We like to make things complicated, but the faith which heals is simple. A word for our graduates moving away to university. (Listen.)
Naaman was hoping for a miracle. ‘Easy peasy lemon squeezy,’ said the prophet’s errand boy. ‘Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and you’ll be made clean.’ Then he ran back inside, narrowly avoiding a boot in the behind.
Naaman was one of the most powerful people alive. He was a military bigwig in one of the greatest empires in the world; he was loaded with cash; he was valued by his king. But he had leprosy: and he was prepared to go anywhere, do anything, pay any price, to be healed. But this? Receive instructions from an errand boy, and to … what? Strip down and bathe in that piddling little trickle, that sorry excuse for a river called the Jordan? And at no cost? Naaman was not amused. He was not being taken seriously: nor were his power, wealth or status. No wonder he lost his temper and stormed off.
Most of us, including me, like to make things tricky. It can feel more important, more fitting, perhaps, to arrange a special retreat than to schedule daily silence. We can work our way through many a book and podcast, but rarely open a Bible. We’ll pray long complicated prayers, but never invite the neighbours over, or pray for a personal enemy, or plant a tree. We’ll shell out for a mindfulness app or yoga class or conference, but never try the simple spiritual exercises that Christians have been using for centuries.
‘But,’ said Naaman’s slave, ‘if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? Why not this simple ‘Wash, and be clean!’?”
It’s usually simple. Love God, your neighbour, your enemy, and yourself: and you will know the kin-dom. Be baptized, and you’ll freed from sin and united with Christ once and for all. Read the Bible, and you’ll encounter the Living Word which heals and transforms us for good. Pray, and you’ll know the powerful stirring of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Give, and you’ll be freed from the grip of consumerism, the idol of wealth, the illusion of independence from the rest of the world. Eat with others in memory of Jesus: and you’ll be bound into God’s communal, joyful, life. Seek justice, wisdom, and the unforced rhythms of grace: for in seeking you will find.
Naaman nearly missed out, because the cure was so simple. It didn’t call for money, power or status; anybody could do it. It didn’t seem hard enough, or grand enough, or complicated enough, or impressive enough, for somebody like him. He nearly rejected it.
Eventually, however, at the urging of his slaves, Naaman gave it a go. He went down to the riverbank and stripped off his clothes. He set down the symbols of his power, wealth and status and, naked as the day he was born, he waded in. And there in that slow shallow river, he knelt and bathed, dipping himself under the reedy golden water once, twice, seven times. And coming out of the water he saw his skin now soft as a baby’s: fresh and clean and whole. He was healed: and he praised God.
Today we are farewelling two of our number as they prepare to move away. They are heading to university, and to the next stage of their lives. And, my friends, there you will encounter a thousand paths to the spiritual life, each one more enchanting, more full of possibility than the next. Some will be attractive for their promises of esoteric knowledge and mystery; others, for their insistence on commitment and hard work; still others, because those who follow them seem super-deep and cool. Many will claim to know the one true path and urge you to join them: and some, I am sad to say, will use fear and controlling tactics to try and persuade you. As you encounter all these different paths and people, some good and some ultimately not so good, you will need to consider carefully which way to go.
As you consider, I want you to remember this story of Naaman and how he nearly missed out on the simple cure. I want you to remember that his power, wealth, education and connections gave him no inside track and no advantage when it came to knowing God or being healed. Instead, it was a prisoner-of-war slave girl who suggested God’s prophet; it was a lowly errand boy who passed on the message from the prophet; and it was his own slaves who encouraged him to take the simple cure.
My friends, the faith that makes you whole is simple. It is open to everyone, it is down-to-earth, and it is free.
And you already know what to do.
That is, park any pretensions, any ambitions, any sense of entitlement. Let yourself be grounded: neither diminished nor puffed up, humiliated nor arrogant, but humble as the earth. Know yourself and who you are: a creature of earth, and precious child of God.
Then love. Love God, love your neighbour, love your enemy, love yourself: and this includes when you feel like your own worst enemy. In all that you do, practise love.
These things will help you: Read the Bible with an open heart, seeking the voice of deep truth and freedom. Pray, both alone and with other people you can trust. Eat, at informal meals and formal communion, with other humble people in the name of Christ. Give, of yourself and of your possessions, for everyone is connected, and we are formed to serve. Seek justice, wisdom, the rhythms of grace, God: for it is in the seeking that you will find.
And repeat. Do these things and everything that flows out of them not just seven times, nor seventy times seven, but make them your way of life: and easy peasy lemon squeezy: you will know God; you will be made whole. In the name of Christ: Amen. Ω
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