"Finding Healing For Our Dis-Eases"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 7/5/1998
2 Kings 5:1-14; Galatians 6:1-10
The story of Naaman in the Second book of Kings creates quite a picture of how our human nature often responds. Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, discovered that he had leprosy. When he learned that there was a prophet in Israel, Naaman set out with enormous wealth that he intended to use as payment for his healing.
After Naaman arrived at the prophet's house, he learned that Elisha had not elected to greet him. One of Elisha's servants met the commander instead and told him to bathe in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman became enraged. He wanted the healing to unfold according to his expectations. He said to his servant, "I thought that he would at least come out to me, pray to the Lord his God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and cure me! Besides, aren't the rivers back in Damascus better than any river in Israel?"
Naaman's servant responded, "Sir, if the prophet had told you something difficult, you would have done it. Why don't you simply wash yourself as he said?" Of course, we know how the story ends. He washed himself seven times and was instantly cured.
There are enormous similarities and parallels to this sequence of events for any of us seeking healing in our lives. Suppose we took one of our dis-eases to Jesus and all he said was "Repent" which is another way of saying, "Change your mind about it." Or, suppose he said, "Love your neighbor or enemy" which is another way of saying, "Be accommodating, be gentle, be forgiving. Remember that others may not be where you are in their stage of growth. What you can do is prevent others from giving you their dis-ease."
Most of us would not be happy with that. We do not want to bathe in the Jordan seven times. We would prefer that Jesus touch us and take our dis-ease away. We would rather experience a process where something outside of ourselves removes some upset we have within ourselves. At the very least, we would rather be given a book that explains us to ourselves. We want to read something that causes us to say, "Oh, now I understand why I am the way I am. This explains it!"
For example, somehow it is reassuring when we learn what frequently happens to a child who is born an only child, or what happens if we were "cursed" with being the middle child, or if we were the youngest of six children and really had seven parents telling us what to do. There is a false assurance that comes to us when we assign responsibility for whom we have become to our parents, our environment, or our circumstances. We pretend that we were not participants.
Many years ago I took the Myers-Briggs personality test. When I discovered my personality type and realized that there were only 5 percent of my type among the world's people, I felt liberated. Such results explained everything. For the first time I understood why I was so different and why I kept having such strange thought patterns. My assumption was that I had nothing to do with this "mysterious process" that was somehow unfolding around me. I had only been a witness. Wrong!
We want to find something in our background that explains not only our identity but also any dis-eases that we may have. Such answers appear remarkably similar to excuses that explain why healing and growth have escaped us or why we have adjusted -- or grown complacent -- by accepting ourselves just as we are.
We would be mistaken to minimize the importance of contributing factors in our evolution but too many people get stuck in their past. Our memory of family history is never accurate. At best that history is only our interpretation or re-creation of what happened.
If science continues to move in the direction it appears headed, very soon we may be able to establish a connection between every mood, every thought and every behavior to some genetic predisposition. Can you imagine anything so ridiculous? This knowledge will again give us permission to say, "Oh, now I understand these mysterious forces that created me." It appears that we are more eager to learn who we are than to learn how to grow into the person Jesus said was possible.
One of the tasks both Patti and I have in our Annual Conference is that we mentor candidates as they travel through a process that eventually leads them into the ordained ministry. A number of years ago I had a candidate who had an opinion about everyone and everything. Every session she would up-date me on her struggles, conflicts and unhappiness with her student placement in a church. She had dis-eases about everything.
After several sessions of hearing her discourses I said, "I would like you to try something. For the rest of this month I want you to dwell only on the things for which you are grateful. Make such remembrances a ritual as soon as you get up each morning. Also, I would like you to surrender to the Holy Spirit every judgment that you are tempted to make. Try allowing everything to remain exactly as it is. If you feel you need to bring an interpretation to it, surrender that need. When something or someone disturbs or offends you, immediately surrender those feelings to the Holy Spirit. In fact surrender your desire to control anything other than yourself."
She was allowing her judgments about every circumstance to give her dis-eases. She was never happy, never contented, never peaceful. She had created for herself a dis-ease that would not prove helpful in the field she felt called to enter. She was forgetting what she was communicating through all her judgments. She was telling the world, "I want everything around me to be as I want it to be. If it is not, I will fix it." Most congregations would find such a pill hard to swallow.
Also, in her haste to uphold her vision of "the way things ought to be," she had forgotten what Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth: "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful and love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never ends."
How many times when we are overwhelmed with some dis-ease are we tempted to by-pass the simple solutions Jesus offered? This is exactly what Naaman was tempted to do when he heard Elisha's solution to his leprosy. It is so interesting how the understanding of our world changes the minute we begin in earnest to follow Jesus Christ. The world changes when we allow God to remain in charge of all creation. Our only responsibility is to reflect the qualities about which Paul wrote. We do not have to assume responsibility for how others respond. This was the way Jesus lived. This is why discipleship is always a choice.
Through the years many of us have enjoyed the hymn which says, "This is My Father's world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, the skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought." Such a simple thought will energize our healing process. Letting go and letting God always brings peace.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal and ever faithful God, as we come from a world of conflicting values, we do so knowing that there is truth. While the world is always changing, we know that you do not. So often we become confused by the symbols of the world and yet Jesus taught us whom we can become in the midst of all of them. We pray that as each of us continues our journey of discipleship that you will reveal to us the opportunity in each moment to make you visible. Help us learn to give to others the gifts of encouragement, acceptance and support. Help each of us become more effective teachers so that others might come to know Jesus Christ. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Yesterday gave many of us the opportunity, O God, to dwell on the numerous opportunities that have been ours in this incredible country and world you have provided for us. And we are grateful that you did not simply hand over to us all that we appreciate. Your Son, Jesus, taught us how to build our houses on foundations of rock instead of sand. Your son, Paul, taught us that as we sow so shall we reap. Your daughter, Mary, taught us how to place faith in our visions.
Building on the principles that have come down to us through our heritage of faith, we have built communities and established vocations that support us in our pursuit of happiness. And the miracle is that for most of us, we acknowledge that we are accomplishing these things together, not alone. As the world continues to become smaller, we welcome the anticipation of what a global community will offer everyone in the world.
And as we celebrate America's contributions to the world, may we also give praise and thanksgiving for the gifts from other nations that have contributed their energy to improving the quality of human life. And as we celebrate help us, O God, never to lose sight of the understanding that it is you who made everything possible for those who believe that all things are possible. With thankful hearts we now offer to you the prayer Jesus taught us to say. . .