The Adventurous Lectionary -The Seventh Sunday in Pentecost – July 3, 2016
2 Kings 5:1-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
The encounter of Elisha and Naaman is at the heart of today’s scriptures. It could be titled, “the healing you need is right in front of you,” or in a lighter vein, “healing for dummies.” Naaman is a great military leader, both respected and feared. Yet, disease has rendered his life miserable. Disease and death are the great equalizers. While wealth will buy you the best hospital rooms and consults with the most talented physicians, the CEO and janitor are on equal footing when they are diagnosed with incurable “terminal” or chronic illnesses. Both experience the fear and frustration, not to mention daily pain of disease. Both discover their impotence in relationship to a negative force greater than themselves.
Through political channels, Naaman finds himself at Elisha’s house. He may have expected a greeting worthy of his social and political status, but all he receives is communication through Elisha’s emissaries, and the communication he receives sounds foolish to his ears. “Go bathe in the nearest river, the Jordan, and you will be well.” No doubt he expected a sophisticated treatment, talisman or ritual, or perhaps counsel to go to healing spa. All he receives is the simple message to jump in the river. Naaman is underwhelmed, to say the least. In fact, Naaman is enraged. The prophet doesn’t greet him; doesn’t invoke the name of his deity; or pronounce his healing with pomp and circumstance.
Naaman is about to walk away from the whole thing, until one of his servants stops him in his tracks, “If the cure had been difficult, you would have done it. Why not take a chance on something simple and ready to hand?” Reluctantly, Naaman follows the prophet’s counsel, and his is immediately cured of leprosy. The simplest, most direct remedy is the most effective.
There are times we make the healing process more difficult than it is. While illness arises from many factors, a commitment to taking the first steps toward wholeness may be the tipping point from death to life and debilitation to activity. This is true for physical well-being, and also for our spiritual and emotional well-being, and even more so for our communal and national well-being. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you, but you want a better one. There are simple practices that lead to healing of body, mind, and spirit – exercise, intellectual activity, diet, stress-reduction – not to mention social and political issues. While the preacher shouldn’t point his finger at her or his congregants – the finger will point back at her or him – some simple solutions are obvious – stop smoking, eat less red meat, take a walk, take a day off, and so forth.
What first step can you personally take to claim God’s abundant life? What community action can make your town more just in its care for marginalized communities and reduce the gap between wealth and poverty? There are complex issues, and unintended consequences, but some things are obvious, simple, and effective on the path to Shalom and abundance.
In the Galatians passage, we discover that new creation is everything, and Paul connects experiencing new creation with opening to God’s grace through a life-affirming ethic. Share, reach out, honor community, and stay away from obvious compromising situations. Sometimes we are short on will-power and fall, but still grace abounds and the first step to welcoming grace already awakens us to the seeds of new creation.
The Galatians passage provokes similar questions: What new creation is on the horizon for you and your congregation? What new creation beckons our nation forward? What are we willing personally and corporately to do to enable the “new” to emerge?
Jesus sends his followers out with a simple message: live in the now, don’t worry about success or failure, accept the generosity of others and let go of peoples’ negative responses. The realm of God is won one moment at a time. When we live simply, focusing on what’s really important, new creation emerges, and Satan, the powers of darkness, is defeated.
These passages are good news for preachers and congregations. They counsel us to be faithful to the Truth that presents itself to us, reclaim simplicity of spirit, put commitment ahead of success, and awaken to life transforming possibilities right where you are. An omnipresent God doesn’t need to be invoked; God’s creative energy is right here and now. Dust off your sandals, jump in the river, and be cleansed and renewed.