The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s195o04 Sunday 28 10/10/2004
"if the prophet commanded you to do something difficult?" 2 Kings 5.13
Naaman got off very lightly. In fact the story goes on to tell us that Elisha refused all payment from Naaman, payment that Naaman had brought with him. Elisha's servant Gehazi also thought so, and he took it upon himself to run after Naaman and ask for a reward. The offering was freely made, but Gehazi contracted leprosy himself.
We are bidden to see that there is leprosy and leprosy. There is the disease, which mercifully has been largely eradicated today. But there is a spiritual leprosy associated with using God for one's own purposes, for one's own personal benefit. Using religion for one's own benefit stinks of death.
I am often bemused by the sins of Hophni and Phineas, the sons of Eli. We are told that they "lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting". (1 Sam 2.22) It always seems to me to be an oddly public place to have an intimate moment; the entrance to the tent of meeting :-)! More seriously; they regarded the offerings people made to God as their own personal preserve.
Do we seriously welcome people into this our congregation and fellowship ready and expecting them to make a contribution which might change things ever so slightly? Or are we really only interested in people who come because they will keep the institution going and hence keep things the same. This is no different from Hophni and Phineas, who used others for their own purposes, in the name of God.
I recall the advise to "would-be gurus" by Alan Watts: "you must work out a whole series of unusual exercises, both psychological and physical. Some must be rather difficult .." ("God In All Worlds" p 467)
We have this conception of God as someone with whom we would be privileged to meet, someone we would have to do something quite extraordinary before we were to be permitted a personal audience. It would certainly be harder than getting a personal audience with Queen Elizabeth or the Pope.
God on the other hand makes it easy for people. God in fact accepts us rather more readily than we imagine. The problem with Jesus was that he accepted other people rather too readily.
And Naaman was a foreigner for heaven's sake! The commander of the enemy army! Why on earth would God want him cured anyway? He would be better dead.
The ten lepers were obviously leaving the village that Jesus was about to enter. In all likelihood they had just had their leprosy diagnosed and were officially banished from the company of all others. No doubt the words of banishment were still ringing in their ears. In their shame they keep their distance from Jesus. Again, Jesus didn't get them to do anything difficult, except to retrace their steps, back to the priests who had just banished them, to be readmitted into the company of others. I wonder if you've noted that the one who turned back to praise God, the Samaritan, was told to go home his way and not resume his journey to the get the official sanction of the priests. As a Samaritan the priests would not have been interested.
We are not to miss the implication that orthodoxy and gratitude to God are not necessarily linked; and be assured that I think that this is as true amongst Christians as it is amongst any other group of people. One of the most important part of the long form of the words of the administration of the sacrament, are the last three words of: "Drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for you, and be thankful".
In the olden days, people often came to church because they saw it as their duty. Perhaps it was when Church was less interesting and long winded :-)! Again, this is fine as far as it goes, but the central part of the service, what used to be called the consecration, is actually the thanksgiving prayer.
Some time ago, it was reported that the Diocese of Sydney was considering allowing lay presidency of the Holy Communion. In other words, selected individuals could say the words of institution, that job was not to be restricted to ordained clergy as is our custom. Inevitably this caused a great bru ha ha around the Anglican Communion.
However I recall being taught in theological college that the consecration of the elements of the Holy Communion by people other than those ordained did not alter the efficacy of the consecration, it was just out of order; and that was 30 years ago. So while I am happy to assert the virtues of good order, I think that we are on dangerous ground if we insist on Episcopal ordination to validate the efficacy of the consecration of the Holy Communion. Do we actually mean to assert that the celebration of the Holy Communion by Lutherans, the Uniting Church, the Churches of Christ or others is not valid? Do we suggest that all these others are pretending, or that god is pretending with them and is only real for us?
It was a Samaritan who thought to praise God and was commended by Jesus.
However the Church makes a habit of trying to get others to do difficult things, things that even Church members would find it difficult, if not impossible to do. Often belief is portrayed as something difficult. Discipleship is made a trial. People are expected to live celibate lives until we kindly authorise them. If they happen to wish to express their intimate affections with someone with whom we disapprove, then we calmly forbid it or call it an abomination. We blithely expect them to live their lives without expressing their affections towards anyone else.
Those who oppose the ordination of women seem to be saying that their ministry would be acceptable if they were only to change their gender; not impossible, but at least difficult. Those who ask others to accept the ordination of women are asking others to change their minds; not at all impossible but perhaps not likely either :-)!
Prophets don't ask us to do difficult things. Indeed if the example of the Samaritan leper is any example, people are delighted to give praise to God when they have got good cause. I was outside Church Office a while back, rushing to get some people to see the Diocesan authorities. As I was getting my things out of the boot of my car, a young man approached along the footpath. "Do you come from there?" he asked, pointing to the cathedral across the road. Now at this point a couple of thoughts immediately sprang to my mind; Was I going to be "slugged" for being one of those paedophile priests; or was I going to be asked for money? Well neither actually. He had just been told that his cyst wasn't testicular cancer and he was a very happy person! He went on his way, rejoicing that he had been able to share his joy with someone else, a priest even: and you can be sure, I breathed a hearty sigh of relief.
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