4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9
The Reverend Meg Lovejoy
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
How many of us get embarrassed when we have to step out of our comfort zone to do something we aren’t in the habit of doing or maybe trying something for the first time, in public. Have any of you ever sung karaoke? It can be terribly embarrassing, especially if we feel we are being judged by those around us.
There’s a story about Wilt Chamberlain who played professional basketball from 1958 until 1973. He was tall, standing 7 feet 1 inch and formidable on the court. The story goes that even though he was a great scorer, he was terrible at free throws. No matter what he did, he just couldn’t reach a high percentage of consistency and could have added another 10 to 15 points each game if he could just make free throws. Finally, someone suggested he try shooting them underhandedly instead of overhanded. He gave it a try for a few games and began to break the record for the most points scored per game. After a while, some people in the stands and a few of his teammates began to make fun of his “girly” way of making free throws. He grew embarrassed and stopped throwing them underhand. He never again broke the record for most points in a game.
Embarrassment is just what happened to Naaman. He was a mighty warrior. He was a wealthy, successful Aramean, yet he suffered from leprosy, a disease that had no cure and led to horrible disfigurement, discomfort, and eventual death. Naaman did not ask to be healed. A young Israelite, slave girl told Naaman’s wife that she knew of someone who could cure him. So Naaman asked his king for permission to travel to Israel, to the king there, to be cured. Permission was granted and off he went. Now the king of Israel knew he couldn’t cure anyone of leprosy and he feared the king of Syria was setting him up for failure and a pretext for war so he panicked. Elisha heard of the king of Israel’s fear and offered to have Naaman come to him and he would take care of the leprosy. Elisha didn’t meet with Naaman when the warrior arrived at his house; he sent a messenger out to tell Naaman what he must do to be cured. It’s simple, wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman was embarrassed that he had to lower himself to go to an Israelite prophet. He was embarrassed that he had to get into the waters of the Jordan when he just knew the rivers in his country of Syria were better and cleaner that any river in Israel, yet when his servant convinced him to give it a try, Naaman did so and was cured. This foreign warrior, who came from an enemy country, was healed by the power of the God of Israel. Through Elisha’s kindness, Naaman learned faith in God.
Paul tells the Galatians that all who have received the Spirit are to bear each other’s burdens. His focus is on our Christian responsibilities toward each other in the context of Christian fellowship and morality. Paul tells us not to grow weary in doing what is right. We may not receive thank-you’s or immediate reward for our actions but, when we act for the good of all, we will receive our reward at the harvest time.
Luke writes of Jesus sending his followers out to heal the sick, oppose the forces of evil, and tell of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. We too are sent out as witnesses to the Kingdom. During our baptismal covenant the priest asks: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Our reply is “I will, with God’s help.” BCP p 305
Do you hear a central theme in the lessons today? As I read each lesson and prayed that the Holy Spirit provide the words to say in this homily, the message I received was that of how we are to treat our neighbors. Do we welcome them? Do we embarrass them? Do we feed, clothe, and house them? We live by our actions and our words. We must tell the story of God’s love and live out our Christian love through our actions. When we tell others that God loves them and is eager to forgive all, we use the word. When we forgive those who have hurt us and help those in need, we use action. Our Christian witness is paired in word and deed.
Doritt Pfau wrote, “What God will do for those who offer him their weakness is beyond anything the strong can do in their own strength.” As we are sent out, “as lambs among wolves”, we are reminded that God gives us his grace in our weakness. When we go out into the world, we take Christ with us. As the hands and feet of Jesus, we fulfill the words of second century theologian Irenaeus who said, “The glory of God is a person who is fully human, fully alive”. This is the truth of God’s love and the best example of true evangelism.
May we live by our word and deed always following our Baptismal covenant. May we share God’s grace as we go into the world as Christ’s hands and feet.