19 Feb A Fresh Perspective
A Fresh Perspective
Isaiah 55:6-9 and 2 Kings 6:8-23
February 16, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for February 10, 2020: “The vast majority of people throughout history have been poor, disabled, or oppressed in some way (i.e., “on the bottom”) and would have read history in terms of a need for change, but most of history has been written and interpreted from the side of the winners. The unique exception is the revelation called the Bible, which is an alternative history from the side of the often enslaved, dominated and oppressed people of Israel, culminating in the scapegoat figure of Jesus himself.
We see in the Gospels that it’s the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, and the foreigners who tend to follow Jesus. It is those on the inside and the top—the Roman occupiers, the chief priests and their conspirators—who crucify him. Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point. We must be able to critique our own perspective if we are to see a fuller truth.” It is this issue, of having a fresh perspective in order to see a fuller truth, that we explore this morning through a text that brings it vividly to life.
The king of Aram is at war with Israel. Every move the king makes, the Israelites are one step ahead of him which exceedingly vexes the king. He comes to the conclusion that someone in his own camp must be telling the Israelites his plans. He’s got a leak, a spy, a mole who is causing his military agenda to come to naught. But his officers assure him that there is no spy. The fault is Israel’s prophet Elisha. Elisha somehow knows every location of every strategy the Arameans plot against Israel. The narrator lets us in on the secret that is it God who is telling Elisha what the enemy king is thinking.
The king decides that he must capture Elisha and eliminate this threat. He first sends a scouting party who determines that the prophet can be found in Dothan. With that information, the king sends a well-equipped fighting force which arrives at Dothan under cover of darkness and surrounds the city. Early the next morning, Elisha’s servant walks outside and surprise! Horses, chariots and militia are everywhere. The servant is understandably scared and runs back into the house to tell Elisha the awful news: they are surrounded by the enemy’s army and there is nowhere to go and no way out. They are as good as dead.
You can’t blame the servant for panicking. He is, after all, reporting exactly what he sees. The army, the horses, the chariots, the firepower…it’s all real. He and Elisha are surrounded and vastly outnumbered. “Alas, Master, what shall we do?” he cries. I imagine most of us would say something very similar.
Elisha’s response is surprising. “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” Say what? What’s the old prophet talking about? It’s finally happened…he’s lost it. Well, not quite. What Elisha knows is that his servant needs a fresh perspective to see a fuller truth. So, Elisha prays for his servant, asking that God will open the servant’s eyes so that he can really see. God does open the man’s eyes, and when that happens, the servant gets an entirely new perspective on the situation. God is right there, and God is for them. God is taking care of them, and everything is going to be all right. With a fresh perspective, everything looks different.
Probably none of us has ever walked out the door in the morning to confront an armed barbarian horde in the front yard waiting to do us bodily harm. But we all know what it’s like to be suddenly confronted with life-threatening or upending problems beyond our control. The world seems to be falling apart and when you think things can’t possibly get any worse, they do.
It is part of our human condition to at times think, “there’s no way out of this,” “I don’t know if I can take it anymore,” “I’m going to crack under all this pressure.” It’s also a very human response to panic when a crisis thrusts itself upon us. Major trials often hit like a bolt of lightening we never saw coming. Elisha’s servant went to bed peacefully, with no thought of being surrounded by a menacing army the next morning. He woke up, saw the army, and knew he could die that day. Life is just that uncertain—a terrorist attack, a tornado or earthquake, an accident on the highway, a blood vessel in your brain ruptures. Life is fragile and in acknowledging that reality, it reminds us to live every day in dependence upon God, not ourselves.
And when we find ourselves in these kinds of places, surrounded by foes and trials of various sorts, we need to do exactly what Elisha did: we need to pray. Prayer does three things in this story that it can also do for us, if we will lean into it as Elisha did.
First, prayer replaces panic with peace. There is an obvious contrast between the panic of Elisha’s servant and the peace of Elisha, and the difference is accounted for by Elisha’s consistent communion with God in prayer. Paul exhorts us to the same thing in his letter to the Philippians when he says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7).
This peace that is given to us is grounded in the wisdom of God. Elisha has a wisdom to know how to handle this trial that goes beyond his own knowledge or even good intentions. And this is key: he gains such wisdom before the trial comes. He doesn’t race to God with an SOS, “bail me out” prayer only after he’s in trouble and needs something from God. His deep life of communion with God is something he’s been working on for years simply because he values his relationship with his creator and redeemer.
Second, prayer opens our eyes to spiritual reality. Most of the time we determine reality by our physical senses. If we can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste it, it must be real. For the servant, reality was thousands of soldiers, mounted on powerful war horses, who could wipe out the whole town of Dothan before nightfall. But for Elisha, that wasn’t reality, or at least, not the only reality. For him, reality was the even greater and more powerful army of angels surrounding the city. These angels were there all along, but the problem was, the servant didn’t have the eyes to see them. But—get this—his not seeing them didn’t make them unreal or non-existent. Elisha’s prayer opened his eyes to see spiritual reality, and spiritual reality is the ultimate reality, superceding the reality we perceive with our physical senses.
The apostle Paul also knew about seeing the unseen. He was suffering terrible persecution because of Christ, but he said that this momentary, light affliction wasn’t the real thing. The real thing is the eternal glory that awaited him. He also knew that his struggle was not primarily against the chains he wore in a Roman prison. He struggled, as do we, with unseen forces of evil and darkness, and the way we combat these forces is first and foremost through prayer.
Third, prayer makes possible what is humanly impossible. Opening the servant’s eyes to see the angels, and later in the story, closing and then reopening the Aramean soldiers’ eyes, were humanly impossible feats. Elisha’s prayer was not for his servant to do what he was already able to do. His prayer was for God to do something humanly impossible, to open his eyes, which saw Aram’s soldiers perfectly well, so that he could also see the protective heavenly force that surrounded them.
So often when we pray, we forget that we are asking God to do the humanly impossible. When we pray for peace or comfort or mercy or redemption for others or ourselves, we do so because it is beyond our human capabilities to deliver that to someone. A couple of weeks ago through first a phone call, then a pastoral visit, I became aware of a 16-year old boy in serious crisis. He was suicidal, in large part due to a horrific family situation that was beyond his ability to effect in any meaningful way. What do you think I did? I immediately started praying for a wall of protection to surround this kid, and I also referred the family member who contacted me to the experts at the National Suicide Hotline, who provided good and wise counsel and advice for steps for her to take.
We all bear burdens for family members and friends who are struggling with addiction, chronic illness, abusive relationships, employment or financial issues. We look around at our world and we are grieved at the violence, the war, the grinding poverty, the racism, the inequities. These problems are big, bigger than we are. And they are as real as the Aramean army. But this is also not the only reality there is. Prayer is the spiritual practice that can open our eyes to reveal to us the larger story of which we are all a part. Prayer is what gives us a fresh perspective on the deep and pervasive problems of our lives and our world.
The trouble is that we spend too much time focusing on the enemy, on what we identify as “the problem” when what we need to be focusing on is God. How might God use this circumstance we’re in? How might God want us to respond in the midst of it? What kind of character or compassion or maturity or trust is God wanting to develop in us as we endure this trial? What lessons might we learn, and how might that insight be useful in the future? What help is God providing that perhaps we’re not acknowledging? We won’t necessarily get a specific answer to all our questions, but these kinds of questions can help us better understand how God is working in a particular situation. And when it feels like life is caving in all around us, getting a fresh perspective on God’s presence with us can make all the difference.
In his wonderful section on prayer in The Institutes, John Calvin writes, “For in Christ, [God] offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasure that our whole faith may contemplate [God’s] beloved Son…we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God…So that we may draw from it as from an overflowing spring, it remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him. Otherwise, to know God as the master and bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of him, and still not go to him and not ask of him—this would be of as little profit as for [us] to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to [us].”
In Christ we have access to God as our all-sufficient treasure, as the One who gives us peace beyond our understanding, who opens our eyes to spiritual reality, and who does what is humanly impossible. If we will learn to know God as Elisha did and to pray as he prayed, we will not panic when trials hit. A fresh perspective will see us through.
“Lord, open our eyes so we can see.” May that be our prayer today and always. Thanks be to God. Amen.