Sermon from 13th October 2019

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15; Ps 111, 2 T 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

I spent a couple of days recently at a thing in Inverness, I say ‘thing’ because it was not a conference, nor was it a series of seminars or workshops. Most of the speakers there were attendees in their own right and spoke of the event as a ‘not-a-conference,’ and their speaking slots as ‘not sermons.’ So why did I go? Couldn’t I have spent my time doing something more useful? What could I possibly gain from an event that (1) is not Diocesan led, or (2) does not have a teaching basis, like the Festival of Preaching? So, therefore, this ‘thing’ cannot be counted as Professional Development. What could I possibly gain from an event that does not appear to stretch the mind intellectually?

Well, the ‘not-a-conference’ was an opportunity to worship with others, in a way that many would find stressful. There was no apparent order, yet there was a framework. One that has evolved through many years of disciplined prayer. Ther was no phrase that labelled the worship as Anglican, Baptist or even Lutheran. It was however, completely united. We were there to worship God. He was our sole focus. Worship that would take me out of my comfort zone. Worship through creativity in ways that I had not explored before. Praising God. What could I be doing with my time that is more useful than that? Our sole purpose on this Earth is to worship God. And in this atmosphere of ‘not-a-conference,’ I could do preceisely that, without the fear of what others were doing around me. Because that’s not the fear of God, that is the fear of man.

Because the fear of man or woman had been placed aside, I could also place my intellect to one side because there was no fear of retribution. I could be wholly focussed on God, so I allowed the music to wash over me. Music that bubbled up and surfaced in ways that many would struggle with. Fiddles, cellos, keyboards, flutes, bongo drums. None of this hyped-up worship band style music – put simply – it was music that came forth in the most natural way possible.

Trained as we are into a set of cultural ideals, many of us struggle with doing anything free-hand without rules or structure to our day. We might lose momentum when presented with a completely blank canvas or a musical score sheet. Of course, this does not describe everyone, and each of us may recall someone we know who bucks the trend or has that sense of spontaneity that we either admire or infuriates us. The worship music of this ‘not-a-conference’ was spontaneous. It bucked the trend of any music that any of us has ever been taught or listened to and did not require intellectual input but instead required the response of the heart. You know yourselves what sort of music stirs up that response within you. One would either be drawn to it, like a bug to a light, or run away thinking the participants are very odd folks indeed.

Any profound act of worship stretches us – intellectually, though we do not perceive it and also spiritually and theologically. None of these do we see. None can we measure quantitatively but all are there in different measure. My presuppositions were thoroughly challenged, like Naaman, or the person being written to in the Epistle, who we suppose is Timothy. Or, indeed, the lepers in the story in Luke.

My entry into this ‘not-a-conference’ did not depend on my social standing. There was no required etiquette of standing up or sitting down at certain points. My entry into this event was based upon my spiritual yearning to find God, and simply be before the Lord my God. I had no agenda except for a desire to find more of God in my life. There was no desire to have the last word, or even the first. There was no desire to show case my ministry, because it’s not mine, it’s God’s. My desire to know more of God, led me in fearful obedience to this ‘not-a-conference’.

Naaman on the other hand, expected that he would be healed immediately with some miraculous hand waving. After all, his social standing and his wealth showcased his importance and his influence amongst the kingly courts. His intellect was such that pomposity got the better of him. You could probably throw some arrogance in there too. Elisha’s response to Naaman infuriated him. How dare this man speak to Naaman like this. What could Elisha be thinking? Could Elisha’s thoughts have revolved around Naaman’s attitude? Could it be that Naaman’s attitude have affected the way in which the method of cleansing was dictated to him? “Go, wash yourself seven time in the Jorden, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed?” Seven, in Jewish numerology typifies the covenant of holiness and sanctification. Seven is the divine number of completion. The River Jordan also signifies a transition from slavery into freedom for the Jewish people – a decisive turning point.

Naaman is persuaded by his men to take Elisha’s advice and is consequently healed. Although Naaman himself had no fear, only anger, his men feared the Lord. However, once Naaman puts his pride, arrogance and intellect to one side, he finds God. He realises that Elisha’s God is greater than any other. He has discovered that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

What of the ten lepers in Luke’s story? Nine did as they were told and only one bucked the trend and returned to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. Which of these did or did not fear the Lord? Or did all of them fear the Lord? Nine of whom did what they were told – out of fear and one whose spontaneous praise for God bubbled forth enthusiastically and could not be contained? Must we set store by Jesus’ words as he mused over why the other nine did not return in the same way? I think not. All ten feared the Lord in their own way.

In the ‘not-a-conference,’ pains were taken to assure the delegates that just because people were reacting differently, it did not mean one way was any better. And so it is for us. Unity is not uniformity. The fear of the Lord takes many different routes and there is no ‘one size fits all.’ What works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for you.

Spiritual and theological stretching isn’t necessarily going to show itself through intellectual research or speaking. It may or may not have a corporate purpose but may well be for the individual. As I finish, I would like each of us to think over the rest of the day and over the week what the fear of the Lord looks like in your life and in your worship. Remembering, of course, that it will be highly individual, and not dependent on anyone else.

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