Spring Cleaning

Naaman a high-ranking officer in the Syrian army is looking for a quick and easy cure for his skin disease, leprosy. Now in the days of Naaman leprosy was considered a horrible disease, equivalent to AIDS today.

You'll remember when we first encountered or became aware of AIDS, how people with this disease were treated, many wanted to avoid them and cast them aside. And there is no cure.

Well this was how those with leprosy were treated in the time of Naaman. They were cast aside and ignored. Because of Naaman's illness many considered him untouchable and unclean. So needless to say Naaman was devastated. Our Old Testament lesson tells us that Naaman was a great man, and he probably was, given the many military victories he won. But leprosy didn't care. Even the greatest and brightest of humanity can be rendered socially marginal and politically powerless by disease. Consequently, Naaman was desperate for a cure.

Naaman reached out to every miracle worker and storefront faith healer his country had to offer, to the point he got so desperate that even he paid attention when a young servant girl told his wife that there was a prophet in Samaria who could cure his leprosy. So Naaman prepares to leave for Samaria, looking for a quick, easy cure for his unbearable disease.

Naaman who obviously considers himself a great man sets off for Samaria with a whole entourage of horses and chariots, money, and so on. And Naaman heads, not for the home of God's prophet, as the servant girl had told him to do, but for the throne room of the King of Israel himself. To ensure he's not seen as a charity case, he arrives in full regal splendor, loaded down with gold and silver, and fine linens to offer the king.

But the king has no power to cure him. In fact, the king is downright suspicious of why a foreign military leader is showing up on his doorstep with all these gifts in the first place.

So when the prophet Elisha tells the king he can help, the king quickly takes him up on the offer, and sends Naaman to the prophet's house.

The scene is set, and we can well imagine that the expectation and excitement on Naaman's part as he approached the prophet's house was high. Perhaps the miracle worker would mutter a few well-chosen prayers to his God, and bring healing to Naaman's diseased body.

I can imagine that Naaman was already thinking about his triumphant entry back into his own country healed and restored.

What a shock it must have been for Naaman and his entire entourage when, instead of Elisha coming out of his house to wave his hands over Naaman's body offering prayers to God, Elisha sends a simple word of instruction to Naaman by way of his servant.

"Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean."

Well Naaman isn't pleased at all by these instructions. Wash in the Jordan River, why? If he'd been looking for a river to make him clean, he certainly didn't need to come all this way to wash in the Jordan River. After all the Jordan River wasn't considered a real clean river at this time in history, and Naaman felt he had far superior rivers back home. So in a rage he walks off, yelling I'm sure some well chosen words to express his displeasure at having traveled so far for what appeared to be a waste of time.

But for the third time in this story, it's a servant, a person of little power, who convinces the great military leader to do the healing thing. "Sir," his own servant says to him, "if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, wouldn't you have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was 'Wash, and be clean'"?

It's not always easy in life to do the simple, especially the simple things God requires of us for our own healing. We tend to want to over complicate things, or think that for something as important as healing to take place a grand event is required.

Even if we don't have the wealth or military might of a Naaman, we know what it is to favor the quick, miraculous cure over the humbling cure that comes from doing the simple things over and over again, like dipping seven times in the Jordan River.

When a bone is broken, or a disease radically changes our life; when our heart is broken over a relationship issue, or injustice renders us incapacitated; when our spirit is broken, and all we can marshal is the false confidence that comes from shoring up ourselves up with the things of this world, it's sometimes difficult to trust that through obedience to the simple acts God requires, healing will ever come.

But yet, isn't this often how God works for healing in our lives? God doesn't often heal in glamorous ways, but rather in unglamorous ways.

Often times a cure is not quick to come, but a cure comes in slow and sometimes messy ways. We don't often experience instant recoveries, but rather the recovery is experienced only after "repetitive dips in muddy waters."

My best friend 12 years ago was afflicted with a rare lung disease. His treatments required spending a lot of time in the hospital undergoing repetitive treatments.

He and his family prayed daily that somehow this regiment might prolong his life a little longer, so that he could share more time with his wife and son. There's nothing glamorous about it.

In recent years I've watched a woman I know deal with a torn spirit after suffering a nasty broken relationship. And for her too, the healing process has been anything but quick and glamorous.

It's taken many dips in the Jordan for her battered sense of self-worth to slowly and gradually begin to mend. And quit honestly it will probably take many more dips before God's healing of her is complete. For the recovering addict it's the same thing, healing takes time and is a process.

For many people, it's the same with spiritual healing. Often times spiritual healing is a process of dipping that requires people, as it required Naaman, to let go of their external securities and preconceived notions of how God might work, and to just trust that some how, some way, God will provide spiritual health.

Naaman under estimated the power of God, and I think we sometimes do as well, just because we haven't experienced some grand mountaintop-healing event.

I know people who through the repetition of prayer and receiving the Lord's Supper over a period of time have experienced God in new and special ways, and as a result have experienced real spiritual healing.

God's healing, whether of body, mind or spirit, often comes to us not through the waving of a prophet's hand or a miraculous cure. Rather God has a way of working through a dusty desert, a muddy river, or a sweaty room where therapists guide us through repetitive exercises.

It's there, where we are stripped of the illusion that we can heal ourselves, and realize we are actually held up by God's grace. A grace that surrounds us and embraces us like a mother holding her child.

Make no mistake about it the journey toward healing is often not an easy one. But the first step is recognizing what is holding us back, naming it, and confronting it. The second step, often a long and difficult one, is letting go. Boy this is tough, isn't it? Giving up control and no longer holding onto what is bothering us is not an easy thing to do. We often times become hardened in the script of our lives and we don't allow ourselves to change or let go.

When we feel that our situation is static and nothing seems to be happening, we need to reflect on where God is in this situation. Know that when we hurt God hurts as well. It helps to be reassured that God is with us in our difficult times, even though we can't avoid the pain and suffering. To move forward in our struggles we need to let go of our hurts, as well as our sins.

Now in order to let go, we have to engage in some "spring cleaning." We have to look into the closets of our pain and sort through them. And for some those closets are large walk-in closets with shelves holding many hurtful memories and feelings.

We then need to determine, what's holding us back, And we need to work hard at letting go, perhaps one box at a time or one shelf at a time. But know we can offer our pain to God, who is powerful enough to bear it for us. Letting go frees us to move ahead, to tackle something new, to allow God to heal and transform our pain into something wonderful.

Often times if we spend time in quiet prayer and meditation we can get in touch with God's spiritual presence in our lives. We may sense God's presence at church, perhaps tonight during Holy Communion or when we're singing a hymn that touches us in a special way. We may sense God's presence at home or while we're out on a walk, or while reading scripture. For me, I experience God often times during Holy Communion and while driving my truck. But that's me; experiencing God is a deeply personal matter and will be different for each one of us. Yet to experience the presence of God we must be open to such an experience.

But please understand that experiencing God doesn't always mean that our circumstances change, but rather our hearts become soft and open to God's love and grace. Remember God can't place mercy and forgiveness into a hardened heart that's already full.

Healing means being able to live our life to the fullest capacity possible, given our circumstances. And the process of healing takes patience and prayer, and the support of family and friends, as well as guidance from the medical and spiritual community. Even after we accept our situation and feel we have turned it over to God we still may feel strong emotions. What's important is that we continue to acknowledge the feelings, express them, and then move on, knowing God is with us on every step of our journey.

Sometimes what's needed is what Rev. Henri Nouwen calls "patient waiting." This kind of waiting is not a passive waiting. Patient waiting involves acknowledging and suffering through the present, really engaging what's going on with your body, mind and spirit. And at the same time, looking for God's presence, and expecting God's presence in the experience.

If we don't expect it, often times we'll miss it. In other words, if we don't expect to experience God there's a good chance we won't, not because God isn't there, but because we're not really there. The book of James tells us, "a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." (James 1:6)

Now, if you expect that life will never be the same because of a significant event in your life, whether it be illness or death of a loved one, you're absolutely right. Life won't be the same. But life can be very good and joyful, in a new way.

Through difficulty our endurance has a chance to grow, and when our endurance fully develops we become strong in character and ready for anything.

Our experience can lead us to a deeper appreciation of our gifts and of the many blessings that perhaps until now have been hidden. It's this kind of hope that moves us through the healing process back to wholeness.

As we begin the season of Lent tonight I encourage you to engage in some spring cleaning, pull out the brooms and sweep away your hurt, and throw away the boxes of stuff that weigh you down, so that your life can be all that God desires it to be. Amen.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade