"Don't Resist The Cure"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 16, 2003
Psalm 30; II Kings 5:1-14
One of my most favorite things to do is sit with people who are truly senior citizens. They are increasingly becoming a rare find. When I was the pastor of our church in Arden, West Virginia, I remember sitting with a gentlemen whose name was Kenna Livesay. As a seven-year old, he could recall the Spanish-American War.
The fun of listening to such people is that they tell about a period in our nation's history that will very soon be found only in history books or in personal diaries from that period. We can hardly imagine what it was like to live during a time when electricity as we know it did not exist.
When we think about such
things and then look at how the world's people get along with each
other, it becomes clear that in many respects very little has
changed. We find that our achievements have been incredible, but so
were the technological feats of the Inca, Mayan, Egyptian, Greek and
Roman civilizations. We discover that exemplary accomplishments
prove nothing if we have not grown in our understanding of how to be
successful with our relationships.
When the essence of humanity
is one day distilled, we will discover that the restless and
sometimes reckless part of us is directed by the spirit in which we
live. If that spiritual energy remains unrecognized, if that
spirit is not studied and understood, and if that spirit is not
trained with an eye for enhancing our ability authentically to care
for each other, humanity will remain locked in the same themes that
have caused civilizations to rise and fall throughout history.
We are living in a physical
world where our genius can express itself freely. Consider two
people who have creative minds. One develops a cure for a disease
that has plagued humanity for centuries. The other one creates a
toxin or virus that can destroy thousands of lives. When we
understand how and why the earth can grow two radically different
perspectives, we will be closer to understanding how and why world
governments can choose conflict over peace and free trade.
The scenery, the personalities and the means of conflict will change, but the themes of why people struggle is the same as when the Cro-Magnon race eventually destroyed the Neanderthal race during the Paleolithic Period. Just what has changed about people? Perhaps very little.
We have built libraries filled
with millions of books. We have developed computer software programs
that allow us access to vast amounts of information. We have created
search engines that can bring this data to our computer screens within
seconds. But we cannot find the cure that will heal our spirits from
our seemingly insatiable desire for conflict. Just how far have we
really come in our growth? A universal cure is available but too many
of us want something else.
The popular response of people to ignore or deny the existence of a universal cure is perfectly captured in our lesson this morning. In II Kings, Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, has leprosy. During one of the raids into Israel, Naaman kidnapped a girl and brought her back to his home where she became a servant to his wife. After a time, the girl said, "I wish my master would visit a prophet who lives in Samaria. He could cure him of this disease."
We know the rest of the story. After going through the courtly protocols of an official introduction and the king of Israel experiencing initial misgivings and mistrust over the intentions of the Syrian king, Naaman finally arrived at the home of the prophet, Elisha.
Keep in mind that Naaman is the
commander of the Syrian army. Elisha did not come out of his house to
greet him. Instead he sent his servant who told Naaman that if he
wanted to be cured, he would have to dip himself seven times in the
Jordan River. Notice what happened next -- Naaman flew into a rage. No
doubt he felt that Elisha should have shown him more respect. Naaman
also thought he understood the form in which his cure should take place.
Naaman said, "I thought he would at least come out of his house to meet me, pray to God, do his hocus pocus by waving his hand over the diseased spot and cure me! I'm not dipping myself seven times in the Jordan River. That's ridiculous! We have far superior rivers in Damascus; why should I waste my time with the nonsense of this prophet?"
If we stop right here, we find ourselves in very familiar territory. We are at the beginning of the 21st Century, and we have often used this kind of language ourselves. Just how far have we come in our spiritual evolution? Like Naaman, our first response is to ignore the cure. The cause of our resentment will be different, but we are no strangers to this kind of talk.
For example, "We don't need to
see a marriage counselor. What do they know? They haven't lived with
us. That counselor will never understand what I have to go through every
day of my life from you when I come home from work! We don't need to
pay someone to tell us how we should live."
The litany of such responses
continues: "I have taken care of myself all my life. I'm not going to
some pill-pushing doctor and have him tell me what to do. Before you
know it, he'll have me on the operating table." Or, I am not wasting my
time with exercise. Those people visiting the gym every day are
physical fitness addicts. I'll bet they eat nothing but power bars and
bean sprouts. They are obsessed with how they look!"
So many of us rebel at hearing
about a cure. If we are so smart, why are we hurting? Why are we
confused about where life is taking us? Why are we hungry for something
that we cannot describe? Why is it that when everything is going well,
there is an emptiness, or a lack of meaning and purpose, that haunts us
from time to time? How far have we come in really understanding
ourselves? When we are out of touch with what our spirit needs, we
are not open to the cure. A quick fix fixes nothing.
Fortunately, one of Naaman's servants came to him with motherly advice. He said, "Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have gladly done it. Why can't you just wash yourself as he said and be cured?" After expressing his resistance, Naaman agreed. He washed himself and his skin was restored to health.
Since the beginning of the Stone
Age, the cure has always been a matter of spirit. The cure is so close,
yet so far. Every time we believe that our lives are being disturbed
by people, places and events in the external world, we are failing to
see the role we are playing in creating our own madness and insanity.
With the world teetering on
another war at the moment, I wonder what would happen if potential
adversaries agreed to meet and get to know each other. When heads of
state communicate to each other through speeches made to their own
people, it is a lot like a husband and a wife trying to talk to each
other by sharing their feelings with mutual friends. Pride and
assumptions are nothing more than further signs of our resistance to the
Perhaps we need someone like
Naaman's servant who says, "Sir, have you tried talking to the enemy?
Why not take the time to share your thoughts and dreams about the world
and then listen to their vision? If 'the prophet' would have told you
to do something really difficult in order to achieve world peace, you
would have done it gladly."
The obvious often escapes us whether it is a couple caught in some communication impasse or several nations who have locked horns over ideology or an entire world community who is being pressured to choose sides.
One of the admirable qualities about international crises is that they force government leaders to talk to each other whether they like it or not. With current technology being available to the international community, the world's people are watching. World opinion is often based on perceptions, not facts. We who live in America are used to the "spin" various commentators put on events as each tries to interpret them for us. Most of the world's people, however, have not been reared on this suspicious way of communicating. They tend to believe what they see and hear. These are very challenging times, but the cure stands before us.
We Americans have the potential
to help our world to become a peaceful and safe place to live. We know
this because America has every nationality in the world living within
its borders and we have done a fairly good job of making visible what an
international "melting pot" would look like. We have done this as a
nation of diverse people because we have understood the cure and
Regardless of our politics, regardless of whether we are a hawk or a dove, the cure has to do with learning how to open our arms to each other. Whether we pick up trash, cure cancer or bake pizzas for a living, we all serve each other. That is what makes this country work. While there is still a lot of fine-tuning to be done, America has a message to export. If we are representatives of God on earth, we have to get this message out every way we can.
This is not a religious concept even though it came from Jesus. It is common sense. Will we perpetuate the ancient historic theme of conflict, or will we give an old script a new theme? While we appear not to have come very far spiritually as the human race, actually we are a baby's breath away from experiencing a new day when lions will lie down with the lambs. The cure is here. All we have to do is embrace it. This day will come because it is God's Will. Why resist the cure?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
always-present God, there are times when our lives appear as
insignificant against the majesty of the starry sky. We become humbled
when we realize that you came among us to bring healing, peace and a new
awareness. Empower us to turn away from fearful thoughts. Inspire us
to put trust in you rather than succumbing to our own anxious moments.
Enable us, O God, to find the grace to live in these whirlwind days
confident that Jesus Christ has overcome the world. We come this
morning eager to use all our physical and spiritual resources to help
make your will done on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, as our region braces for a severe
mixture of weather conditions, we enter our place of worship with a
spirit that is delighted to have such an island of peace. We know that
so many people around the world do not have a community of faith. And
many others do not recognize you as a source that would gladly comfort
them in their aloneness. We have such a distance to travel, O God,
before the world's people become a community that looks after each
We are reminded that when Elijah was fearful
for his life he ran into a cave. When you passed by that cave, there
was a mighty wind that split the rocks. Then there was an earthquake,
followed by a fire. Elijah learned that you were not in any of those
distractions. You came to him in the soft whisper of a voice, and you
said, "Elijah, what are you doing in this cave?"
It is so easy for us to remain in our caves of ideology, of being an American, of being on the right side of what is best for the world. It is easy for us to forget who we are, who we follow and what it means to hear with fresh insight, "Love one another." Motivate our world's leaders to come out of their caves and talk to each other. God, we pray that peace might come to all lands so that the terror will cease. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .