On Sunday (yesterday) we heard two stories about people who ended up praising God, after being healed by God’s messenger. These men, Naaman and the unnamed one out of 10 people cured of leprosy, recognized God’s power at work in their healing and immediately acted to praise God; one by turning back to thank Jesus and the other by asking for a piece of Israel’s soil to take home so he could worship the one God on what he considered holy soil. And we wonder, how these 2 stories about miracles, a rare disease, and the gratitude of praise speak to us.
It’s easy to feel disconnected from Bible stories like this. Certainly they are good stories, memorable stories, but aren’t they rather remote from our life experiences?
Hansen’s Disease, leprosy, is not a disease we think about much today. And in most stories, the disease defines the people who have it so they are not people who have leprosy, but they are LEPERS. And even though the disease is rare, we still have people in our society who are treated as “lepers”- kept on the outer edges of society & labeled as non-touchables.
Can you imagine have to call out, “Leper, Leper, or Psoriasis, Aids, or Measles” so people would stay away? “Lepers” were required to do so in Jesus’ day. In our world it is more likely for someone else to point out our “leprosy” and it can get ugly. Bullies play this role in schools and neighborhoods. Children and youth along with adults end up victims to someone’s desire to push someone out to the margins and label them a “leper”.
Recently, the news carried the tragic tale of three different young men, bullied for being gay, tortured with emotional abuse and pushed out to the edge, until each took their own life. I think it is imperative that we clearly state to youth and adults that everyone is welcome here, no matter your sexual orientation or any name society tries to put on you as a label – HERE, we are all equal and VALUED children of God.
If the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t make that value clear, then where CAN people turn for acceptance and wholeness?
At conference this weekend, a sample hearing was held to show us what the process will be like at the district ‘listening’ hearings on the query about same sex covenant relationships and the Standing Committee paper on confession and forgiveness. It was just and example of how the process will work, but one young high school girl shared that in her school, the bullying, and name calling is really ugly. People play nasty tricks on anyone who is gay or lesbian, making life miserable and that the lines are pretty well drawn into a warfare everyday at school.
Do you remember how hard HS was? How much harder must it be today, to have that level of hatred played out again and again, instead of acceptance and the joy of good friendships?
I WISH we COULD say that times are different today than in Jesus’ day. I WISH we could feel superior because we no longer require people to call out, “LEPER, LEPER”
I’d like to say, “That was then and this is now.” But we know from these stories from school and universities, that there are plenty of places where “lepers” still exist today.
And have you ever BEEN the person who needed acceptance? Or longed for Jesus to turn and call you by name and make you whole? I wonder what – it - takes to change human society to the point that everyone is accepted and treasured for who they are ?
I believe change of any kind, starts close to home, very close. Change must begin with us.
What does it take for us to accept our own selves, the way God made us? I think the Samaritan who was a leper, is the perfect example for today.
This man had ‘An attitude of gratitude’. As soon as he realized he had been given the gift of wholeness he turned around to give thanks. He falls downs at Jesus’ feet, which is the sign of worship. How is it that only one healed person was able to see “beyond his body to the one who made it whole”?
His Actions of gratitude demonstrate his faith. Remember, it’s not the quantity of faith one has, but just any small amount (even as small as a mustard seed of faith, Jesus has just said) that allows us to respond to life with gratitude and turn to God with praise.
Naaman’s lack of faith, in Elisha and in HIMSELF, almost kept him from being healed. But he had the good fortune to experience the opposite of bulling. Instead of those around him, tearing him down, his servants and soldiers, encouraged him to go do the simple thing of washing, just as he had been told, and SEE if it would work. And it did.
If only the young men who were so lost that they brought life to an end, had been encouraged instead of labeled, and driven out. . If only, someone had cared enough to reach out a saving hand.
That word “save” is a tough one, isn’t it? In fact, the way it is used in some translations of this text has done more harm than good. Either we make “being saved” seem conditional on our faith (INSTEAD OF GOD’S) or we end up judging someone’s life to say they need saving. We all wish that Jesus would make us whole.
What if we DO have a certain amount of power, at least the power to align ourselves with God’s saving action that makes us whole? When the Samaritan demonstrates unrestrained gratitude and he immediately recognizes the healing/saving action of God in Jesus, it’s his attitude that makes THE difference. He was already healed and so were the ones who didn’t come back, but he got to talk to Jesus. He was commended by the man who ‘saved’ his life. Which kind of healed would YOU prefer?
On Friday, I saw a video about the FISH MARKET in Seattle, Washington. Maybe you know about it? It’s a group of working guys, who receive, clean, sell, and package fish.
Normally, it’s not a spectacular job, but it is how they make a living.
BUT, something about THIS group is different. At some point when people ordered a fish, they started throwing it across the counter. Now these are BIG fish so, catching a big slimy fish, is challenging. The market became known as “Flying Fish” for its ‘show’.
Then, when the order was called out, the guys started fooling around and ALL of them REPEAT the order back as a SHOUT. One fish “ ONE FISH” and a fish goes flying 8 feet across a counter and into someone’s waiting arms. 4 crabs, FOUR CRABS… it becomes a show and then everyone started having fun playing. Now customers get into the act and invited to try catching a fish. And more and more customers arrive. After all, if you can buy a fish and have fun too, why not? As for the guys, well, everyone goes to work everyday, but THEY have fun at it. Attitude makes a difference. They love life, their work, and they likely make more money at it too.
Years ago, Norman Vincent Peale spoke and wrote about the “Power of Positive Thinking”. Now there are plenty of downsides to this philosophy along with its upsides. Maybe you, like me have experienced someone who was so “UP” all the time that they could make you ‘gag’ with cheerfulness. Yet, he had a point about attitude making a difference. I have found that my attitude; good or bad, can make my day turn out completely different.
We were in Florida 2 weeks ago. When I go on vacation, it takes me a couple days to unwind and really get into it. So when we got to Florida, our friends put bathing suits on and everyone hit the beach…except me. I just wasn’t ready yet.
I can’t really explain it and I even tried to argue myself down there, but I sat in the room, watching the ocean from a distance and telling myself that I didn’t want to start the vacation with a sunburn, I wasn’t ready for conversation and I just wanted to be alone.
I sat, and let most of the day get away. What I didn’t know was there were tropical storms forming off the coast and each day of sunshine was precious. And I let most of that one get away.
Naaman almost let healing get away. Stubbornness, resentment, low self image, and lack of gratitude are just some of the things that keep us away from the saving wholeness that God desires for us.
The Samaritan had the RIGHT attitude and he is remembered to this day for his response more than his healing.
Professor David Lose challenges us to examine our attitude both toward ourselves and toward God. He said,
“When we look to God, do we see stern judge or loving parent?
When we look to ourselves, do we see failure or beloved child? . .
. .how we answer dramatically shapes both our outlook and our behavior.”
How do you great your day? Is your attitude one of gratitude or resignation?
When you look at the world, do you see others with labels that keep you at a distance or are they fellow children of God, someone that might join you in gratitude and praise for what God gives each day?
OUR Attitude changes the way we see the world and the way the world sees us. Attitude changes the way we interact with the world and THAT is the way people see Jesus in us.
We need an attitude of gratitude to appreciate what God gives us, from hope to healing, to salvation. An attitude of gratitude is what it takes to make individuals into the body of Christ, joined together in praise of our AWESOME GOD.
Charles Cousar Texts for Preaching Year C (Louisville: WJK, 1994) p. 553+