The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost for Year C (Proper 23)

For October 9, 2016

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by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

We have before us today two interesting stories: the story of Namaan and the story of the ten lepers.
Both are stories about people healed of a skin disease. Both are stories in which main characters are outsiders, aliens, foreigners. Both are stories about trusting God in our journey of faith.

Namaan was a powerful and important man with a problem. He was a leper who desperately wanted to be healed, but no one in his country could help him. Namaan had an Israeli slave who told his wife that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure Leprosy. Namaan’s wife told her husband who goes to see the king, prompting the king to write a letter to the king of Israel. The letter says, in short, “This is Namaan. Cure him of leprosy.”

Well, the king started tearing his clothes, which was the biblical equivalent of throwing things. He said, “This is impossible. I’m not God. What is he trying to do, start a war, pick a quarrel with me?”
At this point the man of God, the prophet Elisha entered the scene. He sent a messenger to the king, with a very pointed question: “Why have you torn your clothes?” In other words, “ Why are you so upset?” The answer is simple; the king is so fixated with what he cannot do that he was lost sight of what God can do.

When we look at the world and its troubles; when we survey our personal lives that are so often hindered with difficult relationships and situations; when we look at the size of our problems and the smallness of our resources; it’s easy to be like the king and become discouraged if we focus on what we cannot do rather than keeping our hearts and minds centered on what God has done in the past and has promised to do in the future.

So Elisha sent word to the king to calm down and to Namaan, inviting him to come to his house to be healed. Namaan comes. As he approached the house, and a servant came out and said, “Elisha says for you to go wash in the Jordan river seven times.” Like the King, Namaan went ballistic. He fumed, “Why is he showing me this disrespect? I thought that for me he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God and would wave his hand over the spot and cure the leprosy.” Namaan had an entire scenario in his mind about how this healing would go, and it was all tied to his sense of importance. And, though he received the promise of healing, he was not satisfied, for it was not grand enough, not personal enough, not “special.” The prophet didn’t even come out, I must not be very important, humph!”

We will be dissatisfied with God as long as we focus on what we want and not on what God provides. This is a very difficult lesson for us to learn. We are so accustomed to the idea that, “The customer is always right,” and to our primary self-identity as a customer, a consumer, a recipient of the bountiful abundance that is America, that for me has become the defining mantra of our lives. The idea that we should trust God for what we need and stop worrying about what we want is so foreign to us as to be unintelligible nonsense. We will be regularly disappointed as long as we focus on what we want and fail to recognize the goodness God provides.

But Namaan’s entourage did not let him down. They said to him, “Listen, this prophet really didn’t ask you to do much, just wash in their little river a few times. If it works, good. If it doesn’t; then you can be angry.” And he calms down, he washes in the river, he is healed, and he graciously goes back to thank Elisha and worship God.

Our Gospel lesson is another story of lepers and healing. It, too, is a simple story. Like Namaan, the ten men had leprosy. Like Namaan, they wanted to be healed. Like Namaan, one of them was a foreigner. Unlike Namaan, they weren’t famous, or powerful or important. They didn’t have armies to command, or kings to influence. All they had was each other and their disease.

So, they stood on the side of the road, “keeping their distance,” the Bible says. They stood there because they had heard that the man Jesus, the faith-healer from Galilee, was in the neighborhood, and would be coming by. They called out to him for healing, and Jesus responded by telling them to go to the priest and show themselves to be clean.

Not one of them says, “But, I’m not clean.” Not one of them says, “But you didn’t do anything.”
Not one of them says, “But I’ve still got leprosy.” Not one of them refused to go. They just took Jesus at his word and did what he said and launched out on the journey of faith, trusting what he had promised would become true, and it did. The text says, “as they went,” they were made whole.

The ten started on the road to see the priest no different than when they asked Jesus for healing. It was in the midst of their journey that they discovered themselves healed. So it is with us. Perhaps we came to church seeking a difference in our lives, looking for the healing of a hurt, the changing of a habit, the forgiveness of a sin. Maybe we have come looking for a new way to be in the world, a new direction and a new purpose for our lives. Why ever we are here, whatever our motivation for being in the church, no matter the reason we are standing on the road asking Jesus for help – we will be like the lepers; our help will not come before we start out, nor at the end of the road. Our help and healing will come to us as we go along the way.

After they realized they were healed, nine went on to see the priest; only one came back to thank Jesus. The other nine were focused on their pretty new skin, on the exciting experience of being “normal,” and “acceptable,” and “cured.” They were focused on themselves and what had happened to them. The one who came back to thank Jesus remembered the one who made it happen.  The nine thought about the cure, the one thought about the cause.

We are all always in the midst of spiritual journeys, road trips of the soul. We are all always in the middle of “as they went.” We are all always rehearing the promise and setting out on the trail. And, we are all always experiencing healing as we go, a little here and a little there. And the question of faith is this, will we notice? Will we notice our healing? Will we notice that we are closer to God and to each other? Will we notice our growth in grace?  Will we notice our deepening love affair with the holy? And when we notice: will we focus on ourselves, on our experience itself? Or will we remember the cause, and give thanks to God?

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost for Year C (Proper 23)

  1. This was challenging! Will we focus on the ’cause’? A great gospel lesson for any day but especially for Thanksgiving which we are celebrating here in Canada this weekend. (Thanksgiving Day is Monday but tomorrow is Thanksgiving Sunday)

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