February 13, 2012

February 12, 2012 Sermon for Epiphany 6 B


Sermon for Epiphany 6 B
February 12, 2012
Michael Coffey

2 Kings 5:1-14
Mark 1:40-45


I’m going to begin by assuming that all of us
           are in need of healing at one time or another,
                     if not all of the time but in different ways on different days.
And I’m going to assume that this healing
           is about restoring our lives from pain and suffering
           and disease and fear and anxiety
           and depression and estrangement and guilt
           and doubt and pride and greed and brokenness.
In other words, I’m going to assume
           that healing is something rich and holistic
           and related to our whole selves all at once,
           body, mind, and spirit.
And I’m going to assume one more thing:
           that we usually want healing on our own terms.
And since healing is just another way of saying salvation,
           I’m going to assume we usually want salvation on our own terms.

So enter Naaman, the warrior,
           the great and powerful leader.
Never has one Bible verse said so much about one man as this:
           The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
Proud, strong victorious,
           but suffering, weak, needy, ostracized.
He was used to life on his own terms.
           He was used to telling others what to do, and when to do it.
He was used to winning.
But he wasn’t winning anymore.
He couldn’t find warrior strength and weapons
           and resolve and self-reliance
           to handle his painful skin disease.
                      He needed help.
                      But maybe, maybe he could find help on his own terms.

You might recall the pathetic diatribe
           of Charlie Sheen, who was once the top sitcom star on TV.
           Last year he fell off the deep end,
                      maybe suffering mental illness, maybe drug addiction.
           But in a fast and furious burn out
                      he was all over the media talking about
                      what a winner he was.
           Anyone watching his nonsense rant
                      and his sickly look saw a man who was falling apart
                                 and needed help badly.
           But what Charlie Sheen saw in the mirror was a winner,
                      because he wanted to stay in complete control
                      and show no neediness or weakness.
           He wanted salvation on his own terms
                      which meant he could stay a winner,
                                 and everyone saw through it but himself.

Naaman is strutting around trying to look like the strong warrior
           he once was, hiding his pain,
           covering up his lesions,
           and maybe some people were buying it.
Maybe Naaman could fool some of them,
           but he couldn’t fool himself for long,
           and he couldn’t fool his wife.
Now his wife saw through all of it,
           because, well she was his wife,
           and she loved him but she was tired of his false pride
                      and his refusal to let someone else help him.
She was complaining about his silly prideful man ways
           to her personal assistant.
In comparison to Naaman’s rough and sore skin,
           her personal assistant had the smooth, fresh skin of youth.

One day the assistant was listening once again
           to Naaman’s wife complain about Naaman’s
                      outward pride about being a winning warrior
                      and his sulking at home about his disease.
Now the assistant was captured in one of Naaman’s battles
           and was from Israel.
She knew of a man named Elisha, a prophet of God,
           who had the power of life and transformation,
                      the power of healing.
She tells Naaman’s wife that this man could help him.
           Naaman is desperate enough that he decides to follow through.

The text tells a story of a series of exchanges
           where kings and warriors keep getting it wrong
           and looking silly and foolish and full of themselves.
Naaman ends up outside the front door of Elisha’s house
           with his entourage that he seems to need in order to feel
                      strong and important.
Naaman wants Elisha to step out
           wave a magic wand, and make him better,
                      all without dismounting his horse.
That way Naaman could stay up here,
           and Elisha would be down there,
           and Naaman could preserve a little of his winner façade.

But Elisha is a wise prophet who knows Naaman needs something more.
           Naaman wants a quick cure for his disease.
           But what Naaman needs is healing for his body, mind, and soul.
                      And healing, salvation, wholeness,
doesn’t come on our own terms,
                      it always comes another way.
           Everything Elisha does from here on is for Naaman’s healing.

Elisha doesn’t even come outside
           and honor the great warrior with his presence.
He sends his servant out,
           insulting Naaman’s stature, because that’s what he needs.
Elisha’s messenger tells Naaman
           that the prophet wants him to get off his high horse,
           get naked in the river Jordan,
           dip himself under the water not once, not twice,
                      but seven times,
                      and he will be healed.

Naaman can’t believe his ears.
           He gets angry and resists having to listen to someone else
           and be told what to do,
           and submit to obedience and humility and loss of control.
Then Naaman’s own servants come to him.
           Look at how many small characters move this story toward healing!       A servant girl.  A messenger.  Servants of the warrior!
They tell Naaman:
           What’s the big deal?  If he told you to go do something hard
           you would do it!  Warriors like doing hard things!
                      It makes them feel like winners.
But Elisha has told him to do something easy.
           Get off your high horse.
           Get naked in the river.
           Go under water seven times.
                      Can’t you do that Naaman?
                      Would you rather stay sick then come down and submit
                      and obey and humble yourself?

Of course, Naaman’s answer inside was: Yes!
           I would rather stay sick and be a winner, a warrior,
                      a strong, self-reliant, self-made man,
                      then look small and needy and submissive.
           That, it turns out, was the hardest thing of all.
But just as he thought that,   
           his skin hurt all over and he couldn’t take it anymore.
He listens to his lowly servants.

He comes down off of his high horse.
           He gets naked in the strange, foreign river.
           He goes under water once.
                      Maybe it would work after one washing.
                                 Please let it be just once!  Nope.
           He goes under twice.
                      Please, let it just be twice!
                                 Nope.
           He goes under three, four, five, six.
           And then after being completely humbled and
                      being forced into a position of weakness and letting go
                                 he does the required seventh dunking.

Naaman, the warrior, the winner with leprosy,
           comes up out of the water and is healed.
He is not merely cured of his disease.
           That’s what he wanted.
           But what Elisha knew he needed was healing.
           He doesn’t just come up feeling better.
                      The text says he comes up with the smooth, fresh skin of youth.
                     He comes out of the water being just like
                                 the servant girl who told his wife where to find healing.
                      Exactly the same word describes him,
                                 but in the masculine instead of the feminine.

What are we to make of this story?
First, we are often like Naaman,
           deeply needing healing, salvation, restoration of our whole selves,
                      but we want it all on our own terms,
                      we want to control it,
                      we want to look strong and winning all the time.
           But Elisha knows just as Jesus knows
                      it is when we come before the source of healing,
                      the God of all life and salvation,
                      with nothing but our pain and suffering
                                 and disease and fear and anxiety
                                 and depression and estrangement and guilt
                                 and doubt and pride and greed and brokenness,
                      without pretending to be winners
                                 that God can work true healing in our lives,
                                 not mere cure of our diseases,
                                 but restoration of our bodies, minds, and spirits
                                            to faith and trust in God alone.

The story of Jesus and the leper
           is a story of one who comes to Jesus
                      not on his high horse and dictating his own salvation,
                      but asking only: if you want, you can heal me.
           And the response to genuine human need and humbleness
                      is divine mercy:  I do want.  Be healed.
The entire Jesus story is the story of Jesus
           submitting to God’s mysterious will
           and opening the way to salvation through faith in this mysterious God.

Naaman’s healing required him to let go
           and let Elisha guide him.
Naaman had to learn to trust something and someone besides himself
           so he could learn to trust God.  That was his salvation.

Then, Naaman becomes just like his wife’s personal assistant.
           Naaman, youthful and fresh in his faith,
           goes out and tells people that the God of Israel
                      is the source of life and wholeness and mercy.
We might wonder why  Naaman is described exactly like the girl.
           It seems she knew herself where to find healing.
           She knew the path of trusting in God.
           And she told someone else where to find it.

Naaman does the same as the servant girl,
           going on about how the God of Israel is source of life and healing.
So does the man Jesus heals, even against Jesus’ command.

Now, I look at you,
           the people who know where to find good news, salvation, healing.
The people who have at one time or another resisted
           and worked hard to maintain pride and self-reliance,
                      but have come to know and trust the mercy of God
                                 through Jesus, source of healing for all.
What are we in the church if not one person in need of healing
           telling other people in need of healing
           where the source of healing can be found?
I look at you,
           your skin so smooth and fresh and young again
                      as you gather in the mercy of God in Christ.
You know where the source of true healing is.
           Someone out there is searching and needs to know.

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