2 KINGS 5:1-14
Lection for Sunday, February 12, 2012
My Messenger: Rev. Naomi King
2 Kings 5:1-14
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
That’s It? Every One, No Exceptions
2 Kings 5:1-14
The story of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings is a humbling story – Naaman turns to people of lower rank repeatedly and isn’t treated as a great and exalted being. Naaman is willing to suffer that kind of humility, but the greatest indignity is that Elisha does not even leave his house and perform signs and wonders and great ceremony over Naaman. Nor does Elisha send Naaman on a great quest of prayer and fasting. Instead, Elisha’s servant tells great King Naaman to immerse himself in the holy waters of life – the Jordan – and take a bath, like everyone else. The story of Naaman’s healing is a pretty funny story, too, because Naaman would rather have had a way of healing that involved great big heroic quests and further hardships to endure than to be like everyone else and immerse himself in everyday holy life. We can laugh and hopefully in that laughter, we will meet ourselves in Naaman.
Have you ever insisted that the regular, everyday slog isn’t for you? That the only thing slogging will get you is more of the same? We need extraordinary deeds and extraordinary experiences. A society of haves and have nots is often full of that kind of myth – that only the extraordinary frees us and heals us. Naaman’s story tells us the myth of exceptionalism is a lie. There was Naaman, being exceptional, who ends up terribly ill – life-threateningly ill, with a disabling disease. He’s facing loss, pain, and daily suffering. Don’t get distracted by the skin ailment or the exact disease and count yourself among the number who are exempt. Life-threatening illnesses happen. Disability happens. They are part of the everyday experience of regular people.
Naaman finds out that even those who believe themselves exceptional are subject to ordinary woes. I suspect Elisha knew that if he came out and saw Naaman directly, he would be feeding the King’s belief that he, Naaman, was so exceptional, ordinary human troubles couldn’t touch him. Every one, no exceptions, has troubles. We also have this amazing life in which we can immerse ourselves, instead of trying to hold ourselves apart. There are a lot of ordinary blessings, even during and out of ordinary suffering. But if we try to insulate ourselves and exempt ourselves from ordinary life, we miss out on those blessings.
I’m a Universalist. I believe that the Holy cares for all of us, no exceptions. In our humble ordinariness we meet wonderment, we meet joy, we meet reasons for thanksgiving. When we find ourselves incredulous, wondering how it is we deserve the troubles we have or angry to discover ourselves facing the same kinds of issues as those “others” over there, like Naaman, we are being invited to bathe in the waters of life, like everyone else, loved and cherished by the Holy, and not excluded from the gifts that arise out of ordinary life.
Joy In the Morning
Weeping may spend the night,
But joy comes in the morning.
I don’t know about you, but I hate to invite Weeping for a sleepover. For one thing, Weeping’s pyjamas are always soggy and dreary. For another, who can sleep – or even laugh and gossip – when Weeping is lying there, sighing and crying? I can’t. It just isn’t kind or compassionate. When Weeping’s in for the night, we’re all in for it.
One night, with the moon streaming in through my window, I was lying in bed praying, because there was Weeping, having itself a little weep-over. There wasn’t much else I could do. I couldn’t get up easily on my own. I had an illness that had left me flat in bed. And I was feeling more than a little bereft, stuck there with Weeping. However, Weeping isn’t a stranger, and having been there often enough, I turned to Psalm 30, because the psalmist also apparently had Weeping as a regular guest. I grabbed a hold of those words like someone had lowered me a lifeline. I held on and let myself be drawn back out a ways from the bleakness of the bottom of the pit and into the hopefulness of reassurance. I had not even needed to wait for morning. Joy was back in the room.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
If Paul had been writing today, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be speaking only of runningthis race. Instead, I think Paul is the inclusive, gripping image kind of guy to make sure to include the body of the faithful with all kinds of physical abilities and disabilities. Indeed, writing to the community in Corinth, which included women leaders who would never compete inside the coliseum or the state gymnasia, Paul was utilizing one of many images about the way the life of faith is hard and requires continual effort.
Life, as we know, doesn’t play by a simple set of rules. Life is often not sporting. Cruel and terrible things happen. Unfair things happen. If life was totally sporting, well then, those of us who work hard and are gifted with certain talents would always be ahead of those of us who work hard and are not gifted with those same talents, which is, if you think about it from the perspective of the second group, to which I assuredly belong, not very nice. Furthermore, it is so predictable and boring, if you are in the second group with me, you know we end up asking, “what’s the point?” We struggle with apathy, with tuning out, with turning away. Why try when the deck is stacked and the Holy can’t love us enough to make us equal to those that have the gifts and can work hard?
Life is not a set up for some to win and others to lose. That would indeed be a cold and capricious god who set that system up. Life is about all of us working to the best of our abilities, together, with love and generosity and compassion. Doing that requires a lot from us, every day, a spiritual athleticism and dedication, committing ourselves over and over to choosing to live with love, with generosity, and with compassion.
If you think that is “soft” or “easy” try it out, not for a day or a week, but for a whole year. Live a whole year where you are always loving, ever generous, and compassionate every minute of every night and day. Then come talk to me about that was, because I’d love to know.
I think Paul would like to know, too. He knew well about the struggles he was writing about it. He had them. He had to discipline himself every day to choose love, generosity, and compassion. He had to work against his own quick and unkind judgments, his own expectations, his own troubles. Life athletics calls on each of us, every night and every day, to rededicate ourselves, to keep practicing, to pick ourselves up when we lose, to be kind when we win, to keep keeping on in love, in generosity, and in compassion.
Leprosy was a death sentence in ancient times. People were set aside, isolated and apart from society. They could no longer live with the people they loved. They lost the work that fed them. They lost their place in the world. They were feared. They depended on charity to survive a little longer, to die from a natural disease rather than from unnatural hunger and neglect. Can you think of anyone you fear so much you want them labeled, carded, and kept away from the rest of the population? Think on it. There are a lot of fears we manage by isolating and neglecting people by law and by social custom.
Just by having contact with this man who has been set aside, Jesus sets himself aside. The sick man’s healing takes place in part because he is not kept apart any more. The social sickness was worse and more difficult to overcome than the physical illness. The ostracized man chooses to risk being turned away when he chooses to reach out to Jesus. He asks, and he accepts healing, which is a risky thing. Just because we are healed does not mean we are cured and able to easily become a member of the rest of society again. We are marked by those experiences of isolation and separation. I think that is why the man who was healed could not do only what Jesus asked. Something wonderful and amazing had happened, but he knew there were all those people set apart, like him, still out there. How could he not let them know what had happened?
Jesus calls us repeatedly to create a more mercifully just and compassionate world, one where someone who has been apart can be seamlessly reincorporated into the whole. But until the whole world is like that, those of us who have been reclaimed from exile and been healed with steadfast love feel this moral obligation to keep sharing the really good news of what is possible.
Prayer of Healing
Most Merciful and Most Compassionate, Healer and Comforter, bring us into the healing waters of daily life and wash clean our hearts of bitterness and despair and of rage and fearfulness. Fill our spirits with the hopeful wonder of what is possible when we keep keeping on with steadfast love, learning, teaching, trying, failing, and succeeding. When we descend into the pit of impossibility, draw us up with a sure and steady heart, into a community of risk faithers and athletes of mercy. You train us in the struggles and troubles of life. Help us encourage one another in what we can do, in letting go what we cannot, and in making sure every one has a chance to give what only they can give. Mercy and Compassion, you remember us in every moment; may we remember you, and give thanks without ceasing. Amen