Rev. Kirsten's Sermon
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Today’s passages remind us of the cycle of faith and healing. This cycle is the pattern of praying and believing, doing what God calls us to do, giving thanks and recognizing that God is working in our lives. As we experience God’s work in our lives, our faith deepens and healing continues. And this is work that we do together, in community—not work that we do alone.
I am thinking today about these people who suffer leprosy—Naaman and the ten lepers Jesus meets between Samaria and Galilee. These are people who are suffering. I think it’s important to see that they are suffering both a terrible illness. And they are also suffering social isolation. Leprosy is contagious, and so people who have leprosy have to “keep their distance”.
In both of these passages, the sufferer gets the word that they must do something, do something practical—“go wash 7 times in the river Jordan” or “go see the priests”. When the sufferer does what he has been commanded, then he is healed. Once he has been healed, the sufferer recognizes the power of God, his faith is strengthened and he is reunited with his community.
I’d like us to reflect on these passages today at two levels—the individual and the community.
First, we seek healing as individuals. We pray for healing of physical and mental illnesses. When we get a bad health diagnosis, or have periods of anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, negative thoughts. We suffer memory loss, or the physical effects of aging. These are hard things to suffer. And they are conditions that we can bring to God. I think that sometimes we separate our illnesses or mental or physical pain from faith. We might focus on finding the answer to our ailments is with our doctors, or our diets or our health maintenance regimes Monday through Saturday. And then on Sunday, we pray for people who are suffering in other parts of the world. But these passages, remind us that our suffering, whatever that suffering is, is worthy of God’s attention. Paul reminds Timothy in his letter, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” Your suffering is as worthy of God’s attention as the suffering of another far away. We can remember to pray for ourselves.
One key to both of the stories of healing is that the prophetic voice said, “do” this. In the story of Naaman, the King has to send Naaman to Elisha and Elisha tells him to wash in the river. Both the king and Naaman grumble about what they have to do. But it is by hearing God’s call and doing what is required that Naaman is healed. What are you called to “do” when you need healing? And how do we know what God is commanding us to do, as compared to what our doctors, our families, our friends are telling us to do? I think this is one of the hard parts of these passages. Go and wash in the river. Go and see the priests. What is the quiet command of God? I think about the person who is undergoing a rough chemotherapy, or working through a long struggle with addiction. What is God saying that the person must do to be healed? Is there some simple thing—like washing in a specific river that is required? Does the quiet voice say, “go to that 12 step meeting”, or “get more sleep”, or just “bear this insomnia, this suffering, it will pass” like Paul tells Timothy. We might have hopes for a miracle cure, but these passages remind us that the miracle requires listening for our part in the cure and following through.
And then, after we have done the thing that is required, these passages remind us that healing is God’s work and we must see that we have been healed. We must acknowledge that our prayers have been answered. This seeing, this acknowledgment is not always easy because the healing that comes may not be exactly as we expected. A “cure” might be a physical healing, but what if that healing is recovery from one phase, but not back to the health of our youth? Are we prepared to acknowledge the things that are going right, the gifts that we have in spite of the weaknesses, or sicknesses that remain. What if a surgery goes well, and we are in less pain, but mobility is not complete? What about an easing of anxiety or a phase of more energy in spite of some continuing depression? In these moments when there is a cleansing, a healing—Jesus tells us that we, like the Samaritan must turn back and give thanks. Where are the other nine?
I think that Jesus is commending the Samaritan, the foreigner for recognizing the healing and before he goes on to the priests, he praises God. It is this mental shift, this acknowledgement, this state of mind—oriented towards God that changes what happens to this one who was suffering leprosy. To this one, Jesus gives a special gift. “Get up, go on your way, your faith has made you well.” The Greek word σέσωκέν (sesoken), here is translated as “made you well”, but it could also be translated as “cured you”, “saved you” or “made you whole”. Here I have this sense that the one who turned back and gave thanks got more than physical healing. He was “made whole” or “saved”. In this special blessing, we hear him being built up in faith.
And this is the same patter that we see with Naaman. After Naaman has been cured, he returns to Elisha and he acknowledges that there is no God except the God of Israel. God heals and in the return to the prophet, his faith is enriched.
What strikes me as relevant for us as we think about individual healing is about the state of mind of these people who are suffering. Naaman goes through phases of being mad about what he’s called to do, doing it anyway and then ultimately recognizing that God has acted in his life. One of the ten suffering leprosy, calling out, hopeful, but maybe fearful, setting off towards the priests. And then turning back to give thanks. Being made whole.
Are there moments in our lives when we need to follow this progression. Asking for help even though we can’t see where the help will come from. Listening for the prophetic voice that tells us what to do. Undertaking the healing work, acknowledging the gifts we receive and ultimately being saved by God. Are there times when we get to hopeless to listen for the voice? Are there times when we don’t turn back to acknowledge God’s grace? Are there moments when we have separated our own suffering from our faith? We think about our pains, or troubles and miss that these issues are worthy of God’s attention. We feel better and we forget to thank God for this gift.
I want to highlight one other important aspect of these stories. Both stories are about people suffering leprosy. Historically, people suffering leprosy were cut of society. While they didn’t have a concept of germs or contagion in the modern medical sense, they isolated people to prevent the spread of disease. When these Haaman and the ten lepers were cured they would be able to rejoin society. I think this is very significant in these stories. We have other stories of healing in the bible—the woman with the hemorrhage, the many at the pool who could not walk. But these stories focus on those who are excluded from their communities and are healed so that they can be brought back in.
What does this mean for us? I think about who is cut off from our community. What about the mentally ill or developmentally disabled? People who suffer addiction or people who suffer memory loss. All of these people suffer social stigma and isolation. As Christ’s body here, how can we be part of the healing the Jesus gave the Samaritan in this story? Is there a way that we can bless the person who returns to Church seeking healing? Are there people who come here to Nativity with problems, the people who come to our 12 step groups, people who come asking for support? And when they come in the door, what can we do to be part of that healing? Maybe the miracle is that through the sacraments—washing in the water of baptism, sharing in the bread and wine, the person who has been isolated can return to the community and be saved through the healing and the love that we share here.
Is there someone who has been out of the Church for a long time but feels some call to come back. Can we give this person hope, encouragement and support as they do what they need to do to come into community?
I hear in our passages today both promise and call. We are promised that God’s healing is available for us individually. We are called to participate by doing our part, engaging with God in this healing work—metaphorically going to the Jordan river, going to the priests. We are reminded that we must be alert for the healing that is happening in our lives and we are called to participate in God’s “saving” work, bringing every person we meet into wholeness as we invite them back into community. Paul’s letter reminds us that we are worthy of God’s healing. And our Gospel reminds us praise and thanksgiving are key to the development of faith—faith that is part of healing, saving and wholeness for each of us and our whole community.