Sermon Preached at Christ the King on February 15, 2009
2 Kings 5:1-14
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
I.N.I. (In the name of Jesus)
Martin Luther asked the question, “What shall we preach as we live at the intersection of fear and hope?” You and I live in that place, in a perpetual ‘fixer-upper’ at the intersection of economic, health, unknown fears, and hope. Hope for things now and those yet to be, things seen and those still hidden, hope in knowing that through Christ who we are and where we live will experience a divine extreme make-over.”
This morning we’ll spend this time in the Word framed by looking at our texts and lives from the inside-out. Fear to tag on Luther’s insight, is an inside thing. It’s true that external forces and events shape the fear that is in us, but largely fear is a personal, inside thing. Hope on the other hand is bigger than we are, it is outside of us. Yes we feel hope on a personal level, but it is in community and events outside of us that shape and fill us with hope. Hope, unlike fear and dread, is one of those things that we as human beings cannot generate from within.
It’s interesting to think about being on the inside as a bad thing and being on the outside as good—the place where hope comes from. After all the inside track, inside scoop, having inside knowledge are all perceived as good things. And being on the outs, an outcast, or outlaw are all perceived as bad. Even on days like today, being inside is warm, cozy and good, while being outside is cold, uncomfortable and if not bad, not so good for long periods of time anyway.
In our experience and from the texts today, we know that insiders tend to be self-centered; they play by the rules… their rules, rules that favor those who are in. In theological terms or in “churchy language” Augustine and Luther called this incurvatus in se, which is curved in on one’s self. We as sinners primarily seek our self interest and do not seek God’s presence… to worship, fear and love God. Rather we seek God for all the good things God can provide and do for us.
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For an insider like Naaman, none of his power, military might, royal connections, or wealth can cure his leprosy. This Syrian general needs an extreme makeover. His status gives him access to his king who then reaches out to the Israelite king. This curved in on himself insider Naaman uses his influence to access healing. It is ironic that the idea to do this comes from a servant girl, an outsider taken from her homeland in Israel to be a slave for the great commander’s wife.
Naaman is so curved in on himself that he even try’s to pick a fight with the king of Israel, the very one he seeks help from. The great prophet Elisha, when hearing of Naaman’s arrogance, offers to meet him. But when Naaman shows up, instead of receiving the typical insider’s V.I.P. welcome, is met by a messenger of Elisha. There was no red carpet, no fanfare, no honor guard. He is told to wash seven times in the Jordan and becomes furious! “Does he not know who I am? He should have met me, waved his hand over me as he called on his god and healed me. After all, I am the great commander of the Syrian army!”
Naaman could be a CEO of a troubled bank today. So caught-up and focused on himself that the bonuses and lavish trappings of his insider status continued even as the bank lost millions of more dollars, froze employee salaries, closed divisions and laid off staff. Even when using his insiders influence and “humbling” himself to seek a federal bailout and TARP economic stimulus monies, the CEO can’t believe or relate to the disbelief, shock and anger his actions generated. Do they not know who I am? After all, I am the great commander of American greed!”
So who are the insiders in our world today? People who seem to have it all, and yet might need healing, wholeness and hope:
Professional Athletes, Hollywood Celebrities, Corporate CEO’s, the wealthy, the healthy, the employed…
Who else are the turned in on themselves, other insiders in our world today?
If we are honest, we are. Think about the ways we look for success, fulfillment, healing or wholeness. I know that I often find myself with a sense of entitlement, and desire for God to act immediately and bring the results I desire.
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In Mark, we have another with leprosy in need of an extreme makeover for healing and wholeness. This one is not an insider, rather quite an outsider who begs for Jesus healing. He must as a leper not be in contact with the community. In fact the Levitical law required him to wear rags and whenever anyone came near, announce and maintain his outsider status by crying out “Unclean, Unclean!” In order to be restored to the community, he must be determined to be clean by a priest.
Who are the outsiders in our world today and even perhaps here in this place?
Shunned, excluded, ignored, the poor, the ill, the unemployed…
Who else are excluded, labeled or on the outside in our society crying out…
Unclean, Unclean! Homosexual, Homosexual! Tax Cheat, Tax Cheat!
HIV Positive, HIV Positive! Homeless, Homeless! Addict, Addict!
Cancer, Cancer! Sex Offender, Sex Offender!
Brother, Brother! Sister, Sister! Child of God…
Who do we ignore by our indifference and lack of action in Nashua, North America and around the world today?
As a relative insider, I wonder about and wrestle with these questions. I think about the ways my age, gender and education open doors for me. How where I live keeps the shunned, excluded, ignored, poor, ill and unemployed outside of my daily view and experience. How can I seek healing in a spirit of humility, and in gratitude
for what I’ve been blessed with? How can I use my insider status to further the kingdom of God in this time and in this place? There are no easy answers to these hard questions for I am captive to sin and cannot free myself.
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Jesus came not as an insider riding a majestic white horse, commanding a mighty army, or sitting on a throne. Jesus came as an outsider who riding a donkey, leading a rag-tag band of disciples, to ultimately be nailed to a cross. He came to break down boundaries and to throw the insiders out and welcome the outsiders in. Jesus as action figure is God in the flesh to direct traffic at the intersection of fear and hope, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
In this first chapter of Mark we see Jesus’ ministry with the calling a couple of disciples and immediately three extreme makeover stories of healing unfold. First Jesus casts out an unclean spirit healing the man in the synagogue, an insider on the Sabbath no less! Then He heals the mother-in-law of a follower, someone not quite an insider but clearly connected to the Jesus community. And finally in our text today, Jesus chooses to touch and heal a leper. Someone who’s disease and shunning by society makes him and Jesus for touching him an outsider.
Luther said: “The leper teaches us how we should believe and pray, especially in our bodily needs… This is called the right prayer in such matters, namely to believe that God can help, and yet not to set for God the time, measure, or goal, how and when God should help us.”
Jesus trade places with our earthly brokenness and outsider status. Through the cross we are granted the ultimate insider status for eternity. It is not just who you know, but rather who also knows, loves and trades places with you as a Child of God. It is in hearing this good news that our permanently curved in nature becomes flexible and we can see and respond to others in need around us.
Now don’t get me wrong, we are both saint and sinner, curved in on ourselves and curved out for others at the same time. But it is in communities of faith like this one that we get to know the One. Reminded by the Word, mirrors held up to our arrogant nature, moved beyond our innermost fears, washed and fed, we are filled with hope to live outside ourselves. When we live in hope, we seek healing in a spirit of humility, and respond with gratitude for what we have.
Hope starts to grow inside when a promise is spoken from the outside. Healing and hope come through hearing and response to the Gospel. Jesus, a fellow outsider touches us, speaks to us, keeps His promises with us, brings us closer to God, forgives our sins, restores us to wholeness and community, and gives us eternal life through the cross. Our lives are turned upside-down, inside-out and we are made anew each day through the Holy Spirit working in and through us at the intersection of fear and hope.