Sermon for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany

cross_punch_flower_283079_tnOur readings from the Gospel and the Hebrew Scriptures focus our attention on healing and the contrasts of attitude and method. I think we will find much food for thought in these readings.

We begin with the story of Naaman’s healing. For those who might not be familiar with the setting, Aram is the country we know today as Syria with its capital in Damascus. It is at the time powerful and technologically advanced—making use of chariots for warfare in open areas.

The kingdom of David and Solomon has disintegrated into a kingdom in the north, Israel, with its capital in Samaria and a kingdom in the south, Judah, with its capital Jerusalem.

Elisha the prophet has gone north into Israel in the midst of a famine and is dwelling there. He is the great prophet of whom the Israelite slave girl speaks to her mistress.

Because he loves him, the king of Aram loads Naaman up with heavy treasure and a letter asking that the king of Israel heal Naaman. Here is the first insight: in those days, kings were considered responsible for everything that would go on in the kingdom—kind of like the standard that some are setting for President Obama! It shows the Jewish king’s lack of faith that he does not immediately conclude that this is a job for God and God’s servant, the Prophet. He has to be reminded.

He sends Naaman off to where Elisha resides and when he arrives with great ceremony, a guard of honor, retainers, pack animals, flashy chariots, he is stunned because the Prophet sends out a mere servant and orders him to bath in the Jordan seven times.

Naaman balks at his treatment by the Prophet and by the prescription. Like us he wants the latest medicine, the constant attendance of the physician etc. He tries to leave in a huff, but his servants stop him and remind him of much of human nature: we think if it’s hard, then it must be worth the pain.

How often do we take for granted the free gift of life offered by God in the person of Jesus Christ? We’re asked to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. We’re asked to believe that Jesus is the Son of God sent into the world to redeem us and reconcile us with God.

But it seems the churches that have all the answers on what to do, how exactly to believe, and how to act are packing them in. But we say love God and think about what’s appropriate—scary stuff and we allow questions and doubts.

Naaman bathes seven times, and his flesh is as a young boy’s. Perhaps he has gained a further insight into what it means to obey completely the simpler way.

We come to Jesus and the healing of the leper. This is an important healing because it shows Jesus changing his mind. If you remember in last week’s gospel, Jesus says his mission is to proclaim the message of the good news and not healings which leave him exhausted.

And that is what he proceeds to do—travel around, preach the gospel and cast out demons so that people may hear and decide. And he encounters this leper. If you choose, you can make me clean. And Jesus does. I wonder if there are any of us here today who might believe deep down that Jesus does not choose to do all He can to help us live the fullest life.

Are any harboring things that they believe are unforgiveable, that God couldn’t possibly love them because they can’t even love themselves and push away those who love them? Well, good news! God does love us and gave himself for us and offers all the opportunity to forgive themselves and move on in life.

But that can be a hard thing to act upon because we have been convinced by circumstances that we are not worth it—but in God’s eyes we are.

Lent is just around the corner and is a good time to look inward and assess how we regard ourselves. I urge each of you to contact me for a time of counseling if you are having trouble believing that you’re worth it. No one is a leper that is willing to break the cycle of negativity. Talk with me; our time together is private and anything said in the context of confession or cleaning the slate is confidential.

In the week of the A-Rod steroid revelation, our reading from Corinthians with its rich athletic imagery seems timely. Paul is using a metaphor: the Christian life is like an athletic event. It requires self-control unless you earn a multimillion dollar salary. It requires focus so that we don’t waste our energy on what is neither important nor urgent. And it requires effort.

Self-control; focus and effort—as with all human activities our faith life requires us to work at it. God’s love is with us; but do we lose God in the hectic pace of life, the crazy busyness that pulls us away from the important.

Lent is coming; it is a time to step back from the mundane, the ordinary, and begin to live extraordinarily as the hands, eyes and voice of Christ in the world.

Amen.