Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Shunammite Woman Helps

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending February 1, 2009

Purpose: To Affirm generous hospitality as an essential expression of commitment to God

Scripture Text: 2 Kings 4:8-17 (NRSV)

KINGS 4:8-17 (8)One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. (9)She said to her husband, ‘Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God.(10)Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.’

(11) One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. (12)He said to his servant Gehazi, ‘Call the Shunammite woman.’ When he had called her, she stood before him. (13)He said to him, ‘Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’ She answered, ‘I live among my own people.’ (14)He said, ‘What then may be done for her?’ Gehazi answered, ‘Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.’ (15)He said, ‘Call her.’ When he had called her, she stood at the door. (16)He said, ‘At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.’ She replied, ‘No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.’

(17 )The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

If you are like me, you always get confused between Elisha and Elijah, so let's separate them in our collective minds. Elijah came first, and was a great prophet of God. He was a Bedouin, a Tishbite, he had long thick hair hanging down his back, and he was taken up in a chariot of fire at his death as Elisha watched. Interestingly Elijah wore a Sheep skin mantle over his shoulders and on this day he took the mantle, rolled it up and struck the Jordan River and it parted for him and Elisha. This took place outside of Jericho, probably the same place where Joshua used the Ark to part the waters of the Jordan in our lesson a few weeks ago.

While Elijah was a Bedouin and had lots of hair, Elisha was more conventional and was called bald after he watched Elijah go up to heaven in a whirlwind and chariots of fire. Elijah was the master or teacher and Elisha was the student, but Elisha asks Elijah for a double portion of God's blessing, as Elijah was about to depart, and he receives that blessing as evidenced by seeing Elijah translated or carried away.

To put all of these events into a time frame, it should be noted all of this took place about 100 year after David had presided over a unified kingdom. After the death of Solomon, the nation was divided into the northern kingdom called Israel, and a southern kingdom called Judah. Both Elijah and Elisha were prophets primarily to the northern kingdom, which did not have one good king, in its entire history. The southern kingdom of Judah had a few good kings. Each kingdom had 19 kings, but the southern kingdom lasted about 136 years longer than the northern kingdom.

Our text for today takes place in the northern kingdom in the town of Shunem. It is a story of hospitality and commitment. In today's world, what the Shunammite woman did, is almost unheard of. But growing up in rural Indiana in the 40's and 50's it was quite common for this type of hospitality. I can remember people whose car broke down spending the night, feeding them, giving them a bed, even paying for the repairs, but of course, they had to go with us to church on Sunday morning. My mother, who is 90 plus at this writing, often fed anybody that needed a meal, and even on holidays, she would invite anybody that did not have a place to go.

When did we become so cynical, and so afraid of extending the hand of fellowship and hospitality? It was never that way in Mayberry, where Andy, Barney and Aunt Bee lived.

The Shunammite woman was not looking for anything from the prophet, but just wanted to make sure God's servant was provided for. When Elisha offers her something she had longed for, she is still reluctant to accept for fear it would not happen and she would be disappointed. She could have easily missed God's blessing, but because she accepted this blessing and gave birth to a son, she would receive another blessing, when the son becomes sick and Elisha has to bring him back from the dead.

How different for Elisha's servant, Gehazi. Later in the next chapter we find Elisha healing Naaman of leprosy and Naaman offers him a substantial amount of money and goods. Elisha refuses, but his servant Gehazi decides he will benefit from his masters good works and he will go and get the bounty for himself. When Elisha finds out he gives his servant Gehazi, Naaman's leprosy.

It has been said, that God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are. But as followers of God it is our responsibility to be God like, and that means loving people not because of who they are, but because of whom we worship and live for. Being a Christian is being like Christ. St. Francis of Assisi says it this way; "For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life"..

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