Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gratitude and Grace in Healing: A Meditation for All Saints

Scripture can be found here...

You’ve heard it said… you’ve said it: “She’s a saint.” Or, “He was a saint.” Or, “Anyone would have to be a saint to take that job/ raise that kid/ be married to that one.” We tend to think saints are really special people, exceptionally good people, people who are better than you and me. We get that from our Catholic cousins, and I see their logic. Lift up exceptional people, and people like you and me realize… well, it’s possible. It’s possible to be a follower of Jesus, a lover of God, saturated with the Spirit. It’s possible, for real human beings, to do and be all those things. I get that.

Turns out, scripture has another, pretty different idea of saints. If you are a saint, all it means is, you are one of us. You are one of ours. You are a member of the household of God. And, lots of times we think (and scripture seems to think) that means that we are of one mind, spiritually, and religiously, that we believe the same things. But I would say a stronger element of what it is to be a saint is connection. We saints are connected to one another. We are links in a chain.

Here are the links today’s story from 2 Kings: First, there’s Naaman the warrior… he’s a powerful guy. He’s also a successful guy, the Aramean general who defeated Israel. But Naaman is a man with a big bproblem. The text calls it “leprosy,” but there were lots of skin conditions that went by this name in the bible. What we need to know is that scripture describes this kind of condition as making someone ritually impure. People with leprosy are forced to live apart from the rest of society, and it doesn’t end at 21 days. It is a sentence for tremendous, lifelong isolation.

So Naaman, this powerful warrior, is also a man with a seriously debilitating condition—at the very least, socially debilitating. He is the man at the center of our story, the first link in our chain.

Naturally, since he has been so successful in his work, Naaman is a favorite of the king of Aram, another link in our chain. Naaman is also linked to his wife, about whom we know nothing, and through his wife, to her servant, an unnamed girl. This servant girl was taken from Israel as plunder by the Aramean army. Aram won, and they took what they wanted. It’s this girl who proposes a connection to the prophet, Elisha.

Naaman hears her suggestion and follows it. Being a man of power, he goes through power channels. He goes to the king who provides a letter of introduction to the king of Israel. The King of Israel is a link in the chain, too, though he seems, largely, to be about comic relief. He responds to the request with complete confidence that it’s a set-up. He’s terrified. He becomes hysterical. That’s the thing about links in chains, though. As long as they keep us connected... they’re still links.

And Naaman, being a man of power, also knows that money speaks. He brings gold that would go for about $2.8 million at today’s prices, as well as lots of luxurious gifts. He arrives with the equivalent of Armani suits and Rolex watches. His desire for healing is urgent. It reveals itself in how much he is willing to give to get it.

When he arrives at the prophet’s house, we find another link: a messenger from the prophet, who tells him: Go take a bath. Seven baths. In the river Jordan. Naaman is outraged—by the fact that the prophet didn’t bother to come out to meet him personally, and the fact that the prophet didn’t perform like a magician in a Vegas show, and also the suggestion that the Jordan River might somehow be superior to the rivers of Aram. But the final link in the chain arrives in the guise of some more unnamed servants, who, very gently, and very carefully, say to Naaman, “Just… give it a try.”

We all know how the story ends. Healing. But after healing… a few verses after our passage ends, Naaman is still trying to press all his riches upon Elisha, who is just not interested. But Naaman’s gratitude needs somewhere to go. It goes, as it turns out, to God. Appropriately. He asks for a curious thing: two cartloads of earth from Israel, so that, wherever he goes, he can worship the God of Israel on God’s own, chosen soil.

Naaman has been a beneficiary of grace, such unlikely grace, given all the links in the chain that were needed to convey it to him. Prophet to servant girl to wife to general; general to king to king to messenger to servants to prophet. But that is grace: the unwarranted, the unexpected, even the undeserved bounty of God, whether it takes the form of healing or of blessing or of faith. And those links in that chain, every one, the rich ones and the poor ones, the named ones and the nameless ones, the ones who remained calm and the ones who got hysterical… every one is a member of the household of God. Some were born there. Some were invited in. Some wandered in accidentally. But all were drawn in by acts of love. All are saints of God.

In a few minutes we will be sharing in our annual remembrance on the occasion of All Saints Day. Of the names you see in your bulletin, only three were members of Union Presbyterian Church. The others are all members of the household of God for one reason and one reason only: love. The love of God and the love of God’s people. Someone here loves them, or someone here loves someone who loves them, or loves someone who loves someone who you get the picture. And they transcend things like church membership and geography and even religious belief. But that’s so typical of love, refusing to stay in its little proscribed box, spilling out to enemy generals and unnamed servant girls and people most of us have never met. But that’s love. And that’s what it is to be a saint, to be one of ours, to be one of us. It’s to be a link in a chain, a powerful chain, forged by love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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