10/20/13 – HUMILITY & GRATITUDE by Lynn Naeckel

PROPER 23,C

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15 Luke17:11-19

Don’t you just love this story of Naaman in the Old Testament? Here he is, the commander of the army of the Arameans, who have defeated Israel in battle, a powerful man who has the ear of the king of Aram. Just one small glitch, he is suffering from leprosy.

Through a servant of his wife’s, he hears of a prophet of Israel who lives in Samaria, who, she claims, can cure him. What I love is the scene when he arrives at the home of Elisha. There is Naaman, accompanied by many horses, men, and chariots, literally sitting on his high horse. And what does Elisha do? He sends a messenger out, who tells Naaman to go wash 7 times in the Jordan to be cured.

Well, the nerve of that prophet! Doesn’t he know who is at his door? The high and mighty Naaman is insulted by the servant. He rants, “I thought that for ME he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!”

Here is the very picture of arrogance and entitlement. Naaman has been in power so long that he expects to be treated differently than mere mortals. So he goes off in a rage. Only later, when his servants suggest that since the requirements of the cure are simple, perhaps he should try them. He does, and he is cured. Then he returns to the prophet, humbled. Notice that now he comes and stands before Elisha, like an equal. He says, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

We all know arrogance and can see it in all too many people, but do we know humility when we see it? I’m not talking about what I call fake humility, which looks a lot like fake piety. “Oh me, I’m not worthy. Take pity on this lowly sinner,” etc. True humility is much more than this.

At our team meeting last week the team watched “The Life of Pi.” At one point in his long journey across the Pacific in a lifeboat with a wild tiger for company, Pi finally humbles himself, saying something like, “OK God, I give up. We’re dying here and it’s up to you to save us or not.”

This authentic surrender to God is real humility. This is the essence of the AA program, surrendering your life to your higher power, and those who cannot do this, usually cannot stay sober. Humility seems to be the starting point of faith.

Luke uses the story of the ten lepers to show us another aspect of faith. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, they go on their way to show themselves to the priests. On the way, their leprosy disappears. Now they were all cured, but only one of them saw God’s hand in the healing. He turned back to praise God and to thank Jesus. He takes the time to express his gratitude and in return Jesus says to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

The Greek word translated as “well” also carries the implication of “whole” and also “saved.” Your faith has made you whole/has saved you. Yet we haven’t heard anything here about this man’s faith, in the way we usually understand that word.

Do you remember just recently when the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith? I believe these two stories go a long way towards cluing us in on how to do that. I think that practicing humility and practicing gratitude in conscious ways will in fact increase our faith.

How do we practice humility? Well, we do it when we say the Lord’s prayer, right? “Thy will be done – on earth as in heaven.” Think about it. Mean it when you say it. When you pray for your needs or those of others, tack on, “but thy will, not mine, be done.

How do we practice gratitude? Here’s your assignment for this week: Pay attention to what goes on around you. Once a day, morning or evening, ask yourself what did you see, hear, taste,feel or experience during the day for which you are grateful? Where did you see, sense or encounter the Holy Spirit in the world? Then give thanks to God for it. At the end of the 7 days, assess how you feel. Has this practice changed anything? It’s a simple thing and would be easy to continue. . .

There’s another aspect to these two stories. Both are stories about physical cure, but they also point to something more, real healing. To heal is to bring to wholeness. Naaman was cured of leprosy, but he was also healed of his arrogance. The ten lepers where cured of their leprosy, but only one, the one who expressed his gratitude was healed, made well.

Ten days ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. So I was intrigued when one of the commentators I read this week said the following:

“Here’s one description of the church that’s stuck with me for nearly two decades: the church is the place where we perform weekly cataract surgery.

For this reason I think one of the primary functions of Sunday worship is to clarify our vision. To remind us that this is God’s beloved world. To point us to God’s ongoing activity in the world. To announce to us that God loves us and that God loves our neighbor just as much. . .

And that’s where the cataract surgery comes in. Anyone actively engaged in this world can’t help but have his or her vision made a little foggy. There is so much pain, and doubt, and hardship that it can be difficult to sustain faith in a loving God. Further, the challenges that confront us in loving our neighbor and striving for a more just and peaceful world are daunting. . .

The readings and sermon, the prayers and songs, that constitute our weekly worship serve to remove the film that clouds our ability to see God at work in the world. . .So week in and week out we come to church to have our vision clarified, our eyesight restored, so that we might return to the world looking for God out ahead of us, knowing that by the end of the week our vision will once again be cloudy and that cataract surgery awaits us again on Sunday.

Worship, from this point of view, is the opportunity for us to come to church that we might perceive, like the tenth leper in this week’s gospel, how God has restored us and, seeing, give God thanks and praise.” (David Lose, Working Preacher.org)

Consciously practicing humility and gratitude may help to keep your vision clear, but if not, come back next week for more cataract surgery. I’m having my other eye done this Wednesday, and know that my eyesight will be greatly improved. I pray that the same may be said for the eyes of my soul and yours too. AMEN

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