unnamed & unknown

preaching a sermon, based on 2 Kings 5.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2016

The Prophet Elisha and Naaman (c. 1630), Lambert  Jacobsz (Jacobszoon) (1598-1636)

The dramatic story of the healing of Naaman has a grand cast of characters. Naaman, “a great man” and “mighty warrior,” his master, the king of Aram, and, though Naaman may not know it, his chiefest master, the Lord, the God of Israel, who, through Naaman, “had given victory to Aram.”

Naaman has leprosy, a life-altering, status-changing disability. A hideous skin condition for which folk were ostracized, relegated to the fringes of society, apart and away from the healthy and well. Naaman, though highly favored by the king, is subject to banishment.

As the story is told, Naaman appears before the king of Israel, bearing gifts and a request, one king to another, to cure him. The king of Israel is terrified, convinced it’s a trick. He is not God, the giver of life or death, with power to heal, thus, when the attempted cure fails, Aram will wage war on Israel.

Enter “the man of God,” Elisha, sending word to the king of Israel to have Naaman directed to him, through whom God would perform the cure so that Naaman would know that in Israel “there is a prophet”; one who bears God’s word, which, once spoken, is accomplished.

So, it was, but not before overcoming Naaman’s contempt for Elisha who declined a personal appearance to affect the cure through the expected performance art of uttered prayer and manual gestures and for the prophet’s ridiculous direction to wash in “the waters of Israel,” so vastly inferior to the purity of “the rivers of Damascus.”

Naaman, the king of Aram, the king of Israel, surely Elisha, and most surely the Lord, are the principal actors in this healing drama. Or are they? There are others as prominent, though easy to overlook for they are without names or titles.

The young girl, captured during an Aramean military raid in Israel, carried back to Damascus to be the servant of Naaman’s wife, told Naaman about Elisha, the man of God with healing power…

The lone messenger Elisha sent to relay to Naaman the prescription for the cure…

Naaman’s servants who, reacting to their master’s angry and incredulous dismay at being told to do some trifling, preposterous thing as bathing in polluted water to be made clean, encouraged him to heed Elisha’s instruction.

These characters in this story of healing bore the words of divine wisdom step by step along the way toward the revelation of the miracle. And throughout history, the numbers of the unnamed and unknown are legion.

Declaration of Independence

Tomorrow, we celebrate the 240th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, a symbol of our national story of strife and struggle, formation and unification. We recognize the names George III, King of England, from whom we sought liberty, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, the best known of the Committee of Five[1] appointed to craft the language. But none can know every name of those who printed and reprinted the document, published its text in newspapers throughout the thirteen states, listened to its public recitation, reflecting on its meaning; all of whom were actors in the miracle of the march toward emancipation.

Today, let us celebrate that we are living fruits of the seeds of countless ages past. The names of some, perhaps many of our forebears we know, surely those of immediate preceding generations. But most, even if by name, we know not, ancestry.com notwithstanding; their places in the miraculous lines of lineage that gave us birth shrouded in history’s shadows.

Today, let us also celebrate that we are the progenitors, whether through blood and biology or, metaphorically, but no less truly, through our helping, healing relationships with others, bearers of God’s life-giving word to the miracle called the next generations; some with whom we live and move and have our being, known to us and knowing us and countless others we, given our mortality, will not, cannot know, but who, because of us, will be.

Now, in our daily walks of life, let us imagine those who are strangers, them to us and us to them, unnamed and unknown (though in Laurens everyone seems to know everyone else!), passing on the street, in a car or the aisle of a store, with whom we can offer a friendly wave or kind gesture or respond with care to a question of interest or with sincere attention to a statement of need.

We, in accord with our Collect,[2] have been taught to keep the commandments, loving God and our neighbor, who is anyone, everyone, especially those yet unknown. And we do not, will not, cannot know when our small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness will be for them a declaration of Jesus’ miraculous gospel of unconditional, healing, emancipating love.

 

Illustration: The Prophet Elisha and Naaman (c. 1630), Lambert  Jacobsz (Jacobszoon) (1598-1636). The scene depicts the post-healing conversation between Naaman and Elisha: Then Naaman returned to Elisha, the man of God, he and all his company. Naaman came and stood before Elisha, saying, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Please accept a present from your servant.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” Naaman urged Elisha to accept, but he refused (2 Kings 5.15-16).

Footnotes:

[1] Robert Livingston, New York, and Roger Sherman, Connecticut, being the other two.

[2] The Collect for Proper 9, The Sunday closest to July 6, The Book of Common Prayer, page 230:  O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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6 thoughts on “unnamed & unknown

  1. Paul,

    This sermon speaks volumes to me today. Thank you! I’m on day two of my new role in a campground, and I’ve learned that there is much need in this county of NY. YET everyone is so friendly. Many people at this campground are fairly local, taking short trips as their family vacation. They wave, stop for conversation, are polite and patient… and even people who are CLEARLY surprised at what I look like seem to be accepting of my leadership of the LEGO classes. Two women came to see me today to say thank you to me for being so kind to their sons, both of whom are fairly high on the autism spectrum. They each (at different times of the day) said their kids told them I was the nicest camp activities leader here and I made them feel special. All I was trying to do was not make them feel different, because I’m pretty sure they are always treated differently. Jesus never made people feel different, and no matter how low on the scale people were, Jesus ver deviated from his unconditional love. I’m learning things about myself already on this new and different journey, and I hope during this 30 days, I continue to treat everyone equally and with compassion, regardless of where they are in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta, my dearest sister, you are a wonder to me. You are one who I NEVER would fear being in a situation or circumstance where I believed compassion was of greatest necessity, for you, for me, GET IT! Your capacity AND willingness (always takes both!) to yield to, to be with others in there spaces and places of want and need always amaze and delight me! Bless you!

      I hope, I trust you will write/blog about your experiences at Herkimer.

      Much love

      Like

    • Loretta, as I read your reflection on your experience so far, I smile. For the first thought that comes to mind is that you (Tim, too!), with your enthusiasm for life and love and people, embody hospitality.

      Your observation about the need you see in that NY county and the care you extended to the young folk with special needs also reminds me that it is no accident that hospitality and hospital are derived from the same root word, for both have to do with welcome and acceptance.

      I look forward to reading and hearing more of what you’re learning about yourself.

      Happy 4th of July to you and Tim from Pontheolla and me!

      Much love

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paul,

        WOW, thanks … Hospitality and hospital, welcome and acceptance. The folks here have commented on how friendly we are and one woman shared today that she was going to suggest they bring me back next year and she’s already booked the same time next year! Oh WOW! Tim and I clearly have the personality for this.

        One thing I’ve learned so far is that this is the PERFECT prelude to retirement for me. I LOVE this! and it was the right move at the right time. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to have a schedule for everything. I arrived here not knowing when my first shift was or what hours I’d be working. But I decided to go with the flow. And it’s done wonders for my peace of mind.

        Happy 4th to you and Pontheolla too!! Love you both!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Going with the flow…wonderful. This is something I’ve come to grasp in my retirement (even in my “rehirement” at Clevedale and Epiphany!) and, in grasping it, I feel I am living into it. Going with the flow means primarily that I’m not governed by a schedule, especially one largely constructed by and for the sake of others.

        Enjoy your and Tim’s time away and apart from life as you know it. I sense that you have beheld other possibilities. Again, wonderful!

        Liked by 1 person

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