February 12, 2012 Fallowfield and Merivale United Churches Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
2 Kings 5:1-14 Read the passage: The Message or The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Read the passage: The Message or The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Mark 1:40-45 Read the passage: The Message or The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called the Outliers. "Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. This book grew out a frustration he found having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. He shows how practice is crucial. For example the difference between those with excellent talent and those who are outliers, those we see on stage or in music or in athletics is they practiced 10000 hours. As well, becoming an Outlier is a group project. When people become outliers, it is not just because of their own efforts. It's because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances.
Paul gives us the image of spiritual training in the metaphor of the discipline demanded of an elite athlete. There is no quick and easy way of preparation. However, in our world the demand on people is such that some do seek a faster method. We see this in the issue of enhancing drugs that hit the news and how testing for such drugs is now an ethical issue in sports. This suggests there is a tension of how one forms habits of discipline, and how they flow over to other aspects of life. There is an inner discipline that is needed which works for performance and also in how one lives in daily life. It is the inner stuff that allows one to withstand the pressures of our commodified world, and when one fails, to begin again.
This is a life project for all of us. We seek to find the images and messages that can carry us in daily life and also in the big issues. This inner work of spiritual reflection is for the sake of the world. It requires deep self reflection, and deep reflection on the issues of the world. The inner work is always to drive us to world solidarity. If it has no impact on the common good than it has no impact on the inner reality.
Our story of Naaman can be a template for us. Let me walk you through the metaphors to find what the author was teaching. It is a story that suggest vulnerability not control is how we create inner character.
Naaman is hero. Heroes are not to be blemished and he is. He is to be feared and yet in his time of need a foreigner, a slave, a girl tells him what to do. This may not seem to be a big deal to us, however in the time of honor/shame, of tribalism, of having no exchange with the enemy, this is a transformational action. This action should not be, it is not how things are. The very fact of healing coming from the source - an enemy and slave will be inner challenge. Naaman has to change and it is a tough demand on him. He is use to being in control and not vulnerable.
The King of Israel responds - fear. He thinks this request is a trick for why would an enemy ask for help? And then the king receives unexpected help from a new spiritual reality - the prophet Elisha.
Naaman goes off to the prophet not to the priest. Here again the mighty man is faced with a difficult and unexpected action. It would be expected that there would be a face to face encounter, but it is not Elisha who speaks to him, for he sends his man to speak to him. This would be humiliating to a powerful man. Thus a new demand of humility is added to his inner work. And no big magical show happens - just go an dip yourself in the Jordan.
It only gets better, from a story point of view, for it gets worse for Naaman. The Jordan is not a mighty river, in fact it is not much of a river, dirty and small. It is like comparing the a creek to the Ottawa. Again, in the time of the story, this would be an insult.
Again, who brings the transformational information? Again from a servant/slave. The power arrangement is stood on its head, for it is from an unexpected source that healing comes.
To be healed Naaman had to go through some demanding inner work. All of his power images challenged and changed. What is interesting in the story, which we did not read, Elisha expects no reward but tells him to go in Peace - which is code - live your life in gratitude and peace - live as a changed man. This story reinforces Gladwell’s point none of us are self created, we are who we are through the help and support of others.
We hear the echo of this in Mark’s story of healing. The healing is how one lives.
This is the miracle, changed attitudes. Leprosy is a metaphor for the things in our world that break and destroy community. To heal is a matter of taking care of both the small things and the big things. One is freed from the thing that holds one back - the fear, the small mindedness that inhabit us. It is to live with what is, and to work to change the contours of existence. The healing comes when one faces that which is the most fearful.
Both Jesus and the leper create a context of vulnerability. Jesus risks in touching. The leper in asking for help. This is the giving up of control, give up trying to control the outcome. Society had said no, used leprosy has a control mechanism. He was to see himself as shameful because of his disease. Not worthy. What is happening is Jesus connects. He sees that the leper has worthiness. Jesus saw beauty and thus the healing is now the leper sees himself as beautiful, worthy Having experiencing compassion he will now live compassionately.
A friend who teaches Yoga says the rewarding outcome comes through time and when the inner work changes how one acts in the world. The fun is in the details. The work of spiritual reflection is finding our walk with God, and to live for the common good. This means naming those things that are the lepers in our life and world and then to kiss the leper.