2.11.2009

6th Sunday after the Epiphany

2 Kings 5.1-14
Psalm 30
1 Corinthians 9.24-27
Mark 1.40-45

Have you ever noticed how Physical the scriptures are? They really do focus a lot on bodies. And in most of our lives today most of us in America focus a lot on bodies--shelter, food, health care, fashion, etc--but, oddly enough, we do not talk about our bodies much in our places of worship. Why is that true? References to the body in scripture can call us back to the story of creation, call us back to our own frailty, call us back to the wonder of incarnation and resurrection, call us back to our basic needs for touch and wellness and wholeness and healing. This week there is lots of focus on bodies--on physical restoration, on physical touch, on knowledge of one's own body.

Both 1 & 2 Kings are historical accounts of the kingships of Israel, in an era when God's righteousness judged the worthiness of a ruler, generally finding them lacking. Naaman is a warrior from rival kingdom who suffers from leprosy. In the normal cycle of storytelling, it's a little odd that the strong warrior would also have a debilitating physical condition like leprosy. From other places in scripture the condition (today folks actually believe the word leprosy covered a spectrum of skin conditions) made a person socially and especially ritually unclean. How do you succeed militarily like that? A servant of Naaman's wife claims to know a prophet who can help cure Naaman once and for all, but it will require a visit to Israel's king. Naaman gets a letter of clear passage and a request for an audience with Israel's from his own King. This sort of unsettles Israel's king, who is sure that Naaman must be up to no good. The great prophet Elisha steps in and offers reassurance and healing instruction for Naaman. Now clearly, there are some symbolic things going on here. Elisha is declaring the healing value of the Jordan in Israel. Naaman is convinced the rivers of his home country are surely "better" than the Jordan (don't we all think our home is better?). Naaman is insulted that Elisha did not meet him face to face, but his servant prods him - hello, this is the word of a prophet about HEALING--and Naaman relents and does as he is told, immersing himself seven times and he emerges clean, with the "flesh of a young boy." It is odd that Naaman would make this long journey to be healed and then spent so much time an energy resenting the way the healing is offered. We wonder what part of the process "healed" Naaman.

The psalmist lifts praises, remembering his/her own physical reliance and connection to the Lord. This is a human with a body who recognizes that life is good lived well...what good is this life if it hasn't been well used at the time of death?

Throughout Paul's writings we know he likes using the body to explain things. It seems he knows his body well or taht he was more atuned to the universalism of that metaphor. He was aware that communicating new / difficult ideas using the image of the human body made sense for most folks. In this particular passage in Corinthians he references the importance of an athelete treating his body well while also disciplining it so it will perform and then he connects this idea to the training and disciplining of his own body. He talks about his own need to control his own body so his spirit can live the way he hopes it can. With this and all of the other things he wrote to this community about, it is obvious Paul felt there was an important connection between the body and the spirit and that while the body may be more temporary, it is still quite important to be considered.

Throughout this season of Epiphany, we have read about Jesus' healing work in his early ministry. In some ways, this Mark chapter represents a turning point. Jesus has been healing. He's been teaching. He's touched the sick and the weak and the poor. And when this leper approaches, it is almost as if he challenges Jesus, "if you choose, you can make me clean." Jesus' answer, "I do choose," unleashes not only this man's health but also his enthusiasm. In spite of the request to keep this kind of quiet, the joyful man tells everyone he can find of the wonderful work of this man, Jesus. And the crowds come and person after person was looking for the physical and spiritual connection that Jesus was offering.

We wonder if there is a way we can all be okay talking about the important connection of our bodies to our souls. Is there a way in our own congregation or in our own communities we can talk about the necessity and importance of our physical selves as freely as we talk about our spirits? Can we talk abou teh importance of our physical bodies today the way we talk abou tour hopes and dreams and fears of our spirits in the afterlife?
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
From "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" UMH 474

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