17th Sunday after Trinity

2 Kings 5:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

 

How wonderful it is to

have Malakhi baptised this morning.

We spent some time together earlier in the week,

and I can honestly say that he is a delightful boy.

And like all babies,

the thing that is perhaps most delightful about him

is his innocence.

 

Christianity is a religion of salvation, of redemption.

Something the rest of us who have lost our innocence, need.

But not Malakhi, not yet anyway.

He is, we might say, still in the garden.

He doesn’t know what sin is,

and the illusion of separation,

of broken relationship,

which is at the heart of sin.

 

For us who have left the garden,

who have experienced a wound of separation,

from ourselves, from others, from creation, and from God,

we are in need of a saviour.

We are in need of reconnection to the source of life.

We are in need of the healing balm

of God’s complete, and total acceptance,

to transcend the illusory sense of separation

that keeps us at war with ourselves, other people, creation, and God.

 

The ego gets a lot of bad press in spiritual circles.

But the truth is everyone needs one.

Everyone needs to become an individual,

to experience psychological maturity.

 

But the ego is not the whole picture.

And when it stays in control throughout our lives

it can cause us to remain children in adult bodies.

It can cause us to miss the wonder and joy of life,

like the 9 nine lepers,

who forgot to be grateful to Jesus for their healing.

 

People effected by leprosy in bible times

were cast out from society,

and often lived in colonies by themselves.

In the case of today’s reading,

they were encamped somewhere between Galilee and Samaria.

In that society, they were separate.

Other. Defiled and unclean.

For those who saw Jesus treatment of them, however,

the veil is lifted,

the illusion of separateness is dispelled.

 

The very fact that Jesus condescends to pay them a moments attention,

never mind listen to their cries and give them healing,

is a massive transgression of the social mores of his day.

In other places he is said to touch them too.

Jesus was not living with the illusion of separation.

There is a little extra emphasis in the text too,

to really make the point with clarity.

The grateful leper, we are told,

was a Samaritan.

 

A Samaritan was, to Jesus’ Jewish community in Galilee

a figure of mockery, disgust and otherness.

They were considered unworthy and inferior,

and were generally hated by the Jews.

 

So Jesus crosses two boundaries of separation in this story

– the separation of lepers from the rest of society,

and the separation of gentile Samaritans from Jews.

Our God, in the person of Jesus, lifts the veil,

the illusion of separation,

and pops it like a balloon.

 

We see the same thing happen in the dramatic story of Naaman too.

Naaman is not a Jew. He is a gentile.

He is from a different nation, called Aram.

And Aram was the most recent nation to invade and occupy Israel.

 

And as a celebrated commander in the army of Aram,

he was not only an enemy, he was an arch enemy.

He had risen to such fame and honour

because of how many Israelites he had killed.

And how many battles he had won.

 

And this is the man that God chooses to heal.

Moreover, the text tells us that it was God

who had given him victory in battle.

So, whatever else we might say about the God of Israel,

we can be sure that he was not tribal.

He was not the partisan God of Israel,

their private possession, who could be relied on to back them up.

His priorities were not merely the self-interested priorities of Israel.

God has always transcended the illusion of separation

between us and them.

 

But Naaman has not yet learned to transcend the illusion of separation.

His ego is still very much in control.

I love the point in the story when Elisha, the prophet of Israel,

refuses to meet Naaman in person at the front door.

Because it’s such a relatable, human detail.

“How dare he?!”

Naaman’s ego is seriously bruised by this affront.

He can’t believe it!

The great warrior of Aram,

the occupying state in control of Israel

is at least due the honour of a face to face meeting with the prophet.

After all, he’s come so far!

 

But it gets even worse for Naaman’s ego,

because not only does the prophet not do him the honour

of a personal, face to face healing,

but he asks him to wash in one of the muddiest rivers in the middle east.

This is a slap in the face, no mistake.

Another affront to his fragile ego.

 

Furthermore, he’s not going to be able to earn his healing.

He’s not going to be the master of his destiny anymore.

And he can’t handle that.

His ego is in the driver’s seat of his life,

and it says, “No way, hosay!

I won’t stand for this. I’m going home!”

And if it weren’t for his servant,

his ego would have caused him

to miss the opportunity for life-changing healing.

Just as the 9 lepers missed their opportunity

to revel in the wonder and joy of their healing.

 

Thankfully, with the help of his servant,

Naaman was able to surrender his ego,

and do the right thing.

I suspect he also knew he had reached the end of his resources.

He knew he had gotten as far as he could with his disease.

No amount of money, fame, or battle prowess,

can cure leprosy.

And he was desperate,

and I’m sure found himself on his knees

on many occasions,

crying out to God for mercy.

 

So how can we learn the lessons of these two stories?

How can we stop our egos getting in the way

of the joys opportunities of life?

How can we puncture the balloon

which is the illusion of separation?

The sin that separates us from ourselves, others, creation and God?

 

Well, the first thing to remember

is that God has already taken the initiative.

Throughout all of history God has worked continually

to bring about the reconciliation of all things with Godself.

And this work climaxed in the coming of Christ among us.

As one of us. One in flesh and bone and blood.

Exploding – for us with the eyes to see –

the notion that God is not here, that God is separate.

And in living as one of us,

and experiencing the worst of the violence

that we can throw at each other,

and yet rising from the dead in the resurrection,

to explode the notion that death is the end,

that death is final separation.

 

And just in case we who live 2000 years since he walked the earth,

should fall into the trap of thinking that time can separate us

from his gentle, healing touch,

he has provided this meal of bread and wine,

which we have gathered this morning to share.

A meal that is to us his very body, his very blood.

What more intimate connection could we ever hope to enjoy?

What more concrete and real expression of his love,

could we ever hope to receive?

 

God has come to us. God is with us.

God is one of us.

We are not separate, after all.

 

But that still leaves the ego,

and the illusion of separateness that persists.

Our chief practice,

the antidote to dissolve and remove the veil of separation,

is something the grateful leper had discovered,

and which we too can learn to practice each day.

Gratitude.

 

The practice of gratitude reminds us that life is pure gift.

It recalls us to our healing at the tender touch of Christ.

It is a white-hot dart

to pierce the illusion of godforsakeness, of separateness,

and opens to us the deep joy and wonder of life.

 

And if you need a little kick start,

and injection of joy and connection and acceptance,

you could do worse than spend some time with a baby.

We’re always on the lookout for babysitters.

 

And if you’re here this morning

and don’t feel you have ever received the healing touch of Christ,

if you’re desperate for things to shift in your life,

desperate for healing, wholeness, new hope and direction,

all you need do, like the lepers from our Gospel story,

is cry out to God for mercy.

Often until we get to such a point of need

we are not ready to surrender our ego,

we are not able to receive the healing and mercy he would give us.

So be comforted, your desperation is the first step

towards receiving the fullness of God’s love,

a flood of infinite, patient, indulgent love and acceptance,

which God has given us in Christ.

 

AMEN.