Monday, November 3, 2014

For Whom the Healing Bell Tolls

2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, in our scripture today was the ‘five-star’ general of the king of Aram, what is today Syria.  MacArthur, Eisenhower, Naaman commander and chief, was the top guy, the ultimate strategist in all things war. He was strong, mighty and he was respected.  But Naaman had one problem; it was reported that he was a leper.  Let’s hear the scripture and the story that unfolds. 

Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army. The LORD had helped him and his troops defeat their enemies, so the king of Syria respected Naaman very much. Naaman was a brave soldier, but he had leprosy. One day while the Syrian troops were raiding Israel, they captured a girl, and she became a servant of Naaman's wife. Some time later the girl said, "If your husband Naaman would go to the prophet in Samaria, he would be cured of his leprosy."
There are lots of players in this story, as you will see.  Naaman, of course, and two kings one from Syria, one from Israel.  They are the powerful headliners.  Then you have the ‘extras’, a young Israelite slave girl who was booty from a previous raid, Naaman’s wife (although she did have some power and persuasion here), and servants, lots of them.  And then there is Elisha, the newly appointed prophet if you remember the story of Elijah passing the mantle on to him.  We continue…
When Naaman told the king what the girl had said, the king replied, "Go ahead! I will give you a letter to take to the king of Israel."  Naaman left and took along seven hundred fifty pounds of silver, one hundred fifty pounds of gold, and ten new outfits. He also carried the letter to the king of Israel. It said, "I am sending my servant Naaman to you. Would you cure him of his leprosy?"

Amazingly and to his credit, Naaman listened to what his wife had to say about the slave girl’s ‘referral’ to Elisha.  Clearly Elisha was ‘out of network’ but that didn’t matter for Naaman, he was a man of means.  He also had the backing of the Syrian king who sent with him a letter for the king of Israel, some gold and silver and some new outfits!  In other words, he had very adequate coffers to pay for his healthcare.  However, we know healing can come from the most unlikely sources and people.  Here we begin to see that power doesn’t always have the answer, sometimes the weak win out.   

When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in fear and shouted, "That Syrian king believes I can cure this man of leprosy! Does he think I'm God with power over life and death? He must be trying to pick a fight with me." As soon as Elisha the prophet  heard what had happened, he sent the Israelite king this message: "Why are you so afraid? Send the man to me, so that he will know there is a prophet in Israel." Naaman left with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. Elisha sent someone outside to say to him, "Go wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then you'll be completely cured." But Naaman stormed off, grumbling, "Why couldn't he come out and talk to me? I thought for sure he would stand in front of me and pray to the LORD his God, then wave his hand over my skin and cure me. What about the Abana River or the Pharpar River? Those rivers in Damascus are just as good as any river in Israel. I could have washed in them and been cured."

Foreign policy aside, this could have been an international incident of epic proportions.  Egos were flying!  Elisha steps in, and a crisis was prevented.  So the procession of horses, chariots and Naaman go to Elisha’s house and stop at the door.  The nerve!  Elisha didn’t even come out which incensed Naaman to no end.  He, in all of his greatness and verbose explosions, wanted Elisha to make a big deal.  He want abracadabra!

Praying to God, waving his hands over Naaman’s diseased skin and sores, Naaman wanted the spotlight.  Naaman, at the very least, expected Elisha to come out and meet him in person, that's akin to going to the dr's office, sitting in the waiting room and getting a diagnosis and meds without even going into the actual dr's office and seeing her.  No wonder he was peeved. 

And then the cure, to go wash in the puny, muddy Jordan River.  Honestly, the Jordan River is not as impressive as we think it is and it is muddy.  Why not the great rivers of Damascus?  Elisha must be crazy.

His servants went over to him and said, "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." Naaman walked down to the Jordan; he waded out into the water and stooped down in it seven times, just as Elisha had told him. Right away, he was cured, and his skin became as smooth as a child's.  Here ends today’s reading.

Hmmm, looks like Naaman got healed and received a nice big slice of humble pie in the end.  What we didn’t hear in our scripture was that he goes back to Elisha and exults the name of the God of Israel.  For all intents and purposes, he becomes a believer!  His body was healed of leprosy and his heart was sealed with humility and he had a ‘come to God’ moment.  There would have been no healing here without his humility here.  I think that Naaman was healed in more ways than one; you see healing comes in many forms and through different means as evidenced in this story.

Cancer.  Heart Disease.  Diabetes.  AIDS.  And now Ebola. 

Sickness of any sort, can take any of us out at any time.  If you live, you will get sick, it’s a fact.  As perfect as God made our bodies and as loved as we are by God, our bodies are still vulnerable to bacterial and viral pathogens. Illness doesn’t discriminate between the powerful or the weak, the rich or the poor or the color of one’s skin.  Illness doesn’t come to us because of our actions or how we live our lives.  God does not visit upon us illness to teach, admonish, or test us.  Ever! 
We live and then we die.  It’s what we do between birth and death that bookend our lives that matter.

In ‘Devotions upon Emergent Occasions’, John Donne said poetically, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..."  When someone died Renaissance England the village bells would toll announcing death.  So Donne asks, who is the bell tolling for next? 

As we remembered the names of the souls, our friends and loved ones who departed this beloved world this year, we are reminded that we are interconnected deeply in the human condition, mortal wants and needs of the soul. When one person passes, it is an acute reminder that we are mortal, our time will come so we live with this tension knowing that we too someday will die.

Pauline Blaney, in this last year when I would see her would always say, ‘today is a bonus day, I thank the Lord for this bonus day’.  What will you do with your bonus day?  The bell tolled for Pauline and all of the others but it hasn’t tolled for us yet.

This tension can be our greatest advantage because God calls us to be in relationship with one another.  Humans just get sick and we need to help one another in our healing. And the good news is you do not have to be a skilled surgeon in order to do so.  Compassion is available to all.  Caring can be had by opening your heart.   

When we live in relationship with one another, and we do, it is incumbent upon us to help one another heal in whatever ways we can.  Whether it is a physical, emotional, or spiritual healing that is needed we can be God’s instruments of healing here on this earth.

When we care for another person during their illness, in their physical ailment and dis-ease, we offer God’s incredible compassion.  A card, a call, a lift to the doctor we become God’s restorative hand that can bring comfort and ease the pain. 

When we love another we aid in emotional healing. If we can have a well-balanced mind, trusting and focused on God and can offer that to someone else, then the long road to emotional recovery is possible.  Be grounded and you will ground others. 

What can we do for one another spiritually?  We can pray on behalf of another soul.  We can intercede for another person when spiritual vulnerability and emptiness has overtaken them and they are rendered speechless.  We can sit beside them as a silent and steady witness to the power of God’s love.   We can listen without judgment, not offering solutions or platitudinous answers but genuine compassion.  We can offer each other the good news of Jesus Christ that reconciliation is always within reach, that spiritual healing is possible.

For whom does the healing bell toll?  It tolls for all of us to love now like there is no tomorrow.


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