larger risks to satisfy demands for greater and a greater profit fueling the prosperity that we assumed, and perhaps still assume, is our right. 
Assumption: If something goes wrong, then the robust economy and safeguards will provide damage control. But what happens when too many take too big of risks and the safety net develops holes?
Proverb 14: 20 makes an observation, the poor are disliked (disdained) even by their neighbors, the rich have many friends.
But, says the partner proverb following close on its heels: those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor (14: 21).
If someone has a lot then we are naturally going to be attracted to him or her.
But we ignore our less affluent neighbors at our own peril and find happiness in being kind to them.
Reading these wisdom sayings is not just looking over the shoulders of our ancestors to sneak a peek at their lives. Its also listening for where and how God speaks to each of us.
What is it that makes me uncomfortable (causes me to disdain) that ragged person I passed with a sign reading “help me” in the Portland intersection last week?
How can I be kind to the poor who, in our way of life, is rarely my next-door neighbor anymore?
The community that recorded these proverbs lived side by side in various economic situations. What they had in common was a way of life, a heritage, a faith. They lived on land they inherited or moved into as a community
The community that reads it now lives divided into economic neighborhoods for the most part. We live where we can afford. Figuring out what we have in common is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.
Change of proverbial topics…..I love the proverbs that startle me. This one always stops me in my tracks:
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without good sense. (11: 22)
Seems kind of harsh don’t you think? Yet it sure gets your attention, doesn’t it?
I read it this week right after this eye-catching headline: “She Can Play That Game Too” an article by Kate Taylor, in the New York Times, Sunday Styles. Researchers are documenting a trend among college women who have grown averse to developing relationships. They can’t spare the time and energy that must go toward goals they assume must be accomplished in their college career.
Speaking of the young man she is sleeping with but emphatically not dating, one junior said, We don’t really like each other in person, sober.
When the interviewer asked why she hasn’t had a relationship while at college, the undergraduate talked about “cost-benefit analysis and the “low risk and low investment costs” of hooking up.  This is the generation that has grown up in the recession, that is now much more risk averse than their parents and grandparents.
For the young women interviewed at one highly competitive university, college is a race for top grades, leadership positions, sports accomplishments, highly visible internships, and community service projects. The only down time is at bars or frat parties. “If I’m sober, I’m working.” The same woman said that, “she did not want to settle down until she could choose a partner knowing that his goals and values were fixed.” “I don’t want to go through …changes with you, I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me we can have a stable life and be very happy…I’m a strong woman, I know what I want.” Yet she doesn’t want her name in print or the number of one night stands because of the assumption that it would damage her reputation with her family or future employers.
Assumptions -where do we start?
With hers? A perfect life is happy and stable, on my terms and when I choose.
(I am in control) If I do everything right in this phase of my life then the rest will be smooth sailing. But….
Ours? What wisdom do we have to share? And what assumptions might get in the way of sharing it?
Do we assume that life is about getting ahead, proving our plan, or even achieving our personal dream of happiness?
How do we pay attention to where our dreams intersect with others’ dreams?
If I talk to the young people in my life, they’re not going to want to hear my opinion….but study after study shows that the greatest influence on most young people right up into their late twenties or early thirties is their parents and other adults they respect.
It’s hard work paying attention to our assumptions.
In fact, I wonder whether we don’t work even harder to protect them.
It’s easier to smile at a proverb that rings a sympathetic bell than to ponder over one that disturbs.
The simple believe everything, but the clever consider their steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
Sometimes we’re lucky to have split seconds in which to make a choice:
There’s a Northern European saying: If you wrestle a bear, never grab for his tail.
In Maine we might say, if you see a moose in front of your car, aim away from the knees.
That’s when good habits come in handy, right? I’m reading a new book, “The Power of Habit,” in which Charles Duhigg describes how changing everything begins with changing one habit. So simple, so powerful. When we become intentional about the choices we make each day, they form the ways we react without much time to think.
The Songhai say, a log may lie in the water for 10 years but it will never become a crocodile.
A submerged plan that is never acted on will never come alive.
People who I never get to know will never become more than I assume them to be,
at least not in any way I can recognize or respond to. If I want to get to know people, I have to invest more in human relationships than watching reality show or scanning magazine covers in the check out line.
If I want to get to know what God is saying to me through scripture, if I am ready to get outside my own head and see my assumptions in a new light, then I have to open up the book and get to know the content through conversation, study and prayer. But I also have to choose what I do with it. Because its not just words, not just information that God offers, it’s relationship.
It’s relationship that compels us to check our assumptions.
Am I doing what God is really calling me to do?
Or am I doing what I want to do…
Or, what I assume God wants me to do?
How do I know? maybe this is a way to know. At the end of the day, has what I’ve chosen to do and what I’ve chosen to think caused me to become a little more like Jesus?
Has what I’ve chosen to think about the college women in that study, what I’ve chosen to do about the woman I met in the median, made me more, or less, like Jesus?
Those choices will reshape my assumptions, reshape my habits, turn me around to recognize Jesus more readily tomorrow, or not, depending on what choices I make today. How we live comes down to hundreds of choices we make through the course of each day. What we choose to say:
Who ever winks the eye causes trouble, but the one who corrects boldly makes peace. Proverbs 10:10
Mud thrown is ground lost. Bumper sticker
What we choose to do:
Did Martha have one of these proverbs (her background education) in mind when she was stewing in the kitchen?
Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so are the lazy….
I wonder whether she wasn’t abdicating her own choice by distraction at what someone else should be doing,
I wonder whether she was pinned to the kitchen by the assumption that that was where she was supposed to be.
Mary has chosen the best thing, Jesus said.
Ouch, that must have hurt, no matter how gentle his voice might have been.
What Martha does next is her choice, what she thinks next is her choice. They will reveal her ultimate commitment, either to the assumptions she carries, or to the living One standing before her.
If the choice she makes embitters her then it makes her less like the Christ she is trying to serve. But perhaps she will choose to think, to do, and to be free of whatever is holding her back. Perhaps she will take a minute to sit and join her sister listening at his feet. Perhaps she will return to the kitchen singing with the joy of serving such a Lord.
You see we make our choices based on what, or who, we chose, consciously or unconsciously to pay attention to.
Former President Jimmy Carter remembers a Cuban pastor he met at a Puerto Rican revival service. The pastor seemed to form an instant relationship with those listening. So President Carter asked him how he established such rapport with the immigrant workers he was preaching to. What was the secret of his success? (An understandable thing for a politician to want to learn.) Senor Jimmy, said Elroy Cruz, we only need to have 2 loves in our lives: for God, and for the person who happens to be in front of us at any time.
That sounds a lot like something we heard last week, doesn’t it? If you will love the Lord your God with all your ….(heart, mind, and soul) and your. …(neighbor) as yourself, then you will have done all there is to do. And there is no “but.”
 “The Time Bernake got it wrong,” Floyd Norris, nytimes.com/economix.7-19-13
 “She Can Play That Game Too” Kate Taylor, NYTimes, Sunday Styles, 7-14-13
 Jimmy Carter, “Sources of Strength, introduction
July 8, 2001 Wisdom: Companion Guide
Children’s message: “What’s a Proverb?”
Shared Joy is double joy and shared sorrow is half sorrow. Swedish Proverb:
Proverbs 8: 1-11, 22-31
The Gospel According to Luke 10: 1-11
Long ago and far away, when most of the Hebrew bible was first being written down, the people of Israel were slave labor in Babylon, desperately trying to hold onto the story of being God’s chosen people.
The captors who “required of them songs and mirth,” told their own creation story in war sagas, with gods mercilessly subduing and slaying their own fathers and mothers, who represented various aspects of the world’s creation.
Biblical scholar Raymond Van Leeuwen, calls Proverbs
“narratives in a nutshell.” I think of them as snapshots in a family album that carry our faith family’s values.
The Proverbs that Jesus’ faith-family collected carry remnants of a creation story in which God first created a companion called, “wisdom.These proverbs remind us that we are not in this thing we call life alone.
We have each other,
We also have God’s first companion, Wisdom.
Proverbs 8:22-31 is a remnant of a very different creation story, one that values wisdom and companionship, not violence and competition.
Now, even though our creation stories don’t begin with the bloody conflicts of the Babylonions, we know that it doesn’t take too long before conflict creeps in. (read Proverbs 9:7-9)
In our Gospel reading we just heard Jesus teach the 70 being sent out before him what to do with inhospitable folks. It went something like this.
Peace to your House!”
slam! Goes the door.
(Wipe dust from feet)
What happens to the peace that was offered?
“If anyone who is there shares in that peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not it will return to you.”
Having Christ’s peace thrown back in our face is not what we’re looking for when we go enthusiastically out to share God’s good news.
Could the modern proverb be true?
“A friend is one who dislikes the same people you dislike.”
Is that why Jesus sent them out in pairs?
Or is it that,
“Friendship, like phosphorus, shines brightest when all around is dark.”
Which proverb carries our “narrative in a nutshell?
Jesus knows that rejection is part of the way life is, but its not the main point of the story, and so he coaches his followers on how to move on.
Here are three other things to notice about this story;
1. Jesus sends his seventy out in pairs.
He implicitly values companionship. From the beginning (Adam and Eve) human beings need company.
2. Jesus tells each traveling pair to enter the first house where they are welcomed and stay there. Why not “share the wealth” by staying at as many houses as you can and influencing as many as you can?
Maybe it has something to do with knowing that relationships take time to take root and grow. Germans sometimes say, Friendship is a plant we must often water.
By staying with someone, the disciples nurtured deeply rooted wisdom that their hosts could then plant as Kingdom seeds in their own community. God’s peace is to be cultivated over time and through deep relationship. .
3. Finally, notice how Jesus tells his followers to be open to what God will provide, instead of searching out what they think they ought to find.
Jesus tells them:
to receive what is given to them (eat),
to give what is given them to share (healing)
and to name what is happening and who is doing it (proclaim the reign of God is at hand)
In these friendships, God is building something,
the Kingdom is near.
Perhaps Aristotle was onto something when he wrote:
Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
The friendships God gives, true friendships, move us toward that Kingdom experience of sharing the one Soul of creation, which is God. In Syria it’s sometimes said that if you will tell me your friends, I’ll tell you who you are.
Biblical Proverbs describe a God who offers friendship in the form of wisdom, Wisdom created as God’s first work of long ago, Wisdom present as God’s delight seeing the heavens, waters, foundations of the earth, and finally, humanity come into being.
Wisdom embodied in God’s saving grace, Jesus Christ,
Wisdom that invites us to become part of God’s redemption of creation.
Go often to the house of they friend, for weeds choke the unused path. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Loving God, we pray for the hot spots in your world this week, especially we wrap our loving thoughts around Egypt, and Syria, and The Nigerian community of Yobe as it mourns for its slain children. We thank you for compassionate hands and wise voices in these places, who remind us of your healing power and will.
We pray for strange and terrible events on our own continent
San Francisco, (plane crash)
Quebec Province (train fire)
Bangor (parade accident)
Arizona (19 lost)
Give rest and renewal to first responders.
Grant comfort to those who mourn and hope to those who will rebuild lives.
We pray for all who feel the impact of sequestration and for local communities seeking common ground and budgeting solutions.
To those who fears are ignited, bring peace.
To those with resources, give wisdom.
To all of us bring awareness of our role in your greater story. Hold us to account for what we do and don’t do. Form us in the image of your son and self, Jesus Christ, as we share the prayer he taught us.
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.
-- Luke 10.1
You do not just happen to be here,
you have been sent.
You are intended to be here,
to convey a presence.
The land of uncertainty and the unknown,
these are your territory.
You are sent not away
You are accompanied,
paired with one who goes with you.
It is not your success, but your love and courage
that fulfill your purpose.
The path will need you;
the journey will create you.
What we receive compels us,
and, not alone, we go.
-Steve Garnaas Holmes, 7-5-13
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist