Sunday, February 12, 2012

Approaching God


2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-44

February 12, 2012

Hope United Methodist Church

Both of this morning's stories begin with the weak approaching the strong Naaman of Aram enjoyed great power and all it's accoutrements He was a powerful general; in America he would have received a ticker tape parade down 5th Avenue. He was on a first name basis with the King and all the lord high officials and mucky mucks of his nation. And yet, it was a lowly slave girl who, at great personal risk, approached her mistress with the outrageous suggestion that a Syrian prophet might be able to cure his leprosy.

As befits one of great power, Naaman went to the King of Aram and asked permission to go see the prophet. The king of Aram gave him a letter of introduction and sent him off not to the Syrian countryside, but to Jerusalem, to see the king of Israel. Powerful people deal with other powerful people, not with the commoners. He presented the letter from the king of Aram, a letter that demanded, not requested that he cure Naaman's leprosy.

The leper who approached Jesus was at the bottom of his society—indeed, he wasn't even accepted as a member of society. As a result of his disease he was unclean, outcast, a non-person. And yet, violating the rules that required him to avoid “clean” people, he came right up to Jesus and knelt in front of him, pleading for mercy. "If you want to," he said, "you can make me clean." The man with nothing to loose recognizes in his brokenness and need that Jesus is the embodiment of God's coming kingdom.

Elisha, hearing of Naaman's arrival, sent a message to the king: “Quit worrying. Send Naaman to me, I'll take care of it.” (2Ki 5:9) So Naaman went with his horses and chariot and the accoutrements of his position. He stopped in front of Elisha's house, and, as befit a man of his status, waited for Elisha to come to him. But Elisha never showed. Instead, he sent out his servant who instructed Naaman to bathe in the Jordan river. And how does Naaman respond? He throws a temper tantrum. Like a two year old who didn't get his way, Naaman stomps away; angry that he wasn't treated with the deference due a person of his standing, and unhealed.

Jesus looks at the leper before him and saw not a diseased outcast who had come close enough to put his own cleanliness is at risk, but simply another human being in pain. Our lesson this morning says Jesus looked at the leper with compassion. The word used in Mark's text is better translated “anger” or “rage.” Rage not at the leper for violating all the rules, but rage at what the disease had done to him. Rage at how he had been isolated and abandoned by society. Rage at the disease that ate away not only at his body, but at his soul, his humanity, his very being. And in touching him Jesus not only healed the disease, but restored humanity. In touching the leper, Jesus dealt not only with the leprosy, but with the more debilitating condition of loneliness. Jesus restored the man not only to health, but to the community.

For Naaman, powerful, respected and still unhealed, it is, again, one of the weak who come to his aid. Seeing his master's anger, one of his servants points out: (2Ki 5:13) "Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. So why don't you do what he said? Go wash and be cured." It was only when Naaman looked beyond the kingdoms of this world to the topsy-turvy kingdom of God that turns earthly things on end, that he was able to follow Elisha's command and gain healing.

Like Naaman, too often we expect God to do what we want, when we want and how we want, and when God's response doesn't meet our preconceived notions, we set it aside. We expect God to ask the difficult of us, and we are ready to respond. Climb a mountain? Swim a wild, raging river? Go to Africa? Land at shell-pocked airports? Face Malaria, Aids, and drunken border guards who want my boots? I'm ready! Who needs to pack? Let's go! But when the task is simple we revolt. What? Bathe in the Jordan river? Come forward for prayers of healing? Lead a Bible Study? Invite my neighbor to church? No way!

There is, of course, one simple command we are very good at following. It's the command Jesus gave the leper: “Don't tell anyone about this.” Like the healed Naaman who boldly declared: “Now I know there is no god but the God of Israel, the Christ-healed leper couldn't restrain himself, and told everyone he saw what had happened. In fact, his healing became so well known that Jesus could no longer enter the towns without being mobbed. So, in a way that precurses the cross, where he took on all the sins of the world, Jesus took on this man's isolation.

How are you responding to God's call? Are you waiting for God to call you to what you want to be called to? Or are you open to what God wants to call you to? God's call isn't always what we want to do, but, with God's help it is always what we can do. The question is not are we able? The question is, are we willing? “If you choose,” says the leper, “You can make me clean.” And, reaching out to touch him, and us, Jesus says: “I so choose.”

Do you choose? Do you choose healing and community over illness and isolation? Do you serve service and giving over power and receiving? Do you choose a life in Christ over a life in the world? Do you choose wholeness over being only partially alive? The choice is yours. AMEN.

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