Tuesday, July 6, 2010

6 Pentecost, Year C, July 4, 2010

2 Kings5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians6:[1-6], 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Jump in the creek, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney

I want to introduce you to Naaman. Naaman is the real deal; he is a really big deal. He works for the Aramaeans as a general. He is the General Petraeus of his time. While Naaman makes good money and commands a lot of soldiers, he has a significant flaw. He has leprosy. The bible calls it leprosy, but it is probably not what we can Hansen’s disease which if left untreated means your body parts rot off. More likely it is some kind of heartbreak of psoriasis which is unsightly and inconvenient but not life threatening.

One of the perks of being a general is you get first pick on captives who become personal slaves. After raiding a Hebrew settlement one day, he picks up a nice girl to give to his wife. One day his wife’s girl passes along that she has heard of a prophet who could heal leprosy.

Even though Naaman was pretty desperate about his skin condition, he scoffs at the possibility that some foreign prophet could heal him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when he was young someone had kicked sand in his face at the beach and he had sent away for a Charles Atlas Course which turned out to be bogus. But Naaman hates being a leper. It is socially inconvenient and embarrassing. Leprosy is bad; it convicts the sufferer of being less than, a social pariah, one who must have done something bad to deserve this disease.
So Naaman decides to check out this prophet Elisha.

Elisha is not a proper Babylonian prophet; he is a foreigner and he doesn’t make house calls. Naaman figures all he has to do is turn up, the prophet will wave his hand over the diseased skin, say a magic spell and all will be well. Or at least it will be well after he pays the fee which he has already arranged. Healing works better with insurance.

So Naaman arrives at Elisha’s corner of the world and Elisha says “Go jump in the lake.” Actually he said “Go bathe in the Jordan river.” He might as well have said, “Soak your head in the sewer!” as far as Naaman is concerned. He took one look at the pathetic trickle of the Jordan Creek and exploded. “If I wanted to jump in a creek I could have done that in Babylon where we have proper running water, not like this sorry excuse for a river you have here!” What is cool is that after this explosion of snobbery and pride Naaman still had leprosy. So eventually and very reluctantly he sticks a toe in the Jordan. Poof! He is healed and made clean.

We are all familiar with the lepers whom Jesus heals. The leper who comes to Jesus behaves in an entirely different way than Naaman. He isn’t all eaten up with the reasons why this won’t work. He does not have a long list of excuses for being sick. He is not looking for anyone to blame. He simply says to Jesus: “Hey, look. If you want to heal me, you can!”

Jesus says “Right! I can and I will.” There is the usual fee attached. The healed man is instructed to go pay the co-insurance to the priests and get a certificate of health. Further, Jesus, not wanting a bunch of sickos chasing him around, tells the man to keep it a secret. That is what we religious folks are good at: focusing on the problem and keeping the successes a secret.

But the man whom Jesus heals does not do that. He goes leaping and yelling all over the neighborhood. “I’m clean. I’m healed. Jesus did it. Come and see.” The only bad thing that happened was Jesus had to hide out in the country for a while until the noise died down.

What we have here is the difference between focusing on the problem and focusing on the solutions.. On my way to and from Augusta I am listening to a book called Blunder by Zachary Shore. Shore examines the reasons why successful generals and political leaders with lots of smarts and resources make big mistakes. Naaman makes them all. He is afraid to lose face by going to a quack. He thinks the causes of his illness are beyond healing. He thinks that if someone comes from outside of Babylon they are ignorant hillbillies. He uses his own narrow, single dimension analysis to convince himself there is no point in trying something different.

Like so many of us, Naaman assumes that his condition is fixed and he focuses himself on the problem. If we focus on the rules we are likely to miss opportunities. I have just finished Shop Class as Soul Craft. This author points out any job that can be reduced to rules and protocols will be exported to Bangladesh. It is only when we are willing to dip our toe in the creek of new solutions that surprising things happen. Mostly the worst that can happen is we get wet! As hot as it is these days, even that might be welcome.

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