21 Pentecost Proper 23: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15; Ps 111; 2 Tim 2:8-15; Lk 17:11-19
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, October 9, 2016
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Healing comes in different ways and it is easy to get lost in the healing aspects of the stories of Naaman and the Ten Lepers. But to focus on those aspects is to miss the real intent of the stories. Both Naaman and the Samaritan leper show a surprising amount of gratitude in response to being healed and it is this gratitude that defines the purpose and intent of our stories today. We hear the responses of gratitude offered and assume that their mommas raised them right. But there is something deeper and more intentional happening in the displays of gratitude that the Old Testament and Gospel story point to today.
Gratitude is what fills our cup to overflowing and encourages us to pour out the best of ourselves onto the world. For Naaman that gratitude is marked by his return to Elisha and expressed by a confession of praise, Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. He is so moved in his gratitude, that he offers a gift to Elisha. Elisha will go on to refuse that gift. But Naaman will request two mule loads of earth to take back with him to use in worship to the Israel God.
The Samaritan leper, once he realizes he has been healed, also returns to the one who healed him”the only one of ten to do so. His gratitude is marked by his return to the Lord, praise of God, prostration to Jesus, and words of thanksgiving. As a leper in the first century, you were excluded from society until a priest had declared you clean. The response of the ten lepers in following Jesus’ order to [g]o and show themselves to the priest is an act of faith. They were healed, made clean, on the way. A priest would still have to declare that cleanness. Yet, for one leper, this foreigner, his healing causes him to be so overcome by gratitude that he puts off his reentry into society in order to praise God.
For both Naaman and the Samaritan leper gratitude and faith are linked. They both had to possess at least a little faith to follow the instruction of the healer”granted Naaman resisted and acquiesced only after a servant convinced him too. All ten lepers demonstrate faith in Jesus first by calling out to him to grant them mercy and then complying with is mandate for healing. There is some mustard seed size faith in the lives of these lepers. And once that seed of faith is nourished by the waters of healing and the light of salvation, it blossoms.
We are in the midst of a stewardship campaign entitled, Practicing Gratitude. Naaman and the Samaritan leper offer us an example of how gratitude is practiced and faith is accelerated. The immediate response of gratitude that both exhibit is to return to the one who heals them”the Lord, or at least the representative of the Lord. That return is marked by praise and thanksgiving. Namaan, who has much, offers a gift. The Samaritan, who has little, offers himself by prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet. We are called to give what we have, in the church that is represented by dollars and cents, not because the church needs your money in order to meet its budget”though I won’t deny that is an important part of the business of the church. But stewardship is not about doing business, it is about spiritual growth”growing one’s faith”through giving out of gratitude.
Naaman’s gift and the Samaritan’s prostration are outward visible signs of a deep well of gratitude toward God within them. They have recognized the power and primacy of God in their lives through the gift of healing”the miraculous work of the divine downplayed in these two events. The transformation in their lives, not just of health but of spirit, is coupled with the need to give back to God. We are easily led to distraction when it comes to our own gratitude. All the worry and stress of the day fill us so completely there is no room for thankfulness”at least not the deep, heartfelt, soul transforming thankfulness that these two experienced. We mutter words of thanks at mealtime or offer a quick thank you as we hurry from one task to another, but rarely do we take the time to stop and return to the one who has helped us recognizing the healing power and faith increasing gratitude that fills us.
Gratitude increases faith and faith increases gratitude. The two are inextricably linked. To relate money to a growing understanding of faith is to begin to understand your money from a place of gratitude instead of a place of entitlement. You work hard for your money and you spend it intentionally on the things you believe you deserve. That mindset, though not wrong, serves to reinforce our position of entitlement regarding money and its purchasing power. But money has less to do with entitlement and more to do with gratitude when it is used as a tool for shining light into this dark and broken world. Everything we have is a gift to us from God and those gifts, including our money, have been given to us that we might partner with God to do His work of redemption in the world.
To understand money gained”a paycheck, winning the lottery, inheriting the family fortune”as a gift is to grow in grateful appreciation of it. To spend money”paying bills, buying luxury items”as a gift is to grow in gratitude. Our everyday use of money”earned or spent”as a gift helps us to grow in gratitude and will encourage our faith. Practicing gratitude with our money means intentionally giving thanks for it and all its many purposes. There are a few simple and practical ways you can increase your gratitude when it comes to money. Identifying what percentage of your money you give back to God and beginning to grow that percentage is a commitment to proportional giving and working toward the tithe. Giving back to the Lord of that which we value in our life helps us to grow in grateful appreciation. But any use of your money is an opportunity to grow in gratitude.
When you write a check, jot a quick thanks above the for line, writing in exactly what you’re thankful for. Or when paying with a credit card or debit card, take three seconds after you’ve signed that slip of paper to write thank you on your receipt or at least think these words as you hold your pen to the screen at the checkout line. Or when paying bills electronically, take a moment before you press send and consider the blessings afforded you and your family through running water, electricity, a mortgage, and school tuition.
We have a lot to be thankful for and, yet, our human nature has twisted our relationship with money, lessened our faith, and increased our love of possession. Practicing gratitude through intentional thankfulness as well as proportional giving”as we work toward the tithe”is a first step in returning to God and restoring health in the relationships we have with our money and things. It’s a simple first step”as simple as going to wash in the Jordan seven times or showing yourself to the priest. And by taking it, your faith will make you well. Amen.