The Kind of Healing We Actually Need


A sermon on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 and 2 Kings 5:1-14


[for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by Trevor Gerzen on Unsplash.]


When I read the gospel lesson for this week, my first reaction was “well, that’s bad timing.”

I have spent the last month prepping our congregation for a time of REST… and for very important reasons.

I know that I am not the only one who is exhausted and depleted by the past 28 months of continuously-shifting expectations and decision-making as we have navigated from shut-down, to long-term pandemic, to figuring out how to live in an apparently never-ending endemic.

We are living in a state of chronic stress, aggravated at horrifyingly-regular intervals by tragic violence, and political flash-point moments, and general evidence of just how broken this world is.

And that’s all before the various personal health and life challenges that I know so many of us are facing.

What I feel like we NEED to hear right now is something like the 23rd Psalm,

with the nurturing voice of the Good Shepherd calling us to lie down in green pastures and refresh ourselves beside still waters…

not a call to take up an under-resourced and confrontational mission to potentially hostile communities – involving, just by-the-way, DEMONS!

So… I did what most good preachers will do in this situation… I looked at what other text options I had for my sermon.

And it turns out, our first reading is a pretty great story, actually: the story of Naaman the Leper.

It has a dramatic healing, which is always encouraging.

It has a context of opulence and power that gets turned upside down by giving the key plot-shifting lines to a young girl who is a prisoner of war and a nameless servant.

AND it’s a story about which I remembered hearing a spectacular sermon by one of my favorite preachers, Nadia Bolz Weber, 6 years ago.

Thanks to the magic of podcasting, that sermon was pretty easy to find and access. (And I encourage you all to do so – the link[1] will be in the sermon transcript I will upload to the church sermon blog after worship today).

So, of course, I listened to the sermon again.

In the sermon, Bolz Weber re-tells the story in her signature irreverent way, highlighting Naaman’s offense that someone as important as himself did not warrant an equally-impressive spectacle of healing, and that instead he was just told, by proxy, to go wash in “an off-brand river.”

Bolz Weber gives props to Naaman’s servant for daring to call-out his master’s self-importance, and then she gets to her real point… the idea that Naaman’s healing in this story is more than just physical.

She speculates about what the prophet Elisha was really up to in his cavalier treatment of the foreign general, saying:

“I wonder if Naaman’s healing may somehow be connected to God disabusing him of his grand ideas. Perhaps he was healed of thinking he knew what would heal him.”

Then, she turns this insight around on us:

“I wonder how often we are attached to an idea about what we think will make everything OK for us, what conditions need to be met in order for us to feel safe, cared for, rested, whole.”

In case you are wondering, I did comprehend the irony almost right away… the irony that the whole reason I was listening to this 6-year-old sermon was because I was so sure that what my congregation needed in a sermon this week was NOT what God had provided for with this Sunday’s gospel.

I knew that we needed a call to rest, not to mission.

I was just like Naaman – put-off because God wasn’t offering precisely the prescription for healing that I was expecting.

(Sigh) Sometimes, I could wish that God’s Spirit were a little less direct.

But, then again, I really don’t.

Because then you all would only get what I have to offer from this pulpit, and I am not what you need. God is.

So, I have changed my mind about by-passing the gospel reading for today’s sermon. I now think that it is probably EXACTLY the gospel that we need to hear at the start of our Sabbath-month as a congregation.

I think we need to hear this story of commissioning for mission for at least two reasons.

First, we need the reminder that a month of Sabbath rest, a break from the usual busyness of our ministry and learning activities together, is probably NOT a cure-all for what ails us.

I still trust that this will be a good and healing time for us. Times of rest are part of God’s design for human life and community.

But a break does not ultimately change any of the conditions that have worn us down in the first place.

And there is a danger in any anticipated time of respite that we can build-up unrealistic expectations about its impact that will only set-us-up for frustration and disillusionment.

And the same can hold true for any “cure” that any of us might be imagining for the stresses and problems of our current reality:

We might be longing for a shift in the political balance of power in Congress, or the Supreme Court;

OR

Better mask-wearing when local contagion is high, or the end of all mask requirements;

OR

We might be hoping for a miracle new treatment;

OR

A new dream job;

OR

Fill-in the blank for whatever prescription WE would write to cure the ills in our lives and in our country.

I’m not trying to say that hoping or working for change is bad! Quite this opposite!

Today’s gospel is literally a commissioning story – a call to be about the work of God… healing the sick, and spreading peace, and announcing that God’s disruptive, change-bringing kingdom has come near.

But the point is that it’s GOD’s cure we are called to be a part of, not our cure to define and hang all of our hope upon.

And that leads to the second important reminder in this gospel reading: Jesus sends his disciples out intentionally ill-equipped.

This is so counter-intuitive, especially when we are already feeling depleted and vulnerable.

If it’s true that Jesus is sending us out as lambs among wolves, then – surely – we need all the right tools to defend ourselves and to achieve our mission.

And what’s the harm in taking along some supplies, anyway?

Well, the harm is that our trust can so easily become mis-placed.

In resources that are not guaranteed.

Or in a welcoming reception from those to whom we are sent.

Or in our own strength and vision and prescription for a cure.

But Jesus sets the stage with SUCH an important description: “the harvest is plentiful.”

This is a statement of profound hope and assurance.

The fruit of God’s work in the world is already there – ready to be harvested.

It doesn’t depend on particularly skilled laborers, or cutting-edge equipment, or application of the latest agricultural science.

It’s already there, because God is the one who – ultimately – effects the change. It is God in whom we hope. And God can work through us even when we are ill-equipped, and rejected, and when our ideas for what needs to happen fail to meet our expectations.

So, my message today is a call to trust that while we are taking a Sabbath month… God is not.

Your pastor won’t be around, and we’ll have a lot fewer structured church activities, and it might not feel like you have many chances to labor in God’s harvest…

But we aren’t actually the architects of God’s kingdom.

And while we, like Naaman, might expect that for big things to happen the prophet has to come out and wave his arms and call out to God in a loud voice… maybe all we have to do is take a restful dip in an off-brand river.

And then be ready to rejoice at whatever miracle God has planned.

Thanks be to God.

[1] https://content.blubrry.com/hfass/2016-07-03_NBW_HFASS_Podcast_128kbps.mp3

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