The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
2 Kings 5:1-14; Mark 1:40-45
“Being SJLC: Global Serving”
You might not have this on your calendar, but next weekend celebrates the Transfiguration of Jesus, the end of the time that we call Epiphany. With it will come the finale of our congregation’s Being SJLC emphasis. Even so, “Serving Jesus, Living in Community” isn’t limited to any one season of the church year. If you’ve been here in worship, in our small group huddles, in Sunday School or Sunday morning adult classes, or in one of our congregational servant events, you’ve heard and experienced what Being SJLC is about. Here at St. John’s Lutheran Church, we are a community of people who gather around the good news of God’s grace for us through Jesus. But that news isn’t merely some intellectual proposition that you can just acknowledge in your mind. Rather, the gospel calls you into a restored relationship with God that transforms you and shapes your life. That’s why we are Being SJLC. God’s word calls us outside of self and into community. And that community isn’t just here in northernVirginia; it spans the globe.
Put yourself in Naaman’s shoes. You are the second-most powerful man in your nation, highly regarded by your king. You’ve beaten your enemies. You have servants and silver and strength. But there’s something that keeps you from whole, and there’s nothing that you can do about it. You’re a leper. Your skin is diseased. Despite all your success, this illness clings to you, and no amount of scrubbing and washing will remove it. There is no treatment that anyone can offer. But one day your wife comes to you, saying that an Israelite girl has told her of a prophet in Samaria that could cure you. You jump at this promise of hope, going to the king and receiving his official blessing. What would this cure be worth to you? You’d better go down to this landof Samariaprepared to win the favor of Israel’s king. Taking about 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold, you depart. There’s an uneasy peace between your two nations, so the king of Israellooks concerned when he sees you on his doorstep. He looks even more concerned when he hears why the king of Syriahas sent you to him. After some time though, word comes that you are to go to this prophet you’ve heard about. On your way, with your entourage around you, you wonder what kind of thing this mysterious man will do. How will he bring the cleansing for which you have been seeking? Will he cry out in his foreign tongue and chant a spell? Will he only have wave his hand over the diseased skin to make it whole? Before long, you find yourself at the prophet’s door, looking forward to seeing this “Elisha.” It seems rude to you that he doesn’t invite you in, but you wait for his arrival. But he doesn’t come. Instead, he sends a messenger who tells you to go and wash in the Jordan River. Ha! Who does this prophet think he is? Doesn’t he know who you are and who sent you? You’ve come all the way to this backwoods country for this prophet of Yahweh to tell you to go and wash up in a glorified creek?! You storm off in a rage, but you don’t get too far before your servants come to you and invite you to reconsider what you’ve heard. It seems they were actually paying attention. Elisha wasn’t saying to just go wash your skin in the river so that it’d be clean. He was telling you that when you’d do this thing, your skin will be restored to health. You’ve come all this way, so what would be the harm in following these instructions? So you go. You dip yourself seven times in the Jordan River, still wondering why this water’s so special. You look at your skin… and see that it’s been cleansed – even better than it had been before the disease, even healthier than the skin of that little girl that had directed you here in the first place! And then it hits you: it’s not about the water! The Jordan didn’t heal you. Yahweh, the God of Israel, has done this thing. He has done it for you, and you are a foreigner.
Naaman’s healing shows us that Yahweh, the Lord, isn’t just God of Israel, but of all nations. Naaman himself confesses just that, returning to Elisha and acknowledging in verse 15 that Yahweh alone is God of all the earth. The prophet didn’t even come out to meet the commander, lest the Syrian would be confused into thinking that Elisha was the one doing the healing. God acted, for He is a global God.
In Jesus, we see how our global God is at work. Another man with leprosy comes looking for healing, having heard of the amazing things that Jesus has been doing all throughout Galilee. Finding Jesus, this man doesn’t even make a request; instead, he just acknowledges what Jesus can do, saying to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Anyone with a skin disease would have been considered unclean and an outcast. They couldn’t be part of society. If you’d come into contact with them, they’d make you unclean, too. You’d have to go and wash – not necessarily in the Jordan River – but you’d still need to get clean. Jesus could have done just what Elisha did, but he doesn’t. Instead, the Lord reaches out and touches this unclean man. And instead of the leper making Jesus unclean, too, the opposite happens! Jesus’ touch brings the cleansing that this man so desperately needed. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He sends the man to show himself to the priest, thereby restoring the man’s place in society. That’s what Jesus does. He comes personally to be with us: not at a distance and not just to bring physical healing, but restoration of relationships – with the people around us and with Yahweh, the one true, global God.
You and I need to be made clean. Our sickness might not be as visible as Naaman’s, but it’s there just the same. We can get wrapped up in our own little world, focusing only on the things that we think should be priorities, failing to acknowledge God’s call to serve outside ourselves. We cut ourselves off from the world, from society, and from God – rather than living as agents of healing and cleansing, we languish in self-centered sickness.
Jesus brings the healing that you and I need. When you confess your sickness and uncleanness, your brokenness and selfishness, turning to God to make you whole again, Jesus touches you and says, “I will; be clean.” His cleanness becomes your own. And unlike that leper that Jesus healed inGalilee, you are not told to keep silent about your healing; instead, God sends you out to share His healing love with your world. He reaches you through you.
This weekend, our Being SJLC emphasis turns to “Global Serving.” You might know one of the people from St. John’s who will be going with our Haiti Servant Team to work at the Village of Hope school. This year’s team will be working towards finishing the new health clinic there that will bring medical services to the students and their families. This health clinic will be a significant instrument through which the people of Haiti may experience God’s healing love. Our servant team will be bringing along donated healthcare supplies to help stock the clinic, along with other items for the school. (If you’d like to contribute one of the needed items, you can find a list in this weekend’s newsletter.) We’re also lifting up the ongoing efforts of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) this week. Lutherans across our nation are working together to provide life-saving resources and training to communities in Africa where malaria is all-too-common. Nearly 700,000 people in Africa die each year from malaria, and most of them are children and pregnant woman. There are more than 18 million Lutherans in Africa, many of whom have been impacted by this disease. We have the opportunity to prevent the deaths of thousands of people, showing them the love that comes from our global God, the healing love that we have known ourselves. We do so not just to delivery care for bodies but also for souls: Bishop Walter Obare of our sister church in Kenya observed, “They can’t hear the Gospel if they have died of malaria.” LMI seeks to keep people from dying, so that they may live in Christ.
You and I have heard the life-giving word of Yahweh, the God of all nations. His healing love has reached out and touched our lives. We are no longer outcasts and unclean. We have been called into community, a community which spans the globe. And our God’s healing love now sends us out to serve people all around our world. Going, we show and tell of this God who reaches out to touch the outcast and the foreigner, saying, “I will; be clean.”
other sermons in this series