11/04/18 – JV – A Great Cast of Healers

A GREAT CAST OF HEALERS

November 4, 2018
Jazz Vespers Service
Homily:2 Kings 5:1-17; Matthew 8:1-4
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

General Naaman had a problem. Well, of course, he did, he had leprosy. But he had another affliction that wasn’t as easy to heal as his leprosy. The affliction I’m talking about is one that we all see in others, but rarely in ourselves. This affliction is pride.

To be fair, Naaman did have some contributing factors that made him more vulnerable to this disease of the ego. Naaman was a lucky man. The Syrian Army that he led had been very successful, which endeared him greatly to the King. With the King’s gratitude, Naaman became a man who had connections. We know having connections is very useful in getting where you want to be in this world. It’s a great boost up the ladder of success. Naaman also had great wealth. In the Roman Empire wealth was gained by having wealthy parents, having those valuable connections, or from being powerful enough to take it from others.

Naaman’s wealth brought him even more advantages, such as having a larger house than he needed for his family and slaves to help him, and his wife, do those tedious domestic chores that grow with the size of one’s property. Hence, his wife had a slave girl to attend to her alone. Yet, wealth, status, and good “connections” do not have the power to make you immune from disease. Like food, water, clothing, and shelter, health is one of those essentials to life that if we don’t have it, nothing else will make up for its loss.

Naaman had something not everyone had in Roman society, Naaman had great health insurance. If he got sick, he had the money and the connections to be treated by the best doctors, in the nicest hospitals his money could buy. The young slave girl from Israel who led him to his ultimate cure would have been in dire straits if she got leprosy. She had the least status in the country – she was a slave, she was young, and she was a female in a patriarchal society. Yet this nameless slave girl had a more powerful connection than Naaman – she knew people who knew people who had God’s ear.

If you’ve ever suffered from a serious illness or had a loved one afflicted, you know that a lot of people contributed to healing.  All manner of health professionals contributes – doctors, nurses, technicians, on to the people who cleaned the hospital room that reduced the chances of getting a fatal infection. Then there is the “support system” – all the people who watch over you to make sure you are getting good care, who raise your spirits and give you the comfort of being loved. Before Naaman was healed by God and the waters of the Jordan River, there was a whole cast of characters who led to his ultimate healing.

The major obstacle to Naaman’ being healed was that pesky pride. And, he had to deal with someone else’s pride – isn’t that often the case? Naaman’s power connection resulted in his getting a letter from his king to be delivered to the king of Israel validating Naaman’s need and requesting his help in healing Naaman. The ultimate referral. But, the King of Israel couldn’t see past himself to focus on Naaman’s need. The Syrian king’s request on Naaman’s behalf was perceived as a personal threat. Israel’s king was sure this was a plot to destroy him and his kingdom. He ranted and whined, tearing his clothes to dramatize his deep distress. This is the sum-zero ideology: If I help someone who is not one of my kind, then my own well-being is threatened.

Charles de Gaulle, who led the French Resistance against Nazi German during World War II and later became president of France during the Cold War era remarked:Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” What we are experiencing in our country today is not simply nationalism, as threatening as that is to our democracy, it is white nationalism. We saw the result of that ideology in the Second World War in which more than half a million Americans sacrificed their lives and over 6 million Jews were exterminated by the Nazi regime. More than 11 million non-Jews were exterminated because they were classified as sub-human or a threat to Nazism.

We have seen this same ideology this week when in three separate mass shootings, all perpetrated by white males who deemed themselves superior to, and threatened by, those not like themselves. One killer hated black people and tried to enter a black church to kill as many blacks as possible. Fortunately, the doors had been locked, which sadly, churches need to do these days. Instead, he went to a nearby grocery store and aimed his assault rifle at the black people he could find. We ended the week, with another white male who hated women opening fire at a yoga class, killing two women and injuring several others.

The fearful king of Israel did have one valuable insight he demonstrated when he cried out: “Am I God, to give death or life…” He was not so deluded by his own oversized ego to believe he had the ability to do what only God could do. It would be nice to think that this also made him realize that he should not implement any laws or policies that would make it difficult, or even impossible, for any of his people to have what they needed to preserve the life God had given them. It would be nice to think that the King of Israel remembered his faith demanded that he do everything he could to preserve every citizen’s life.

Fortunately for Naaman, the prophet Elisha, another cast member in the drama of his healing “miracle,” intervened and assured the king he could take care of the problem. Elisha invited Naaman to come to his house to find out how to be healed.’ Naaman approached this next step the way he always dealt with problems – he arrived at Elisha’s house with a great show of his wealth and status, so it would be known that he merited special treatment.

Naaman was incensed when Elisha sent a messenger out to him instead of coming himself. Naaman, who was in the position of begging for mercy, instead raged that Elisha had not greeted him with proper respect. When a mere messenger came out of Elisha’s house and informed Naaman that he was to wash himself 7 times in the Jordan river to be cured, Naaman was filled with unrighteous indignation. Naaman had an expectation of how he thought he should be healed. He expected great fanfare — Elisha coming out of the house, invoking the power of his God with high drama to immediately cure the leprosy. When Naaman heard that he was to wash in the dinky Jordan River when there were much grander rivers in Syria, he was sure Elisha was a quack. My nation is better than your nation he vowed.

Yet, once again, other cast members step up to center stage and challenge Naaman’s erroneous conclusions. They said to him: “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” Naaman’s prideful dependence on his own wealth and power nearly thwarted his “miracle cure.” By the grace of God, Naaman listened and did as they suggested. Glory to God, Naaman was healed! His skin was transformed, not just to its condition before being marred by leprosy, but it was a new creation – skin like a young child’s!

Naaman was not just healed in part — his skin — he was made whole. He was healed, body and soul. With the leprosy gone, Naaman was restored to his community. With his ego adjustment, he now had a worldview in which he was not the center. Part of the miracle of Naaman’s cure was the people who were willing to do as the Apostle Paul taught – “to bear another burdens.” The miracle cure occurred in stages with many instruments of healing used to make it happen: the slave girl, the many messengers, the men accompanying him who were willing to speak up and correct his thinking in a “Spirit of gentleness,” and Elisha.

Whenever a preacher preaches on healing texts, there are people who scoff that not everyone who asks God for the healing of their physical afflictions is healed. What the Scriptures teach us, particularly the gospels, is that healing doesn’t always come the way we want or expect. God always heals, but even Jesus wasn’t spared physical death. The Resurrection proved that death does not have the last word. Jesus was healed with a completeness that mystifies us. Jesus sacrificed himself to lead the whole world to be healed.

The late Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, spoke about how, as a child, he asked his mother why bad things happened in the world that hurt people. Her reply was: “Look for the helpers.” So, we could also say: “Look for opportunities to be a healer.”

We are all broken in some way. We all have something about ourselves that needs healing. Our pride tries to hide the wounds. Like Naaman, we can let pride make us our own worst enemies. Tearing away the layers of pride that bind us, we are freed to see more clearly that we share the same basic needs for wellness. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we acknowledge that we share equally with our brothers and sisters in the need for that which sustains life and brings peace. We all hunger and yearn to be fed. As Jesus ate with all who would eat with him, when we come to the table, we remove our pride of being better than others and we release our fears that separate us from others. As Jesus sent out the elders two by two, we come to the table knowing that we are not alone but are accompanied in our Christian life and vocation with the sisters and brothers with whom we share the feast our Lord has prepared for us. We come, assured of Christ’s promise, that when the world is fully healed, when the world on earth is as it is in heaven, we will all sit together at a heavenly banquet.

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God!

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
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