"Finding What Heals"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 8, 2001
Psalm 30; II Kings 5:1-14
What is so fascinating is that we respond in much the same way as did people of every culture since the beginning of time. Could it be that we are playing in some cosmic movie that has been designed by God to play its re-runs until we learn to refine and redirect our purpose for living? Being aware of this possibility can help us change our thinking as our life-issues become increasingly more complex.
One of the most interesting stories is about the man who became humanity's first billionaire. At the age of 23 he became a millionaire and by 50 he had driven himself so intensely in building his empire that he became the wealthiest man on earth.
However at 53, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. became sick. The hair on his head, eyebrows, and eyelashes fell off. This man who could buy anything he wanted, could not purchase good health. He could only digest milk and crackers. A close business associate wrote, "He could not sleep, would not smile, and nothing in life meant much to him anymore." Several of his personal physicians predicted that within a year he would be dead.
As he was getting closer to his death, John's thoughts turned inward. He asked himself the question, "Why have I pushed myself to be the wealthiest person in the world? I have accomplished that, and I have no joy, no peace, no satisfaction, and no happiness. I cannot take any of my wealth with me when I die. Why have I done this?"
The next day he summoned his aides and did what no one could have anticipated. He decided to reverse his thinking. Instead of acquiring more, he decided to give away what he had. He established the Rockefeller Foundation and channeled his fortune into hospitals, research, and mission projects. His change of mind has benefitted all of us. The financial foundations he laid led to the discovery of penicillin, and cures for malaria, tuberculosis, diphtheria and a host of other diseases. By changing his thinking and the direction of his spirit, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. lived productively until his 98th year. Talk about finding a cure! How about giving instead of getting and expecting?
God has placed a great truth in our midst and only a few people throughout the ages have understood it. In every language those who have discovered this truth have told us why the bulk of humanity still gropes in darkness. We are killing ourselves. Are we listening? Or, are we going on with business as usual generation after generation, century after century? The movie and its basic themes have not changed since the beginning of time. People, however, can and do change.
The message from all those who have discovered this truth has been the same one. There is only one sermon. They have told us that we ignore the substance while leaping at the shadow. We fall in love with the various aspects of the classroom while ignoring what they can teach us. We are mindless about the picture we buy because our interest is in the antique frame. We are always looking for some material payoff in life, some level of happiness or achievement, but the rewards we seek always remain just beyond our grasp. What was that one message?
Jesus once taught his listeners, "The way is narrow that leads to life and few find it." Jesus also taught that "authentic life" has nothing to do with any achievements in this world. Most of us have paid little attention to his words on this subject because we always assume that Jesus was talking about other people, not us. Yet his message about this was deemed so significant that three of the Gospel writers recorded it.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus said, "What will it profit a person if he inherits the entire world, if during the process of acquiring everything he loses the orientation for his spiritual growth?" (Luke 9:25) In other words, that core message is this: "What good is it to have all the toys if our purpose for living on the earth has been lost?"
The classroom is for learning, not comfort, security, power, or any other meaning we have assigned to it through the centuries. Yet we continue living and pursuing our goals as if we never heard Jesus' message. Maybe we have felt that the message was too abstract. Perhaps we were too busy with other pursuits to pay attention. It could be that we are having too much fun! That is fine. God has plenty of time. This morning we are going to discuss how swiftly healing comes to all phases of our lives once we pursue purposes that affect the growth of our spirit.
In our lesson today we heard about Naaman, a highly-decorated Syrian General, who was in trouble with life. Apparently he had been diagnosed with leprosy. He was coping as best he could, but he heard that it might be wise to seek a second opinion. Did this suggestion come from a person qualified to give it? No. The advice came from an Israelite servant girl who had been captured during one of the Syrian raids against Israel. She knew of a prophet in Samaria who could heal.
When people are terminal, and we all are, we grasp at anything that gives us hope. Most of us do that today. We have not changed. We want to exhaust every alternative. We want access to experimental treatments, products in the pharmaceutical pipelines, or even mechanical hearts.
The logic is, "Who cares that such treatments have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration? I am very close to death right now. Let me take the risk with a product that might extend my life." John Rockefeller and Naaman used the same thinking.
Naaman went to the king of Syria. Immediately the king gave his permission and also provided a letter of introduction to the king of Israel. Even in ancient days there were protocols between heads of state. Not only was he carrying a letter from the Syrian king, but Naaman was also bringing wealth. Naaman was willing to pay almost anything for healing. There were thirty thousand pieces of silver, six thousand pieces of gold, and ten "Oscar de la Renta" suits.
Along with Naaman, many of us have very strong feelings about staying alive. For all its hills and valleys, joys and failures, gains and losses, we want to remain a central character in our movie for as long as we can. We presume that death is final. Even though we watch as everything around us constantly changes, and we know that all of us will one day leave our physical bodies, most of us continue to value highly what is slowly crumbling. We miss the fact that we are eternal beings who are living temporarily in physical bodies while playing in a movie.
Naaman pulled in front of Elisha's house in his Rolls-Royce chariot drawn by his magnificent Arabian horses. Elisha sent his servant to greet him. Naaman became angered by the obvious snub. He said, "Look, I'm paying for the doctor here. I do not want some physician's assistant. I don't want some nurse." He said, "I thought that he would at least come out to me, pray to his God, wave his hand over the diseased spot and cure me!"
Naaman was not happy with the way he was received, nor was he happy about what would produce the cure. He exclaimed, "Dip myself seven times in the Jordan? Who does this prophet think he is? We have rivers in Damascus ten times more magnificent than this mud-hole they call the Jordan. I'm out of here."
How many times have we gone to God with a problem in one of our relationships and were reminded that Jesus said, "Forgive?" Then we said, "Wait a minute, God. You don't understand. Do you know what this person did? Did you hear what was said about me? I can't let this go unanswered. There will be no justice if I do that. I want an apology. I want this and I want that."
We always want something restored when we are offended even though nothing was actually taken away. The only problem was that during the incident in question someone was showing us who he or she is. There is no secret here. The world is filled with people whose values are very different from our own. It is we who must adjust if we are to grow. The world will never conform to our wishes.
God whispers to our spirit, "To cure the leprosy of resentment, you must bathe yourself in the river of forgiveness 70 times 7. Forgiveness must become a way of life. In fact, you must learn to allow people to be whoever they are because you cannot change them by holding on to your pain and screaming about all this justice you want. By resenting what you think somebody did to you, your leprosy will spread until your body and spirit become diseased as well."
Back to the story. The wisdom of one of Naaman's servants prevailed. He said to Naaman, "Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. Why can't you just wash yourself as he said and see what happens?" Naaman had to swallow his pride and change his thinking about what must happen in order for his healing to occur. Naaman listened to the advice of his servant, followed through, and was cured.
We have to make a choice. Do we want to be cured or do we want justice? Do we want to live a peaceful life or spend our energy, financial resources, and countless sleepless nights on finding ways to make a portion of the movie end the way we want it to? We need someone to remind us, "Had Jesus asked you to do something far more difficult, surely you would have done it. Why not let go of this, do what he said, and see what happens?"
Finding what heals begins by looking inside ourselves. We must begin as Naaman did. First, he realized he had a problem. Second, he was open-minded to anyone, even a servant girl, who might direct him toward a possible cure. Third, he had to learn to rid himself of his own prescriptions for what was needed. Finally, he had to do something that appeared totally unrelated to his disease.
Was Naaman back on the spiritual path after this experience? Verse 15 says, "He returned to Elisha with all his men and said, 'Now I know that there is no god but the God of Israel.'" So many times God touches our spirits and we are overjoyed. We show our gratitude just as Naaman did.
Unfortunately, it does not take long for old habits to return, old fears to rear their heads again, and old passions for the decorations of the classroom to ignite our desires. The movie and its timeless themes approach us with a choice. Do we want to plateau or grow?
To find what heals us we must recognize that God has blessed us with a magnificent classroom. A classroom is all that this physical world is. There is nothing about it that is permanent. All our creations are the things we have made. They do not come from God. And right now each of us is a principal character in a movie that has been playing for thousands of years. That movie gives us many opportunities to polish our spirits with the abrasives offered within this sensual setting.
In John's first letter he wrote an interesting definition of our classroom:
Do not forget that.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal God, we thank you for the refining elements of life. We have discovered that habits are nothing more than our making the same choice over and over again. We have also discovered that our attitudes, responses, and ways of thinking have developed the same way. How grateful we are that Jesus taught us the way to change the direction of our lives. He taught us to live in Heaven now. Inspire us to seek peace over frustration, to seek peace over being right, to seek peace over our need to change people. As we learn to trust you with the outcome of all things, use us to make your love visible during the moments we have left in life. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal and always-loving God, these moments of worship are so often distracted by thoughts that dart through our minds which have little to do with why we are here. There is so much in our world that demands our attention, and so we are often here in body but not in spirit. Yet we thank you for loving us just as we are, and for knowing how to send a shaft of light through the cracks in the barriers we have built so that we are nurtured and fed in ways we may not understand.
Some of us have concerns at work for which few solutions appear visible. There are issues in our family relationships that invite us to worry. And there are times, O God, when we hear Jesus telling us to remain as a light that is set on a hill and we are confused about what he is asking us to do.
We find ourselves without a lot of answers. Yet it is a strange comfort when we realize that everyone who has ever walked this earth has stood right where we are, even the disciples of Jesus, even the Apostle Paul and all others who allowed their faith to remain a matter of constant growth. Teach us, O God, why it is important to stretch our understanding and expand the horizons of our faith. Teach us what it is like to trust you with the simple trust that children place in their parents, so that we might enter your Kingdom without all the "what ifs" that challenge our thinking. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . .